Is Jack Del Rio the Right Guy for the Oakland Raiders?
It's tough to remember, but at one time, the Jacksonville Jaguars weren't the laughingstock of the NFL. Back in 2005, the team made the playoffs with a 12-4 record, but exited in the first round after getting smoked by the Patriots. Two years later, Jacksonville beat Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh during the wild-card round of the playoffs, only to lose to -- you guessed it -- New England the following week.
The Jaguars weren't bad. You could argue their personnel wasn't what you'd see from a Super Bowl-winning team, but the team wasn't bad. And a big reason for that was head coach Jack Del Rio.
Del Rio coached the Jaguars from 2003 through most of 2011. He made the playoffs twice as the Jags head coach, doing so with quarterbacks who have found zero success outside of Jacksonville. His teams went a combined 68-73, but many of them were competitive. And as we've seen since he left, coaching a competitive Jaguars team is no easy task.
Now it's being reported that Del Rio will become the next head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Maybe Oakland isn't such a mess after all.
Del Rio's Time in Jacksonville
In nine seasons with the Jaguars, Del Rio finished with three winning seasons and two 8-8 campaigns. His teams never finished with fewer than five wins and, as you'll see below, they weren't constructed poorly.
|Season||Wins||Offensive Rank||Defensive Rank||Result|
|2005||12||12th||12th||Lost Wild Card Round|
|2007||11||3rd||16th||Lost Divisional Round|
Jeff Fisher is kind of jealous of these results. Though Del Rio's a defensive-minded coach, serving as the Panthers' defensive coordinator for a year before heading to Jacksonville, his offenses were pretty impressive, all things considered. This is especially true for 2007 -- the year the Jags won a playoff game -- as the team finished third overall in schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP). That was Dirk Koetter's first year as offensive coordinator for them.
It's tough to say bad things about Del Rio when you consider where the team was before and after his time in Jacksonville, too.
|Season||Wins||Offensive Rank||Defensive Rank||Result|
Considering their lack of success from 2012 through 2014, the whole laughingstock notion mentioned in the intro makes a lot of sense. Their rankings look about as strong as Mark Davis' haircut.
But as you can see, Del Rio did nothing but good things with the Jacksonville team he inherited. Keep in mind, too, that his first season as head coach saw a rookie quarterback, Byron Leftwich, under center.
Quarterback Play Under Del Rio
That's another thing to remember: he did all this with Leftwich and David Garrard at quarterback. Sure, he could be partially to blame for being forced to use two average-at-best quarterbacks, but he certainly got the best out of them.
Leftwich was never a super below-average passer according to our Passing NEP metric -- his worst season came in 2007 when he was with Atlanta, where he compiled a -24.81 Passing NEP on just 64 drop backs. His rookie season saw a -13.27 Passing NEP score (for reference, that's still roughly 85 points better than what Blake Bortles had this year), while his final two seasons (the next two) as Jacksonville's season-long starter saw improvement -- 9.33 Passing NEP and 23.34 Passing NEP.
And then there's David Garrard. During his six seasons seeing significant snaps (more than 150) under center for Jacksonville, he hit the league's per drop back average since 2000 (0.10 Passing NEP per drop back) three times. Only once did he fall below the zero mark in terms of Passing NEP.
After his time in Jacksonville ended, Garrard wasn't able to find a legitimate gig.
Perhaps a lot of this quarterback success (relative to how those players performed outside of Jacksonville) had to do with a conservative, run-first style. During Del Rio's time with the Jags, his team ran 4,742 passing plays to 4,333 running plays, good for a 1.09 pass-to-run ratio. From 2003 through 2011, the NFL's pass-to-run ratio was 1.26.
This shouldn't change as Oakland's head coach, as Derek Carr will need all the relief he can get under center for the Raiders. In 2014, Carr finished with the second-lowest Passing NEP total in the league, sitting at -40.94. Only Blake Bortles was worse. For reference, no Jaguars quarterback came close to this poor of a Passing NEP score under Del Rio's direction.
Most importantly, the Raiders finished first in the NFL last season in pass-to-run ratio. They ran the fourth-most passing plays in the league -- which certainly has to do with game script, too -- all while averaging 1.95 passes to every run.
Del Rio isn't an offensive mastermind, and having Dirk Koetter from 2007 through the end of his time with the team helped. But it would be surprising, based on history, if Oakland doesn't move towards being a run-first team with young running back Latavius Murray. And that's exactly what they need to do.
Let's not forget Del Rio's time as defensive coordinator in Denver, too. The chart below shows Denver's overall defensive rank in terms of Adjusted Defensive NEP, which includes the two seasons prior to Del Rio's arrival.
One obvious factor to this equation is the arrival of Peyton Manning in Denver, which can ease a little pressure on a defense (don't tell that to Manning's teams in Indianapolis though). But what's obvious is the immediate impact he made on the defensive unit.
After looking at the data, one thing I specifically noticed about Del Rio's defenses was their ability to stop the run. Including the defense he coordinated for one year in Carolina (which ranked second in the league according to our metrics), eight of Del Rio's 13 teams -- whether he was the defensive coordinator or head coach -- finished in the top 10 in rush defense. Only one of them finished worse than 20th.
Considering the Raiders' division includes a San Diego Chargers team that would love to run the football if they could, a Chiefs team that has one of the best running backs in the NFL, and a Broncos team that could end up shifting their philosophy to be more run-heavy, this is great news for Raider fans.
A Good Fit
Aside from the whole "Jack Del Rio grew up a Raiders fan and this is his dream job" story, this is really a good fit for the Raiders. They've got inexperience on offense, and a more conservative, defensive-minded head coach makes a lot of sense. And it's not like his track record is average -- Del Rio not only coordinated some really good defenses in the league, but he made Jacksonville a yearly playoff contender. That's a huge win in and of itself.
It looks like Oakland got this one right. As long as all the reports are true.