Fantasy Football Impact on the Arizona Cardinals
After getting canned by the Broncos midseason in 2017, Mike McCoy has landed on his feet as the OC in Arizona. McCoy will call plays under defensive-minded HC Steve Wilks, and hopes to revive an offense that understandably collapsed after losing Carson Palmer and David Johnson early last season. With Larry Fitzgerald officially returning and Johnson back to full health, McCoy has the weaponry and track record to put up some points... if the Cardinals land the right signal caller.
McCoy brings nine years of play calling experience to the Cardinals, and an even more extensive NFL background. He first entered the league with the Carolina Panthers in 2000, where he spent 8 of his 9 years as the quarterbacks coach, squeezing out the best of Jake Delhomme while assisting in some explosive passing attacks.
McCoy's long-tenured success in Carolina ultimately landed him his first playcalling gig with the Denver Broncos in 2009, where he remained the OC for four seasons. Regardless of the ultimate numbers (15th, 13th, 23rd, and 4th in total yardage; 20th, 19th, 25th, and 2nd in points), McCoy always seemed to squeeze the most out of his offensive pieces: Kyle Orton had his only two genuinely useful seasons (and made Brandon Lloyd the top scoring wideout in fantasy?!), the offense led the league in rushing with Tim Tebow at the helm, and Peyton Manning's arrival was a wild success all under McCoy's watch.
He was able to parlay this varied, creative success into a head coaching gig with the Chargers. Again, the results differed, despite consistency at quarterback this time in Philip Rivers. Granted, Rivers landed top-10 in passing yardage in all four years and top-10 in TDs for three of those, but running game woes led to middling offensive results (5th, 18th, 9th, 14th in total yardage; 12th, 17th, 26th and 9th in points). Moreover, late game collapses and some defensive woes led to poor overall records, and McCoy was sent packing in 2016.
McCoy then returned to Denver as the OC in 2017, but he ultimately was the scapegoat for an abysmal overall team performance and was fired before the end of the season.
Overall, his passing attacks have been prolific, as McCoy has been top 10 in passing yardage in six of nine seasons, with three of those in the top-5. Really, this should be 6/8, considering Tebow may be the worst passer who's ever gotten under center in the NFL.
Conversely, McCoy's run games have frequently stalled, cracking the top-15 just twice (one the Tebow year), while ranking in the bottom 20 for four of nine seasons. Moreover, his teams have never scored more than 13 total rushing TDs, and have never ranked higher than 12th in Rushing TDs, ranking 22 or worse in five of nine seasons.
Similar to Todd Haley, McCoy does not subscribe to one specific philosophy or system. Rather, he molds his game plans very specifically to the talent at his disposal and the opponent he faces. As he explains himself:
“Everything is about the players,” McCoy said. “Everything we do is meant to give them the best opportunity to succeed. But you never know what you have until you’re working with them. You see them on paper or film, and they might look phenomenal. But put them in a new environment, where they’re playing with different teammates in different kinds of systems, and everything changes. You have to find out what they do best and build on your strengths.
“Football is football. We might call (the offensive strategy) something different than Dallas does or what the 49ers are doing. Too much is made of, what scheme do you want to be classified as? It’s all just football. It’s about your best players going out there and executing with great confidence because they know they’re in the best position to win.”
Indeed, nearly any coach will tell you this -- a major role of their job, after all, is to find mismatches on their own rosters versus the opponent, and exploit these to the fullest. Still, most play callers come with a certain "offensive spine" -- perhaps they're more vertical (Norv Turner) or horizontal (Andy Reid) in their passing attack, or prefer workhorses (Todd Haley) over committees (Frank Reich) in the backfield.
Not McCoy. Year in and year out, he's truly evolved his attack to the makeup of his roster. This was most evident during his Broncos tenure, where the team adapted from a Kyle Orton, more balanaced attack to leading the league in rushing under Tim Tebow, to crafting the second pass-heaviest attack in the league under Peyton Manning. He truly stripped down and retooled his playbook each and every year.
Moreover, this offense evolves on a week-to-week basis. Joel Dreesen, a tight end under McCoy in Denver, noted:
“I remember games where we would go no huddle the entire game and stay in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) all the way through and let Peyton Manning do his no-huddle show and put up a bunch of points... Then there were games where he run the heck out of the ball. We’d get in 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends, one wide receiver) and grind away the clock and he’d really manage the game.
“When he says he’s going to play to the strengths of his players and attack each defense on a week-to-week basis, I really believe him.”
Thus, projecting McCoy's exact offense is futile. He's going to craft a scheme that best suits his talents, versus seeking out talents that best fit his scheme. Historically, McCoy has loved a reliable wide receiver who can rack up YAC on bubble screens a short routes -- Larry Fitzgerald fits this mold quite perfectly. McCoy's also historically deployed committees, yet isn't afraid to ride workhorses when present. David Johnson couldn't fit the "versatile workhorse" mold any better.
In fact, perhaps the only clue of how this offense will operate, is head coach Steve Wilks' desire to emphasize the run:
“Someone mentioned a pass-happy league, which I agree it is,” Wilks said in his introductory news conference. “But, I still believe this: You have to have a foundation of running the football. As a defensive coordinator, there’s nothing more demoralizing to a team than being able to run the ball. I mean, you’re talking about taking the air out of an individual. So, that’s going to be our premise. When you look at some of the premier running backs in the National Football League, we have one right here in (David) Johnson.”
Again, considering McCoy's tendency to blend to his own talents, plus Wilks' own desires to be run-centric, and a Johnson-focused offense makes perfect sense -- even if McCoy's rushing history is subpar. Knowing who'll be under center will illuminate everything, of course; usefully, the Cardinals currently have exactly zero quarterbacks under contract. Still, expect the attack to feature Johnson's insane versatility and Fitzgerald's reliability.
Everything is about the players...Everything we do is meant to give them the best opportunity to succeed. But you never know what you have until you’re working with them. You see them on paper or film, and they might look phenomenal. But put them in a new environment, where they’re playing with different teammates in different kinds of systems, and everything changes. You have to find out what they do best and build on your strengths. - McCoy on his "Philosophy"
2009 - Kyle Orton: 336/541 (62.1%), 3802 yds, 21 TDs, 12 INTs
2010 - Kyle Orton (13 GP): 293/498 (58.8%), 3653 yds, 20 TDs, 9 INTs (4,496 yd, 25 TD pace)
2011 - Tim Tebow (11 GP): 126/271 (46.5%), 1729 yds, 12 TDs, 6 INTs + 660 rush. yds, 6 TDs
2012 - Peyton Manning: 400/583 (68.6%), 4659 yds, 37 TDs, 11 INTs
2013 - Philip Rivers: 378/544 (69.5%), 4478 yds, 32 TDs, 11 INTs
2014 - Philip Rivers: 379/570 (66.5%), 4286 yards, 21 TDs, 18 INTs
2015 – Philip Rivers: 437/661 (66.1%), 4792, 29 TDs, 13 INTs
2016 - Philip Rivers: 349/578 (60.4%), 4386 yds, 33 TDs, 21 INTs
Overall, McCoy's passing attacks have been prolific, finishing in the top 10 in passing yardage in six of nine seasons, with three of those in the top-5. Really, this should be 6/8, considering Tebow may be the worst passer who's ever gotten under center in the NFL. While he obviously benefited from having elite talent in Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, McCoy also squeezed career highs out of Kyle Orton. Overall, the signal caller will benefit from McCoy dialing up high-percentage YAC opportunities to set up longer, one-move-and-go type of fly routes.
Without a single QB under contract for 2018, this section is pure speculation. At the NFL Combine, both WIlks and GM Steve Keim emphasized that the Cardinals will be very aggressive" in finding their guy. This could be drafting, trading, or free agency, but regardless the team has many plans and backup plans for landing their guy. Ultimately, Keim suggested the team will likely aim for a stopgap veteran and a developmental prospect, noting, “We’re going to have to have someone that’s experienced, and you’d like to be able to take a young guy and develop him.”
Whoever's slinging the rock will have the benefit of two YAC Beasts in David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Moreover, McCoy has squeezed quality, highly-usable fantasy efforts out of Kyle Orton and even Tim Tebow, so there's a real chance a viable option emerges here. With the latest reports suggesting Kirk Cousins is bound for the Vikings or Broncos, don't be surprised if Case Keenum or Josh McCown end up here alongside a project.
2009 - Brandon Marshall (DEN): 154 tgts, 101 rec, 1120 yds, 10 TDs
2010 - Brandon Lloyd (DEN): 153 tgts, 77 rec, 1448 yds, 11 TDs
2011 (Puke Tebow) - Eric Decker: 96 tgts, 44 rec, 612 yds, 8 TDs
2012 - Demaryius Thomas: 143 tgts, 94 rec, 1434 yds, 10 TDs; Eric Decker: 122 tgts, 1064 yds, 13 TDs
2013 - Keenan Allen (SD, rook): 105 tgts, 71 rec, 1046 yds, 8 TDs
2014 – Malcolm Floyd: 92 tgts, 52 rec, 856 yds, 6 TDs; Keenan Allen: 121 tgts, 77 rec, 783 yards, 4 TDs
2015 – Keenan Allen (8 GP): 89 tgts, 67 rec, 725 yds, 4 TDs (178 tgt, 134 rec, 1450 yd, 8 TD pace)
2016 - Tyrell Williams: 119 tgts, 69 rec, 1059 yds, 7 TDs
Ultimately, the massive successes of Haley's top wide receivers is not coincidental or simply a matter of having elite talent. These supreme players have had their best numbers under Haley, and weaker talents still flourished in weak passing attacks. Of all the positions, expect WR dominance to continue.
2018 Outlook - Another Dominant Season from Fitzgerald?
Of course, Fitzgerald and any pass-catcher's value is going to be directly tied to whoever's chucking the rock. Ideally, this will be a veteran and not a developmental project for Fitz's sake. Assuming there's a pass-catcher who can deliver the mail, Fitzgerald has the skillset to thrive in a McCoy offense. He's as sure-handed as any wideout in the league, and excels at breaking tackles and reading blockers, making him perfect for the bubble screens and short game routes he'll be peppered with. Fitzgerald is also highly capable of red zone domination, as he maintains excellent body control of his 6'3" frame. Another 90-100 catches, and 1,200+ yards is well-within his grasp with an accurate QB.
2013 - Antonio Gates: 114 tgts, 77 rec, 872 yds, 4 TDs
2014 - Antonio Gates (14 GP): 98 tgts, 69 rec, 821 yds, 12 TDs
2015 - Antonio Gates (11 GP): 85 tgts, 56 rec, 630 yds, 5 TDs (916 yd, 7 TD pace)
2016 - Antonio Gates: 93 tgts, 53 rec, 548 yds, 7 TDs; Hunter Henry: 53 tgts, 6 rec, 478 yds, 8 TDs
True to his "adaptability" calling card, McCoy has either completely ignored the tight end position, or peppered it depending on his talents. He never had a worthy seam-stretcher until arriving to San Diego, where he inherited arguably the best in Antonio Gates. Though Gates was clearly on his back nine while working with McCoy (33 - 36 years old), he still was plenty productive, particularly as a Red Zone maven in 2014. Between this massive season, a strong 2015 pace, and a combined 15 TDs between Gates and Henry in 2016, McCoy has shown the propensity to use his tight ends in close. Both Gates and Henry often split out wide, and were used in one-on-one, jump ball situations.
2018 Outlook - Rick Seals Jones to be unleashed?
With Jermaine Gresham recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, RSJ has a chance to be truly unleashed. He's a converted wideout, carrying a massive 6'5" and 268 lb frame that can move, and he flashed some real dominance for a 2-week span in late November (3-54-2 TDs and 4-72-TD in Weeks 11 & 12). He also has GM Steve Keim in his corner, who noted his excitement over the young tight end's upside at this year's combine:
"Ricky showed last year he could become a mismatch in the passing game athletically. Suddenness, his ability to create mismatches whether it is in motioning out of the slot, motioning out of the backfield. He is a guy to me that is just now scratching the surface. He’s a player we are excited about moving forward."
On a team devoid of weapons, RSJ does indeed carry some viable upside. However, he disappeared after his quick flash, despite some very juicy matchups, and could never gain consistent separation on the college field. McCoy will indeed deploy RSJ in the red area if he can shake free or dominate contested balls for more than just glimpses, making him a viable Penny Stock. Still, if RSJ proves little more than a big body, he'll be completely useless. The 7-8 TD Upside is extremely real, however.
2009 - Committee-ish - Knowshon Moreno (9 GS): 1,160 tot. yds, 9 TDs, 28 rec (41 tgts), 247 carries; Correll Buckhalter (7 GS): 882 tot. yds, 1 TD, 31 rec (38 tgts)
2010 - Workhorse-ish - Knowshon Moreno (13 GP): 1,151 tot yds, 8 TDs, 37 rec (48 tgts), 182 carries (1,416 tot yd, 10 TD, 45 rec pace); Tebow vultured 6 TDs
2011 - Workhorse-ish - Willis McGahee: 1,250 tot yds, 5 TDs, 12 rec (20 tgts), 249 carries; Tim Tebow: 660 yards, 6 TDs, 122 carries
2012 - Committee / Injuries - Willis McGahee (10 GP): 952 tot. yds, 4 TDs, 26 rec (33 tgts), 167 carries (1523 yd, 6 TD pace); Knowshon Moreno (8 GP): 691 tot. yds, 4 TDs, 21 rec (26 tgts)
2013 - Committee of Horses - Ryan Mathews: 1,444 tot. yds, 7 TDs, 26 rec (33 tgts) 285 carries; Danny Woodhead: 1034 tot. yds, 8 TDs, 76 rec (88 tgts), 106 carries
2014 – Committee / Injuries – Branden Oliver: 853 tot. yds, 4 TDs, 36 rec (45 tgts); Ryan Mathews (6 GP): 399 total yards, 3 TDs
2015 – Committee - Melvin Gordon (13 GP): 833 tot yds, 0 TDs, 33 rec (37 tgts), 184 carries; Danny Woodhead**: 1091 total yards, 9 TDs, 80 rec. (106 tgts), 98 carries
2016 - Workhorse - Melvin Gordon (13 GP): 1,416 tot. yds, 12 TDs, 41 re (57 tgts), 254 carries (1,743 yd, 15 TD, 50 rec pace)
The "Overall" Rushing Numbers appear grim for McCoy: he's cracked the top-15 in yardage just twice, including a year with Tim Tebow, while ranking in the bottom 20 for four of nine seasons. Moreover, his teams have never scored more than 13 total rushing TDs, and have never ranked higher than 12th in Rushing TDs, ranking 22nd or worse in five of nine seasons.
Yet, fantasy-wise, there's still hope. For one, McCoy's had an RB top or be on pace for over 1,000 total yards in all but one injury-marred season. He also frequently utilizes his RBs in the passing game, though his preference appears to be dividing work between a pass-catching specialist and lead rusher whenever possible. Still, as seen in Gordon's massive 2016 campaign following Woodhead's injury, McCoy will gladly ride a workhorse if the talent is right.
Though McCoy's general use of committees and lack of team rushing success is a concern, Johnson has the talent and versatility to easily buck those trends. This is especially true with head coach Wilks' adamant in his run-first philosophy:
“As a defensive coordinator, there’s nothing more demoralizing to a team than being able to run the ball. I mean, you’re talking about taking the air out of an individual. So, that’s going to be our premise. When you look at some of the premier running backs in the National Football League, we have one right here in (David) Johnson.
You have to have a foundation of running the football. You’ve got to run the football and I think you’ve got to have balance off that,” Wilks said. “It opens up the passing game for you. It opens up play-action, so we’re going to run the football.”
Fitzgerald's return should help alleviate pressure, and the veteran wideout has already emphasized Johnson's potential to coach McCoy:
“When I talked to Larry the other day, I made a comment and he said, ‘Coach, hold on now, this guy can run some routes for us too, so let’s make sure we take advantage of that."
Between Wilks' run-centric philosophy and the overall lack of any competition, expect Johnson to remain a 2018 workhorse. A competent signal caller and some line upgrades would certainly boost Johnson's stock, but McCoy's no longer the negative he may have initially appeared. Gordon's 2016 pace of 1,700+ total yards, 15 TDs, and 50 receptions feels like a realistic bar for Johnson.
McCoy arrives in Arizona with a wide variety of offensive success, stirred in with some recent failures. His calling card is "adaptability," as McCoy has consistently crafted attacks that are tailored to his players' strengths and weaknesses, squeezing the most out of guys like Kyle Orton to Peyton Manning to *gasp* even Tim Tebow. Whenever possible, McCoy has deployed a target-hog WR1s and RBs, capable of racking up YAC on bubble screens, and he'll inherit two prime fits in Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. McCoy's WR1s have topped 1,000 yards in 6/9 seasons, but one miss was a Tebow led squad, while the other saw Keenan Allen on pace for 1,450 yds. He loves funneling targets to an Alpha X, and Fitzgerald remains elite even at his extensive age. Meanwhile, RBs haven't experienced quite the same success due to McCoy's mostly committee-based approach; still, the new OC has had at least one RB top 1,000 total yards in all but two seasons, and McGahee was on pace for over 1,500 when injured during one such campaign. The RB outputs aren't nearly as dreary as the low "Team Rushing Totals" might suggest, as McCoy has sneakily churned out productive backs throughout his nine year history. Johnson is the most versatile, elite RB talent McCoy's had yet, and HC Steve Wilk's "run-centric" philosophy should facilitate a workhorse treatment.
Both DJ and Fitz should expect continued success under McCoy... assuming the team finds the right signal caller. Early rumblings give the Cardinals at least a shot at Kirk Cousins, while the team has revealed they'll pursue a veteran stopgap and developmental project if not. Whether Keenum, McCown, or AJ McCarron, really anyone capable of delivering the short-game mail with accuracy will allow Fitz and DJ to flourish. Behind them, perhaps Ricky Seals-Jones could emerge as a viable sleeper, yet McCoy has been inconsistent with tight end usage, just as Seals-Jones has been at gaining separation. Still, this will be the DJohnson and FItzgerald show, and McCoy can absolutely facilitate top-end finishes for both in 2018.
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