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3 Coaching Trends That Will Help You Dominate Your League

I have long been enamored with the importance of coaching and playcalling in football compared to other sports. It is imperative to pay attention to coaching trends and give them (at least) some weight when making fantasy football decisions. Here are three coaching trends that could end up paying huge dividends for you come draft day.

1. Mike Mularkey coached teams – head coach or offensive coordinator – have finished top 11 in the league in rushing attempts 8 times in 13 years.

Last year’s “Exotic Smashmouth” phenomenon was no fluke. Mularkey has favored the running game for over a decade. Let’s take a look at the workload of every RB1 under Mularkey, sorted by percent of the overall team carries:

Team Year RB1 Games Rush Attempts Rush Yards Rush TDs Percent of Overall Team Carries
BUF 2005 WILLIS MCGAHEE 16 325 1,247 5 0.76
ATL 2010 MICHAEL TURNER 16 334 1,371 12 0.67
ATL 2008 MICHAEL TURNER 16 376 1,699 17 0.67
ATL 2011 MICHAEL TURNER 16 301 1,340 11 0.66
TEN 2016 DEMARCO MURRAY 16 293 1,287 9 0.62
MIA 2006 RONNIE BROWN 13 241 1,008 5 0.60
BUF 2004 WILLIS MCGAHEE 16 284 1,128 13 0.59
PIT 2003 JEROME BETTIS 16 246 811 7 0.55
ATL 2009 MICHAEL TURNER 11 178 871 10 0.39
PIT 2001 JEROME BETTIS 11 225 1,072 4 0.39
TEN 2015 ANTONIO ANDREWS 14 143 520 3 0.39
PIT 2002 AMOS ZEREOUE 16 193 762 4 0.38
JAC 2012 RASHAD JENNINGS 10 101 283 2 0.28

Mularkey not only favors the run, but he also has a history of feeding his lead back. Only five times has a Mularkey RB failed to receive at least 55 percent of the overall team carries. In three of those instances (Antonio Andrews, Amos Zereoue, and Rashad Jennings), the lead back wasn’t very good. In the other two seasons, Michael Turner and Jerome Bettis received healthy workloads in the 11 games they did play.

Therefore, if DeMarco Murray plays all 16 games again like he did last season, his floor may be 55 percent of the overall team carries. Last season, he earned 62 percent of the 476 carries. That workload helped him finish with 293 carries, which tied for third in the league with David Johnson.

Let’s reduce Tennessee’s total rush attempts due to their additions in the passing game Eric Decker, Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, and Jonnu Smith – and say they run it 450 times this year (even though Mularkey teams average 463 carries). Even after increasing the workload in year two for Derrick Henry, a 55 percent share for Murray still projects to 248 carries, a number that would have given him the 12th-most attempts last season.1

This conservative projection still gets me excited to draft Murray, without even factoring in his upside.2 Yet, in MFL10s over the past month, Murray has an ADP of RB9 while fellow bell cow LeSean McCoy has an ADP of RB5. This can likely be attributed to McCoy having no significant name behind him on the depth chart. Still, Mularkey has reiterated that Murray will continue to be the team’s workhorse. Additionally, there seems to be a belief Murray will get injured at some point this season. Yet, Murray and McCoy will enter the 2017 season at the same age (29), and Murray has 592 fewer regular season touches on his resume.

I’m absolutely in love with Derrick Henry in dynasty. Who isn’t? But owners drafting him around the sixth/seventh round turn in MFL10s appear to be at least one year too early. I can’t predict injuries, but I can appreciate all the factors working in Murray’s favor for 2017. Playing in a system that greatly favors the No. 1 RB, with a rising star at quarterback in Marcus Mariota, with weapons all over the offense, and with an offensive line ranked fourth best in the league by Pro Football Focus, Murray is a phenomenal buy at his current second-round ADP.

2. With Sean Payton as the head coach, the Saints have finished top 5 in the league in passing attempts 9 times in 10 years.3

The level of consistency with which the Saints have maintained elite volume in the passing game under Payton is simply unprecedented. Since 2010, the Saints have never been under 651 pass attempts and never over 674 pass attempts. This consistency has trickled down to the player level as well. The No. 1 option in the passing attack has always seen a target share between 16 percent and 23 percent. Six times the leading man saw either a 19 percent or 20 percent target share.

With Brandin Cooks‘ 117 targets up for grabs, I’m confident in projecting Michael Thomas for a 20 percent target share in 2017. Payton’s Saints teams have averaged 639 pass attempts per year. Using those numbers, Thomas projects to see 128 targets, which would have tied for 20th in the league last year. However, from 2010 to 2016, the Saints have averaged 662 pass attempts per year under Payton. At that rate, a 20 percent target share would give Thomas 132 targets, which would have tied for the 15th most last. Either way, it’s safe projecting Thomas for around 130 targets. This is significant because Thomas finished as the WR7 in PPR while playing alongside Cooks, missing a game, and only seeing 121 targets.

What really excites me about Thomas is the upside within his range of outcomes. Although historical usage suggests a 20 percent share is all that should be expected, players such as Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, and Reggie Bush have been soaking up numerous targets in this offense during the majority of Payton’s tenure. Those three were all elite pass catchers at their respective positions during their time in New Orleans. The 2017 Saints do not project to have a player of that caliber at tight end or running back. Coby Fleener is most definitely not on Graham’s level, and until Alvin Kamara proves it on the field, he should not be talked about in the same breath as Sproles or Bush. Furthermore, although Ted Ginn should do an admirable job replacing Cooks, I don’t expect his target share to be the same.

With the safety of elite team passing volume coupled with the high quality of the targets thanks to the arm of Drew Brees, I’m bullish on Thomas in 2017 and have no problem with his current MFL10 ADP of WR6. As for his teammate Willie Snead, he’s finished as the WR34 and WR32 in PPR in his first two years in the league as the No. 3 option while also missing a game in both seasons. With Cooks gone, Snead now projects as the No. 2 WR, yet still only has an ADP of WR30 in MFL10s over the past month. Expect Snead’s targets to increase in 2017 as well, especially if he is able to play all 16 games. Snead looks to be a major value in drafts right now and has been one of my favorite targets all offseason.

3. In nine years as an offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan-led teams have had a WR finish in the top six in targets five times.

Let’s take a look at every WR1 under Kyle Shanahan.

Team Year WR1 Games Targets Targets/Game Overall Target Rank PPR Points/Game
HOU 2008 Andre Johnson 16 171 10.7 2nd 20.0
HOU 2009 Andre Johnson 16 171 10.7 1st 19.7
WAS 2010 Santana Moss 16 145 9.1 6th 14.7
WAS 2011 Jabar Gaffney 16 114 7.1 Tied 30th 11.9
WAS 2012 Pierre Garcon 10 68 6.8 Tied 94th 13.8
WAS 2013 Pierre Garcon 16 181 11.3 Tied 1st 17.3
CLE 2014 Andrew Hawkins 15 112 7.5 Tied 36th 10.6
ATL 2015 Julio Jones 16 203 12.7 1st 23.4
ATL 2016 Julio Jones 14 129 9.2 Tied 18th 18.6

You’ve probably already heard that Pierre Garcon tied for the league lead in targets playing for Kyle Shanahan back in 2013. Andre Johnson (twice), Santana Moss, and Julio Jones were the other three WRs to finish in the top six in targets under Shanahan. Only lackluster talents Jabar Gaffney and Andrew Hawkins – and injury-shortened campaigns – failed to see the elite volume that comes with the role.

Shanahan’s WR1s averaged 16.7 PPR fantasy points per game during his time as an offensive coordinator. Extrapolating that points per game average over a full season, the collective WR1s under Shanahan would’ve finished as the WR6 in 2017. Simply put, Shanahan has a proven track record of feeding his No. 1 target in the passing game. A quick look at the 49ers depth chart illuminates Garcon as the alpha over guys like Jeremy Kerley, Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, and Vance McDonald.

This makes Garcon’s MFL10 ADP of WR36 over the past month extremely appetizing. He has been another one of my favorite targets all offseason. Garcon’s projected starting QB, Brian Hoyer, is a player I’m higher on than most, especially for fantasy purposes. Hoyer played in 11 games in 2015 and helped DeAndre Hopkins finish as the WR6. Hopkins was propelled by negative game scripts for about half his games that year, a fantasy luxury Garcon projects to have for almost the entirety of the 2017 season.

  1. In a good year for RBs.  (back)
  2. See: Michael Turner’s 2008 season.  (back)
  3. 2012 is not included because Payton was suspended for the entire season.  (back)

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