The Kingsbury Effect: Kyler Coming to Town?
The Kingsbury Effect: Kyler Coming to Town?
This is an update of a previous article in my New Coaching Impact series to reflect roster moves and changes since it was first published on January 24th, 2019. Please enjoy.
Kliff Kingsbury has seen a rapid ascent in landing his first NFL head coaching position. Kingsbury has just over 10 years of experience in the coaching field. All of his experience came in college before being hired by the Arizona Cardinals on January 8th, 2019. The highly coveted offensive mastermind started as a quarterbacks coach in college with the Houston Cougars from 2008-2009. From there, Kingsbury became the offensive coordinator/assistant head coach in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Kliff Kingsbury saw success in Houston and became the offensive coordinator at Texas A & M where he coached Johnny Manziel to a Heisman Trophy as a Freshman. The former quarterback was also a Heisman Trophy candidate himself in 2002 while playing for the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Kingsbury turned his success at College Station into a head coaching job at Texas Tech in 2013. The offense run there was wildly successful while the youngster held the head gig for six years in Lubbock, Texas. As one of the top passing game minds in college football, Kingsbury was able to produce a top-10 finish in passing yards each of those six years (five of the six ranked top five). Kingsbury also coached the Red Raiders to a top-25 scoring offense in five of his six years on campus. Take a look at how his offenses finished in scoring and passing yards per game during his tenure as the Texas Tech mentor.
Kingsbury is a student of the air raid offense. The air raid offense is known for its heavy emphasis on passing. Typically, four wide receivers are used. Two line up in the slot and two line up wide. Passing plays usually number around 65-75% out of all the plays run per game. The air raid also usually involves the no huddle or hurry up, working to tire out the defense.
Some students of the air raid are Kingsbury, Mike Leach, Art Briles, and Kevin Sumlin. All have had success with this offense in the college ranks. There have been some adaptations to it in the NFL. How it plays out if it is fully unleashed has yet to be seen.
Things Cannot Get Any Worse
The Arizona Cardinals offense as a whole was awful last year. The Cardinals were dead last in scoring (14.1 points per game) as well as yards per game (241.6) in 2018. Also concerning is the fact that the team was last in yards per play at 4.3. Things can only go up for Arizona under an offensive-minded head coach.
Kingsbury has no NFL coaching experience and really not many ties in the league. The first time head coach does have ties to Sean McVay, but that is where it ends. The Los Angeles Rams run a completely different style of offense. One thing about the air raid offense, it is constantly evolving. Kingsbury is certainly an innovator. At one point last year, Texas Tech lined up in a diamond formation and pulled the left guard to pass protect.
Many experts ridiculed the Arizona Cardinals for the hire, stating that they were chasing the next McVay. Part of Kingsbury’s success has been his ability to modify and adapt the air raid as situations dictate. The exciting offensive guru did have a losing record at Texas Tech but Kingsbury didn’t exactly have a lot of five-star recruits on his squads to work with. Competing for players with the likes of the Texas Longhorns, Texas A & M Aggies and other schools that hit Texas hard, the squads were left with sub-par talent.
It will be difficult to predict what Kingsbury will do at the NFL level. It will also be a struggle to know if he can mold the talent, or lack thereof, to fit whatever system the Cardinals decide to implement. There is not any NFL data on Kingsbury as a coach, but we will try to break down how each fantasy-relevant position is impacted.
The anointed offensive savior said himself last October that “Kyler is a freak. I would take him number one overall if I could.” Kingsbury obviously did not know he would be in the position to do so just a few months later. The Cardinals are pressing hard to drive up Josh Rosen’s value. Let us assume for now that Rosen will still be the field general in the desert in 2019.
Josh Rosen (QB1)
Poor Josh Rosen. The guy has had five different offensive coordinators in just four years. It is hard to feel bad for someone that had a hot tub in their dorm room, but here we are. In Rosen’s freshman year, he had Noel Mazzone. Mazzone has a background in the air raid offense and worked as the offensive coordinator for Kevin Sumlin while with the Texas A & M Aggies in 2016. This will benefit Rosen some with the language of the offense.
Rosen’s next coordinators were Kennedy Polamalu (sophomore year) and Jedd Fisch (junior year). A career running backs coach, Polamalu was not much help to Rosen. Fisch also had a run-heavy approach as a coordinator. Fisch has worked under the likes of Dom Capers and Jim Harbaugh. Not great backgrounds for a quarterback that could potentially chuck it a ton this year. Hopefully, Josh Rosen’s football IQ can help him adjust yet again if he is still around in 2019.
Potential Schematic Fit
The air raid offense will help Rosen’s lack of arm strength with quick outs and a lot of slot looks. A lot of criticism was put on Rosen for his lack of coachability in college. Maybe some of that stems from learning a new system every year. Even in the NFL, Rosen hasn’t worked with a mind quite like Kingsbury’s. The UCLA grad started the season with Mike McCoy at offensive coordinator (enough said) and finished with interim OC Byron Leftwich.
The Cardinals are not expected to hire an offensive coordinator but have hired longtime coach Tom Clements to be the quarterback Coach and passing game coordinator. Kingsbury is still expected to call the plays. Rosen’s numbers from last year don’t tell us much because of the conservative nature of McCoy’s offense. This interactive chart from the data-analysis tab on FFS shows that he only dropped back 361 times in 14 games. This is well below the league average for pass attempts.
The exact target breakdown is 72 to the RB, 225 to the WR and 62 to the TE. We can only hope Kingsbury and Rosen have the chemistry a coach and a quarterback need to have. One would think Rosen would be excited by the hire, if not for the Kyler Murray chatter. The former Bruin finally has a competent offensive mind to guide him and let him showcase his skills. Rosen’s college career was also marred with injuries, so he may get better with more reps as well. Monitor the situation on April 25th and put Rosen down as a wait and see prospect at quarterback next year in redraft leagues. An argument could be made that he is a great buy low in dynasty leagues.
David Johnson (RB1)
This guy gets it done. David Johnson did not perform to his draft position but was still able to pull out an RB9 finish in PPR formats in 2018. To recap, in the three years Johnson has been healthy, he has been RB8, RB1, and RB9. The obvious dip in the chart is from 2017 when he injured his wrist in Week 1.
There have been some concerns that no back has ever caught more than 41 passes in a Kingsbury coached offense. That was in college. Texas Tech did not have David Johnson or anyone close to his talent level. Kliff Kingsbury stated at the owner’s meetings that the Cardinals plan to build things around him and that they will operate mostly out of the shotgun.
“I’ve heard that Kliff [Kingsbury] is really good at putting his guys in open space, especially as running backs and giving them open space to try to get the yards catching the ball and doing things like that.” -David Johnson
That is good news for owners of DJ in dynasty formats. David Johnson is currently being drafted at an ADP of 10.8 and the RB9 off the board. That is a little low given the number of touches the workhorse running back is likely to see in 2019. Draft with confidence in any format.
Larry Fitzgerald (WR1)
Old faithful is back. Larry Fitzgerald agreed to a one year deal with the Arizona Cardinals on January 23rd. This is great news for the entire offense as a whole. Even in a bad offense last year, Fitzgerald produced serviceable numbers. The chart below from the season-data tool at FFS shows his wide receiver fantasy finishes over his 15 years. You can see he was a top 25 WR in all but four of his 15 seasons.
Looking at Rosen’s passer rating per the intended target from 2018, we can see that the young quarterback relied heavily on Fitzgerald. The Pittsburgh alum saw 92 targets from Rosen and another 20 from Sam Bradford for a total of 112 targets (20th). Fitzgerald turned those targets into 69 catches (24th) and 734 yards (38th) with 6 touchdowns (tied 9th). Rosen’s rating was 88.1 when he looked Fitzgerald’s way, second best on the team behind only Jermaine Gresham who only saw 11 targets from the quarterback.
Christian Kirk (WR2)
Christian Kirk is an exciting young talent and was on his way to a solid rookie year before breaking his foot. Kirk only started 7 games, but in the 12 games he played, the wideout managed 43 catches (53rd) on 68 targets (59th). This was good for 590 yards (53rd) and 3 touchdowns (tied 12th). With the expected improvement in Rosen under Kingsbury, look for his catch percentage to increase from 63.2% in 2018.
Look for Kirk to pace the team in targets even with Fitz returning. The rookie also spent his entire career under Kevin Sumlin at Texas A & M and should have a lot of familiarity with the offense from the start of OTAs. Kirk is a very exciting dynasty prospect to own and could flirt with WR1 numbers if this offense can put it all together and he stays healthy. Kirk had a lot of experience working from the slot during his time at College Station. The young wideouts combine numbers were much better than those of successful slot receiver Randall Cobb.
Christian Kirk is a breakout candidate for 2019 and at a current ADP of just 94.5 (WR38), there is a lot of value to be had here. Do not be afraid to use a late pick on the wideout.
The Arizona Cardinals signed former Chicago Bears 2015 first-round pick Kevin White on March 14th. Chad Williams only had 17 receptions all season. Five of them came in Week 17. Williams may not make the roster next year depending on what Arizona does in the draft and in Free Agency. J.J. Nelson was active in 14 games but only had seven catches all year. The other wide receivers on the roster are Pharoh Cooper (South Carolina), Malachi Dupre (LSU), Trent Sherfield (Vanderbilt) and Jalen Toliver (Arkansas-Monticello).
Arizona has the 6th most cap space in the league and will address the position in some way in the 2019 offseason.
Ricky Seals-Jones is an enigma. Seals-Jones was a five-star recruit out of high school but has never lived up to the hype. The big tight end played his college ball under Kevin Sumlin at A & M and should be familiar with the offense. At 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds, Ricky Seals-Jones ran a 4.69 40-yard dash at the combine in 2017. His weaknesses in college were getting off the line and dropping passes. Maybe familiarity with the offense of Kingsbury can save his NFL career. Seals-Jones did finish with double-digit points in three games last year as you can see below.
Charles Clay was signed on February 19th and Jermain Gresham was released on March 13th. Clay showed flashes in 2013 and 2014 while playing in Miami. The Tulsa grad caught 69 and 58 balls respectively. The tight end position likely will not see much volume in 2019 under Kingsbury and can be avoided in all formats unless they add one of the several highly touted pass catchers coming out of the draft.
Kliff Kingsbury’s coaching prowess has him being heralded as a quarterback guru. The young play caller has coached the likes of Case Keenum at Houston, Johnny Manziel at Texas A & M and Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech. The man obviously knows the quarterback position inside and out. How Kingsbury instills his knowledge into Josh Rosen will determine the outcome of how good they can be for your fantasy football team. As of now, the only interest in the offense lies with David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Christian Kirk. Obviously Kyler Murray would be added to this list if he is taken number one overall in April. Keep a close eye on Rosen’s development if he sticks around in the desert and do not hesitate to add him from the wire if he heats up even for just a week.