first-year NFL head coaches

Checking in on the first-year NFL head coaches

We are far enough into the NFL season that it is now fair to evaluate how all the head coaches are doing. While there are 32, the coaches who took new jobs prior to this season are always of particular interest. So, let’s see who is making the grade.

Sean McVay

What the former Redskins offensive coordinator has done defies logic and description. At the time of his hiring, he was the youngest head coach in league history. Also, he took over a mess.

The Rams were the worst scoring offense in the league in 2016 and limped to a 4-12 mark in their first year back in Los Angeles. Much of the offensive personnel has remained the same under McVay, including second-year quarterback Jared Goff, who was totally overwhelmed as a rookie.

The Rams are now the top scoring offense in the NFL and sit atop the NFC West. It is impossible to be sure whether McVay is brilliant or his predecessor Jeff Fisher was grossly incompetent. The answer is likely a little bit of both. The Rams defense was pretty good all along.

There is a lot of football left to be played, and it is hard to imagine any team averaging 32.9 points per game for an entire season. That puts you in the conversation with some of the greatest offenses ever.

For now though, McVay is the runaway winner for coach of the year. Turnarounds like this simply do not happen this quickly in pro football.

Grade: A+

Vance Joseph

When Gary Kubiak stepped down due to health concerns after the 2016 season, the former Dolphins defensive coordinator took over an organization that won a Super Bowl less than two years ago.

first-year NFL head coaches

(Photo from Denver Post)

However, the Broncos have regressed under Joseph. Trevor Siemian was at least serviceable last year. That cannot be said of Siemian or any other Broncos quarterback this year. Despite the team being very good for most of his tenure, John Elway has had to hire three head coaches during his relatively short time in the Denver front office.

With a workable schedule down the stretch, Joseph could still salvage the season if he can lead an upset over the Patriots Sunday night, but that is unlikely at best.

No individual is responsible for anything in the NFL. Even so, with the Broncos among the league leaders in penalties and turnovers and on a four-game losing streak, it is starting to look like Elway will be finding another head coach sooner than he would like.

Grade: D+

Anthony Lynn

The former Bills offensive coordinator took over a franchise that was relocating to a city where it has virtually no fan base. That is an unenviable position for any coach to be in.

However, Lynn did inherit Philip Rivers as his quarterback. This is something even some established coaches in this league would kill for. Early in the season, the seemingly never-ending trend of the Chargers finding ways to lose close games continued.

Lynn’s team showed some impressive toughness by winning three in a row after an 0-4 start. The defense is also much improved thanks mostly to the hiring of former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator.

3-5 is not where any coach wants to be through eight games. All things considered though, Lynn has done an okay job. Remember, this is also a team that is essentially playing 16 road games this year and potentially beyond.

Grade: C+

Sean McDermott

This is the toughest one for me. The former Panthers defensive coordinator has the Bills in the mix to end a 17-year playoff drought. The best thing this team has going for it is a defense that is allowing less than 19 points per game.

Getting blown out by the Jets on Thursday night in Week 9 was a big blow. They still have to play division rival New England twice, as well as New Orleans and Kansas City. They will be underdogs in every one of those games.

McDermott would not be the first Bills coach as of late to lead Buffalo to a hot start only to fade late in the season. He has done well to this point, but his job is about to get a lot tougher.

Grade: B-

Kyle Shanahan

The mastermind behind last year’s electric Falcons offense is still searching for his first win as a head coach in San Francisco. Shanahan is well aware that he is bringing the less talented roster into almost every game this season.

Despite that, the 49ers are playing hard and have been in almost every game. The best thing the young head coach has done is oversee or possibly facilitate the acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo from New England before the trade deadline.

Shanahan is certainly taking his lumps as a first-time head coach this year, but if Garoppolo turns out to be the star that many people believe he will be, the wins are not far behind.

Grade: C+

 

Featured image from espn.com

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Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

One of the more frustrating positions in fantasy football are the running backs. There are only so many that are elite and can be considered No. 1 backs. There are not many starting running backs in the NFL that are reliable. The key is to get the number one running back early and get another solid one in the middle in the draft. These are the five running backs you don’t want to miss out on for your team.

No. 5 Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

This could come as a surprise but after being a rookie bust, he rebounded in his sophomore season.

Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

Melvin Gordon (Photo by:sandiegouniontribune.com)

Before a season-ending hip injury in week 14, he entered that game with 12 touchdowns and third at the position in fantasy points. Gordon was the No. 8 fantasy running back in standard leagues last year with 254 carries for 997 yards (3.93 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He also had 41 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns.

Gordon registered 17 carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line (third most) and his 419 receiving yards ranked ninth. He benefited from Danny Woodhead’s injury and Woodhead is now in Baltimore.

Gordon should have more success with new head coach Anthony Lynn who has been a running backs coach for four teams in 11 years. As well as being a running backs coach, he got promoted to assistant head coach with the New York Jets in 2013.

During his time as the running backs coach from 2009 to 2014, Lynn’s rushing attack ranked outside the top 10 only twice out of the six years with the Jets and his team finished first in his first year as running backs coach with the Jets. In his last two years with the Buffalo Bills as offensive coordinator, his rushing offensive finished first in rushing twice.

The Chargers don’t have anyone on the roster to take Gordon off the field. He will be a standout No. 1 fantasy running back coming into the season and he should be an early second round pick.

No. 4 LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

One of the more experienced backs in the league, LeSean McCoy turned 29 in July but his age didn’t seem to slow him in 2016 and he ranks fourth on my list.

Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

LeSean McCoy (Photo by:buffalobills.com)

He was the No. 3 fantasy running back in standard leagues in 2016 with 234 carries for 1,267 yards (5.41 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns. McCoy also had 50 catches for 356 yards and one touchdown. McCoy ranked in the top six in rushing yards for the fourth time in six years.

The blocking in Buffalo was part of his success as his 5.4 YPC ranked fifth among backs. McCoy scored double digits in fantasy points in standard leagues in 12 of 15 games. He also caught 50 of 55 passes (91 percent).

Some of the concern that comes with McCoy is his age. His time as an elite fantasy running back could be coming to an end, but it looks McCoy isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The addition of fullbacks Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert should help McCoy as well as new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.

Dennison has had success in the run game as the offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans at the time Arian Foster broke onto the scene. From 2011-12 his rushing offense ranked in the top 10 in attempts, yards and touchdowns.

His last job with the Denver Broncos was less successful, ranking 15th and lower in those categories, but his west coast offense should help McCoy stay healthy and be an effective runner and reliable in the pass game.

McCoy should be the No. 4 running back off the board behind Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott.

No. 3 Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

A big part of his success was the great offensive line in Dallas and he took full advantage. He led the NFL with 322 carries and 1,631 rushing yards while finding the end zone a total of 16 times last season (one receiving touchdown). Elliott finished as the No. 2 fantasy running back in standard leagues and scored double digits in fantasy points in every game he played. Only David Johnson ranked higher.

He had seven games with at least 20 points in standard formats. Elliott’s rushing prowess, combined with Dallas’ terrific offensive line and run-heavy scheme, will keep him near the top of the running back rankings.

Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

Ezekiel Elliott (Photo by:espn.com)

Some concern is always the sophomore slump. He will need to work on his pass catching skills as Lance Dunbar is no longer with the Cowboys.

The other concern is a possible suspension due to a domestic violence incident. Even though he wasn’t charged, the NFL continues its investigation and he could likely miss the first two games of the year according to ESPN reporter Adam Schefter.

Elliott should be a top-three pick in most standard leagues, and a top ten pick in PPR only because he is not a pass catching back like Johnson or Bell. In dynasty leagues he could be the top pick because he’s only 22. In this offense, he could be the best running back in the NFL for the foreseeable future.

No. 2 Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

Even though he was suspended for the first four games last season, Bell established himself as arguably the most dangerous and productive all-around running back in the league.

Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

Le’Veon Bell (Photo by:upi.com)

Bell managed to finish fifth at the position in rushing yards, as well as second in targets, receptions and receiving yards. He’s been good for 10-plus fantasy points in an unbelievable 85.3 percent of his games over the past three seasons. B

ell has been on the field for at least 86 percent of the team’s offensive snaps during 25 consecutive games in which he wasn’t injured or limited in. In those 25 games, he was on the field for 95 percent of the snaps and handled 22.2 carries and 6.7 targets per game. This allowed him to have a top-14 fantasy week during all 12 of his outings last season.

But why he falls to No .2 on my list is not participating in camp due to contract issues. This is like last year except we knew he would miss four games. This time it could be longer.

Bell held out from the start of Steelers training camp and could sit for several weeks according to an NFL Network report. Bell could be a risky number one pick if this doesn’t get resolved. But he is still worth a first round pick as we hope by mid-August he will be back. If you take Bell, likely go after presumed backup James Conner.

No. 1 David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

Some players after a good rookie season have the sophomore slump but not David Johnson. He thrived for a breakout 2016 season in Arizona and is my No. 1 running back for 2017.

Top five 2017 fantasy running backs

David Johnson (Photo by:thelab.bleacherreport.com)

To start, he was the No. 1 running back in all formats. He was a fantasy stud in every sense of the description last year with 293 carries for 1,239 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns, as well as 80 catches for 879 yards and four touchdowns on 120 targets. This totaled 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns on 373 touches.

He is a force not just in the running game but also in the passing game. Johnson paced all backs in targets, receptions, receiving yards and end-zone targets (four). It seems Johnson could do everything.

He can run with top speed, catch the ball and pound the ball in between the tackles. He carried the ball inside the 5-yard line 22 times (second most) last season. Johnson scored double digits in fantasy points in standard leagues in 15 of 16 games last season.

He averaged 23 touches a game last season but head coach Bruce Arians said he would like to give him around 30 touches in 2017. While this should excite fantasy players, it could come as a concern with his health. In week 17, he suffered an MCL sprain but he’s fine heading into training camp.He won’t slow down with an increased role and he should continue to dominate.

Johnson is a top three pick in all leagues and has a case being the first overall pick in leagues with Bell’s contract issues.

 

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Franchise Analysis – Los Angeles Chargers

In just over a calendar year, Los Angeles goes from having zero, to two NFL franchises. Both the Chargers and Rams had disappointing seasons for a variety of reasons, but are incredibly different. While they both will have rookie head coaches in 2017, the Chargers are in a much better position to rebound. With Anthony Lynn at the start of his head coaching career, and Phillip Rivers at the end of his playing career, what will the Los Angeles Chargers look like in 2017?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

Melvin Gordon put the critics to bed with his offensive output this year as the Chargers’ work horse back (Courtesy of; Chargers.com).

Entering the 2016 season, one could argue that Melvin Gordon was the biggest offensive question mark. At this point, you know what you get with Phillip Rivers. He’s going to take chances and sometimes they don’t always work out. But, when an organization spends a first round pick on a running back who failed to reach the end zone in his first season, that can raise some eyebrows. Thankfully, Melvin Gordon did not disappoint. Gordon was effective even though the Chargers finished as a bottom third rushing attack. Despite missing the final three games and only playing eight snaps in another, Gordon rushed for 997 yards averaging 3.9 yards per carry.

As most Chargers fans know, Gordon wasn’t able to be as much of a factor because of negative game flow. The offense often had to resort to throwing their way back into the game. As a whole, the Chargers finished 9th in points and 14th in yards according to Pro Football Reference. This offense had one fatal flaw, turnovers. Rivers led the NFL with 21 interceptions. The Chargers also lost 14 fumbles, tied for 2nd highest in the league. Meaning, this offense must become more efficient in 2017 if they want to compete. One way to become more efficient is to have better balance on offense, starting with the offensive line.

Like many teams, the Chargers suffered from multiple critical injuries; they must upgrade the offensive guard position. Using Pro Football Focus player rankings to compare players at the same position, the Chargers suffered from poor offensive guard play. D.J. Fluker and Orlando Franklin were ranked the 56th and 69th out of 75 eligible players at guard. Getting consistent, average play at this position will allow the Chargers to be more efficient and turn the ball over less.

When an offensive line is strong at the guard position, they can eliminate immediate pressure up the middle. This means that Melvin Gordon will be able go an extra third or half yard before being contacted by a defender. Aging quarterbacks also benefit more. Rivers is comfortable moving forward in the pocket and evading edge rushers. However, when the pressure forces Rivers outside the pocket, he becomes less efficient and more turnover prone. While I believe Rivers is an underrated athlete, he’s not capable of producing like Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers outside the pocket.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

Despite their overall record of 5-11, the Chargers had one of the NFL’s underrated defenses. On the surface, that seems absurd. How can a defense be ranked 29th in points and 16th in yards be underrated? The Chargers finished tied for 4th in terms of creating turnovers with 28 on the season. The two defenses they tied with, were Arizona and Baltimore, two of the best defenses this season. What Arizona and Baltimore didn’t have to deal with was their offense being first in giveaways. Those put the defense in impossible positions. If the offense becomes marginally more protective of the football, the defense will improve.

Joey Bosa proved that he was well worth the wait after holding out to start the season (Courtesy of; Sporting News).

The Chargers have multiple players on defense that will no doubt allow them to improve next season. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers have the 5th and 6th best edge defenders in the NFL with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. While they play different positions, they often have similar responsibilities, thus, them being classified as edge defenders and not as a linebacker or lineman. These players, along with Brandon Mebane, make for a stout defensive front; however, it is not without flaw. Corey Liuget did not play well this year and has sadly been declining since 2014. Maybe he would play better in a limited role on defense, but the Chargers need to have a better every down on the interior.

 

In the back end, the Chargers have an emerging star in Casey Hayward. Hayward has been playing well for years, but ascended to another level this season by shadowing the opposition’s best receiver. When Hayward is playing at such a high level, Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers will be heavily targeted. Both players had to deal with injuries this season, which contributed to their decreased production. The Chargers need to make sure that they have adequate players that can produce in a relief role.

Divisional Analysis

If Anthony Lynn has learned anything in his coaching tenure, it’s that you have to build a team that can compete in their division. Thankfully, Lynn will have the 2nd most talented quarterback in the division entering 2017. The offense has to improve up front. What do the Broncos, Chiefs, and Raiders all have in common? They all have at least one great pass rusher. We already talked about the need at guard for the Chargers. They can also upgrade the tackle position if an appropriate free agent or prospect makes sense.

Currently, there isn’t a tackle or guard that warrants selection in the top ten. Jahleel Addae will become a free agent at seasons end, so they could look at drafting Malik Hooker, the play making safety out of Ohio State. However, they could still select Cam Robinson if he is universally rising up draft boards late in April. It’s likely that they will use second day picks to address the offensive guard position. That could mean selecting Dan Feeney out of Indiana or the versatile Taylor Moton from Western Michigan who could play guard and tackle.

I don’t think the Los Angeles Chargers need to spend multiple picks on offensive weapons for Rivers. Both Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, and Hunter Henry proved they can produce in this offense. With Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon returning from injuries, this team can be explosive in 2017. If this team can upgrade their offensive line and add depth on defense, they will be poised to rise up in the AFC West.

Post Season Prospects

The Los Angeles Chargers have some work to if they want to make a playoff push in 2017. There are key offensive and defensive metrics that can help predict postseason success. Here are the categories and where the Chargers stack up compared to the rest of the league.

As I’ve said in my previous evaluations, you don’t have to be elite in every statistic. But, a team can’t have a glaring hole and hope to compete in the playoffs. Every divisional winner this season was top 15 in two or more categories on each side of the ball. We already know the Chargers need to be better up front. Upgrade those positions and they will give up less sacks and allow them to have more prolonged drives. Thus, improving their time of possession as well.

The future of the Chargers defense is not as bleak as their overall rankings may suggests. I’ve talked at length in this series about how the points allowed statistic can be misleading. Yards allowed, 3rd down defense, and turnovers are all stats that the defense alone can control. In two of those areas, they are just outside the top 15 and top five in the third. If the offense can be more efficient, the defense will benefit tremendously.

2017 Predictions

Despite my positive outlook for the Chargers next season, I don’t think their record will improve much. First time head coaches rarely have immediate success. Not to mention, the transition to becoming the Los Angeles Chargers. While their weekly schedule isn’t set, their opponents are. Having to face the AFC and NFC East divisions does not bode well. Thankfully, the Chargers get the Brown and the Jaguars as their other non divisional games. I think the Chargers will finish 7-9 next season and last in the AFC West.

 

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The Underwhelming Crop of New NFL Head Coaches

With it all but confirmed that Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will be taking over as head coach of the 49ers when Atlanta’s season ends, all six of the NFL’s head-coaching vacancies are now filled. Some are stepping into better situation than others, but I find all but one of the head-coaching hires underwhelming. Quite frankly, that is putting it mildly. Here is a look at each:

Doug Marrone (Jacksonville Jaguars)

Of all the hires, this is the one that has a chance to work long-term. Marrone is an experienced coach at both the college and pro levels. He did a very respectable job for two seasons as the head coach of the Bills in 2013 and 2014 before a mutual parting of ways. In 2014, he guided the Bills to just their second winning season since 1999. EJ Manuel was his quarterback for most of his time in Buffalo. Not many coaches could get nine wins with EJ Manuel as their quarterback. He has barely seen the field since Marrone left. Marrone also turned Syracuse football into a competitive program during his time there ending a bowl game victory drought of nearly a decade

Photo courtesy of Jacksonville.com

The hiring of two-time Super Bowl winning head coach Tom Coughlin as an executive to oversee all aspects of the Jaguars organization is the biggest thing working in Marrone’s favor. Coughlin knows what it takes to win and will bring instant credibility and discipline to Jacksonville. These have been lacking ever since Coughlin left as head coach following the 2002 season. The Jaguars roster is not terrible at the moment and will have chances to improve through the draft and free agency. Whatever they have to work with, Coughlin and Marrone will get the most out of it. They both have done that for their entire careers in football.

 

Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills)

While McDermott’s stints as defensive coordinator in Carolina and Philadelphia were largely positive, his Panthers defense took a major step backward last year. They fell out of the top 20 in almost every statistical category after being one of the most dominant units in the league for the better part of two years. Some will point to the loss of Josh Norman. While it certainly did not help, I do not think it explains the entirety of Carolina defensive decline. No one player should mean that much to defense. If he does, there is something wrong with the system.

 

Combine this with the traditionally dysfunctional Bills front office and fairly new ownership that seems to think the roster is better than it actually is, and I see no way for McDermott to lead this team beyond .500, which is almost exactly the same record Rex Ryan had during his just under two years in Buffalo.

 

Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams)

 

 

Here is your classic case of too much too soon. Unlike most of the new hires, the unit McVay coordinated last year was quite good. The Redskins offense had the fewest three and outs in football last year. Even so, he is the youngest coach in league history. Moreover, he is inheriting a mess. Other than the defensive line, there is almost nothing here to work with. Additionally, this is another franchise struggling to find its relocation groove. That only makes McVay’s job more difficult. There are a lot of 60-year-old coaches who could not handle this job.

Photo Courtesy of nbclosangeles.com

 

While the Rams have done a great job surrounding McVay with quality assistant coaches, unless he can walk on water, it will be an extremely difficult task for him to get this franchise turned around. The one thing working in his favor is that the Rams gave Jeff Fisher plenty of time to get things going in the right direction. It did not work out, but McVay will need that same luxury to build a winner.

 

Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers)

This is the real stunner to me. Lynn spent most of last year as the offensive coordinator in Buffalo. While the Bills were the top rushing team in the league, it is impossible to be a legitimate contender in the modern NFL averaging under 200 yards passing a game like Buffalo did. Regardless of who is playing quarterback, you have to find a way to get more from your passing game than that. It certainly does not merit being hired as head coach.

 

Buffalo wanted to get an early look at Lynn. Thus, he was named interim head coach replacing Rex Ryan for the season finale. Not only were the bills routed by the Jets, but they were on the wrong end of a football folly for the ages. Watch it below thanks to the NFL’s YouTube channel. I have no words just watch.

 

After allowing a play like that to happen on his watch, under no circumstances would I hire Lynn as the head coach anywhere. Much less head coach of are relocating franchise trying (and mostly failing) to ingratiate itself to a new city. For those that will say a career of a coach should not be defined by a single play, fans and media do it with players all the time. Why should coaches not be held to the same standard? There is no way Lynn’s time in LA the lasts long or ends well.

 

 

Vance Joseph (Denver Broncos)

 

Strangely Joseph is the least qualified candidate of the new head coaches. Yet, he landed the best job with one of the NFL’s most consistent franchises over the last half decade or so. Following the sudden resignation of Gary Kubiak, Joseph has been handed the keys to a franchise that won a Super Bowl less than a year ago.

The Broncos roster is loaded with talent and ready to win now. The objective is to win Super Bowls. In theory, this is the objective for all NFL teams every year, but for most teams it simply is not realistic. It certainly is for the Broncos. They missed the playoffs this year for the first time in five years and still managed to post a winning record.

Given that standard of success, I just do not see how hiring a guy who spent one year as an NFL defensive coordinator and oversaw the 29th-ranked defense last year is going to accomplish that goal. I have no clue why multiple teams were interested in this guy as a head coach. He is clearly well thought of around the league. However, there is a difference between that and being a good head coach.

Joseph will likely be the most successful of the new head coaches early on based solely on the strength of his assistant coaches and general roster talent. Eventually, he will likely follow the same path as former Broncos and current Bears head coach Jon Fox who won a lot of games in Denver but was let go for not being able to get over the hump.

 

 

Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers)

 

Of the five hires who will be first-time head coaches, Shanahan was most deserving of a job. The work he has done with Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense this year is amazing. Unfortunately for him, he got the one job that nobody short of Vince Lombardi or Bill Belichick could make work right now. Shanahan will be San Francisco’s fourth coach in as many seasons. There was never any talent on the roster for Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula to begin with. Shanahan is the same boat. Kelly and Tomsula were given just a single season.

How any candidate could trust ownership with a track record like that is beyond me, but there are only 32 head coaching jobs to go around. So, I do not blame Shanahan for taking the gig. Ultimately though, his success or failure hinges on the 49ers finding a general manager who knows what he is doing and Shanahan being given enough time to figure out the quarterback position and the rest of the roster. I do not trust ownership to do either.

Every year when new head coaches are hired, I find myself asking the same question. Are these the best guys the NFL can come up with? Even the less glamorous franchises like the Jaguars are worth over $1 billion according to Forbes. Why a team does not offer someone like Nick Saban enough money to make him the highest-paid coach in the league is baffling to me.

 

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