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Coaching Matters: 2021 Buffalo Bills Coaching Staff Preview

After every NFL season, NFL teams take the time to evaluate not only the players but also the coaching staff and front office as well. While many teams choose to retain the same head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator, a few other teams opt to go in a new direction with their coaching staff.

One team that managed to maintain their core coaching staff this offseason was the Buffalo Bills, with head coach Sean McDermott, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier all returning for the 2021-22 season.

This article will look at the potential impact this coaching staff will have on the players and try to pinpoint the Bills players' fantasy values in it.

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The Baseline

To get a better understanding of the value the Bills coaches help bring to this team, we can look at the NFL league averages in each of the past two years in a variety of statistical categories and then compare them to the averages achieved by the Bills' coaches. Here are 'The Baseline' NFL league averages over the past couple of years:

QB Impact

Year Team Pass Att. Team Pass Yds. Team Pass TDs QB Carries QB Rush Yds. QB Rush TDs
2019 League Average
34.87 251.78 1.56 3.56 15.04 0.16
2020 League Average 35.19 254.88 1.70 4.19 18.43 0.25

RB Impact

Year RB Carries RB Rush Yds. RB Rush TDs RB Rec. RB Targets RB Rec. Yds. RB Rec. TDs
2019 League Average
21.77 92.96 0.68 5.10 6.64 40 0.19
2020 League Average
21.68 95.13 0.75 4.71 6.14 34.94 0.18

WR Impact

Year WR Rec. WR Targets WR Rec. Yds. WR Rec. TDs
2019 League Average
12.05 19.59 158.39 0.95
2020 League Average
13.24 20.21 166.67 1.04

TE Impact

Year TE Rec. TE Targets TE Rec. Yds. TE Rec. TDs
2019 League Average
4.70 6.88 50.99 0.38
2020 League Average
4.76 7.03 51.29 0.45

Defense Impact

Year Points Allowed Pass Yds Given Up Run Yds Given Up Plays Against Yds/Play
Turnovers Forced
22.8 235 112.9 63.5 5.5 1.4
24.8 240.2 118.9 64.3 5.6 1.3


2021 Offense

2021 Offensive Coordinator: Brian Daboll

QB Impact

Year Games Team Pass Att. Team Pass Yds. Team Pass TDs QB Carries QB Rush Yds. QB Rush TDs
2019 Bills 16 32.06 217.25 1.31 6.94 31.63 0.56
2020 Bills 16 37.25 299.13 2.5 6.75 25.94 0.5
Daboll's Career Averages (OC/HC)
112 31.01 206.82 1.13 4.38 19.97 0.30

RB Impact

Year Games RB Carries RB Rush Yds. RB Rush TDs RB Rec. RB Targets RB Rec. Yds.
RB Rec. TDs
2019 Bills 16 21.06 90 0.25 3.5 4.56 26.19 0.13
2020 Bills 16 18.13 81.31 0.5 3.38 4.56 25.38 0.13
Daboll's Career Averages (OC/HC) 112 23.02 96.44 0.44 3.85 5.18 28.32 0.10

WR Impact

Year Games WR Rec. WR Targets WR Rec. Yds. WR Rec. TDs
2019 Bills 16 11.94 20.13 150.69 0.88
2020 Bills 16 19.5 26.69 243.56 1.75
Daboll's Career Averages (OC/HC) 112 10.96 19.25 140.74 0.71

TE Impact

Year Games TE Rec. TE Targets TE Rec. Yds. TE Rec. TDs
2019 Bills 16 2.88 5.13 37.75 0.25
2020 Bills 16 2.63 4.25 28.63 0.56
Daboll's Career Averages (OC/HC) 112 3.04 5.10 35.73 0.28


Brian Daboll Takeaways & Expectations

Brian Daboll struggled early in his career as an offensive coordinator, calling plays for franchises that lacked talent such as the Cleveland Browns (2009-2010), Miami Dolphins (2011), and the Kansas City Chiefs (2012). During that time, he put more emphasis on the run rather than the pass, with his offenses failing to average at least 30 passing attempts per game in any of his first four years in the league.

But it's been a different story for Daboll since taking the Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator job in 2018. Since joining the Bills, Daboll's approach has evolved and resulted in an increase in the number of passing attempts each year he's been a coordinator - culminating with 37.25 passing attempts per game last year. He's embraced having a legitimate franchise QB in Josh Allen, and clearly trusts Allen's ability to make throws downfield. This trust combined with Josh Allen's passing and rushing ability makes Allen a high-end QB1 for fantasy drafts in 2021.

Looking at the running back position, Brian Daboll's offensive system doesn't do a great job of producing strong fantasy performers. For starters, his offense doesn't provide many opportunities for his running backs to score with his running backs averaging just 0.54 touchdowns per game over the 112 games he's coached. Secondly, the number of carries he's provided for his tailbacks has decreased every year he's been in Buffalo.

While there should be some bounce-back from a career-low in this area in 2020, the overall downward trend combined with Brian Daboll's historical tendency of a running back by committee approach makes it hard to invest in the Bills' running backs. In five of his seven years as an offensive coordinator, Daboll's lead back has received around just 50% of the season running back carries. With a multitude of solid runners in Zack Moss, Devin Singletary, and Matt Breida, it's likely that Daboll embraces the running back by committee approach once again in 2021.

The final nail in the coffin for Daboll's running backs is that he doesn't feature his backs very much in the passing game relative to other play-callers. Over the course of his 112 game career, Daboll's running backs have averaged 5.18 targets per game and dipped to just 4.56 per game over each of the last two seasons. When compared to the league-average numbers in 'The Baseline' section, it's clear that these numbers are below-average and Daboll has been a negative for his running backs' value in the passing game.

The combination of Daboll's running back carry count dropping, his running back by committee approach, and his lack of usage of his running backs in the passing game makes it difficult for this offense to produce anything higher than an RB2. If you are chasing high-upside players in your fantasy leagues, it's probably best to avoid the Bills' running backs.

Jumping to the Bills' wide receiver room, it's clear they had a phenomenal season last year in Brian Daboll's offense. But, after looking at Daboll's career averages as well as the NFL league averages, it's looking unlikely they receive the same workload for the 2021-22 season. For starters, the Bills' wide receivers were targeted 427 times last year, only second to the Pittsburgh Steelers (459).

Besides these two teams, over the past five seasons, there's only been a handful of teams that have had 400+ WR targets in a single season: the 2019 Atlanta Falcons (421), the 2018 Atlanta Falcons (407), the 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (420), the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers (445), the 2016 Arizona Cardinals (411), the 2016 Green Bay Packers (407), and the 2016 Jacksonville Jaguars (404).

This was by far the most targets a Brian Daboll wide receiver room has received over the course of his career, with 105 more targets than the previous high (2019 Bills). It's clear that we shouldn't be expecting the Bills' wide receivers to build on their workload from 2021, but as long as Josh Allen attempts 550+ passes and Brian Daboll continues to run WR heavy sets, the receivers should still be decent investments for fantasy purposes.

Finally, Daboll's historical usage of tight ends is not very encouraging. In his seven-year career as an NFL offensive coordinator, his tight end room topped six targets per game in just one season - 2010 with the Cleveland Browns (7.19).

This can be attributed to a few factors, with the big ones being...

  1. Brian Daboll's preferred system is heavily utilizing speed (ie: more WR heavy sets)
  2. A lack of talent at the position

Looking at the 2021 Bills roster, it's hard to see Daboll move away from these past tendencies given the success the team had last year featuring their WRs and the addition of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Because of this, Jacob Hollister and Dawson Knox will not be optimal draft targets and should be viewed as only streamers in fantasy football leagues.

Fantasy Relevant Players: Josh Allen, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Marquez Stevenson, Jacob Hollister, and Dawson Knox


2021 Defense

2021 Head Coach: Sean McDermott

Sean McDermott has been a fantastic defensive mind over the course of his career. He spent time as the defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles (2009-2010) and Carolina Panthers (2011-2016) before joining the Buffalo Bills as the head coach in 2017. Given McDermott's defensive background, let's take a look at the defensive statistics his teams have compiled over the course of his career as a defensive coordinator or head coach.

Year Games Points Allowed Pass Yds Given Up Run Yds Given Up Plays Against Yds/Play Turnovers Forced
2019 Bills 16 16.19 195.19 103.06 61.56 4.85 1.44
2020 Bills 16 23.44 232.88 119.63 64.06 5.50 1.63
Sean McDermott's Career Averages (DC/HC) 192 21.86 223.80 108.09 63.17 5.25 1.78


2021 Defensive Coordinator: Leslie Frazier

Leslie Frazier also brings a ton of experience to the table for the Bills on the defensive side of the ball. Prior to joining the Bills in 2017 as the defensive coordinator, Frazier spent time as the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator (2003-2004), Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator (2007-2010), Minnesota Vikings head coach (2010-2013), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator (2014-2015). Given Frazier's history coaching the defensive side of the ball, let's take a look at the defensive statistics his teams have compiled over the course of his career as a defensive coordinator or head coach.

Year Games Points Allowed Pass Yds Given Up Run Yds Given Up Plays Against Yds/Play Turnovers Forced
2019 Bills 16 16.19 195.19 103.06 61.56 4.85 1.44
2020 Bills 16 23.44 232.88 119.63 64.06 5.50 1.63
Leslie Frazier's Career Averages (DC/HC) 240 23.05 229.54 107.15 63.98 5.26 1.58

The past couple of years, the Bills' defense has been above-average, which makes a lot of sense given the names at the top of their coaching staff: head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Both coaches have a lot of experience with McDermott having 192 games under his belt in a defensive coordinator or head coaching role, while Leslie Frazier has 240 games. Based on these coaches' previous success getting the most out of their defenses and the Bills retaining most of their key free agents on the defensive side of the ball, it's likely that this unit remains above-average in 2021. You should feel comfortable grabbing the Bills D/ST in your fantasy leagues.


Other Notable Assistants

Special Teams Coordinator: Heath Farwell - Heath Farwell has been the Bills special teams coordinator since 2019. Before that, he was an assistant special teams coach in Seattle (2016-2017) and Carolina (2018).

QB Coach: Ken Dorsey - Ken Dorsey was the quarterbacks' coach with the Carolina Panthers from 2013-2017, and joined the Buffalo Bills as the quarterbacks' coach in 2019. He's a former NFL quarterback who played for the San Francisco 49ers (2003-2005) and the Cleveland Browns (2006-2008).

RB Coach: Kelly Skipper - Kelly Skipper has been a running backs coach since 2007. He was the Oakland Raiders running backs coach from 2007-2014 and the Jacksonville Jaguars running backs coach from 2015-2016 before settling in as the Bills running backs coach in 2017.

WR Coach: Chad Hall - Chad Hall has been the Buffalo Bills wide receivers coach since 2019 after previously serving as an offensive assistant for the team (2017-2018). He also played wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles (2010-2012), San Francisco 49ers (2012), and Kansas City Chiefs (2013).

TE Coach: Rob Boras - Rob Boras has been a tight ends coach for most of his NFL career, spending time coaching the position at the NFL level for the Chicago Bears (2004-2009), Jacksonville Jaguars (2010-2011), St. Louis Rams (2012-2014), and the Buffalo Bills (2017-present). He was also the 2016 Rams offensive coordinator, a team that finished 32nd in points and yards.

OL Coach: Bobby Johnson - Bobby Johnson has been the Bills offensive line coach since 2019. Before that, he spent time in various assistant roles with the Buffalo Bills (2010-2011), Jacksonville Jaguars (2012), Detroit Lions (2013-2014), Oakland Raiders (2015-2017), and Indianapolis Colts (2018).

DL Coach: Eric Washington - Eric Washington joined the Bills as a defensive line coach in 2020. Washington has previously been a defensive line coach for the Chicago Bears (2010) and Carolina Panthers (2011-2017). He also previously served as the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator in 2018 and 2019.

LB Coach: Bob Babich - Bob Babich has been the Bills linebackers coach since 2017. At the NFL level, he's previously served as a linebackers coach for the St. Louis Rams (2003), Chicago Bears (2004-2006, 2009-2012), and Los Angeles Chargers (2016). He has also served as a defensive coordinator at the NFL level for the Chicago Bears (2007-2009) and Jacksonville Jaguars (2013-2015).

DB Coach: John Butler - John Butler has been the defensive backs coach of the Bills since 2018. Before that, he was the Houston Texans secondary coach from 2014-2017.

Safeties Coach: Bobby Babich - Bobby Babich is the son of linebackers coach Bob Babich and has been the Bills safeties coach since 2018. He has also served as an assistant defensive backs coach for the Carolina Panthers (2012), Cleveland Browns (2013-2015), and Buffalo Bills (2017).


Enjoy this series? Be sure to check out all of the other 'Coaching Matters' team previews!

AFC South: Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans

AFC North: Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals

AFC West: Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos

AFC East: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets

Follow Eli Grabanski on Twitter: @3li_handles

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