Kyle Shanahan: A Fantasy Football Story
There are several aspects of a player’s profile that determine success or failure: talent, draft pedigree, opportunity, contract, and age just to name a few. However, one that is often overlooked is coaching. A head coach or even an offensive coordinator can have a profound effect on a player’s value. Look at Gary Kubiak’s zone run blocking scheme or Bill Belichick’s week to week specific game planning for perfect examples. In this article, we will look at Kyle Shanahan and his effects as he assumed offensive coordinator positions for the Texans, Redskins, Browns and Falcons, and what that could mean for the 49ers (where he will call plays). We will also look for any possible regression trends to be expected from the Falcons.
The Shanahan Effect
Before we get into it, here is a timeline of Shanahan as an offensive coordinator in the NFL:
–Houston Texans (2008-2009)
–Washington Redskins (2010-2013)
–Cleveland Browns (2014)
–Atlanta Falcons (2015-2016)
–San Francisco 49ers (Head Coach, 2017- )
Aside from the Atlanta Falcons, one thing you may notice is that these teams were not known for elite offensive personnel. There were exceptions of course, like Andre Johnson for the Texans, but on the whole, Shanahan has been saddled with less than ideal talent at the skill positions and has made the most of it.
In 2008, Shanahan turned Steve Slaton into a 1,000-yard rusher with 50 receptions. That same year, Andre Johnson went nuclear to the tune of 115 receptions for 1,575 yards and 8 TDs. Even Owen Daniels had a solid year posting 70 grabs for 862 yards. The Texans finished 5th in the league that year in yards per play with 6.0, no small feat considering the QB position was a platoon of Matt Schaub and Sage Rosenfels.
All told in two years with Houston, Shanahan’s offense posted a top 5 QB season, 2 top 5 WR seasons, and a top 10 RB and TE season.
If you thought the Texans were a team bereft of talent, I raise you the 2010 Washington Redskins. An aging Donovan McNabb along with a battered RB corps led to a rough year for the offense. However, Shanahan was able to get 1,115 yards on 93 receptions from a 31-year old Santana Moss. The TE position was solid as well as Chris Cooley posted 849 yards. The offense, while leaving something to be desired, still outscored the 2009 version of the same team by 2.25 points/game.
The Redskins really broke out under Shanahan’s tutelage in 2012 and carried that success into the 2013 season. In 2012, rookie QB Robert Griffin III and rookie RB Alfred Morris posted monster seasons. Both finishing in the top 5 at their position. The following year Kyle Shanahan made a name for himself as the “WR X Wizard” as he made Pierre Garcon into an Andre Johnson-like beast. Garcon played in the X position and finished with 113 receptions, 1,346 receiving yards, and 5 scores.
In 2014, the Browns were coming off a season in which Josh Gordon had set the fantasy world ablaze, leading the league in receiving despite playing in just 12 games. The Kyle Shanahan X-WR narrative was frothing. Unfortunately, a subsequent suspension left the Browns with the diminutive Andrew Hawkins and a washed-out Miles Austin at WR.
A bright spot for this seemingly lost season was how Shanahan got production out of a rotation of RBs in the form of a Ben Tate, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell committee.
The 2015 Atlanta Falcons must have seemed like an oasis to Shanahan. Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Julio Jones represented the most talented trio of players that Shanahan had coached since taking on offensive coordinator duties in the league. Matt Ryan had a down season in 2015, but it didn’t stop Freeman and Jones from busting out. Freeman finished as the RB #1 while Julio Jones was just narrowly edged out by Antonio Brown for the top WR position in fantasy.
In 2016, Shanahan and the NFC Champion Falcons really hit their stride. It is no small feat having the #2 fantasy QB alongside 2 top 15 RBs and a top 10 WR in the same offense.
San Francisco 49ers
What does this mean for the 49ers in 2017? Unfortunately, the cupboard in Santa Clara is pretty bare for Kyle Shanahan and his first-time GM John Lynch. Shanahan has proven that he can get a decent season out of less than decent QBs which will likely need to repeat in 2017. He has also shown the ability to get the most out of a rookie QB, should the 49ers opt to use their #2 overall pick in the draft to select a signal caller like Deshaun Watson or Mitch Trubisky.
Under Shanahan, I expect big things from Carlos Hyde and even possibly another RB that they add in the offseason, possibly in a pass catching role. I also expect Lynch to bring in a solid #1 WR through the draft (possibly Mike Williams or Corey Davis) or in free agency to fill the X-WR role in Shanahan’s offense. Since Shanahan will be calling the plays in 2017, look for whoever plays the #1 WR role to be peppered with targets. This is enough to make even the “Pierre Garcons” of the world look like top-tier WRs. If only someone like that was available in free agency… hmmm….
If the offensive genius of Kyle Shanahan brings prosperity and/or improvement wherever he goes, does that mean the opposite effect can be expected when he leaves? Actually, no.
In terms of yards per offensive play, the offenses that Shanahan has left have maintained their production or even continued to build on what he started. The Texans improved by 0.1 yards/play, the Redskins by 0.4 yards/play and the Browns broke even. The story is more or less the same in terms of total offense, give or take 175 yards over the course of a season.
This means that though you may hear rumors down on Narrative Street about regression from the Falcons offense and those rumors may even = end up being true, any regression is unlikely to be directly related to Shanahan’s departure. Dan Quinn is not going to change an offensive scheme that was working so well. Instead, I expect the new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian to adopt many of the same offensive principles that unlocked Matt Ryan and this offense last season. After all, Sarkisian doesn’t want to be remembered as the guy who ruined the best offense in the league.