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Coaching Matters: 2021 Carolina Panthers 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 Carolina Panthers, with head coach Matt Rhule, offensive coordinator Joe Brady, and defensive coordinator Phil Snow 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 Panthers players' fantasy values in it.

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The Baseline

To get a better understanding of the value the Panthers 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 Panthers' 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 Head Coach: Matt Rhule 

Matt Rhule has been the Carolina Panthers head coach since 2020. Prior to that outside of one season where he was the New York Giants assistant offensive line coach (2012), Rhule spent most of his career working at the college level - most notably as a head coach for the Temple Owls (2013-2016) and Baylor Bears (2017-2019).

2021 Offensive Coordinator: Joe Brady

Joe Brady is one of the brightest young minds in the NFL right now and had a meteoric rise to get to where he's at today. The 31-year-old offensive coordinator started his coaching career as a linebackers coach at William & Mary college (2013-2014) before joining Penn State's staff as a graduate assistant (2015-2016). The New Orleans Saints were impressed enough with his work at these two destinations, that they hired him to be an offensive assistant for the team for 2017 and 2018. After this stretch with the Saints, LSU came calling and offered Brady a job as the passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach for the team. LSU then had an incredibly successful season in 2019, and afterward, Brady was offered a spot on the Carolina Panthers coaching staff as the team's offensive coordinator (2020).

QB Impact

Year Games Team Pass Att. Team Pass Yds. Team Pass TDs QB Carries QB Rush Yds. QB Rush TDs
2020 Panthers 16 34.38 258.06 1 3.88 18.81 0.31
Rhule & Brady's Career Averages (OC/HC) 16 34.38 258.06 1 3.88 18.81 0.31

RB Impact

Year Games RB Carries RB Rush Yards RB Rush TDs RB Rec. RB Targets RB Rec. Yds. RB Rec. TDs
2020 Panthers 16 17.94 70.31 0.75 5.63 6.56 38.44 0.25
Rhule & Brady's Career Averages (OC/HC) 16 17.94 70.31 0.75 5.63 6.56 38.44 0.25

WR Impact

Year Games WR Rec. WR Targets WR Rec. Yds. WR Rec. TDs
2020 Panthers 16 15.69 23.19 205.75 0.63
Rhule & Brady's Career Averages (OC/HC) 16 15.69 23.19 205.75 0.63

TE Impact

Year Games TE Rec. TE Targets TE Rec. Yds. TE Rec. TDs
2020 Panthers 16 1.69 2.56 12.75 0.13
Rhule & Brady's Career Averages (OC/HC) 16 1.69 2.56 12.75 0.13


Matt Rhule And Joe Brady Takeaways & Expectations

Since Matt Rhule and Joe Brady have both been at the NFL level (as an offensive coordinator/head coach) for just one year together on the same team, we will primarily talk about what they did with the 2020 Carolina Panthers in this section. Under Rhule & Brady, the Carolina Panthers averaged 34.38 passing attempts per game - which is average/slightly below league average.

It's also important to pay attention to the amount of rushing work a quarterback receives since it can give your quarterback a higher ceiling in fantasy leagues. Last year, the Carolina Panthers quarterback room averaged 3.88 carries per game.

This rushing usage is right around the league average for an NFL quarterback and means that Sam Darnold's rushing usage will largely remain unchanged for the 2021 season. Overall, Matt Rhule & Joe Brady may provide a slight boost to Sam Darnold's efficiency in 2021, but his volume both through the air and on the ground will hover around the NFL league averages. Based on this information, view Sam Darnold as more of a streaming option than a cornerpiece for your fantasy team in 2021.

Jumping to the running back room, the way that Matt Rhule and Joe Brady utilized the group in 2020 was a bit of a mixed bag. Over the course of the 16 regular-season games last year, the Panthers' running back room averaged 17.94 carries and 0.75 rushing touchdowns per game.

While the number of rushing touchdowns per game was solid, the number of carries going to the Panthers running backs last year was extremely concerning, as it was one of the worst marks in the league last year. Christian McCaffrey being out a significant chunk of the season last year may explain part of this decision to not feed the team's running backs on the ground, but it will be a trend to watch for going forward with Matt Rhule & Joe Brady's offense.

If old trends hold true then the Panthers' running back room will get a below-average number of carries. But in terms of the distribution of carries, are Rhule & Brady feeding one back on the ground or rolling with a running back by committee approach?

While Matt Rhule generally trended towards a running back by committee approach in his career as a college football head coach, last year he and Joe Brady leaned more towards feeding one running back - Christian McCaffrey when he was healthy and Mike Davis otherwise. Overall, based on Christian McCaffrey's standing as one of the best running backs in the NFL and last year's usage of the Panthers' lead back, we should expect McCaffrey to receive a lion's share of the carries on the ground.

The final aspect we should look at concerning Matt Rhule & Joe Brady's running backs is how much they utilized them as pass-catchers. Matt Rhule & Joe Brady's running back room averaged 6.56 targets per game - which is average.

Overall, the combination of Matt Rhule & Joe Brady providing a below-average number of carries and a mediocre number of targets means that it takes a significant percentage of the workload going to one running back in order for one of the Panthers' running backs to finish as an RB1. Luckily that should happen in 2021 with Christian McCaffrey as the team's lead back. While Christian McCaffrey may not hit the highs he did in 2018 and 2019 in Norv & Scott Turner's system, from a fantasy perspective you can count on him to be an RB1 in 2021.

Jumping to the wide receiver position, last year Matt Rhule & Joe Brady provided their wide receiver room with 23.19 targets per game.

The Panthers' 23.19 wide receiver targets per game were nearly three more targets than the average team provided its wide receivers during the 2020 season (20.21 targets per game). Based on this information, the Carolina Panthers' wide receivers - Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore, and Terrace Marshall Jr. should see plenty of opportunities in this offense and be fantasy-relevant during the 2021 season.

Finally, the Panthers' coaches' usage of tight ends was virtually non-existent last year. During the 2020 season, the Carolina Panthers' tight ends saw just 2.56 targets per game.

41 targets over the course of an entire season for all of the Carolina Panthers' tight ends is incredibly disappointing and greatly limits the receiving ceiling of any tight ends on the team. Even with Dan Arnold now in the mix, it is unlikely that the Panthers produce a fantasy-relevant tight end during the 2021 season.

Fantasy Relevant Players: Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker, Christian McCaffrey, Chubba Hubbard, Robby Anderson, David Moore, D.J. Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr., Dan Arnold, and Ian Thomas


2021 Defense

2021 Defensive Coordinator: Phil Snow

Phil Snow may have never been a defensive coordinator at the NFL level prior to the Carolina Panthers in 2020, but he does have an abundance of experience at the position at the college level. At the college level, Phil Snow had been a defensive coordinator for Laney (CA) college (1980-1981), Boise State (1983-1986), Arizona State (1995-2000), UCLA (2001-2002), Washington (2003-2004), Eastern Michigan (2010-2012), Temple (2013-2016), and Baylor (2017-2019). Let's take a look at how the Panthers' defensive performed under Snow in his first year as the team's defensive coordinator.

Year Games Points Allowed Pass Yds Given Up Run Yds Given Up Plays Against Yds/Play Turnovers Forced
2020 Panthers 16 25.13 239.06 121 63.88 5.64 1.38
Snow's Career Averages (DC/HC) 16 25.13 239.06 121 63.88 5.64 1.38

The Carolina Panthers' defense was about as average as possible under Phil Snow during the 2020 season, with their points allowed, passing yards given up, rushing yards given up, yards per play, and turnovers forced all floating eerily close to the 2020 NFL league averages. Based on this information, the most likely scenario is that the Panthers D/ST improves enough to be a solid streaming option in 2021, but overall still do not have quite enough talent to force you to roster them all year.


Other Notable Assistants

Special Teams Coordinator: Chase Blackburn - Chase Blackburn has been the Carolina Panthers special teams coordinator since 2018. He also played linebacker in the NFL for the New York Giants (2005-2012) and Carolina Panthers (2013-2014).

QB Coach: Sean Ryan - Sean Ryan is brand new to the Carolina Panthers coaching staff in 2021. He has been coaching since 1998 and has previously been a quarterback coach for the New York Giants (2012-2013), Houston Texans (2017-2018), and Detroit Lions (2019-2020).

RB Coach: Jeff Nixon - Jeff Nixon has been the Carolina Panthers running backs coach since 2020. He has been coaching football at the college and NFL levels since 1997 and has previously served as an NFL running backs coach for the Miami Dolphins (2011-2015).

WR Coach: Frisman Jackson - Frisman Jackson joined the Carolina Panthers as a wide receivers coach in 2020. He's previously been a wide receivers coach at the college and NFL levels for a variety of teams, including the Tennessee Titans (2017). Jackson will also serve as the team's passing game coordinator in 2021.

TE Coach: Brian Angelichio - Brian Angelichio has been coaching since 1995 and has been the Carolina Panthers tight ends coach since 2020. Previously he's been a tight ends coach at the NFL level for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012-2013), Cleveland Browns (2014-2015), Green Bay Packers (2016-2018), and Washington Redskins (2019).

OL Coach: Pat Meyer - Pat Meyer became the Carolina Panthers offensive line coach in 2020 and has been coaching football since 1997. Prior to joining the Panthers, Meyer served as the Los Angeles Chargers offensive line coach and run game coordinator (2017-2019).

DL Coach: Frank Okam - Frank Okam was promoted from assistant defensive line coach to defensive line coach for the 2021 season. Prior to joining the Panthers in 2020, he coached at the college level for Rice University (2014-2017) and Baylor University (2018-2019).

LB Coach: Mike Siravo - Mike Siravo was hired as the Carolina Panthers linebackers coach in 2020. He also previously worked under Matt Rhule at Temple (2013-2016) and Baylor (2017-2019) in the same role.

Cornerbacks Coach: Evan Cooper - Evan Cooper has been the Carolina Panthers cornerbacks coach since 2020. Prior to being hired by the Panthers, he worked under Matt Rhule at Temple and Baylor.

Secondary Coach: Jason Simmons - Jason Simmons was hired to be the Carolina Panthers' secondary coach in 2020. Prior to being hired by the Panthers, he worked for the Green Bay Packers in a variety of roles from 2011 to 2019. He also played strong safety at the NFL level for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1998-2001) and Houston Texans (2002-2007).


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

AFC SouthHouston TexansJacksonville JaguarsIndianapolis ColtsTennessee Titans

AFC NorthCleveland BrownsBaltimore RavensPittsburgh SteelersCincinnati Bengals

AFC WestLas Vegas RaidersLos Angeles ChargersKansas City ChiefsDenver Broncos

AFC EastNew England PatriotsMiami DolphinsNew York JetsBuffalo Bills

Follow Eli Grabanski on Twitter: @3li_handles

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