The NFL coaching carousel is just about wrapped up with only one open job remaining. The Houston Texans will likely wait until after the Super Bowl to make their head coaching hire, as they likely will want to wait to formally interview Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy before making a decision. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a lot of turnover from head coaches; there were seven teams that decided to move on from their past coach.
One of the things that we tend to see with new coaches is that they often look to emulate a lot of the things they did at their previous stops. These new coaches were hired based on their previous success so it makes sense that they would want to try and re-create their situation as much as possible. This could be in the form of hiring former colleagues in an effort to implement the same schemes they ran as a coordinator or head coach. It could also be signing their former players to their new team in an effort to execute the preferred scheme or system. Lastly, it could come in the form of drafting players with the traits and skill set the newly hired coach valued at their previous organizations.
This trend of coaches trying to recreate their old situation is neither good nor bad, and I don’t believe there is any evidence of it actually translating to wins. An example of this going well is when Sean McDermott was hired by the Buffalo Bills; he signed nine former Carolina Panthers that he had coached previously to his new team in order to run his style of defense. While none of them were impact players, they were able to be ambassadors for the new coach and allowed him to quickly change the culture of the franchise. On the other hand, we saw Matt Patricia try to do this with the Detroit Lions, and he signed plenty of former New England Patriots players as he looked to emulate the success he had as defensive coordinator in a top defensive unit. The results never followed for Patricia, and he was let go earlier this season while the Lions had one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
While there is little evidence that new coaches bringing in players or staff to emulate their old situation translates to wins, it's an inevitable thing that almost all coaches do. Since its Senior Bowl week, and we are in the holiday spirit amid draft season, I wanted to take a look at one prospect each new head coach may target that would allow him to emulate their previous success or past coaching situation.
Philadelphia Eagles: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The most recent coaching hire was made by the Philadelphia Eagles when they brought on Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. Sirianni was not well known by the general public, but speaking for someone who has worked with him before, I believe it was a great hire by the Eagles. Sirianni’s ability to connect with his players is very unique, and he has been around some of the best offensive coaches this game has to offer. Some of Sirianni’s best work came while he was with the Los Angeles Chargers as a wide receiver coach, where he worked wonders with Keenan Allen, a third-round pick who developed into one of the best overall receivers in the league, and Tyrell Williams, an undrafted free agent who also developed into an excellent receiver under Sirianni’s watch.
Given his past experience in developing receivers, and the Eagles current receiver depth chart, Sirianni should look to bring in one of the draft's top receivers. In my opinion, DeVonta Smith could be that player. Smith shares many similarities to Allen, whose games are more predicated on savviness and precision than physical attributes. These players win with outstanding quickness, advanced use of leverage, and suddenness at the break point. Smith would give Sirianni his version of Allen—a sure-handed receiver who consistently gets open—as he looks to fix quarterback Carson Wentz.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Josh Myers, IOL, Ohio State
Arguably the biggest storyline from this year’s coaching hiring cycle was Urban Meyer deciding to try his hand at coaching in the NFL. Meyer is one of the best college coaches of all time; it will be fascinating to see how his style of coaching translates to the next level. While it is a foregone conclusion that he will be drafting Clemson’s quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1-overall pick, it is a bit of a mystery in projecting which other players Meyer might have interest in; we do not yet have an idea of what his scheme will look like in the pros. Still, Meyer should target a few of his old players that he coached while at Ohio State; they could be ambassadors for the culture he is going to try to instill.
Josh Myers could be a great fit here, as he is one of the best centers in the draft and would fill a position of need for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The center position is usually the captain of the offensive line, and what better way for Meyer to change the culture of this team than with a former Buckeye being the leader of the offensive line.
Los Angeles Chargers: Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington
The Chargers surprised many when they opted to make defensive-minded Brandon Staley the team’s new head coach rather than going with one of the top offensive coordinator candidates. In Staley’s past stops with the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, and Los Angeles Rams, his defenses normally ran a 3-4 scheme, while the Chargers ran a 4-3 scheme under former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. It’s not clear if Staley plans to fully switch this defense from 4-3 to 3-4; the Chargers don’t really have the personnel to do that, but expect to see a mix of odd and even fronts as they work to put their best players in good situations.
While the Chargers won’t likely run an exclusive 3-4 defense, it would still be wise to draft an edge defender who has the versatility to play in either an odd or even front. Washington’s Joe Tryon fits the bill perfectly. Tryon has experience playing both defensive end in a 4-3 front or stand up outside linebacker in a 3-4 front. He is an explosive pass rusher who would be a welcomed addition to this new look Chargers defense.
Atlanta Falcons: Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
This new coach-prospect fit was probably the easiest one I had to make. New head coach Arthur Smith comes over from the Tennessee Titans where, under his watchful eye, the offense transformed into one of the most explosive units across the league. The main reason for the Titans offensive success was the work he was able to do in finding ways to unlock and unleash running back Derrick Henry. Henry’s ability to take over games and dominate opposing defenses allowed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to have a lot of success off of play action, making this offense very hard to defend. I imagine finding his new version of Henry will be one of his top priorities in this upcoming draft.
Many would have expected me to list fellow Alabama running back Najee Harris in this spot, I actually think Javonte Williams shares more similarities with Henry. Williams is a powerful, downhill runner who offers size, vigor, and explosiveness that are eerily similar to Henry. Williams could be Smith’s next star power runner and make life that much easier for quarterback Matt Ryan and company.
Detroit Lions: Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
This one is a wild card here. Dan Campbell comes over from the New Orleans Saints where he was the assistant head coach and tight end coach. An easy fit here would be to suggest one of the draft’s top tight ends, but that is actually a position that isn’t a need for the Lions thanks to TJ Hockenson. Instead, Detroit can go with Sam Ehlinger, who could give Campbell some Taysom Hill-like vibes.
Ehlinger was an awesome dual-threat quarterback at Texas, but his inconsistencies with accuracy and lack of elite physical traits make him a project as a draft prospect. Campbell could select Ehlinger and use him in different positions in certain packages while he also develops as a passer. This would actually be something I would love to see happen.
New York Jets: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
Similar to the Chargers, the New York Jets hired a defensive head coach that also runs a different scheme than the past regime. Robert Saleh comes from the Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley tree where he runs a base 4-3 defense that utilizes mainly Cover 3. He has strayed away from this in recent years; while he does mix up different coverages and is more aggressive blitzing, his base personnel is still a 4-3. The Jets haven’t had a 4-3 defense since 2005.
Saleh will need to draft a player who can be a “Big End” in his 4-3 scheme that requires a defender to be strong versus the run but also be disruptive in the passing game. Essentially, he needs his own version of Nick Bosa. Miami’s Jaelan Phillips is a player who would excel in Saleh’s scheme. Phillips is a complete defensive end who has the length and power to set the edge versus the run but also has the quickness and bend to be an outstanding pass rusher.