Fantasy football is king at Roto Street Journal, which is why we aren’t like the other sites that breakdown the entire picture when looking at the 2021 NFL Coaching Carousel. Instead, we take a deep dive into each available NFL coaching job from a fantasy football perspective.
Whether it is the current quarterback, surrounding talent, cap space, or draft picks, you’ll see where and why we rank the Chargers, Falcons, Jaguars, Jets, Lions, and Texans as the top NFL head coach openings.
Tier 1: Immediate (and Long-Term) Fantasy Juggernaut Upside
What else needs to be said besides Justin MFin’ Herbert. Whoever is the lucky soul who gets granted the soon-to-be rookie of the year, along with his elite cabinet of weapons, will be in for fantasy greatness in 2021.
The Chargers have all the pieces right now to improve Herbert’s surrounding talent and especially his dreadful offensive line, which was ranked dead last by Pro Football Focus. The Chargers have roughly $22 million in cap space and have the No. 13 pick. Although Hunter Henry is a free agent, they could target one in the draft, re-sign Henry, or address it in free agency. Either way, those two holes could be fixed pretty quickly over the off-season.
When it comes to Herbert, the next coach will have a young franchise quarterback in place for the next 12-plus seasons and should only get better with more creative play-calling (to say it nicely), a rebuilt offensive line, and a healthy Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler for a whole season. It also doesn’t hurt to play in a division that will be in shootouts since they play in the same division as the Chiefs, Raiders, and Broncos. Herbert’s upside is tremendous and he is currently ranked The Wolf’s QB8 on his 2021 Big Board.
At the running back spot, not only do they return the three-down stud Ekeler, who should only improve with a full offseason with Herbert, but they have capable backups in Joshua Kelley, Justin Jackson, and even Kalen Ballage. While Herbert keeps his eyes downfield, he peppered Ekeler on numerous occasions and that’ll be even better under an improved offensive mind calling the plays.
On the perimeter, Herbert and Allen already proved to be a lethal combination, while Mike Williams is always a solid red-zone target. They also have a few young guys in Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton, who proved to be more than capable of finding the end zone and gaining Herbert’s trust right away. With or without Henry, there’s legitimate talent on the perimeter for Herbert to succeed in 2021 and beyond.
Ideally, a young, innovative offensive mind would be perfect to further develop Herbert and take this offense to another level. Cap space, draft picks, and current talent makes this the clear-cut No. 1 job available from a fantasy perspective.
Tier 2: High-Powered Potential
What?! CJay, you have the 1-15 Jaguars as the No. 2 best fantasy job? Yes, I do.
Why is that you ask? Well, their 2021 starting quarterback will be Trevor Lawrence, the most highly touted quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. While it’s not always easy to trust a rookie quarterback as a first-year starter, Lawrence is cut from a different cloth and will ignite this offense similar to how Joe Burrow and Herbert did right away this season. From both a 2021 and from a dynasty perspective, Lawrence alone makes Jacksonville an ideal landing spot for an offensive-minded head coach.
Looking at the rest of the offense, James Robinson is another young stud. The undrafted rookie cracked the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie and was a three-down threat right away, snagging 49 balls in 14 games. Robinson will make Lawrence’s transition even easier and will be a key focal point in the offense.
The Jags also have several players on the perimeter who are waiting to be unlocked by Lawrence and a creative offensive mind. DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault are two electrifying playmakers who will certainly benefit from a coaching change. Chark is a year removed from a 1,000-yard season, while Shenault is a do-it-all weapon who will make a significant year-two jump in the right scheme. Keelan Cole is a free agent who will likely come back on a short deal.
Oh yeah, the Jaguars also have the most cap space in the league with over $75 million and a boatload of draft picks to improve the surrounding talent and build around Lawrence. If they can execute a home run hire, they’ll be set for 2021 and the future.
Tier 3: High-Powered Potential With Some Questions
I previously had the Texans up a spot at No. 2 overall because of Deshaun Watson, but this team is in complete disarray at the moment and Watson is pushing for a trade after signing his four-year mega extension last offseason.
Will Watson likely be the signal-caller in 2021? Yes. But, he is pissed off and the senior “leadership” making decisions is purely a joke. Led by former Patriots team chaplain Jack Easterby overruling the front office to land his old buddy Nick Caserio as GM, that’s just one of the many idiotic decisions that team has made in the last year or two. It’s nothing against Caserio, but it just seems like a complete and total mess down in Houston at the moment.
Reports about Deshaun Watson's unhappiness with @HoustonTexans are accurate and sources close to the QB say he is still angry about team's insensitivity to social justice, including hiring practices, after the franchise failed to interview Chiefs OC Eric Bienemy this past week.
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 10, 2021
If they can please the quarterback, then things could turn around for the Texans. However, there are a few major holes on the offense. The offensive line was ranked near the bottom of the league by Pro Football Focus, they have NEGATIVE $20 million in cap space next year, and their draft picks were depleted by Bill O’Brien and that lack of brain trust.
For the sake of this article, let’s say Watson remains in Houston. Outside of Watson they have an aging, yet resurging, David Johnson at running back, who looked like the DJ of old at the end of the regular season. Could a creative mind figure him out and revert him back to a low-end fantasy RB1?
Then on the perimeter, there is Will Fuller, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. There’s a high likelihood that he will not return to the Texans since he’s going to cash in after a very strong 11 games. While he failed a drug test and ended his season prematurely, someone will throw him a bag. Without Fuller, Watson will be targeting Brandin Cooks, who strictly puts up 1,000-yard seasons and exploded once Fuller was suspended. Then there’s Keke Couttee, Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, and Chad Hansen, who all proved to be decent second and third options, but there definitely needs to be an influx of talent around Cooks and co.
Either way, Caserio has his work cut out for him. Will he deal Watson and try to get a haul of picks in return to slam the reset button on the whole squad? Or will he try to make it work around Watson and improve the roster with limited resources? This time has a handful of question marks but we feel good about this as long as Watson is there in 2021.
When looking toward the future, the Falcons’ offense could be in serious trouble. But for fantasy 2021, the right offensive mind will likely make serious noise with this group, that’s led by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley.
Ryan will turn 36 before the 2021 kickoff and they could draft his successor with the No. 5 overall pick. But, he can still play and from a fantasy perspective, he’s the best option to keep Julio and Ridley unlocked in the offense.
The ground game, led by the decrepit Todd Gurley, is non-existent and needs to be updated in the offseason. However, there are several names in free agency and in the draft that could turn the position into a strength. Aaron Jones, Kenyan Drake, Chris Carson, Phillip Lindsay, James Conner, and Jamaal Williams are some of the top free agents available, while Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, Javonte Williams, and Chuba Hubbard headline the current draft class.
Jones and Ridley obviously headline the perimeter, but Jones is getting older and is continuing to break down. Ridley is a bonafide stud and a top 10 fantasy wideout heading into 2021. Russell Gage and even Olamide Zaccheaus looked like solid WR3/WR4 depth options, but expect the Falcons to target a cheap receiver in free agency or one in the middle rounds of the draft.
However, things could get wild if the Falcons new GM decides to hit the reset button. Mystery 2021 GM could trade both Ryan and Julio to create cap space and build toward the future, rather than attempt to compete with the Saints and Bucs over the next year or so. If this happens, they’ll become extremely fantasy irrelevant outside of Ridley.
Tier 4: Some Fantasy Potential But Things Need To Go Right
At full health and happiness, the 2020 Lions had the offensive talent to put up points. However, there was very little health and happiness to go around in Detroit under Matt Patricia. With the rocket scientist and GM Bob Quinn out of work, the Lions are in a total rebuild from both a fantasy and team perspective.
With limited cap space (roughly $7 million), the new Lions GM will have some serious decisions to make.
It starts with Matthew Stafford. Will the franchise quarterback demand a trade or the new GM free up some cap space by dealing him to create a clean slate? It’s a legitimate question that needs to be answered soon. Then, Kenny Golladay is an unrestricted free agent and likely already has his bags packed after sitting out the majority of 2020. On top of that, the consistent Marvin Jones is also an unrestricted free agent and is looking to play for a contender.
The team’s clear stable and future bright spot is D’Andre Swift, who exploded in the second half of the season before he endured a freak head injury in practice. Swift is a three-down horse who will be an early-round steal in fantasy and should benefit from a creative offensive mind who won’t rely on the ancient Adrian Peterson for carries.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention TJ Hockenson, the elite pass-catching tight end who is on the verge of fantasy breakout. He should see another 100-plus target season in 2021 under a more aerial-focused regime.
If the incoming GM can make the right hire and figure out how to make these studs happy, the Lions could be a juggernaut. But it’ll be a tall task for the next man in charge.
The Jets are the Jets, but there is some future fantasy upside here. First off, they have the second-most cap space behind the Jags with roughly $63 million and some intriguing, young offensive talent, such as franchise left tackle Mekhi Beckton and speedster Denzel Mims.
Next, they need to figure out their quarterback position and how it ties to the No. 2 overall pick. Do they stick with 23-year-old Sam Darnold, who was stuck under Adam Gase for the entirety of his career? Or do they select Justin Fields or Zach Wilson and move Darnold for a couple of high draft picks? Since the team has several holes, I personally believe they should hold onto Darnold, trade back, and secure a boatload of picks for the No. 2 pick to build around Darnold.
Just like the Falcons, the running back spot is an abomination. Scroll up to the Falcons spot to see the list of free agents and potential draft selections. Either way, there’s a very good chance that one of those players will be lining up in the Jets backfield.
Looking at the receivers and tight ends, there is some talent there to build around. Led by the consistent Jamison Crowder, the electric Mims, and the talented yet underwhelming Chris Herndon, the team is only a piece or two away in the passing game to make some noise. Breshad Perriman is an unrestricted free agent and could look to go to a more stable QB situation, but Mims has the deep speed to replace Perriman’s skill-set. As noted above, there’s some serious talent available in free agency and in the draft for the Jets to pursue. PFF predicted the Jets will sign JuJu Smith-Schuster to a 4-year deal.
With a ton of cap space and some decent talent as key positions, the Jets’ fantasy options might not be a bad option if they can ink a legitimate offensive mind at either head coach or offensive coordinator.