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, but often find themselves overmatched against the savvier player. Meanwhile, the eventual champion is someone who not only has their rankings in-hand and has read through countless fantasy football draft strategy pieces, but is also someone who understands the need to learn the coaching systems of every NFL team. 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 FREE fantasy football draft guide, you are definitely more the latter than the former.

Before we get started with the AFC North coaching systems, please allow me to point out, once again, the first installment of this series – the AFC East Coaching Systems -- because that piece 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.


AFC North Coaching Systems

Baltimore Ravens

Head CoachJohn Harbaugh15th year
Offensive CoordinatorGreg Roman4th year
Defensive CoordinatorMike MacDonald1st year
Offensive SystemRPO-Infused West Coast/Pistol Hybrid 
Blocking SchemeZone/Read Option 
John Harbaugh -- HC    Greg Roman -- OC   
Category201920202021 Category201920202021
Points1717 Points1717
Pace323120 Pace323120
Pass Attempts32327 Pass Attempts32327
Passing Yards273213 Passing Yards273213
Rushing Attempts113 Rushing Attempts113
Rushing Yards113 Rushing Yards113

Offensive Breakdown

While John Harbaugh may not be the most likable guy in the room, he is definitely one of the smartest. Known for his ability to identify premier talent on the field, Harbaugh is also smart enough to surround himself with top coordinators and assistants. He doesn’t design schemes himself, but he knows what he wants to see and continues to align himself with some of the most innovative minds in football. Greg Roman is the perfect example. 

The Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson in 2018, knew exactly what his strengths and weaknesses were as a signal-caller and got themselves one of the top minds for designing schemes around a mobile quarterback. Under Harbaugh’s brother Jim in San Francisco, Roman built a scheme that highlighted all of Colin Kaepernick’s strengths, most notably, his ability to run the ball. Roman then headed east to Buffalo where he was tasked with doing the same with TyRod Taylor. True talent aside, Taylor had some shining moments in that offense and Roman was the man to thank.

Roman arrived in Baltimore in 2019 and the only thing Harbaugh asked was that his offensive scheme be West Coast-based, the style of offense with which he was most familiar. Roman did just that, developing a system that uses a West Coast passing scheme to move the chains but also blended RPO elements to allow Jackson the freedom to make decisions based on defensive reads. The results were spectacular as Jackson rushed for over 1,200 yards on designed bootlegs and RPOs while passing for over 3,100 yards and 36 touchdowns. There was some statistical regression in 2020 as defenses identified the scheme, but Roman began to add some spread formations which then pushed the defense onto its heels more.

This year, we can expect much of the same. Lots of 22-personnel formations, a strong rotation of runners between, Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and a lot of short, high-percentage passes to help move the chains. They wanted to get more downfield shots in last year, something they would also like to accomplish this season, though they do seem like they are a receiver short for that. With Marquise Brown headed to Arizona, they lack a true downfield threat.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Mark Andrews

Defensive System: 3-4 base with multi-front looks and a Cover-4 zone with Man Coverage mixed in

Defensive Breakdown:

After getting crushed by the run last season, the Ravens felt like it was time to move on from Don “Wink” Martindale and bring in a fresh look. Sort of. New defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald is a former linebackers coach for the Ravens and spent last season working as the defensive coordinator of the Michigan Wolverines, the other Harbaugh’s stomping grounds. He is expected to retain several elements from Martindale’s defense, though we will see a few tweaks here and there.

MacDonald is going to retain the 3-4 base, though he will try to mix in some other multi-front looks to keep the offense guessing as to where the pressure is actually going to come from. You should expect fewer blitz packages, though, as MacDonald prefers to blitz situationally rather than the constant pressure Martindale preferred. It’s just a matter of personnel and match-ups, but don’t expect the see as much aggressiveness on defense as the Ravens hope to avoid giving up as many big plays as they did last year.

The secondary is going to be a mix of both man and zone coverage with a lean towards Cover-4. The Ravens used a lot of man coverage last season, 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. Depending on how everything looks in camp, we could actually see more zone coverage, but depending on the opposition, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters are likely to stay on the outside and throw some press-man coverage the receivers’ way. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Calais Campbell, Patrick Queen, Marlon Humphrey, Kyle Hamilton


Cincinnati Bengals

Head CoachZac Taylor4th year
Offensive CoordinatorBrian Callahan4th year
Defensive CoordinatorLou Anarumo4th year
Offensive SystemWest Coast Offense 
Blocking SchemeWide Zone 
Zac Taylor -- HC    Brian Callahan -- OC   
Category201920202021 Category201920202021
Points30297 Points30297
Pace62430 Pace62430
Pass Attempts61420 Pass Attempts61420
Passing Yards19277 Passing Yards19277
Rushing Attempts251819 Rushing Attempts251819
Rushing Yards252423 Rushing Yards252423

Offensive Breakdown

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 return of Frank Pollack who assumes the offensive line coaching duties and worked in a wide-zone blocking scheme.

The wide zone was a huge success for the offense as Joe Mixon 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 has been revamped on the right side with Alex Kappa and La’el Collins and also added center Ted Karras from New England, 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. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins

Defensive System: 4-3 base with multi-front looks and a mix of Man and Zone coverage

Defensive Breakdown: 

The defense continues to be a work-in-progress for defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, but seemed to be in a better spot last year and should continue as such this season. The addition of B.J. Hill to the defensive front proved to be a solid move as he and D.J. Reader helped clog the middle and push opposing offenses to the outside while the addition of Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton helped solidify the corners, a long-time Achilles heel of the Bengals defense. The personnel remains intact and we can probably expect another solid season.

The Bengals will stick to the 4-3 base up front and Anuramo will likely focus his attention on protecting the outside lanes and the shallow middle. He’ll use a combination press-man coverage on the outside to disrupt the receivers’ timing on their routes and drop his safeties down to help protect against the slants and short-crossing routes. 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. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: D.J. Reader, B.J. Hill, Chidobe Awuzie, Jessie Bates

Cleveland Browns

Head CoachKevin Stefanski3rd year
Offensive CoordinatorAlex Van Pelt3rd year
Defensive CoordinatorJoe Woods3rd year
Offensive SystemWest Coast Offense 
Blocking SchemeZone/Outside Zone 
Kevin Stefanski -- HC    Alex Van Pelt -- OC   
Category2019 (MIN OC)20202021 Category2019 (CIN)20202021
Points81420 PointsQB COACH1420
Pace132726 PaceQB COACH2726
Pass Attempts302828 Pass AttemptsQB COACH2828
Passing Yards232427 Passing YardsQB COACH2427
Rushing Attempts449 Rushing AttemptsQB COACH49
Rushing Yards634 Rushing YardsQB COACH34

Offensive Breakdown

Anyone who has heard 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 most 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. I get that it’s probably due to a lack of quality receiving targets, but even with the addition of Amari Cooper, we could be looking at some very similar play-calling.

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 again, if Stefanski leans towards throwing more, Kareem Hunt will jump in and poach snaps.

A lot of what they do this year is predicated on who is under center. We know that if it’s Deshaun Watson, this offense can be one of the best in the game. His ability to see the whole field and extend plays with his legs is first-rate and he’ll have little to no trouble finding his receivers downfield. However, given the off-field issues surrounding Watson right now (a long-term suspension continues to loom over his head), it looks like the Browns are going to open the year with Jacoby Brissett under center. You would like to think that would cause the Browns to run more, but it’s probably no different from when they had Baker Mayfield under center and throwing to a hodge-podge group of wideouts. You can’t exactly sell the run if teams don’t believe you can throw the ball and that tends to push Stefanski into a more pass-friendly mindset. We’ll continue to watch this situation very closely and update when we know more.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Amari Cooper, David Njoku

Defensive System: 4-3 base with Cover-3 Zone

Defensive Breakdown:

What Joe Woods has done for this defense during his tenure s defensive coordinator has been absolutely outstanding. The front seven is incredibly strong – both physical and fast. Myles Garrett is an elite pass-rusher and with Jadeveon Clowny on the other side, Woods doesn’t have to worry about rushing the passer with extra personnel. These guys can handle the work on their own. Anthony Walker does a good job directing traffic in the middle and second-year linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah looks like he’s ready to take another step forward.

But where Woods is best is the secondary and with Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit all hopefully healthy, they should be a very difficult unit to throw on. The addition of Greg Newsome was also big for the Browns last season as the then-rookie cornerback stepped in nicely when Williams was out. They’ll be in Cover-3 the majority of the time, but Woods was also part of the staff that worked with Robert Saleh and used a Cover-6 zone at times, where the safeties would swap in and out of the weak side. Again, if healthy, this defense could be an IDP gold mine for turnovers.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Myles Garrett, Anthony Walker, Denzel Ward, Grant Delpit


Pittsburgh Steelers

Head CoachMike Tomlin16th year
Offensive CoordinatorMatt Canada2nd year
Defensive CoordinatorTeryl Austin1st year
Offensive SystemErhardt-Perkins 
Blocking SchemeFlex - Mix of Power/Gap & Zone 
Mike Tomlin -- HC    Matt Canada -- OC   
Category201920202021 Category201920202021
Points271221 PointsN/AQB COACH21
Pace24205 PaceN/AQB COACH5
Pass Attempts2614 Pass AttemptsN/AQB COACH4
Passing Yards311515 Passing YardsN/AQB COACH15
Rushing Attempts212828 Rushing AttemptsN/AQB COACH28
Rushing Yards293229 Rushing YardsN/AQB COACH29

Offensive Breakdown

Things are going to look vastly different in Pittsburgh this year as the departure of Ben Roethlisberger affords second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada to run the offensive scheme he wanted to run last season. Big Ben demanded autonomy at the line of scrimmage and often changed the play from what Canada sent in which made the offense incredibly predictable as every defensive coordinator worth his salt knew of every one of Roethlisberger’s limitations. That won’t happen this season. Big Ben also hated all the pre-snap motion they tried to install, something Canada has used everywhere he’s coached and called plays. The heavy motion forces the defense to move around and often tip its hand with regard to coverage, but Ben never saw the value in that apparently. And finally, Canada also tried to use more pistol formation which has the quarterback reading defenses faster and releasing the ball quicker. It also opens the door for more RPO work, something Big Ben just wasn’t capable of pulling off. We may not love Mitchell Trubisky nor believe Kenny Pickett to be ready, but both fit this offensive a lot better than Big Ben ever could.

The Steelers also brought in former Panthers and Chargers offensive line coach Pat Meyer to revamp the blocking scheme. The Steelers offensive line was one of the worst last season and while they are still ranked near the bottom of the league, the addition of Mason Cole and James Daniels should improve the unit as a whole. Meyer is installing a zone blocking system that will feature a lot of wide zone elements so the change in personnel should help his cause and improve up the production of Najee Harris. The second-year running back should fare even better on the outside with the wide zone as it affords him the opportunity to cut back inside rather than push him all the way to the outside. It’s a subtle nuance, but one that should help.

Mix it all together and you’ve actually got a strong and more modern scheme. Establishing the run with Harris will open up the play-action, Trubiskly’s ability to run with the ball will allow Canada to utilize more RPO work, the pre-snap motion will force defenses into coverage schemes they may not want and things should open up well for the passing attack downfield. One final note is that you should expect to see a lot more 11-personnel which was still their primary package last season, but if the offensive line struggles with the blocking scheme, the lone tight end, Pat Freiermuth may be tethered to line to block more. Just something to note. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Mitchell Trubisky, Najee Harris, Chase Claypool

Defensive System: 3-4 base with multi-front looks and a Cover-2 zone

Defensive Breakdown: 

The Steelers were a hot mess last year when it came to stopping the run and as a result, Mike Tomlin sent Keith Butler packing and promoted secondary coach (and senior defensive assistant) Teryl Austin to defensive coordinator. Austin always had his house in order with the defensive backs and is now tasked with building up that front seven to equal stature. They will continue to use the 3-4 base as the addition of Larry Ogunjobi to the defensive line is going to do wonders for stopping the run. With him on the left and Cameron Heyward on the right, the Steelers can feel comfortable with the middle of the field when bringing T.J. Watt and newly-acquired Myles Jack in to pressure the quarterback.

The secondary will continue to use Cover-2 for their base as that is what Tomlin prefers (dating back to his days working with the Tampa-2 defense). They have great versatility with safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds so they will utilize other coverage packages, depending on what they are seeing from the opposition. Man coverage seems unlikely, so if you’re playing in an IDP league, the safeties are much better options here than the corners.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds


Related Fantasy Football Articles: