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Coaching Matters: 2021 New England Patriots 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 New England Patriots, with head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels 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 Patriots players' fantasy values in it.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


The Baseline

To get a better understanding of the value the Patriots 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 Patriots' 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: Josh McDaniels

Josh McDaniels has been in his second stint as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator since 2012. He previously was the New England Patriots offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2008 before he was hired as the Denver Broncos head coach (2009-2010). He flamed out as a head coach there and latched on as the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator (2011) before coming back to New England. Given his offensive background, let's take a look at some statistics of his teams from his time in an offensive coordinator or head coaching role.

QB Impact

Year Games Team Pass Att. Team Pass Yds. Team Pass TDs QB Carries QB Rush Yds. QB Rush TDs
2019 Patriots 16 38.75 259.56 1.56 1.75 2 0.19
2020 Patriots 16 27.5 195.25 0.75 9.06 37.94 0.75
McDaniels's Career Averages (OC/HC) 236 35.97 262.11 1.72 2.99 7.26 0.14

RB Impact

Year Games RB Carries RB Rush Yds. RB Rush TDs RB Rec. RB Targets RB Rec. Yds.
RB Rec. TDs
2019 Patriots 16 24.88 97.31 0.88 7.5 10.25 70.56 0.38
2020 Patriots 16 21.31 102.81 0.5 5.44 7.06 46.06 0.31
McDaniels's Career Averages (OC/HC) 236 24.32 103.95 0.85 5.16 7.10 45.06 0.28

WR Impact

Year Games WR Rec. WR Targets WR Rec. Yds. WR Rec. TDs
2019 Patriots 16 13.69 22.94 160.13 1
2020 Patriots 16 10.5 16.44 128.94 0.25
McDaniels's Career Averages (OC/HC) 236 13.20 21.40 162.42 0.99

TE Impact

Year Games TE Rec. TE Targets TE Rec. Yds. TE Rec. TDs
2019 Patriots 16 2.31 3.31 26.19 0.13
2020 Patriots 16 1.13 2 15.88 0.06
McDaniels's Career Averages (OC/HC) 236 4.00 6.45 51.96 0.42


Josh McDaniels Takeaways & Expectations

Over the course of Josh McDaniels's 236 game career as an offensive coordinator or head coach, his offense has averaged a middle-of-the-pack number of passes with 35.97 passing attempts per game. But last year with Cam Newton as the team's starting quarterback, the team averaged just 27.5 passing attempts per game - one of the worst marks in the league. If Newton remains the starting quarterback in 2021 we should expect the number of passing attempts to be below league average once again. But if Mac Jones takes over the starting job sooner rather than later, we should expect that the number of passing attempts per game returns to the average/slightly above-average level that a McDaniels offense traditionally has.

Besides passing, it's also important to look at the amount of rushing work that a quarterback may receive since it can provide a major boost to their fantasy production.

For the most part, Josh McDaniels has not seen his quarterbacks take off and run much - with the exception of the 2020 season where he worked with one of the best running quarterbacks of all time in Cam Newton. Over the course of his career, McDaniels's QB room has averaged just 2.99 carries per game - meaning his offense has generally been below the league average in this area. A large chunk of this has to do with the immobile quarterbacks that McDaniels has worked with for much of his career such as Tom Brady, Jimmy Garappolo, or Matt Cassell - but if Mac Jones earns the starting quarterback job he will be working with a more mediocre athlete once again.

Overall whoever wins the starting quarterback job between Cam Newton and Mac Jones will drastically impact the type of offense that McDaniels runs in 2021, and have a ripple effect on the value of the New England Patriots players in fantasy football leagues. If Newton gets the starting job and holds it all season, expect McDaniels to run an offense that makes Cam Newton have some standalone value (mid-to-high-end QB2 with rushing upside), but also leads to subpar numbers from the New England pass-catchers. If Mac Jones wins the starting job, McDaniels will likely have the offense throw more and dial back the quarterback rushing attempts - meaning Mac Jones would be a streamer for fantasy purposes, but the Patriots' pass-catchers would get an upgrade.

Examining Josh McDaniels's running back rooms over the course of his career as an offensive coordinator it's a pretty good outlook for the most part. In the 236 games that McDaniels has been an offensive coordinator, his running back room has averaged 24.32 carries and 0.85 rushing touchdowns per game - both of which are above league average.

Josh McDaniels has been pretty reliable in providing his running backs with work on the ground over the course of his career. But besides the amount of volume (carries) on the ground that McDaniels has historically provided, we also need to consider how that volume has been distributed over the course of his career - is McDaniels rolling with a bell-cow or a running back by committee approach?

Looking at the graph above, you can understand why the narrative of 'do not reach for a New England Patriots running back' came to exist in the fantasy football world - they traditionally use a committee approach at the position. Over the course of his career, Josh McDaniels has never given his lead tailback on the season more than 73% of the team's tailback carries. Based on this information, it's likely that McDaniels and the Patriots roll with their traditional committee approach in 2021 with Damien Harris, James White, Sony Michel, and Rhamondre Stevenson.

The final aspect we should look at regarding Josh McDaniels's running backs is how much he has traditionally utilized them as pass-catchers. Over the course of his career, McDaniels's running back room has averaged 7.10 targets per game - which is slightly above league average.

McDaniels has generally provided his running backs with a slightly above-average number of targets over the course of his career, with an especially high level over the last six seasons or so. This bodes well for James White's usage and gives him some appeal in PPR fantasy leagues. Overall, McDaniels should provide the Patriots running backs with plenty of work both on the ground and through the air. The problem is this work will be split between multiple players, limiting the fantasy upside of each of these backs to more of an RB2/RB3 level.

Looking at the wide receiver position, McDaniels has provided his wide receivers with 21.40 targets per game over the course of his 236 game career as an offensive play-caller.

McDaniels's overall career averages suggest that his offense provides an above-average number of targets to his wide receivers, but it's been a different story in recent years. Since the 2015 season, the Patriots' wide receivers have averaged over twenty targets per game just once - in 2019. While there should be some bounce-back in wide receiver work from the 2020 season, if recent trends hold true it's unlikely it is higher than the NFL league average and may limit the number of fantasy-relevant wide receivers on the team in 2021.

Lastly, McDaniels's historical usage of tight ends has been up-and-down. Over the course of his career in an offensive coordinator or head coaching role, McDaniels's tight end room has averaged 6.45 targets per game.

Looking at the graph above, McDaniels has utilized his tight ends early and often some years - like in 2012, 2014, or 2015. But in recent years he's barely utilized the position at all in the passing game, with the group getting just two targets per game in 2020. The lack of talent at the position was a big factor in this usage, which is why the Patriots decided to bring in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith this past offseason to bolster the position. With these two talented tight ends on the roster, we should expect the Patriots to utilize their tight ends at a higher level - with target totals around the levels of 2006, 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2017. Both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith should have some value as lower-end TE1's for the 2021 season in fantasy football leagues.

Fantasy Relevant Players: Cam Newton, Mac Jones, Jarrett Stidham, Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White, J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson, Nelson Agholor, N'Keal Harry, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith


2021 Defense

2021 Head Coach: Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick is widely considered one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time. Prior to becoming the New England Patriots head coach in 2000, Belichick served as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants (1985-1990), the head coach of the Cleveland Browns (1991-1995), and the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets (1997-1999). Given Belichick's strong defensive background, let's take a look at some of his team's defensive statistics over the course of his career.

Year Games Points Allowed Pass Yds Given Up Run Yds Given Up Plays Against Yds/Play Turnovers Forced
2019 Patriots 16 14.06 180.38 95.5 59.25 4.66 2.25
2020 Patriots 16 22.06 222.31 131.44 61.38 5.76 1.38
Belichick's Career Averages (DC/HC) 559 18.24 216.92 106.50 63.44 5.10 1.90

Bill Belichick's defense had a down year last year and still was above average in points allowed, passing yards given up, and turnovers forced - which goes to show how amazing of a defensive mind Belichick is. Given the Patriots will have linebacker Dont'a Hightower return after opting out of the 2020 NFL season, and they added some talent to the defensive line through the NFL Draft by picking defensive tackle Christian Barmore and defensive end Ronnie Perkins in the second and third rounds, the defense should be back on track with Belichick running the show. The New England Patriots D/ST should be a strong draft target in your fantasy football league and be one of the first ten defenses off the board.


Other Notable Assistants

Special Teams Coordinator: Cameron Achord - Cameron Achord became the special teams coordinator of the New England Patriots in 2020 after Joe Judge left to become the New York Giants head coach. He was previously the assistant special teams coach on the Patriots (2018-2019).

RB Coach: Ivan Fears - Ivan Fears has been coaching at the NFL level since 1991. He's been the New England Patriots running backs coach since 2002. He's also served as a wide receivers coach for the Patriots (1991-1992, 1999-2001) and the Chicago Bears (1993-1998).

RB/Kick Returners Coach: Troy Brown - Troy Brown has been serving as the Patriots running backs/kick returners coach since 2020. He also played wide receiver for the Patriots from 1993 to 2007.

WR Coach: Mick Lombardi - Mick Lombardi has been with the New England Patriots since 2019 and was promoted to the team's wide receivers coach in 2020. Besides the Patriots, he's worked in a variety of NFL coaching roles for the San Francisco 49ers (2013-2016) and New York Jets (2017-2018).

TE/FB Coach:  Nick Caley - Nick Caley has been with the New England Patriots since 2015. He initially was hired as an offensive assistant but was promoted to tight ends coach in 2017. In addition to coaching the team's tight ends, Caley has also been the Patriots fullbacks coach since 2020.

Co-OL Coach: Cole Popovich - Cole Popovich was promoted to the Patriots co-offensive line coach in 2020 after legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia retired. Popovich has been with the Patriots since 2016, previously serving as a coaching assistant (2016-2018) and the assistant running backs coach (2019).

Co-OL Coach: Carmen Bricillo - Carmen Bricillo was promoted to the Patriots co-offensive line coach in 2020. He's been involved in coaching since 2003.

DL Coach: Demarcus Covington - Demarcus Covington became the Patriots defensive line coach in 2020. His previous roles for the Patriots include being a coaching assistant (2017-2018) and the outside linebackers coach (2019).

ILB Coach: Jerod Mayo - Jerod Mayo has been the New England Patriots inside linebackers coach since 2019. He also played linebacker for the Patriots from 2008 to 2015.

OLB Coach: Steve Belichick - Steve Belichick has been the New England Patriots outside linebackers coach since 2020. For the Patriots he's also worked as a defensive assistant (2012-2015) and as the safeties coach (2016-2019).

Corners Coach: Mike Pellegrino - Mike Pellegrino became the New England Patriots cornerbacks coach in 2019. He also has served as a coaching assistant for the Patriots from 2015 to 2018.

Safeties Coach: Brian Belichick - Brian Belichick has been working for the Patriots since 2016. Prior to becoming the team's safeties coach in 2020, he served as a scouting assistant (2016) and a coaching assistant (2017-2019).


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

AFC South: Houston TexansJacksonville JaguarsIndianapolis ColtsTennessee Titans

AFC North: Cleveland BrownsBaltimore RavensPittsburgh SteelersCincinnati Bengals

AFC West: Las Vegas RaidersLos Angeles Chargers, Kansas City ChiefsDenver Broncos

Follow Eli Grabanski on Twitter: @3li_handles

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