If there is one constant in the National Football League, it is change. Every year, scores of players change teams across the league. Scores more either enter the NFL for the first time or leave it for good.
It's not just the faces of the players who change. Every season, several teams either hire new head coaches or bring in new coordinators after theirs landed promotions. The 2022 campaign is no exception—when Week 1 rolls around, nine head coaches will be coaching their first game with a new team. An even dozen teams will be trotting out new defensive coordinators.
For some of those coordinators, it's a matter of, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." There may be a new face running things, but the scheme they will employ remains essentially unchanged. For others, however, there are more significant changes afoot—schematic changes that could have a major impact on the defense as a whole and the individual players in it.
As we prepare to head into the summer (and another fantasy draft season kicks into high gear), here's a look around the league at coaching and scheme changes in 2022—and how those changes impact the fantasy value of the IDPs on those teams.
A Note on Base Defenses
To a large extent, the notion of scheme changes and base defenses are antiquated concepts. Per Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders, NFL teams spent just 23.8 percent of total snaps in 2020 in base (3-4 and 4-3) sets. Even then, many teams vacillated back and forth between three and four-man fronts, and that number has been on a relatively steady decline for several years.
In the 21st-century NFL, subpackages are king. Two years ago, NFL teams spent just under 60 percent of snaps in the nickel. (4-2-5) and another 15 percent or so in the dime. (4-1-6). Three of every four defensive snaps were spent in the subpackages that are now the de-facto base defense. A handful of teams were almost exclusively in subpackages.
Given that evolution, many IDP providers have changed how they classify players. Some now group 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers as edge-rushers while grouping 4-3 tackles and all 3-4 linemen together as interior linemen. Others have afforded many of those players dual eligibility, either as defensive ends and linebackers or defensive tackles and defensive ends. But some providers still base eligibility off where a player lines up in base sets.
And that means that a change in coordinator and/or scheme can have massive implications.
Baltimore Ravens - Mike Macdonald
Per Clifton Brown of the team's website, Mike Macdonald said that he will not reinvent the wheel as the new defensive coordinator in Baltimore. What he is going to do is put his players in the best possible position to succeed.
"The first thing you want is a cohesive unit," Macdonald said. "You want everybody to have each other's backs. There's a certain style it takes to play like a Raven. You want it to be multiple. You want it to be flexible and adaptable. It needs to be complimentary, light enough when you can adjust to certain things, and simple for the players so they can go play the way you expect them to go play."
Before his lone year as the defensive coordinator at Michigan, Macdonald spent seven years coaching in Baltimore under Dean Pees and Don Martindale. You can expect a similar 3-4 base under Macdonald as the one they ran, but those Ravens defenses also spent about four of every five snaps in the nickel or dime.
Chicago Bears - Alan Williams
An assistant under new Bears head coach Matt Eberflus in Indianapolis over the last four seasons, Alan Williams followed Eberflus to the Windy City. As reported by Larry Mayer of the Bears' website, Williams and Eberflus also brought the "HITS" principle with them—an acronym for Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways, and (playing) Smart.
"When you talk about a standard and meeting that standard and then being able to look at the film and grade that standard and holding guys to the standard, the HITS philosophy is a great way of being able to measure it," Williams said. "So, with the hustle, the intensity, the takeaways, and playing smart, we have a way of being able to gauge ourselves from one game to another or one season to another in terms of, 'Are we improving or are we falling short?'"
Nifty acronyms aside, Williams also brings with him a schematic shift from the 3-4 of Sean Desai to more 4-3 sets similar to what Eberflus ran as the defensive coordinator in Indy. That means positional eligibility as a defensive lineman for Robert Quinn, fresh off his 18.5-sack 2021 season, and a full-time shift inside for veteran Akiem Hicks. It could also mean quite a few snaps for weak-side linebacker Nicholas Morrow—Eberflus' Colts teams haven't played much dime in recent years.
Denver Broncos - Ejiro Evero
Another first-time defensive coordinator, Evero was hired by fellow first-timer Nathaniel Hackett after five seasons on the staff of the Los Angeles Rams. Evero has already stated that his scheme will be similar to the one the Broncos ran under Vic Fangio. However, he told reporters he intends to prioritize getting after opposing quarterbacks.
"At the end of the day, we've got to generate pressure," Evero said, via Aric DiLalla of the team's website. We've got to do it with individual efforts, but we've also got to do it with a team collective goal, the guys working together on the pass-rush games, being able to bring pressure and those types of things. We've got a lot of guys we're counting on to get that done for us."
In recent years, the Rams have ranked toward the top of the NFL in the amount of time spent in dime subpackages. Given the lack of proven coverage options at linebacker in the Mile High City, it's entirely possible that will carry over. If that's the case, there may only be one linebacker who plays more than 75% of the Broncos' defensive snaps in 2022.
Indianapolis Colts - Gus Bradley
With Matt Eberflus taking the head job in Chicago, veteran coordinator (and former Jaguars head coach) Gus Bradley was handed the reins of the Colts' 16th-ranked defense. He told the Associated Press that his relationship with Eberflus should help make for a smooth transition.
"There’s a Pro Bowl player at every level here, and it takes hard work and a certain mentality to reach that level," Bradley said. "It’s unique to walk into a situation like that. Matt and I have had a relationship for many years. We’ve met together, talked together, and I know what he’s instilled in this defense, so our hope is to add and build on that."
Whether it was in Seattle, Jacksonville, or even last year in Las Vegas, Bradley has long been a proponent of the 4-3 Under front, in which the weak-side end often lines up standing up outside the opposing tackle. It's a role that is conducive to pass-rushers who can get around the edge quickly—and one that has produced some big sack seasons in the past.
Continue reading this content with a ELITE subscription.
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, ESPN