Will Chan Gailey Fix the Jets’ Offense for Fantasy Football Owners?
Ding, dong, the witch is dead! The tyrannical reign of “Ryan-nosaurus Rex” is done for the New York Jets.
Fantasy football owners everywhere are rejoicing that his stranglehold on a franchise mired in mediocrity has finally been broken. I looked at the numbers earlier this offseason, and Rex Ryan has been one of the best defensive minds in the league over the past decade. The real trouble with him always was the inability to draft, develop, and coordinate offenses. This has led to fantasy owners completely writing off the entire Jets offense for the past couple of years, outside of perhaps two fantasy options.
For the 2015 season, however, there are some fresh faces in Gotham. Former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will take the reins as the head coach and defensive playcaller for this squad, and former Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey will join the staff as their offensive coordinator.
Come again? The same Chan Gailey who has spent three of the last six NFL seasons jobless? The same Chan Gailey who was relieved of playcalling duties in the 2009 preseason with the Kansas City Chiefs? Why did anyone think this was a good idea? Wait just a second, though, fantasy players: perhaps there’s something here to look at with a new-look Jets under Gailey.
If I Only Had a Brain
In order to understand properly an offense’s fantasy prospects, you have to understand first the offensive structure and its coordinator. Chan Gailey has been running what is known as a stretch-zone rushing scheme since the dawn of time -- or, you know, 1983. The stretch-zone refers to its style of offensive line blocking (zone blocking) and its play goal (stretching the defense). This is a scheme we see employed frequently today by teams such as the Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, and Houston Texans, which allows more agile running backs to take advantage of angles opened up in a defensive front. It requires talented, athletic linemen to execute it properly, as they don’t take a man-to-man assignment, but rather block a “zone” -- an area -- on a play.
Gailey has varied his passing play calls to a great extent over his career, however, tending to adapt his style more to personnel, than fit personnel into his schemes. This has proved a great strength for him as he worked with the stronger-armed Jay Fiedler in Miami in 2000-2001 and utilized a more vertical passing attack but adapted his philosophy to the weaker-armed Tyler Thigpen in Kansas City and Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo. He designs his offenses for his quarterbacks, and that will help greatly as he looks for a way to unlock the mystery of Geno Smith in New York.
If I Only Had a Heart
Let’s now take a look at how Gailey’s offenses have performed in terms of our signature numberFire metric, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is a measure of not just box score production but also how a team actually performed on the field. It more accurately describes the changing chances and values on each play, and therefore it’s a much better way of assessing Gailey’s schemes than yardage totals. The table below shows Gailey’s standing by league ranking in Adjusted NEP (adjusted for opponent) over his six years as a playcaller in the league. How have his offenses performed?
|Year||Team||Role||Adj. NEP Rank||Adj. Pass NEP Rank||Adj. Rush NEP Rank|
Nothing on this table is impressive in the least. In no season has a Chan Gailey offense finished in the top 10 in any Adjusted NEP category except for Adjusted Rushing NEP, and his total offenses have all ranked in the bottom half of the league, excepting one 14th-place finish. At first glance, this does not bode well for the future prospects of the Jets, but we should also consider what Buffalo -- as his longest tenure with one team -- looked like before and after Gailey’s arrival.
The table below shows the Adjusted NEP ranks of the Buffalo Bills offense in the year preceding and after Gailey’s tenure there.
|Year||Team||Role||Adj. NEP Rank||Adj. Pass NEP Rank||Adj. Rush NEP Rank|
When putting that in context, we can see that Gailey actually did improve the Buffalo offense during his time there, and that coaches Alex van Pelt and Doug Marrone -- despite operating similar offensive schemes -- completely misused their players in comparison to Gailey. This should give some sort of credence to the idea that Gailey’s touch may not be golden, but he does know how to use the tools he has to their fullest potential.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
So what are the full potentials of the weapons that Gailey will have at his disposal? We know that he prefers to operate a precision-passing attack with a stretch-zone rushing component, and he actually might not need to change much in his new job.
Starting in the backfield, the fast and furious running style of Chris Ivory was fully mishandled with Rex Ryan at the helm. Does Ivory have the strength to push the pile and go between the tackles? Absolutely. However, his strength is a great partner for his straight-line speed, and that skill was never fully put to use over the past few years. Similarly, Chris Johnson was a horrible fit for Rex Ryan’s “ground-and-pound” philosophy and is much better in a zone-blocking scheme that gets him to move horizontally. Can Gailey realize the talent these two have?
The table below shows the average fantasy production and NEP data for Gailey’s lead and complementary backs over the 2010-2012 seasons, compared to Ivory and Johnson last year. Does this situation look hopeful?
|Player||Team||Rush NEP||Rec NEP||Fantasy Points||2014 Pos. Rank|
When put in these terms, the incremental value Gailey made in Buffalo look very, very good. Due to having a lacking quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gailey relied heavily on run game creativity and also at getting his backs in space and catching passes. This kind of West Coast innovation could do wonders for Johnson and Ivory next season, as the average Bills’ lead back outscored Ivory in every category by a mile (including where they would be in 2014 fantasy standings), while the complementary back did the same against Johnson, even if just marginally in fantasy scoring.
The really interesting question is: what will the Jets do with Geno Smith now? Smith has had an atrocious production level to this point in his NFL career, but is there hope for him still? One of his best comparisons might be Ryan Fitzpatrick in his time in Buffalo. How does Fitzpatrick’s average season with Gailey match up to Smith at this point?
|Player||Team||Pass NEP||Rush NEP||Fantasy Points||2014 Pos. Rank|
Smith is not a wholly talented quarterback, but -- let’s be honest -- neither is Fitzpatrick. Gailey was the architect of “Fitzmagic” in his tenure with the Bills, figuring out how to use his quarterback in a way that highlighted his abilities, rather than challenging him and exposing his flaws. This could be exactly what Geno Smith needs to turn things around.
The whole point is that there is nowhere to go but up for the New York Jets’ offense. Hiring Chan Gailey out of retirement seems like one of the more unconventional moves that rookie head coach Bowles could have pulled off, but it may prove to be a wise one. If Gailey can eke any sort of production out of Smith, this whole offense should buoy in fantasy, including the wide receivers. The two-headed attack of Ivory and Johnson deserves one more go, and they could be solid fantasy options once again with Gailey’s rushing creativity.