The Norv Narrative: Offensive Coordinator Impact in Fantasy Football
The sports world is filled with narratives. Sometimes they're grounded in good data, but at least as often they're born of a high profile analyst or talking head saying something without any real evidence to support their statement. We hear about how so-and-so is clutch and how Team X is angry, so they will play better this week. Nine times out of 10, it's a bunch of malarkey.
As most of you know, the Norv Narrative says Mr. Turner is a great offensive coordinator (OC) who improves offensive output like few others. We expect the passing game specifically to take off under one Norval E. Turner. Because nobody else has gone through the effort to thoroughly investigate and because I am nothing if not a seeker of truth, I set out to see if there is a legitimate validity to this Norv Narrative.
The Easy (Incomplete) Argument
The first, most logical move was to compile data for Norv’s career as a play caller. Along with stats for Turner coached teams, the following table shows data for those same teams the season before he came on board and for the season after he departed. The purpose of this exercise is to show how teams fared with and without the venerable coordinator.
Please note that fantasy points in this table, and throughout this column, follow standard fractional scoring (0.04 points per passing yard, 0.1 points per rushing or receiving yard, 4 points per passing TD, -2 points per INT, 6 points per rushing or receiving TD). Negative points for fumbles were intentionally omitted because they are not the responsibility of an offensive coordinator and therefore should not reflect negatively on them.
Despite how promising this looks for Turner, it lacks perspective. The data set doesn’t show how he compares to contemporaries or take into account the standard inflation of statistics the NFL sees on a season-to-season basis. We are going to need a few more licks to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop.
In order to gain some perspective on where Norv stands among his peers, I came up with a list of well-known offensive coordinators who are still active in NFL circles. When combing through the candidates, I specifically looked for a mix of well respected (Ken Whisenhunt, Mike McCarthy) and lightly regarded (Cam Cameron, Brian Schottenheimer) coordinators.
While the totality of this data is too gargantuan to post here, I made up a fancy little graph that sums things up nicely. The blue bars represent fantasy points per game scored (FPPG) by a team the season before the coach in question took over play calling duties. The orange bar is FPPG during their tenure. And finally, the gray bar shows how many FPPG teams scored the season after the coach hit the bricks.
Along that same vein, the table below shows the percentage by which a coach improved an offense’s fantasy production in their first year at the helm. It also shows how much a team gained or lost the year after the coach had left.
|Coach||First Year||Year After|
The first thing that should jump out is how significantly the majority of coaches improved their new team’s fantasy performance. You may also be looking at how many points per game each coach was good for, comparing one to the other. Questions abound!
Q. Did I happen to randomly pick out a group of unusually good offensive coordinators?
A. Possibly. Despite several of the coaches being the target of vitriol, both in the fantasy and regular football communities, most have a significant amount of NFL experience. Say what you will about teams recycling failed coaches, but generally speaking, the bad guys wash out and the ones worth keeping continue to get work. My hunch is that despite our hatred of, for example, Cam Cameron, he is better for fantasy results than we’ve ever given him credit for.
Q. Historically speaking, do all teams show a bump in production when bringing in a new OC?
A. Yes. I’ll get into this later.
Q. How does an OC’s offensive scheme affect fantasy performance?
A. One thing that we need to keep in mind when analyzing fantasy data as it relates to offensive coordinators is that those who favor a passing attack are going to score significantly more points. The simple explanation for this is that passing stats are all scored twice (once for the quarterback, and once for those catching the passes). This is a long winded way of saying that pass-happy coordinators are going to score more points in general than those who have a more run-based attack.
Q. If this Norv guy is so good, why is he only fifth in points per game?
A. Of all the coaches on that list, Turner is the only one who was a coordinator prior to 2000. In the first nine years of his career (1991-1999), the NFL average FPPG was 50.1. From 2000-2013, it rises to 59.9. Considering how much fantasy scoring has progressed in the second half of Turner’s career, it is remarkable that his average is as high as it is.
To that point, here is progression of league-wide offensive numbers since Turner got his first OC gig:
|Year||Points||Yds||Comp||Pa Att||Pa Yds||Pa TD||Int||Ru Att||Ru Yds||Ru TD||FPPG|
Another feather in Turner’s cap is how efficient his offenses are at scoring fantasy points. Since 2000, the only three coaches in our sample that he trails have had Tom Brady, Brett Favre, or Aaron Rodgers for 19 of their 31 combined seasons. Despite cutting his coaching teeth in a much lower scoring era, Norv’s career numbers also compare very favorably.
|Norv Turner (since 2000)||62.1||0.964|
|Norv Turner (career)||62.3||0.952|
|NFL Avg. Since 2000||62.8||0.922|
|NFL Avg. Since 1991||60.7||0.903|
Quarterbacks Love Norval
Another part of the Norv Narrative concerns his supposed positive impact on the quarterback position. To test this theory, I gathered season-by-season career data for every passer who’s ever started a game for Turner. To keep the data as relevant as possible, I weeded out any season in which the player didn’t start at least one game (those three appearance, no passes, seven kneel down seasons would artificially depress data). With Doug Flutie and Rich Gannon, who Turner had for only 19 of their 157 NFL games, lapping the field with their legs, thus skewing results in an artificial way, I also removed rushing stats from the equation.
In games Turner was at the helm, his quarterbacks scored 11.72 fantasy points per game. Those same quarterbacks averaged 10.79 points in games Turner wasn’t on the sideline, an 8.34% difference. When I factored in margin of error (using 95% confidence), the results showed a range of a 5.79% to 10.75% difference. All of that is a fancy way of saying Turner does, in fact, increase the fantasy value of quarterbacks.
To any of you who think those quarterback FPPG figures look low, you have to keep in mind Turner made his coordinating debut 23 years ago for the Dallas Cowboys. As good as his passer, Troy Aikman, was at the time at the time, the Hall of Famer averaged a paltry 12.3 FPPG for his career.
For what it is worth, Aikman had his career’s two best fantasy seasons (in terms of FPPG) under Turner (who was in Dallas for only three years).
Having said all that, if the Vikings don’t upgrade the position this year, it won’t matter how good Turner is. If we take a look at what Cleveland - a team with a quarterback situation not at all dissimilar from Minnesota’s - did in 2013 compared to 2012, it gives a pretty good barometer of the sort of improvement we could see from the Vikings in 2014.
|Year||Att||Comp||Yds||TD||INT||Ru Att||Ru Yd||Ru TD||FP's||FPPG|
Other Skill Positions
Before we get into receivers and backs, take a moment to bookmark this excellent piece written by our editor, JJ Zachariason. The cliff notes version is that tight ends have enjoyed great success under Turner’s tutelage. As such, Kyle Rudolph could finally find the consistency needed to assert himself well inside the top 10.
I had planned to follow in JJ’s shoes and do the same sort of workup for running backs. But then I remembered Minnesota has Adrian Peterson. He is a top three to five running back in 2014 drafts regardless of who his coach is.
Bonus Tidbit: In Turner’s career, his backs have averaged 104 receptions per year. Vikings backs had 60 in 2013. Peterson’s career high is 43.
None of that will likely affect Peterson’s draft stock, but he could have sneaky value in PPR leagues if Minnesota doesn’t add a pass-catching back in the offseason.
With Greg Jennings, who has twice finished as a top-four fantasy wide receiver, and sophomore phenom Cordarrelle Patterson, Turner’s impact on the Vikings' wide receivers should be the most fantasy relevant piece of the pie in 2014. As you will see in the table that follows, Norv has had great success with his number one receivers over the years. Generally speaking, if he had a player with talent, they performed well. Unfortunately, the love doesn’t trickle down to the other wide outs very often.
Year-End Fantasy Ranks of Turner's WR1s and WR2s
|WR1 Rank||WR2 Rank||WR1 Rank||WR2 Rank|
There are a few occasions where his number two receivers put up top-30 numbers, but those are an anomaly. Much of this has to do with the lack of quality options Turner has had at the position. Also conspiring to sap receivers of targets are the aforementioned high usage of tight ends and running backs as pass catchers.
How Patterson, the Vikings WR2, develops will likely be the defining factor in Turner’s legacy in Minnesota. The former first rounder has the skills to continue in the hybrid role he filled late last season. He also has the pure physical talent to be one of the best players in the NFL as a pure wide out. Whether Turner can help bring that together while keeping Jennings, Peterson, and Rudolph all in the picture will be a fascinating storyline to watch.
320 Years of Proof
At the top of this column I showed how Turner affects a team’s fantasy output versus the seasons before he was hired and after he left. I also compared that to 10 of his contemporary offensive coordinators. The issue with that comparison is the small sample size; it covers a 11 subjects and only 129 seasons. In order to really see how Turner stacks up, I pulled stats for every NFL team for each of the last 10 years.
With all the numbers crunched, I found that the average increase in a team’s fantasy production in a coordinator’s first season is 3.1%. Turner obliterates that figure, as he raises fantasy scoring by 18%. What’s more, the new Vikings coach averages a 27.3% increase during his entire tenure versus the season before he was hired. The NFL average is 7.7%.
After 30-some odd hours of research and writing, I think I can safely say that the Norv Narrative is the real deal. In the interest of full disclosure, part of me wanted to spit in the face of the hundreds of “experts” who supported their version of the narrative with anecdotal evidence (or none at all) by proving Turner was less than the what he has been out to be. But a bigger part of me was excited to learn what I did as it has me all geared up to see what he does with Patterson, Jennings, Peterson, and Rudolph. I am no Nostradamus, but if the past 23 years have taught us anything, it should be that Minnesota’s offense is about to take a significant step in the right direction.