There are seven new head coaches in place this offseason, and six of them are bringing new offensive coordinators with them. That means new concepts and playbooks and, most importantly in the fantasy world, opportunities for offensive skill position players. New coaches provide plenty of food for thought as the season approaches, and how their players fit in their systems goes a long way toward making a successful team. In this series, we’ll take a look at some of the most intriguing players/new coach tandems who hope to take advantage of new roles in 2018.
After several seasons trying to squeeze the best results out of underwhelming personnel, Pat Shurmur finally broke through with some talented playmakers on the outside last year with the Vikings. Minnesota finished 10th in points per game, and a stout defense allowed Shurmur to do what he does best: milk the clock and pound the ball when ahead.
The Giants are hoping their new head coach can follow a similar script in New York. Shurmur’s in his second head coaching stop — he went 10-23 in two seasons with Cleveland — and is hoping to rejuvenate an attack that stalled under former coach Ben McAdoo.
1. Expect lots and lots of Saquon Barkley
The Giants took Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick — the highest a running back has been taken since Reggie Bush went second to the Saints in 2006 — and he should be in for a big year.
Shurmur loves to run the football when he can. On Shurmur’s most successful teams — back-to-back 10-6 campaigns with the Eagles in 2013 and 2014 and 13-3 with the Vikings last year — his offenses ranked fourth, seventh and second in rushing attempts, respectively. Those numbers are exacerbated when his teams can take the lead. As TJ Hernandez notes, Shurmur only throws the ball 43.5 percent of the time when ahead by at least eight points, a figure that would have put him 21st out of 32 teams in 2017.
That certainly could have been a reason the Giants went with Barkley rather than taking a potential quarterback of the future or moving back to address other needs. The team hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Ahmad Bradshaw in 2012, and four different players have led the team in rushing over the past five seasons. Barkley can be just that: He handled roughly 25 touches per game last year without issue. So, as both Liz Loza and Brad Evans say, don’t be afraid of his high ranking. Eli Manning needs a legitimate running presence, because he can be very good on play-action, and that will open up a world of new options in Shurmur’s playbook. Barkley is the man to do that with a revamped offensive line. He’s a special talent.
2. Sterling Shepard will be a solid WR3
With Odell Beckham Jr. out for most of last year, Shepard upped his yards from 683 his rookie year to 731 despite playing in five fewer games. He finished 22nd in fantasy points per game (PPR) among wide receivers after finishing 45th as a rookie. Manning has high hopes for him in his third year. “I think he’s primed for a big year,” Manning told nj.com in early July. “And I’ve been really impressed by his work ethic.”
Shepard is a very efficient option for Manning. When Shepard was targeted last year, his quarterbacks produced a 104.8 passer rating, per Player Profiler. That was 13th in the league. And expect Shurmur to use Shepard in a lot of different ways, similar to how he used one of last year’s breakout fantasy stars, Adam Thielen. Shepard ran almost all of his routes from the slot last year, but in OTAs he also moved outside, ESPN reported. While a healthy OBJ will dent Shepard’s targets somewhat, Shurmur knows how to use a versatile slot weapon to his advantage, and Shepard is just that.
With an average draft position of 118.6, Shepard is flying way under the radar. Consider him a couple of rounds before where he’s currently falling.
3. Evan Engram will hold steady in year two
There are no two ways around it: 2017 was a brutal year for the Giants. But even in lost years there are bright spots, and Engram was just that. The rookie was first on the team in catches (64) and touchdowns (six) and second in yards (722).
Shurmur hadn’t typically been a play-caller who uses his tight ends a lot, but that changed when he had Kyle Rudolph in Minnesota. Rudolph totaled 140 catches, 1372 yards and 15 scores over Shurmur’s two years with the Vikings.
Most importantly for Engram is that he’s going to get a lot of red zone looks. Rudolph was in the top 10 in red zone target share each of the past two seasons, per Player Profiler, even with weapons like Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the outside. So Engram — who ranked 10th in the category — won’t drop too far with Beckham Jr.’s return. Engram’s an even more athletic version of Rudolph, and in Shurmur’s play-action-heavy offense, Engram is in line to continue to ascend. Engram finished fifth among tight ends in points last year; his high ADP is warranted.