Fantasy football analysis continues to grow and reach new heights every year. But so much of the content focuses on player profiles, players changing teams or offensive trends from the prior season. If there is one area that goes under the radar, it's the impact a new play-caller can have on an offense.
Besides the quarterback, perhaps nothing influences an offense more than the play-caller. Which means identifying how one might change with a new hire -- and how the players might be affected -- can offer a critical edge in rankings, projections and drafts. Let's dive in.
Players who could be helped
Justin Herbert is a Ferrari. The Chargers used him last season like someone who drives their Ferrari solely to the supermarket. Herbert averaged 6.7 air yards per throw, third-fewest in the league, ahead of only Daniel Jones and Matt Ryan, per Next Gen Stats. New OC Kellen Moore should change that, as his Cowboys offenses averaged 8.3 air yards per attempt over the last four seasons. Dak Prescott logged 12-plus starts in three of those seasons, and Dallas finished in the top six in scoring in each of those years, while finishing first in total yards twice. Herbert has all the talent to be in the elite tier of quarterbacks, and the shift at OC should be exactly what he needs to make the jump.
Given the ways in which Moore and the Chargers' offense are likely to elevate Justin Herbert, Herbert's wide receivers are also big winners. Moore ran three-receiver sets on 67 percent of his plays over the course of his Dallas tenure, according to Pro Football Focus. That means we will likely often see Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and rookie Quentin Johnston on the field at the same time. And while Allen and Williams were previously type-casted into their roles (e.g., Allen primarily operated out of the slot), Moore has talked about moving his receivers around the formation. Plus, as I discussed in regards to Herbert, we can expect more downfield throws -- and more downfield throws lead to more chunk plays. Moore has always run a very fast-paced attack, which means an increase in opportunities to score fantasy points. Get excited about this offense!
Lamar Jackson could be in store for a career year as a passer with new OC Todd Monken now in the fold. Monken was an aggressive play-caller in his three years at Georgia. His offenses had an explosive-pass play rate of 20 percent in that span, per PFF, seventh-best in college football. The Bulldogs also averaged 8.6 yards per attempt (16th) in those three seasons, while mixing in a good balance of deep passes and play-action. Those are areas where Jackson can excel. Last time we saw Monken in the NFL, as the Browns' play-caller in 2019, his receiver corps lacked depth -- but in 2018, when he had Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson at his disposal, Monken ran three-receiver sets 69 percent of the time, per PFF, which was just outside the top 10 in frequency. That bodes well for Baltimore's receivers. Jackson is always going to run, but a higher emphasis on passing could push him back into the elite category among fantasy QBs.
Anthony Richardson joins the Colts and new head coach Shane Steichen, who, in his previous role as Philadelphia OC, helped design an Eagles offense that led to Jalen Hurts' breakout last season. Expect Steichen to implement a lot of similar run designs into this Colts offense. Every QB that has rushed for at least 700 yards since 2010 has averaged over 18 fantasy points per game -- that was enough to be a top-eight fantasy QB last year. Take the shot on Richardson and pair him with a safe vet.
Having a longtime defensive coordinator call the offensive shots in New England last season did not work out for anyone -- except Rhamondre Stevenson, who ended up as the RB7. That said, there are reasons to believe new OC Bill O’Brien and his "clean slate" in New England can help the entire offense, Stevenson included. In the seven seasons O’Brien served as Texans head coach (2014-2020), Houston finished in the top 12 in rushing attempts six times. Four times, the Texans finished inside the top six. There is going to be a ton of volume going Stevenson’s way. Even with Ezekiel Elliott in the mix, Stevenson should see enough work to be a borderline RB1 in fantasy football.
Miles Sanders joins the Panthers, who also added new head coach Frank Reich. In the four full seasons Reich served in that role for the Colts (2018-2021) before his in-season firing last year, Indianapolis finished inside the top 10 in scoring three times (2018, 2020 and 2021) and in the top 11 in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns three times (2019, 2020, 2021). Sanders was given a lofty contract (four years, $25.4 million) as a free agent, indicating the Panthers have big plans for him -- likely in a full three-down role. He should certainly see more usage in the passing game than he did in Philly and is a strong RB2 pick.
Choosing Aaron Rodgers feels like a layup here, given that his "new" coordinator with the Jets (Nathaniel Hackett) was also his old coordinator with the Packers. Regardless of what happened during Hackett's one-year stint as Denver's head coach in 2022, there is no denying that Rodgers was at his best when he had Hackett on the sideline in Green Bay -- winning two MVPs in the process. Last year, without Hackett (and Davante Adams), Rodgers struggled to come anywhere close to matching his performance in the years prior. Now that he's been reunited with Hackett, we can’t rule out Rodgers returning to the QB1 picture in fantasy.
The jury is still out on exactly what an Eric Bieniemy offense looks like, since it was Andy Reid calling the plays during Bieniemy's five seasons as Kansas City's offensive coordinator, but it seems reasonable to expect an uptick in passing in Washington with Bieniemy as OC. Last year, the Chiefs threw on 67 percent of their plays, the third highest rate in the NFL, per PFF. Washington was below league average at just 56 percent. Bieniemy also comes from one of the most creative offenses in the league. More passing -- from newly christened starter Sam Howell -- paired with some more creativity could once again lift Terry McLaurin.
Dameon Pierce will be working with first-time OC Bobby Slowik, who cut his teeth working in the Niners system under Kyle Shanahan. The Shanahan rushing attack is one of the best in the league. Pierce has also talked about being used more in the passing game in this system. There is a lot of upside. One risk is that the Niners are a team known to rotate backs, and the Texans did bring in Devin Singletary. Still, Pierce is being drafted as a low-end RB2 and is worth the gamble.
Players who could be hurt
While the aforementioned change to OC Kellen Moore should help Justin Herbert and the Chargers' passing attack, it could lead to fewer targets for Austin Ekeler, who was the RB1 last season in no small part because of his work as a pass-catcher (107 receptions, 722 yards, five TDs). If the Chargers throw deep more often, the short-area targets that go to Ekeler might be reduced -- and it might mean L.A. gets down the field more quickly, reducing rushing volume between the 20-yard lines. Ekeler is still a top RB and first-round pick, but given the change at OC and the running back value available in Round 2, I often pass up on Ekeler in Round 1 for a receiver.
If Lamar Jackson passes more, that should be a good thing for Mark Andrews, right? Potentially. But I’m worried that Todd Monken running more three-receiver sets could actually cost Andrews some volume, as the Ravens have always been an extremely funneled passing attack. Last season, Andrews saw just 16 targets in three-receiver sets, compared to 47 in two-tight end sets, which the Ravens ran frequently in the past. He should still finish as one of the top-scoring tight ends, but he’s being drafted as the TE2, and there is a big gap in ADP between him and the third tight end off the board. Given that there’s more unknown here than in the past, I would rather wait a couple of rounds and get another one of the top seven guys at the position.
Dak Prescott thrived in Kellen Moore’s system. He finished third, first and eighth among QBs in fantasy PPG in the first three years under Moore. Now, head coach Mike McCarthy will be calling plays. While Prescott and others in Dallas have said the offense retains elements of the previous offense, and while offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer says he wants to play "fast," we cannot ignore McCarthy's track record as a play-caller for the Packers. Even though he was working with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, McCarthy’s offenses failed to pass at the same rate that the Cowboys did under Moore. There were many years under McCarthy that the Packers threw at a league-average rate -- or below. Moore’s offenses, by contrast, ranked 10th or better in pass attempts in his first three years on the job. The offense is funneled enough that top weapons such as CeeDee Lamb and Tony Pollard will be fine, but the Cowboys' signal-caller could definitely lose some volume.
Ex-Cardinal DeAndre Hopkins joins the Titans, whose offense will be led by Tim Kelly this season. He was the passing-game coordinator for them last year, when they finished 30th in pass attempts and yards and 28th in passing touchdowns. Sure, you can give Kelly a pass (no pun intended) because of the QB injuries in Tennessee -- but the Titans have never aired it out much during Mike Vrabel's tenure as head coach. Since 2018, the highest they’ve finished in pass attempts is 25th. Add in a QB with a relatively low ceiling (Ryan Tannehill), and it’s easier to just let someone else draft DHop.
Veteran Michael Pittman Jr. is working with new (rookie) QB Anthony Richardson, whose skills as a rusher are likely to be featured in an offense built by new head coach Shane Steichen, one of the designers of the best rushing attack in the league in Philadelphia last year. To take it a step further, Pittman's new OC is Jim Bob Cooter. And while Steichen is calling the plays, it's not encouraging that in Cooter's four years as an OC with the Lions, Matthew Stafford averaged a measly 7.7 air yards per target, per PFF, and some of Detroit's top receiving threats were the running back and slot receiver. This does not seem like an environment built to get the most out of Pittman’s strengths -- playing out wide and winning downfield. As much as I like him as a talent, I have been fading Pittman for fantasy purposes.
The Bucs will have a first-time play-caller in Dave Canales. While we do not know what he will look like as an offensive coordinator, he did spend the past 13 seasons in Seattle. The Seahawks have typically utilized a slower-paced offense and run a good amount. A reduction in volume would not be great for Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who are also dealing with a downgrade at quarterback (from Tom Brady) -- there is a lot stacked against the Bucs' star receivers. (Add running back Rachaad White to the list of players who I am worried about in this offense.)
Marquise Brown will have a new OC in Drew Petzing, who served several seasons as an assistant in Minnesota and Cleveland but has never called plays before. So we do not have a whole lot to go off. But between that uncertainty, the presence of a new defensive-minded head coach and the absence of Kyler Murray for an undetermined amount of time, there are many reasons to fade Brown this year.
Greg Dulcich was a tight end that I thought could bring upside in this new system. Then Sean Payton went out and acquired Adam Trautman, whom he coached in New Orleans. In their first preseason game, it was Trautman playing early downs and Dulcich in for third downs. Payton has a history of revolving players, especially at the tight end position. Dulcich becomes more of a boom-or-bust TE2 moving forward.