Stop me if you’ve heard this one already -- the novice or casual fantasy football player sits down the day of their draft, prints out their fantasy football player rankings, reads an article or two touting potential sleepers and starts drafting with rankings in one hand and a fantasy football ADP chart in the other. They try to go with the flow, take a couple of good players in the first few rounds but further into the draft, they are clearly overmatched. By the end of it all, it’s a massacre and their team needs more than just a wing and a prayer to make the playoffs. Meanwhile the savvy player (read: eventual champion) is someone who not only has their rankings in-hand, but also has read through countless fantasy football draft strategy pieces and has learned that knowledge of coaching systems gives them more than just an edge. They are better drafters and their work is much more efficient on the fantasy football waiver wire. If you are reading this article here in our fantasy football draft guide, you are definitely more the latter than the former.
Before we get started with the AFC North coaching systems, let me remind you, once again, that the first installment of this series houses the full glossary of offensive systems, personnel packages, coverage schemes and more. It makes for a fantastic reference point as you read through the rest of the divisions.
NFL Coaching Systems Links:
So let’s get to it!
AFC North Coaching Systems
|Head Coach||John Harbaugh||16th year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Todd Monken||1st year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Mike MacDonald||2nd year|
|Blocking Scheme||Zone/Inside & Outside|
|John Harbaugh -- HC||Todd Monken -- OC|
|Category||2020||2021||2022||Category||2019 (CLE)||2021 (GEORGIA)||2022 (GEORGIA)|
|Pass Attempts||32||7||28||Pass Attempts||19||72||42|
|Passing Yards||32||13||28||Passing Yards||22||51||15|
|Rushing Attempts||1||3||7||Rushing Attempts||22||45||27|
|Rushing Yards||1||3||2||Rushing Yards||12||37||19|
Right out of the gate, this is a big one. Head coach Jim Harbaugh decided it was time to move on from Greg Roman and spice things up with an offensive coordinator who is more dedicated to the passing attack. Enter Todd Monken and his Air Raid offense. You remember Monken, don’t you? A pass-happy guy from the college ranks who spent time helping expand the passing attacks of Tampa Bay and Cleveland in the mid-to-late 2010’s? Then, most recently, helped lead the Georgia Bulldogs to back-to-back national championships? Yeah, that guy. Well, he’s now taking over the Ravens offense and fantasy owners are over the moon with excitement. Should they be? What can we legitimately expect?
Monken’s first order of business is to open this offense up. His version of the Air Raid is more in line with your typical spread offense in the NFL. We’ll see plenty of three and four-receiver sets as he looks to stretch the defense both vertically and horizontally and we can probably expect a lot more downfield passing. That’s why we’ve got Odell Beckham and Zay Flowers joining Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor and a slew of other wideouts the Ravens picked up in free agency. Monken also utilized a lot of two-TE sets at Georgia, so Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely will be factors as well. This all sounds great for reality purposes, but from a fantasy standpoint, it could be a huge pain in the ass because, until we see a full development of the snaps and targets pecking order, things could very easily change from week-to-week.
On the ground, things are going to be interesting to watch. The spread offense is going to open up more running lanes for Lamar Jackson to take off, so while he [Jackson] did say he expects less running and more passing this year, that was back in May during OTAs and we all know that once he sees those giant running lanes open up while everyone is covering the 30 receivers running around downfield, he’s taking off. Designed running plays with J.K. Dobbins, that’s another story. The Ravens will be utilizing a zone-blocking scheme and use both inside (cut-back) and outside (off-tackle) runs which favors Dobbins a lot more than it does Gus Edwards who is more of a between-the-tackles, north-south kind of guy. Dobbins will be the guy to own in fantasy, but keep your expectations in check as there will likely be fewer run-plays called in the huddle.
Overall, this should be an interesting unit to watch this season. More passing, more Lamar Jackson highlights, and less ground-and-pound. The offensive line is going to be a work in progress, so don’t be too surprised if the Ravens try to come out of the gate white-hot, but have a few issues early on. They’ll get it soon enough, but consider this scheme a work in progress.
Defensive System: 3-4 base with multi-front looks and a Cover-4 zone with Man Coverage mixed in
Last season, the Ravens moved on from Don “Wink” Martindale and promoted linebackers coach Mike MacDonald who chose to put his own spin on Martindale’s 3-4 base scheme rather than completely overhaul the product. Once change he instituted was fewer blitz packages, something his predecessor loved to do. MacDonald prefers to confuse the quarterback with disguised coverage and pressure as opposed to an all-out attack. That wasn’t exactly successful right out of the gate, but the mid-season addition of LB Roquan Smith changed the dynamic in a hurry. Smith helped run the show from the middle of the field and creates plenty of havoc in the backfield.
The secondary will remain a mix of both man and zone coverage with a lean towards Cover-4. The Ravens used a lot of man coverage back in 2021, but when injuries cropped up, they struggled because the replacement personnel just didn’t have the chops to stay one-on-one with some of the top receivers. Hence, MacDonald leaned more heavily to the zone the rest of the way which is likely where he is going to go this season as well. They key is going to be the play of the safeties. If they aren’t locked into helping the likes of Rock Ya-Sin in coverage, they’ll be freed up to do more. Similarly to the offense, this secondary is also a work in progress.
|Head Coach||Zac Taylor||5th year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Brian Callahan||5th year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Lou Anarumo||5th year|
|Offensive System||West Coast Offense|
|Blocking Scheme||Wide Zone|
|Zac Taylor -- HC||Brian Callahan -- OC|
|Pass Attempts||14||20||6||Pass Attempts||14||20||6|
|Passing Yards||27||7||5||Passing Yards||27||7||5|
|Rushing Attempts||18||19||24||Rushing Attempts||18||19||24|
|Rushing Yards||24||23||29||Rushing Yards||24||23||29|
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, amirite? Zac Taylor, who spent the two years prior to his hiring in Cincinnati working under Sean McVay, rolled out an offensive scheme with a lot of the same elements to that of his mentor. His offensive coordinator, Brian Callahan, stems from the same coaching tree, which actually dates back to Paul Brown, and the two have built a West Coast-based offense predicated on the short-passing game with some spread offense infusion. Both agreed that establishing the ground game first was a priority as well and implemented a zone-blocking scheme with pulling guards and tackles having more room to block downfield. Injuries to the offensive line derailed those plans in each of their first two seasons, but they stayed the course, as evidenced by the 2021 return of Frank Pollack who assumed the offensive line coaching duties and worked in a wide-zone blocking scheme.
The wide zone has been a huge success for the offense as Joe Mixon, who restructured his deal and took a pay-cut to stay with the team, was able to cut and run, rip off chunks of yardage and, ultimately, helped set up the deeper shots downfield. With an offensive line that now features Orlando Brown on the left side, the expectations are going to be even higher.
Overall, we can expect much of what we saw last season. We’ll get a ton of 11-personnel formations, a lot of the short, high-percentage passing, a strong and well-established ground game and the deep shots downfield that have made Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase a spectacular pairing for fantasy football owners. Investing in Burrow, Mixon and the rest of the wide receivers seems like a wise move once again.
Defensive System: Multi-front looks with a mix of Man and Zone coverage
Identifying the base scheme for Lou Anarumo’s defense has been difficult as the personnel seems to dictate a 4-3 base, but he used so many multi-front looks and was able to adjust form where the pressure came, that it often resembled a 3-4 scheme. That’s likely because his run-stoppers like San Hubbard, D.J. Reader and B.J Hill do such a great job plugging up the middle that it has freed up the edge rushers to handle the outside zone work opposing offenses have tried to use against them. Don’t expect to see much blitzing, though they will still find ways to get pressure. But too much blitzing will detract from coverage in the middle of the field.
As for the secondary, this should be an interesting season as there is a lot of youth here. Chidobe Awuzie is still recovering from a torn ACL, Eli Apple and Jessie Bates are gone and while Mike Hilton is a veteran and they brought in safety Nick Scott, the rest of this crew is filled with first and second-yar players. Anuramo likes his corners to be physical and prefers to use press-man coverage which ultimately allows the edge-rushers to focus on pressuring the quarterback while he waits for his receivers to get back on their routes. We can probably call this secondary a work in progress, but they should jell fairly quickly.
|Head Coach||Kevin Stefanski||4th year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Alex Van Pelt||4th year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Jim Schwartz||1st year|
|Offensive System||West Coast Offense|
|Blocking Scheme||Zone/Outside Zone|
|Kevin Stefanski -- HC||Alex Van Pelt -- OC|
|Pass Attempts||28||28||21||Pass Attempts||28||28||21|
|Passing Yards||24||27||22||Passing Yards||24||27||22|
|Rushing Attempts||4||9||5||Rushing Attempts||4||9||5|
|Rushing Yards||3||4||6||Rushing Yards||3||4||6|
Anyone who has listened to me on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, knows how much I love this offensive scheme for the Browns. It’s how Kevin Stefanski implements it during a game is what grinds my gears, as he has too much of a tendency to drop into passing mode and, while not fully abandoning the run, leans more towards the pass. Having Deshaun Watson under center and an improved group of wideouts, probably doesn’t make it any easier, but I am still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as he now has the personnel to provide a more efficient passing attack. It’s a quality over quantity thing here.
The base of the offense is west coast with a heavy lean on the run, particularly using the outside zone blocking scheme Stefanski learned from Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison back in Minnesota. The goal is to lead with the run and use short, high-percentage passing to move the chains which will allow them to set up play-action and take deeper shot downfield. The offensive line is built extremely well and we see wide running lanes open up for Nick Chubb who, once he gets a head of steam, can be impossible to take down. We should see him get his usual share of carries, but you can still expect Stefanski to use Jerome Ford in somewhat of a Kareem Hunt-type role. Hunt didn’t eat into Chubb’s workload last year like so many people freaked out about, so don’t expect Ford to either. Chubb is still the bread and butter of this offense.
With Watson under center for the full season, we should expect to see significantly more RPO work as well as some designed QB runs. He’s also got a fantastic new receiver in Elijah Moore working out of the slot which should help move the chains while Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones, or whomever spends the most time as the Z-receiver, continue to help stretch the field. David Njoku also adds another pass-catching weapon both across the middle and downfield. One thing to keep in mind, the Browns are not a fast-paced team. They use the run to set up the pass and as we saw last season in particular, once they have a lead, they are not afraid to just let Chubb carry the ball and kill the clock. That means fewer passing attempts. We still like the receivers for fantasy, but don’t expect some big, breakout season for any of them.
Defensive System: 4-3 base with a mix of man-coverage and Cover-3 Zone
While the Browns made a change at defensive coordinator, bringing in veteran Jim Schwartz, they will remain a 4-3 base for their front-seven. That’s what Schwartz likes to use anyway, but the major change you will see is their wide-nine set-up. That means the defensive linemen are further apart with the ends lining up beyond the outside shoulders of the tackles. It’s a tough formation to stick with as most opposing offenses opt to run the ball up the gut and expose the absence of true gap coverage by the defense. However, this should still work for the Browns with the size they have on the interior. Both Dalvin Tomlinson and Jordan Elliott are massive specimens capable of occupying multiple gaps and the team drafted Siaki Ika, a 6-foot-3, 335-lb defensive tackle out of Baylor, to rotate in. That means Myles Garrett and newly-acquired Za’Darius Smith can focus their attention on punishing the quarterback.
Schwartz will also make some adjustments with the secondary as he prefers to use man-coverage on the outside mixed with some Cover-3 in the middle of the field. The Browns predominately used Cover-3 last year, but with Denzel Ward, Martin Emerson and, to an extent, Greg Newsome being strong in one-on-on coverage, they can now change things up and free up the safeties for more creative packages. Even better is how solid the linebackers are in coverage, so the safeties should be all over the place, giving defenses a whole lot to figure out.
|Head Coach||Mike Tomlin||17th year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Matt Canada||3rd year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Teryl Austin||2nd year|
|Blocking Scheme||Flex - Mix of Power/Gap & Zone|
|Mike Tomlin -- HC||Matt Canada -- OC|
|Pass Attempts||1||4||16||Pass Attempts||QB COACH||4||16|
|Passing Yards||15||15||24||Passing Yards||QB COACH||15||24|
|Rushing Attempts||28||28||10||Rushing Attempts||QB COACH||28||10|
|Rushing Yards||32||29||16||Rushing Yards||QB COACH||29||16|
While just the mention of offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s name sends chills down the spine of Steelers fans everywhere, we just might see a turnaround in opinion as Canada embarks on Year-3 of his offensive takeover. The first year was a disaster as Ben Roethlisberger hated all aspects of Canada’s scheme and wanted nothing to do with all the pre-snap motion and pistol formation. He fought his OC every step of the way and as the elder statesman and fan-favorite, he was allowed to do what he wanted. Last year, we expected to see more elements of Canada’s scheme, but the limitations of Mitch Trubisky and the transition from college to the pros for Kenny Pickett needed a lot of help. Blocking schemes were adjusted, route trees were limited and the Steelers offense never really got started. This year, we expect things to be significantly different.
Let’s start with the fact that this is still a run-first team and Najee Harris will remain center-stage. Yes, Jaylen Warren continues to develop and will see some work, but the new blocking scheme which includes a lot of wide-zone, is designed to open up wider running lanes for Harris and, ultimately, set up better play-action. The Steelers brought in former Falcons QB coach Glenn Thomas to help offensive line coach Pat Meyer perfect the wide-zone blocking scheme and the addition of both LG Isaac Seumalo and first-round rookie Broderick Jones should vastly improve what was a weak offensive line.
Once the ground game is established, Canada’s passing attack can blossom. Again, you’ll see a ton of pre-snap motion to disguise plays and keep defenses on their heels, but you will also see them attack the middle of the field a whole lot more this season. Diontae Johnson will likely serve as the possession receiver with George Pickens handling much of the downfield work, but we will also see Johnson involved more downfield when they switch back and forth between 11 and 12-personnel and use Allen Robinson as opposed to Pat Freiermuth as a pass-catcher.
This should certainly prove to be a more interesting season for the Steelers offensively. Canada hasn’t been able to use his system in its purest form until now and with the right mix of coaches and personnel, we can probably expect a more prolific offense. We’re not elevating any of the players in the fantasy rankings, but we also aren’t dismissing them like so many did last season.
Defensive System: 3-4 base with multi-front looks and a mix of Cover-2 zone and man-coverage
Stopping the run has long been an issue for the Steelers and even though they got rid of OC Kevin Butler and replaced him with Teryl Austin last year, they continued to struggle. Austin’s specialty is the secondary and he’s always had his house in order in that realm. We can probably expect more man-coverage mixed in this year with the addition of Patrick Peterson and Joey Porter, Jr. and that will help Austin be more creative with his safeties and focus more on the revamped front-seven, a task he had hoped to fix last year but still needed some help with.
The talents of Larry Ogunjobi shined bright last year and adding rookie NT Keeanu Brown in the second round showed the Steelers were committing to plugging the holes up the middle and stuffing the run more. They also added Cole Holcomb and Elandron Roberts to the linebacker corps which will allow T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith to do what they do best on the outside. They’ll bring the pressure more with blitz packages, something Austin also promised to do more, and we should see significantly different results.
- Fantasy Alarm Staff Mock Draft 1.0
- 2023 NFL Offensive Line Rankings
- 2023 Wide Receiver Dynamic Tier Rankings
- Late Round Fantasy Football Running Back Targets
Also, check out our AFC North Preview with Jon Impemba & Andrew Cooper on the Quick Outs Fantasy Football Podcast: