Frank Reich, Panthers head coach
We typically see teams go for the opposite side of the ball when they move on from a disastrous head coach. That didn’t happen for the Panthers in the post-Matt Rhule era, but Frank Reich’s steady hand does represent a severe departure from the operation under Rhule.
Proven, innovative and detailed; that’s the theme of the large staff Reich has put together in Carolina. Those three adjectives were not often associated with the Rhule-era Panthers but should pay immediate dividends on the offensive side of the ball.
Reich has an established track record as an offensive playcaller. Jim Caldwell is around as a senior assistant, they were able to pluck Thomas Brown from the Rams' tree to serve as offensive coordinator, and they brought in intriguing assistants in former players WR Shawn Jefferson and QB Josh McCown as position coaches. That’s not to mention what the Panthers put together on defense.
David Tepper knows there is no salary cap for coaches, and it looks like he has paid through the nose to assemble a fantastic staff. Good. This group reminds me of what Detroit started to assemble the past few seasons, with just slightly less cult of personality.
To me, it all looks like the perfect incubator for a young quarterback. Do we really need all these great teachers from diverse backgrounds to get someone such as Derek Carr into slightly above-average starting territory? I don’t think so.
The Panthers have a great starting receiver in DJ Moore who could have his best season yet if Reich & Co. are able to right the offensive ship — and get a quarterback in place. The offensive line is extremely underrated. Even if the starting running back spot is in question right now, the ecosystem is in place to run back a lot of the success this team enjoyed on the ground late last year.
Regardless, the Panthers have a ton of open questions right now. The best might not come in 2023. We could easily see a bridge-type quarterback under center next year with a rookie waiting in the wings. I’ll point out Jacoby Brissett and his history with Reich in Indy as an option.
To bring it back to the Detroit comparison, we didn’t get much out of the Lions in fantasy during the early part of Dan Campbell’s first year. Yet as the team began to find itself late, we saw the early signs of a star emerging in Amon-Ra St. Brown, and the growth continued in 2022, aligned with surprising performances from Jared Goff and Jamaal Williams. Now Lions players might come at a higher premium in this year’s fantasy drafts.
The Panthers under Reich might follow a similarly slow but steadily rising burn over the next few seasons.
Todd Monken, Ravens offensive coordinator
Greg Roman did a ton of good things for the Baltimore Ravens during his time as offensive coordinator. It’s fair to wonder if Lamar Jackson would have gotten off to the same hot start without Roman's influence. It’s also more than fair to say it was time for a fresh pair of eyes on the offensive unit as a whole.
Enter Todd Monken, perhaps the perfect candidate for the gig.
Monken’s offenses with Georgia had some of the same DNA as the Ravens’ units in recent years. Georgia ran more than it passed in 2022 and made use of the quarterback’s legs; Stetson Bennett had 10 rushing touchdowns. There’s plenty of evidence that Monken can continue to build on a strong rushing foundation already constructed in Baltimore.
The intrigue of this hire comes in the form of Monken’s passing game history. His background is as a passing game coordinator and receivers coach. That’s where Baltimore desperately needs to grow. His stint as the Tampa Buccaneers' offensive coordinator shows some of the upside on the table for Baltimore. The 2018 Bucs ranked second in yards per completion. The route combinations from those teams are more in tune with getting chunk completions over the middle on dig and post routes. That’s where Lamar Jackson is at his best as a passer.
Of course, Jackson’s contract situation is the elephant in the room. Monken, however, sounded like a man excited to work with his dynamic quarterback at his introductory presser:
New #Ravens OC Todd Monken on Lamar Jackson: “Elite. You know, he’s got an elite skill set. … I think he’s underrated as a passer, in terms of his ability to make plays and throw it down the field.” pic.twitter.com/howrvTDF1F
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) February 21, 2023
I’m confident that if Jackson plays in the offense, we will see the best aerial attack in recent Ravens history. That said, the team still has to make investments at wide receiver and develop talent such as Rashod Bateman already on the roster. Monken’s background as a receivers coach makes him the necessary gardener to bring those seeds to bloom.
We just need to get Jackson in the fold on a long-term deal. It needs to happen. The Ravens have the coaching hire to make the most out of the investment on the horizon.
Sean Payton, Broncos head coach
Sean Payton absolutely had to find his way onto this list. The architect of one the best offensive ecosystems in the past two decades is back in the NFL after a one-year absence. Fantasy players know the value that came out of those Saints offenses under Payton.
Now we’ll see if he can bring that same efficiency to Denver.
Payton will face a tough challenge in Year 1. I don’t believe the Broncos traded for and hired Payton with the sole intention of fixing Russell Wilson, but they sure wouldn’t mind if he did.
Drew Brees was closer to quarterback prime age when he teamed up with Payton in New Orleans but was a similarly distressed asset. It’s always tough to parse out credit when an elite playcaller and a Hall of Fame quarterback operate together. We still know Payton’s offenses are tight on details and maximize passing efficiency while remaining committed to a foundational run game. That sounds like it is exactly what Denver needs after the sloppy, identity-free unit Nathaniel Hackett oversaw in 2022.
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Wilson isn’t likely to get back to top-five quarterback form at his current age, but even performing at a top-15 level would be a huge improvement. Payton also has the skins on the wall to tell Wilson “no” when the quarterback wants to go off the designed path of the offense. It couldn’t be a clearer departure from Hackett, who straight-up said the offense would be what Wilson wanted.
The talent level in Denver was vastly overrated coming into fantasy drafts last year, but there are still good players on the roster. Those receivers, tight end and running backs will benefit from this organized system, regardless of whether Payton “fixes” Wilson or not.
The Broncos offense is in a much better position now than it was this time last year.
Eric Bienemy, Commanders offensive coordinator
The Chiefs and Eric Bienemy clearly decided that the best thing for him in his pursuit of a head-coaching position was to fly the Andy Reid nest and run the show somewhere else. Washington has not often been a safe haven for anyone in the football world. However, it does provide Bienemy with some talent to work with right away.
I always liked some of the designs and ideas of Scott Turner’s offenses the past few years in Washington. He just had major trouble with the timing and sequencing of playcalls. If you want to be bullish on Bienemy as an upgrade, you have to hope he learned a ton from the best designer and playcaller in the business. There is every reason to be hopeful in that regard.
The receiver corps should remain the identity of this offense. Terry McLaurin is a legitimate No. 1 receiver who would be ranked much higher by fans and the national public if he ever played a stretch of games with even a league-average passer. McLaurin is one of the best and most explosive route-runners in football. Jahan Dotson showed himself to be an excellent complement with a knack for the vertical and contested game. Curtis Samuel is a dynamic player to round out this group.
Few teams boast that sort of talent as a trio. A Chiefs-style attack could get these guys into untold space and create matchup problems at all levels.
Bienemy’s background is as a running backs coach. Brian Robinson is coming off an excellent rookie season, and Ron Rivera has always adored the idea of having a physical ground game. Bienemy could be the coach to get that unit up and running with a few offensive line tweaks.
We all know the big question is quarterback, however. Whether it’s Sam Howell or a veteran who emerges from a likely camp competition, Washington needs to find an answer. Bienemy’s success or failure will likely come down to how the next signal-caller is groomed and deployed. He has the résumé and the receiving talent to make it work — with the right player under center.
Shane Steichen, Colts head coach
It took the Colts forever to land on Shane Steichen after a lengthy interview process, but time brought them to the right guy. I could not be more bullish on him, purely based on his offensive history.
Steichen comes from the old Norv Turner Chargers tree: traditional, downfield, dropback passing games. Does that sound at all like the Eagles teams of the past two years?
When the offense wasn’t working in the first half of 2021, Nick Sirianni passed off a bulk of the playcalling duties to Steichen. On the fly, the Eagles turned from an uptempo, pass-first offense to a power-run unit focused on the quarterback’s mobility. The changes brought immediate positive dividends. Steichen’s ability to be flexible and mold an offense around the talents of his players, not cramming them into his system, is the No. 1 thing we look for in great coaches.
There’s a ton of work to do in Indianapolis to build a good offense, but there’s talent to work with on the roster.
Two of fantasy’s bigger disappointments in 2022 were Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman. These players are proven quality talents but didn’t hit their ceilings. Pittman and the other receivers were held back, as the offense was too restricted by the complete lack of downfield juice in the passing game. Taylor also struggled with injuries but didn’t run as hot as he did the prior two seasons, as the offensive line crumbled along with the rushing core of the team.
If Steichen can come in and find an identity to set the offense up for success, these two players could be huge rebound candidates in 2023. Of course, like so many others, he needs to find a quarterback to build the unit around. We know from his previous two stops and his work with Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts that he can be a huge part of helping to develop a young passer.