It’s never, ever too early.
Sure, the Super Bowl hasn’t even kicked off just yet, but fantasy freaks such as myself are already looking towards 2014. We got our first taste of change a lot lately with the new head coaching vacancies being filled. To me, analyzing what new coaches will bring to their teams is one of the best and most fun things to implement into fantasy football. What will “Coach X” bring to the defense? How will he impact the running game? All these questions and more are very fun to try to answer.
So let’s do it.
Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
It’s kind off odd that Gruden, not the credentialed, experienced Mike Zimmer, was offered a head coaching position, but hey, what do I know? Gruden was a relatively successful offensive coordinator during his three seasons with the Bengals. In 2013, the Bengals finished as the 10th-ranked total offense, averaging a solid 26.9 points per game. Quarterback Andy Dalton, though once again streaky and missing come playoff time, still managed to throw for 4,296 yards (7th-most) and 32 touchdowns (3rd-most). Those numbers were good enough for him to finish as the 5th-best fantasy quarterback, totaling 277 fantasy points.
I’d like to think that this hire would be beneficial for the fantasy prospects of quarterback Robert Griffin III, but the fact of the matter is that Dalton really didn’t progress as an overall quarterback during Gruden’s tenure. Still. RG3 is a far more talented passer than Dalton and seeing how Gruden is very familiar with passing the football, I think it’s safe to say that 2014 will be a much better year for Griffin. In an interview, wide receiver Pierre Garcon stated that he believes Gruden’s presence will vastly improve the red zone offense in Washington. I mean, could it get any worse? In 2013, Washington scored 1.6 red zone touchdowns per game, which was good for just 20th overall in the league. Meanwhile, Gruden’s Bengals ranked 8th in red zone offense, scoring 2.1 RZ touchdowns per game last year. If Garcon is correct, this should bode extremely well for the likes of Alfred Morris, who scored six fewer touchdowns in 2013 than he did in his rookie season. As for the running game, Gruden stated that he loves the read-option, so continue to expect plenty of that implemented in the offense.
Norv Turner, OC, Minnesota Vikings
It’s early, but I love the direction Minnesota is taking.
First, they hire hard-nosed, don’t-test-me head coach Mike Zimmer, who should immediately improve a rather weak defensive unit from a year ago. But then they go out and bring in one of the better offensive minds in the game of football in Norv Turner, who should make this offense far more fantasy relevant than we are accustomed to seeing. I mean, look what he did with the Browns in 2013. With a trio of below average signal callers, Turner helped Josh Gordon go off, finishing as the number one receiver in fantasy, while tight end Jordan Cameron had a breakout season, catching 80 balls for 917 yards and seven scores. Turner has always utilized the tight ends in his offenses quite a bit (see Gates, Antonio), so if the quarterback position sorts itself out in Minnesota, Kyle Rudolph could have himself a very nice year. In years with Turner, Gates has had a few 100-target seasons, and while Rudolph may not reach that plateau, he could be in line for plenty of looks on a team that lacks a bonafide number one wideout.
And not as if he needs it, but this hiring helps Adrian Peterson quite a bit, if you ask me.
Peterson is already a top-five fantasy running back, but Turner could help remind folks who are forgetting about AP remember. He may make more of an impact in the passing game this year. Peterson’s career-high in receptions for a season is a pedestrian 43, so there is certainly some room for improvement. Turner, meanwhile, loves to utilize the running back in the passing game, as he’s done so often throughout his career. Of course, there’s LaDainian Tomlinson, who hauled in 100 balls when Turner was the Chargers offensive coordinator in 2003. However, he also posted annual 50 and 60-catch seasons there after. And during his time in Dallas, Turner utilized the great Emmitt Smith quite a bit, as the running back averaged 55 receptions per year. The Vikings may pass the ball more this year, as Turner and the Browns quietly lead the NFL in passing attempts last year (42.6 per game). And with Zimmer obviously being a more defensive minded coach, Turner should have full control of the offense. Turner was able to use two of the best running backs of all time, so I can’t wait to see what he does with Peterson at his disposal.
Gary Kubiak, OC, Baltimore Ravens
After a completely lost year in Houston, Kubiak was let go by Houston, which allowed the Ravens to add a very strong football mind to their organization. As the new Ravens offensive coordinator, Kubiak will look to improve an offense that scored 20 points per game in 2013 (8th-fewest) and scored 1.5 red zone touchdowns per game (9th-fewest). The running game was nonexistent, as the offensive line was horrible, as the Ravens led the NFL in rushes of zero yards or fewer. Of course, Baltimore will focus on getting Ray Rice and the running game back on track, but Kubiak is quite fond of one of his pass-catchers.
After landing the job, Kubiak stated that tight end Dennis Pitta will “be a big part of the offense” in 2014. Of course, that’s assuming the free agent returns to Baltimore next season. Via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, Kubiak has been impressed with what he’s seen out of Pitta.
“I remember studying Dennis, and I’m very impressed with him as a player,” Kubiak said. “I know he went through a tough year this year with getting injured, but that position has always been a big part of our offense. I’m sure it won’t be any different.”
I like the sound of that, and Kubiak is right. Two years ago, Houston tight ends combined for a massive 124 catches for 1,309 yards and 12 touchdowns. Last year, both Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham were hurt at times, but still combined for a respectable 73 catches and eight scores. We already know that Pitta is Joe Flacco‘s security blanket, and with the way Baltimore’s offensive line is looking, Pitta may be catching a ton of passes. Remember, during his time with Houston, the Texans tight ends were targeted heavily in the end zone. Prior to his hip injury this past season, many fantasy fans had Pitta pegged as a breakout, top-10 fantasy tight end.
That may come to fruition in 2014 under Kubiak.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.