Welcome to another installment of the 2021 Coaching Systems analysis. Before we start breaking down the AFC West, be sure to check out the Overview of Coaching Schemes so you have a reference point for any terminology with which you might be unfamiliar. Probably makes sense to bookmark it for easy referral since we’ll be doing every division. If you missed any of the ones we’ve done so far, here are links to check them out as well:

AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

Now let’s move on the next one!

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Head CoachVic Fangio3rd year
Offensive CoordinatorPat Shurmur2nd year
Defensive CoordinatorEd Donatell3rd year
Offensive SystemWest Coast Offense 
Blocking SchemeZone 
Vic Fangio -- HC    Pat Shurmur -- OC   
Category2018 (CHI)20192020 Category2018 (NYG HC)2019 (NYG HC)2020
PointsDC2828 Points161928
PaceDC255 Pace10105
Pass AttemptsDC2719 Pass Attempts9919
Passing YardsDC2926 Passing Yards111926
Rushing AttemptsDC1413 Rushing Attempts293013
Rushing YardsDC2013 Rushing Yards241913

Offensive Breakdown: Vic Fangio may be the head honcho, but the defensive-minded head coach does nothing to design or run the Broncos offense. The only thing he asks of Pat Shurmur, his offensive coordinator, is that the team has a strong ground attack. The better the running game, the longer the offense stays on the field and that provides extra rest for Fangio’s defense. 

While it can still find success in the NFL, Shurmur’s offensive scheme is pretty vanilla overall. He runs a traditional west coast offense that relies on the run to help set up play-action and short, quick timing routes to help move the chains. He does a decent job of creating different routes and giving a variety of looks to the defense, but he tends to hold off on the gimmicks. Expect Shurmur to also splash in some spread formations to get his wideouts on the field more as well, but he’ll likely keep his base in a more traditional package. 

The interesting aspect here is trying to figure out which quarterback will fit best. Drew Lock did not take the much-needed step forward last season and struggled with both injuries and interceptions. However, he has the big arm and the upside to lead a potentially dynamic crew of receivers. Teddy Bridgewater can handle the underneath routes and does well moving the chains, but as we saw last year in Carolina, he doesn’t have the arm to accurately throw deep. The two will battle it out in camp and the results will likely dictate how much we like the receiving corps for fantasy. 

As for the ground attack, the Broncos have veteran offensive line coach Mike Munchak who works with Shurmur as the unofficial run-game coordinator. He runs a strong zone-blocking scheme that Melvin Gordon worked in and found modest success with last season. He’ll be joined in the backfield by rookie Javonte Williams who was absolutely dynamic at North Carolina last season. He’s a little smaller in stature than Gordon, but he’s got a great burst, can cut-and-run well and catches passes out of the backfield. Williams is likely to usurp Gordon at some point, but Shurmur will likely use them in tandem for the early part of the season. Given the desire to run by Fangio and the work Munchak puts in, you’re going to want a piece of this running game with Williams likely being the better option.  

Players Who Best Fit the System: Teddy Bridgewater, Javonte Williams, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant

Defensive System: 3-4 with multi-front looks and a Cover-2 zone with some man coverage sprinkled in

Defensive Breakdown: While Ed Donatell may be the DC, this is Vic Fangio’s defense and it has one proven to be very effective – so long as everyone stays healthy. With players like Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, he likes them to move his players between the line and linebacker while confusing offenses with a variety of looks. You didn’t know if he was coming at you with an all-out blitz or if he was dropping seven into coverage.

In the secondary, he’ll float between different schemes with the Cover-2 likely being the one we should see most often. They bring in a couple of veteran corners in Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby, so press-man coverage is very likely, especially with the added addition of rookie Patrick Surtain and the continued development of safety Justin Simmons. If the improvements here hold and the front seven stays healthy, this will definitely be a defense to invest in for fantasy. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Justin Simmons, Kyle Fuller, Patrick Surtain

Kansas City Chiefs

Head CoachAndy Reid9th year
Offensive CoordinatorEric Bieniemy4th year
Defensive CoordinatorSteve Spagnuolo3rd year
Offensive SystemWest Coast Offense 
Blocking SchemeZone 
Andy Reid -- HC    Eric Bieniemy -- OC   
Category201820192020 Category201820192020
Points156 Points156
Pace141813 Pace141813
Pass Attempts9153 Pass Attempts9153
Passing Yards361 Passing Yards361
Rushing Attempts232723 Rushing Attempts232723
Rushing Yards162316 Rushing Yards162316

Offensive Breakdown: The base of Andy Reid’s offense is actually quite simple. He likes a high-volume ground game with your typical West Coast-style passing (short, quick routes) that set up play-action and larger plays downfield. Where it gets confusing for the opposition is in all the pre-snap motion they like to use to keep the defense on its heels and looking in multiple directions.

From a fantasy perspective, this is exactly the type of offense you want to buy into. Over the years, we’ve watched Reid develop some amazing fantasy players from Jamaal Charles and Priest Holmes to Kareem Hunt and Damien Williams. Even Spencer Ware flashed some talent inside this system. Reid’s offensive line is usually versatile and can open up plenty of running lanes as well as pull to the outside and block downfield. Reid took great care in revamping his line during the offseason with fantastic additions like Orlando Brown and Joe Thuney while also re-signing Mike Remmers to stay at right tackle. There’s a lot to be bullish about with this unit up front.

While there have been times when he has rotated running backs, he tends to prefer to stick with one primary runner. Clyde Edwards-Helaire looks like a fantastic guy to run outside and catch passes, but he struggled in the short yardage situations, particularly at the goal line, so look for Darrel Williams to maintain his usual complementary role. Should CEH prove himself better at the short yard gains, maybe he takes over full-time, but he’s going to need a lot of work given his frame.

With defensive fronts struggling to contain the run, the short, quick passes end up yielding bigger gains as guys like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce gain separation and pick up extra yardage after the catch. There’s so much to monitor for a defensive unit, the bigger plays downfield are tougher to defend and you see greater success for the Chiefs offense.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Patrick Mahomes, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill

Defensive System: 4-3 with some multi-front looks; mix of man coverage and Cover-4 zone

Defensive Breakdown: In 2019, the Chiefs made a bold move changing defensive coordinators, going from long-time NFL coaching veteran Bob Sutton to a well-travelled Steve Spagnuolo. Spags found tremendous success during his tenure as the Giants DC and is often credited with being the guy behind that huge Super Bowl upset of the Patriots that cost Bill Belichick and Tom Brady their perfect season.

The Chiefs moved to a four-man front with a Cover-4 base as Spags likes to put a ton of pressure on the opposing quarterback. The blitzing was aggressive and, in the end, the Chiefs seemed to solve their issues in pass coverage. In fact, they finished sixth overall in pass-coverage last season. Unfortunately, it was a detriment to their run-stopping abilities, as evidenced by their ranking of 29th in the league on the ground. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu, Anthony Hitchens

Las Vegas Raiders

Head CoachJon Gruden4th year
Offensive CoordinatorGreg Olson4th year
Defensive CoordinatorGus Bradley1st year
Offensive SystemWest Coast Offense 
Blocking SchemeFlex 
Jon Gruden -- HC    Greg Olson -- OC   
Category201820192020 Category201820192020
Points282410 Points282410
Pace253022 Pace253022
Pass Attempts162121 Pass Attempts162121
Passing Yards18107 Passing Yards18107
Rushing Attempts231111 Rushing Attempts231111
Rushing Yards251314 Rushing Yards251314

Offensive Breakdown: Jon Gruden likes using the traditional west coast offense with a heavy lean on the run and it’s worked for the most part, given the personnel he’s had on the roster. The running game saw significant improvement with the addition of Josh Jacobs in 2019 and should continue its upward trajectory with the addition of Kenyan Drake who should shoulder some of the load, primarily as a pass-catcher. Fantasy-wise it’s a bummer for Jacobs owners, but it’s not like he was ever going to see an increase in targets no matter how many times the beat writers said he would. 

As for the passing game, the short, quick timing routes help move the chains and have turned Darren Waller into an elite, pass-catching tight end. Unfortunately, the receiving corps has continued to struggle. Henry Ruggs is fine for when the defense bites on play-action and he’s races downfield, but that’s about all you’re really getting out of him. They brought in John Brown who actually fits this scheme extremely well, but there are always injury concerns, specifically with the sickle-cell trait. Should Bryan Edwards or Hunter Renfrow take a step forward this year, the passing game would certainly catch up to the rushing attack.

Most importantly, this scheme requires improved play on the offensive line’s part. They were a better-than-average unit in 2019, but regressed significantly last year. On top of that, the unit was completely gutted in the offseason and now there are even more question marks regarding the personnel. Rookie Alex Leatherwood seems like a reach during the draft, but if he can solidify the right tackle spot, that would be a huge plus for a potentially weak unit.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Darren Waller, John Brown

Defensive System: 4-3 with Cover-3 zone

Defensive Breakdown: What’s the best course of action when your defense continues to struggle every year? You poach from a division rival. Welcome to Las Vegas, Gus Bradley. After four seasons working as the Chargers defensive coordinator, Bradley headed over to Vegas when the new regime cleaned house in Los Angeles. The experience he brings to the table is something the Raiders are in dire need of, especially when you’re trying to develop young talent that has all the potential in the world, but only a nickel’s worth of intelligence. At least that’s how many of them have come off.

Bradley prefers to use the 4-3 base, but he is a big proponent of giving different looks and rotating in his defenders. The Raiders brought in Yannick Ngakoue and Solomon Torres to help solidify the defensive line and Casey Hayward to help balance a secondary that has two very talented but very young safeties in Jonathan Abram and rookie Trevon Moehrig. If Moehrig develops properly and third-year guys like Abram and CB Trayvon Mullen become more disciplined within their zones, this could be a surprisingly strong secondary.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Yannick Ngakoue, Cory Littleton, Jonathan Abram, Casey Hayward

Los Angeles Chargers

Head CoachBrandon Staley1st year
Offensive CoordinatorJoe Lombardi1st year
Defensive CoordinatorRenaldo Hill1st year
Offensive SystemWest Coast 
Blocking SchemeZone 
Brandon Staley -- HC    Joe Lombardi -- OC   
Category2018 (CHI)2019 (DEN)2020 (LAR) Category2018 (NO)2019 (NO)2020 (NO)

Offensive Breakdown: This could very well be my favorite offense to watch this season and I have already invested myself in a number of Chargers stacks in both regular seasonal fantasy and best ball tournaments. Getting rid of Anthony Lynn was the exact move the Chargers needed to do and while Shane Steichen who is now the new OC in Philadelphia should be credited with a lot of what we saw from Justin Herbert last year, what we’re about to get with new OC Joe Lombardi should be even better.

When the Chargers cleaned house, they hired former Rams DC Brandon Staley to serve as the new head coach. Staley is obviously a defensive-minded guy who has worked extensively with Vic Fangio over the years. Like Fangio, he does not want to have much to do with the offense. He builds defensive schemes and will happily put his trust into a capable offensive coordinator. That OC is former Saints QB coach Joe Lombardi. Yes, of that Lombardi family.

These two actually have a funny history as Lombardi was Staley’s OC at Mercyhurst College back in 2005 and together, helped turn the small college’s football program around. The two have remained close over the years and when Staley took the job, Lombardi was his first call. The long-time Saints coach didn’t hesitate.

Lombardi is now bringing the Saints offensive scheme to Los Angeles and there’s plenty to get excited about. It’s a west coast-based scheme that uses plenty of outside zone runs as well as using its running backs as pass-catchers. Think Alvin Kamara role but Austin Ekeler in person. The Chargers revamped their offensive line during the offseason and have styled it much in the way the Saints did over the years. Seems like a win for those drafting Ekeler in the late-first/early second round.

The heavy run scheme is going to set up the pass and this is where things get interesting. Keenan Allen is likely to remain Herbert’s security blanket, but this offense traditionally funnels most of the targets towards the X receiver. That was Michael Thomas in New Orleans and that’s Mike Williams here in L.A. Now, obviously, you can’t expect Williams to suddenly be peppered with double-digit targets on the regular, but an increased workload and an expanded route tree are likely in his future.

Lombardi also brought tight end Jared Cook with him and that should make him a great late-round steal. Cook is obviously familiar with the offensive scheme and while he’s not the target monster some of the high-end guys are, he averaged 40 receptions for 600 yards and eight touchdowns during his two seasons with the Saints. Like I said, there’s a lot to love about this offense.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jared Cook

Defensive System: 3-4 with multi-front looks with Cover-2 mixed with man coverage

Defensive Breakdown: This is where Staley will make his mark regarding schemes in Los Angeles. He will call the plays on defense and this is his scheme. Renaldo Hill, who worked alongside Staley in Denver, will likely focus more on the secondary and mapping out the coverage. Staley likes versatility in his defenders and will shift around his linebackers at times to get them on the line to help stop the run or add an extra pass-rusher. Figure Linval Jospeh sits in the middle as the key run-stopper, Joey Bosa as the premier pass-rusher and Jerry Tillery as the guy who moves around more based on match-ups. 

The key in the secondary is going to be how the safeties play. Staley likes using two-high safeties depending on the match-ups and will put a lot of coverage-reading into the hands of Derwin James who will direct traffic in the zones. They will also shift to man coverage a lot as well with Chris Harris and Michael Davis being strong options on the outside. The defense is still very much a work in progress, but there are plenty of assets at Staley and Hill’s disposal. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Joey Bosa, Linval Joseph, Derwin James