NFL Coaching Carousel - Jon Gruden
One of the most under-looked things among casual fantasy football enthusiasts is the impact that a coaching change can have on a team, particularly the offense. When the new coach implements a new system, it can mean a shift from a pass happy offense to more of a rush oriented attack (or vice versa), it can mean certain players can see a reduction in usage, or players that were once not involved may become key players in the new offense. Understanding what a new coach brings to the table is a very important piece of the puzzle that we call fantasy football.
This offseason we saw a ton of action in the coaching carousel, but there wasn't a bigger splash than the Raiders when they lured Jon Gruden out of the announcing booth to be their head coach for the next ten years. Yes, I said ten years. Not only is his contract for ten years, but it's for ten years and $100 million!
In order to see what effect that Jon Gruden will have on the offense, it's important to look at what he's done in the past. I would like to use a word of caution. Gruden has not coached in the NFL since 2008, so we don't have any recent data to extrapolate from. Has he continued to evolve as an offensive mastermind while watching from the broadcast booth or will he rely on what brought him success in the past? I don't have the answer to that, but my guess would be he will add some new twists, but still fall back on some of the same tendencies he relied upon in the past. So what were those tendencies? Let's dig in to find out!
I don't think we need to go back to the early days when he was coaching in the NCAA or a position coach in the NFL, so the three main spots I want to dissect are when he was the Offensive Coordinator for Philadephia from 1995-1998, Head Coach of the Raiders from 1998-2001, and his final stop when he was Head Coach of Tampa Bay from 2002-2008.
Offensive Coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles (1995-1998)
After spending three years with the Green Bay Packers as their wide receiver coach, Gruden was given the opportunity to be the Offensive Coordinator in Philadelphia under defensive minded head coach, Ray Rhodes. Gruden made the most of the opportunity as the Eagles' offense thrived under the young hot shot. His first year was a work in progress, but the Eagles finished fourth in total yards in 1996 and fifth in 1997.
It's hard to draw any conclusions from the quarterback play during these years as he never had the same one finish a season. In 1995, Randall Cunningham played four games and Rodney Peete 12. In 1996, Ty Detmer started 11 games while Peete started five and then in 1997, Detmer started seven games, Bobby Hoying six games and Peete three. Let's make this clear right now...this offense ran through Pro Bowl running back, Ricky Watters.
Watters was already a three-time Pro Bowler from his first three years in San Francisco, but he took it to the next level while in Philly. He averaged 946 yards per season and never had more than 239 rushing attempts as a 49er, but that changed when he played under Gruden. Here are his rushing totals as an Eagle.
1995: 337/1,273/11 TD
1996: 353/1,411/13 TD
1997: 285/1,110/7 TD
Watters saw the highest volume during any point of his career under Gruden and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1995 and 1996. Watters was also used heavily in the passing game as he had 62, 51, and 48 receptions in his three years. Gruden liked throwing to the running back as the combination of Watters and Charlie Garner typically combined for roughly 70 catches per season.
While it's hard to take anything from the quarterback position, Gruden leaned very heavily on his wide receivers, particularly his number one receiver. In 1995, Calvin Williams led the team with 111 targets, but then the Eagles brought in veteran, Irving Fryar who was targeted 152 times in 1996 and 153 times in 1997. Over his 17 year career, Fryar had never been targeted more than 126 times in a season (pre 1992 there is no target data but with reception totals, it's fair to assume he didn't reach that mark). He also had two of his best three seasons as far as receiving yards as he went for 1,195 yards in '96 and 1,316 yards in '97. Gruden targeted his top wide receiver heavily during his time in Philly and they prospered as a result.
While he looked frequently at his WR1, he didn't use his tight end often. This was a different time in football and the tight end wasn't featured as predominately as it is today, but during his time with the Eagles, he never had a tight end catch more than 20 receptions and the entire position never had more than 33 catches in a season.
Head Coach, Oakland Raiders (1998-2001)
Gruden's success in Philadelphia caught the eye of a certain mad man in Oakland and Al Davis brought the prospect into the Raiders fold as their head coach in 1998. After two 8-8 seasons, "Chucky" led the Raiders to the AFC Championship game where they lost to the defensive juggernaut and eventual Super Bowl Champion, Baltimore Ravens. In three of his four seasons in Oakland, Gruden finished as a top seven offense in the NFL and made a name for himself at a national level.
While it was hard to take anything from the quarterback play in Philadelphia, that's not the case during his stay in Oakland. Gruden brought in journeyman, Rich Gannon in 1999 and immediately turned him into a Pro Bowler. Gannon had never thrown for over 2,305 yards in any of his first 11 NFL seasons, but his first year in Oakland he threw for 3,840 yards and 24 touchdowns. In his three years with Gruden, Gannon averaged almost 3,700 yards and 27 touchdowns per season, while making the Pro Bowl each year. Gruden turned a 34 year old quarterback who wasn't able to succeed with his previous three teams into a superstar.
Oakland didn't have a running back near the caliber of Ricky Watters, but they still leaned heavily on the run game. In his four season with the Raiders, they finished 17th, seventh, third and 12th as far as rushing attempts per season even though they had the likes of Napoleon Kaufman, Harvey Williams, Tryone Wheatley and Charlie Garner as their primary backs. Gruden held steady with targeting his backs in the passing game in Oakland as he topped 70 catches for backs in all four years and exceeded 100 in 2001 when Charlie Garner became the featured back.
Gruden also continued to target his top receiver in his four seasons. Here is the production from his number one receiver each year.
1998: Tim Brown - 81/1,012/9 TD on 153 targets
1999: Tim Brown - 90/1,344/6 TD on 145 targets
2000: Tim Brown - 76/1,128/11 TD on 133 targets
2001: Tim Brown - 91/1,165/9 TD on 140 targets
Until Jerry Rice arrived in 2001, no Raider wide receiver saw more than 88 targets in a season while his top pass catcher never saw less than 133 looks. Gruden loves himself a number one receiver...
Once again, the tight end was not featured in Gruden's offense. His top tight end averaged 34 catches per year and never topped 39. I will say it again, this was a different time in football, but Gruden's offense in Oakland focused on the running backs and his top receiver.
Head Coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-2008)
Gruden took the Raiders to the playoffs in two of his four seasons, but he couldn't quite take them to the promised land. The Buccaneers thought he was their ticket to a Super Bowl, so they traded two first round draft picks, two second round picks and added in $8 million in dinero to make Gruden Tony Dungy's replacement. It worked, as Gruden took Tampa to the Super Bowl in year one and ironically he defeated his former team the Raiders to win Tampa's first, and only Super Bowl.
Like his stay in Philadelphia, Gruden failed to find much consistency at the quarterback position. Brad Johnson was a Pro Bowler in 2002 and Jeff Garcia in 2008 but in four of his other five seasons, a quarterback never started more than 11 games.
When it comes to his time in Tampa, one thing that stands out is that he wasn't able to run the ball there as effectively as he did in Philly and Oakland. In his seven seasons, the Bucs finished 27th, 24th, 29th, 14th, 28th, 11th and 15th as far as rushing yards per season. While they weren't great at rushing the ball, they still used their backs heavily in the receiving game as the likes of Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham, Warrick Dunn and even Mike Alstott accumulated a lot of receptions over his seven years.
Once again, Gruden liked to feature his number one receiver as his top receiver averaged well over 130 targets in his seven years. Here is the production from his number one receivers while in Tampa.
2002: Keyshawn Johnson - 76/1,088/5 TD on 142 targets
2003: Keenan McCardell - 84/1,174/8 TD on 139 targets
2004: Michael Clayton - 80/1,193/7 TD on 122 targets
2005: Joey Galloway - 83/1,287/10 TD on 152 targets
2006: Joey Galloway - 62/1,057/7 TD on 143 targets
2007: Joey Galloway - 57/1,014/6 TD on 98 targets
2008: Antonio Bryant - 83/1,248/7 TD on 138 targets
Whoever is the number one wide receiver in Oakland (hint, hint...it's Amari Cooper), could really benefit from having Jon Gruden calling the plays.
As at his previous two stops, the tight end wasn't a big part of the offense. No tight end caught more than 41 receptions in a year and a lot of the shorter routes went to the running back position.
So what does this mean for the Oakland Raiders? Let's peek at each position.
It's hard to know what this means for Derek Carr because there were so many quarterbacks who played in so few games for Gruden. In the 14 seasons I've covered, he has had a total of 16 quarterbacks start at least one game, and only three of those have started more than 21 games (out of a possible 226 games - 14 years by 16 games per year). Those three quarterbacks that started more than 21 games were Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson and Jeff Garcia. Here's an interesting stat. In Gruden's 14 years as OC or Head Coach, he has had the same quarterback start at least 13 games in a single season a grand total of five times. Of those five, four of those seasons his quarterback made the Pro Bowl. Gannon made it all three years under Gruden, Brad Johnson once and Jeff Garcia once. Let's look at those quarterbacks.
Gannon was an average quarterback at best before Gruden and made the Pro Bowl in his first three years with Gruden and then once again the year after Chucky left. So he was an All-Pro four times in his 17 year NFL career, with three of those coming under Gruden. Brad Johnson was an All-Pro quarterback twice in his 15 year career with one of those times under Gruden, and Jeff Garcia had a little more success outside of Gruden, but was a Pro Bowler four times in 11 years with one of those coming in his two years with Gruden. Derek Carr has made the Pro Bowl in three of his first four years so with his history of turning average quarterbacks into All-Pro quarterbacks, I'm very optimistic that we could see Carr take it to the next level in 2018.
There are two things that stick out to me when it comes to running backs in Gruden's system. First is that he isn't afraid to use multiple backs and the second is he likes to use them in the passing game. Here's the problem with that. The Raiders have Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin who are both very capable of running the ball, and they also have Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington who are both good receivers. It will be a situation to watch in training camp and the preseason this summer to see if anyone starts separating themselves from the pack, but honestly, it's a situation I am likely staying away from this year in fantasy.
As I stated earlier, Gruden loves to target his number one wide receiver and that gets me giddy about Amari Cooper this season. Cooper took a step back last year as he missed a few games and only finished as the WR36 in PPR leagues. I think he could rebound in a big way, and if he can be had a bit of "recency-bias discount", I have a feeling I am going to have him on a lot of teams in 2018. Over the 14 years he was calling plays, his number two receiver averaged 78 targets per season, so I am a bit concerned about Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant. Be wary of their average draft position this summer.
I've made it clear throughout this article that Gruden hasn't looked the way of the tight end much during his coaching tenure. Jared Cook caught 54 passes last year in his first year in Oakland, and that was a career high for him. With the Raiders bringing in Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant, coupled with Gruden's past of not making the position a priority, I have a feeling that we see Cook take a small step backwards in 2018.
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