Fantasy Football’s New Play Callers Pt. 2: Bucs, Cmdrs, Eagles

This is part two of a five-part series about teams with a new offensive play caller for the 2023 season. It is to determine whether or not these changes will help, hurt, or not affect a player’s potential fantasy football output. In the first article, we looked at first-time play callers on new coaching staffs with Drew Petzing of the Arizona Cardinals and Bobby Slowik of the Houston Texans.

This time, we will look at first-time play callers on returning coaching staffs. Dave Canales and Eric Bienemy are joining the Buccaneers and Commanders, respectively, after both teams fired their offensive coordinators from last season. Brian Johnson will also call plays for the first time in his career. The NFC champion Eagles are promoting him from QB coach to offensive coordinator. The spot became vacant when Shane Steichen left to become head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. 

The names of the play callers are listed with their previous position in parenthesis. Players mentioned in the assessing value part are highlighted to start the paragraph they are mentioned in. All rankings are from Fantasy Pros’s Expert Consensus Rankings.

First-Time Play-Callers on Returning Staff

Dave Canales: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (QB Coach Seattle Seahawks)

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Todd Bowles may have been able to salvage his job as head coach of Tampa Bay, but OC Byron Leftwich was given the axe. The Bucs are bringing in former Seattle Seahawks QB Coach Dave Canales to take his place. The 42-year-old is calling plays for the first time in his career and is heralded as the driving force behind Geno Smith‘s late career emergence to a Pro Bowl QB. The Bucs hope he will be able to do the same for Baker Mayfield, who is likely getting his final chance to be a starter in the NFL. 

It has been reported that Canales plans to use the offense Shane Waldron ran last year in Seattle as a framework for what he will do in Tampa Bay. This makes sense because the two teams have similar roster construction. Two stud WRs, a young running back with workhorse potential, and a middling veteran QB. Last season, a mere five yards separated the two teams in yards per game. Only 0.3% was the difference between 3rd down conversions.

Assessing Fantasy Value

Rachaad White RB28

Despite these similarities, the Seahawks finished with much more points. They had a significant 11 more touchdowns than the Bucs. This shows a lack of efficiency that can be attributed to the offensive coordinator. The Bucs have had the highest pass rate in the league for years now, with about 75 percent of plays called. The Seahawks pride themselves on a balanced attack. This stat is very noteworthy for Rachaad White, who looked great in the limited action he saw last year. The Bucs did next to nothing to upgrade their running back room after releasing Leonard Fournette, which is also a gesture of faith toward White. White is an absolute steal at RB 28 and is currently slated. 

Chris Godwin WR29, Mike Evans WR30

While the passing rate is most likely going to drop, people are looking at the careers of Baker Mayfield and Tom Brady when comparing the projected output from the WRs. Tom Brady is undeniably 1000 times the player Baker is, but the offense will still be anemic. If Canales can prove to be a true upgrade over Leftwich, that can help shorten the gap between Brady and Mayfield running the offense. Mike Evans is close to breaking Jerry Rice‘s seemingly unbreakable record of consecutive 1000-yard seasons, yet he is at WR30. Chris Godwin, who many now regard as the number 1 wideout in Tampa, is WR29. This is quite low for two established guys. While White will be the most significant beneficiary of this new offense, I think Canales can help Baker enough that Evans and Godwin could be good value at their ADP.

Eric Bienemy: Washington Commanders (OC Kansas City Chiefs)

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If you were to ever use the phrase “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” regarding NFL coaches, it would be about Eric Bienemy. Every year when the coaching carousel hits Bieniemy, a two-time Super Bowl Champion as an OC can never secure a job as a head coach. A key reason for this is that teams are weary of hiring another Chiefs OC who did not call plays after Matt Nagy’s disastrous stint in Chicago. Bienemy decided to leave the Chiefs this season and join Ron Rivera‘s staff in Washington. Unlike Andy Reid, “Riverboat Ron” gives EB full control over the offensive play calling. 

First and foremost, the fact the Commanders went out at got the reigning Super Bowl-winning OC is a positive sign in itself. That is not a move you make if you plan to run a conservative offense. This hire is a commitment to a shift away from Rivera’s usual run-first offenses. Bienemy has a tough task ahead of him, though, with 2022 5th-round pick Sam Howell as the projected starting QB and in a division where the other three teams not only made the playoffs last year, they all won at least one playoff game.

Assessing Fantasy Value

Brian Robinson RB28, Antonio Gibson RB38

With Bienemy running the show, the Commanders will most likely see a transition from a run-first team to pass first team. This will help the value of WRs Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel more than the running backs. That is not to say you should inherently fade Brian Robinson or Antonio Gibson. Still, they might be overvalued right now at their ADP. They will see plenty of usages as the Chiefs ran a decent amount of two RB sets, I-formations, zone running schemes, etc. These two will definitely be involved and produced, especially since the chiefs ran a lot of Run-pass options. That being said, lessening the emphasis on the run overall makes their ADP too high for me. At RB28, Robinson is ahead of Dalvin Cook, James Cook, Khalil Herbert, Javonte Williams, and Alvin Kamara. Gibson is RB38 ahead of Samaje Perine and Elijah Mitchell. These are too rich for my blood right now, but I would not hesitate to take them if they were to fall. 

Sam Howell QB29, Jacoby Brissett QB35

Sam Howell may be a fifth-round pick, but he has substantial upside. Before a disastrous senior year, Howell was viewed as a first-round pick and potentially the top QB in the class. If Bienemy can get something to work with Howell, it will be an amazing boost in value to the receiving corps. Also, keep in mind Jacoby Brissett is no slouch. If Howell can’t hack it, all hope is not lost with Brissett going under center. If EB installs similar concepts to the runs he helped execute under Andy Reid, we will see much of the west coast offense.

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Terry McLaurin WR21, Jahan Dotson WR35, Curtis Samuel WR68

Bienemy will likely rely heavily on bunch sets that use three WR. Presumably, these three will be McLaurin, Dotson, and Samuel. This concept is amazing for McLaurin. These formations often force teams to audible into different formations. McLaurin, while good man-to-man, is elite at zone coverage. Forcing the defenses to change to a more zone-like formation will open up many opportunities for TMC to thrive. It will also create traffic for him to separate from man to man. EB loves to scheme weekly against different defense weaknesses favorable for McLaurin. Samuel will likely benefit from the quick routes and gadget plays. At WR68, he is the good value behind many receivers with unclear roles like Romeo. Dotson has a high upside well at WR35. However, some players like George Pickens and Treylon Burksin that same range are more likely to be focal points in their offenses. 

Logan Thomas TE32, Cole Turner TE71

Lastly, we have the big guy. If he can stay healthy, Logan Thomas could be a tremendous steal. Bienemy no longer has Kelece, but it is doubtful that he will completely abandon schemes in which the tight end was heavily featured. Why he is currently behind Jelani Woods and Isaiah Likely at TE 32 is beyond me. This is an absolute steal. Also, if you are looking for a DEEP sleeper, 2021 fifth-round pick Cole Turner is a candidate to emerge as a fantasy-relevant tight end. This is especially so if Logan Thomas gets hurt again. 

Brian Johnson Philadelphia Eagles (QB Coach Philadelphia Eagles)

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Unlike the Buccaneers and Commanders. The NFC Champion Eagles went with the in-house option and promoted Brian Johnson from QB coach to Offensive Coordinator. This makes sense, given they did not fire their OC like the other two teams. He left to become the Colts’ head coach, so it makes sense for the Eagles to move forward with a current staff member taking over. 

To say there is familiarity here is an understatement. Johnson has known Jalen Hurts since he was a kid, as Jalen’s dad was his high school football coach. It is the reasonable expectation that the Eagles’ offense will pick up where they left off. Nick Siriani, however, has stayed true to his promise in his infamous opening press conference. He wants a scheme that adapts to his players, not the other way around. So, Johnson might be making a few changes after this offseason, namely the loss of Miles Sanders in free agency.

Assessing Fantasy Value 

A.J. Brown WR7, DeVonta Smith WR16, Dallas Goedert TE6

Given that the offense does not need an overhaul and the majority of the 2022 offense is returning, you can expect more of the same from last year. Star wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are right where they belong at their ADPs. There is little reason to believe they won’t be able to have the same success under Johnson as they did under Steichen. The same goes for Dallas Goedert, who sits firmly as the number 6 ranked tight end in fantasy going into this season. The loss of Miles Sanders can also open up the possibilities for more passes inside the red zone.

RB D’Andre Swift RB27, RB Rashaad Penny RB35, Kenneth Gainwell RB50, 

Philly ran the ball 544 times in 2022, the third most in the NFL. However, 165 of those carries were by Jalen Hurts. Pro Bowl running back Miles Sanders had 72 percent of those remaining carries. Sanders signed with the Panthers in free agency. Kenneth Gainwell may be in the rotation, but they won’t be a significant contributor barring injury. D’Andre Swift RB27 and Rashaad Penny RB35 are joining the squad to replace Sanders this year, given that neither has shown the capacity to be a feature back. It is likely Penny will take over running out of the backfield, and Swift will serve as a receiving back. The Eagles rarely threw to the running backs last year. This could change by acquiring Swift and philosophy to adapt the playbook. There is too much uncertainty here to feel great at their ADP. Both guys could be in line for career years, so there is some potential upside here. 

QB Jalen Hurts QB3

The biggest beneficiary of Johnson and the potential scheme changes is Jalen Hurts. With Swift in the fold, there will likely be more throws to the running backs. This commodity is a plus for Hurts. Even little dump passes will rack up yards that wouldn’t count toward last year’s passing stats. Furthermore, the red zone situation is great for Hurts as well. Last year, Hurts and Sanders split the red zone carries 50/50. Neither Penny nor Swift is a strength in the red zone, leaving more opportunities for Hurts. Hurts could be throwing more passes and having a larger percentage of carries in the red zone. He is currently sitting at QB3. He more than deserves a ranking that high and can very well finish the season as QB1.

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