Josh McDaniels was finally ready to rejoin the head-coaching ranks this off-season after he got cold feet at the altar with Jim Irsay and the Colts back in February 2018 — Frank Reich later took the gig. It didn’t go well the first time he left Bill Belichick’s nest more than a decade ago when he replaced legendary Broncos’ HC Mike Shanahan back in 2009. McDaniels, who was 32 when he became Denver’s head coach, was immediately in over his head, pissing off and trading away franchise players Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall early in his tenure. McDaniels lasted just 12 games into his second season before the Broncos canned him in 2010 with an 11-17 record (.393). McDaniels said of his Denver experience, “I failed…Looking at that experience has been one of the best things in my life in terms of my overall growth as a person (and) as a coach.”
McDaniels is finally ready for a second chance with a legendary franchise that’s starving to once again become a winner in their new hometown. McDaniels and new GM Dave Ziegler will look to bring some stability to this dysfunctional franchise. Art Shell was the last coach to spend more than four seasons on the job for the Raiders all the way back in 1990-94. Las Vegas is coming off an eventful season, which ended with special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia guiding them to just their second postseason appearance in the last 19 years. McDaniels has some work to do to win over a roster that grew to love Bisaccia, but McDaniels’ resume should speak for itself even with his Denver blemish on it. He worked on all six coaching staffs to win Super Bowl titles in the Tom Brady-Belichick era, and he arguably did the best work of his career in 2021 to get the Patriots back into the playoffs with rookie quarterback Mac Jones playing well above expectations.
The Josh McDaniels File
Playcalling Experience: Patriots OC (2005-08, 2012-21), Rams OC (2011), Broncos HC (2009-10)
Other Coaching Experience: Patriots QBs (2004-05), Patriots defensive assistant (2002-03)
Coaches Worked Under: Bill Belichick (2001-08, 2012-21), Nick Saban (1999)
Notable: Six-time Super Bowl champion, 11-17 (.393) record as Broncos HC, played WR at Division III John Carroll (1995-98) with NFL LB London Fletcher, Chargers GM Tom Telesco, and Texans GM Nick Caserio
Potential Offensive Changes
McDaniels has remained in demand even after 11 years since his last head-coaching experience, and he waited to take a gig that has a pretty comfortable setup right out of the gates. Las Vegas’ personnel lines up pretty well with the personnel McDaniels has worked with while with the Patriots over the last decade-plus. The Raiders have an accurate QB who can call the shots at the line of scrimmage in Derek Carr, a technician out of the slot in Hunter Renfrow, a threat down the seam and in the red zone at TE in Darren Waller, a lead runner in Josh Jacobs, and a passing-back complement in Kenyan Drake. The only piece missing for McDaniels’ new offense is a viable perimeter WR, which is the one piece New England struggled to fill after Randy Moss left in 2010.
McDaniels used the word “adaptable” to describe his offense at his introductory press conference, which was a hallmark of his offenses in New England (it’s also made his units tough to project for fantasy on a weekly basis). The Patriots finished as a top-seven scoring offense in 13-of-14 seasons with McDaniels calling plays with the one outlier result coming with a washed-up Cam Newton at quarterback. New England obviously featured one of the best passing attacks on a yearly basis with Brady at quarterback, and they rebounded last season after a down year in 2020. New England attempted the eighth-fewest passes per game (31.4), but McDaniels orchestrated a passing attack that still finished 14th in passing yards per game (226.9) and seventh in YPA (7.7). The Patriots routinely finished near the top of the league in play-action attempts with Brady, which is a concept that’s been underutilized with Carr at quarterback. Carr attempted the 20th-most play-action passes (120) last season but he finished fifth in YPA (9.6) on those attempts.
The Patriots had one of the most diverse rushing attacks but Las Vegas’ O-line will need to improve if McDaniels wants to use as many run-game concepts as he did last season. The Patriots used 21 personnel (2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE) at the second-highest rate (23%) last season, and the Raiders were using 21 personnel at the fifth-highest rate (15%) before FB Alec Ingold tore his ACL in Week 10. The Raiders used 11 personnel 51% of the time in that same span, which was well below the league average of 59%. New England used 11 personnel 56% of the time in 2021 so the Raiders’ personnel usage may not look dramatically different in 2022. New England finished in the top 10 in rushing attempts in each of the last six seasons and its run rate was above the league average in four of those campaigns.
Players about whom we’re feeling more optimistic based on the playcaller changes.
Derek Carr (QB), Darren Waller, and Hunter Renfrow (WR) (TE) — Carr obviously isn’t Brady and McDaniels no longer has Belichick as a resource this season, but it’s tough not to be at least cautiously optimistic about this passing attack entering 2022. Carr broke Rich Gannon’s franchise record with 4804 passing yards last season, and it appears both Carr and McDaniels have plenty of mutual admiration for each other. Waller is coming off a down season because of a knee injury and an ugly 59.1% catch rate, but he could be primed for a bounce-back season in a TE-friendly system. Rob Gronkowski averaged 15.4 YPR with 52 touchdowns in seven seasons under McDaniels.
Renfrow paced Las Vegas’ passing attack with 103/1038/9 receiving in his breakout campaign, and he’s received most of the early fantasy buzz since he’ll be stepping into the Julian Edelman/Wes Welker slot receiver spot. Renfrow played a career-high 67% snap share last season, and he could become a full-time player under McDaniels. Edelman and Welker played the Z-receiver spot in two-WR sets in McDaniels’ system, which meant Edelman played 78% of the snaps or more in each of his healthy seasons from 2013-19 — he missed 2017 with a torn ACL. McDaniels glowed about Renfrow at the combine, “I have been really blessed to be around some really good slot receivers in my time, and I think coaching him is going to be one of those endeavors where you look back on it and go, ‘This guy was one of those guys.’…He is a big part of what we want to do.”
Players whom we’re not ready to upgrade or downgrade, but their situations demand monitoring based on playcaller changes.
Josh Jacobs (RB) — Jacobs has seen incremental growth in his snap shares in each of his first three seasons (56<61%<63%) but that could come to an end this season. The Patriots have heavily rotated their RBs under Belichick and McDaniels. Passing-back James White back is the only Patriots’ RB to see more than a 50% snap share over the last seven seasons, which he did back in 2018. McDaniels also rotated his backs in his brief stint in Denver although he was a little more generous with playing time for his top back than the Patriots have been in the last decade. Rookie Knowshon Moreno owned a 61% carry share and a 46% target share in the 2009 Denver backfield with Correll Buckhalter factoring in behind him. Jacobs is unlikely to come close to matching his career-high 54 receptions from last season with Kenyan Drake coming back, and McDaniels is likely to gauge White’s interest in joining him in the desert.
At least the Raiders should be a multiple offense with heavy 21 personnel after the Patriots featured one of the most diverse rushing attacks under McDaniels. New England has also been highly efficient in the red zone with McDaniels calling the plays. The Patriots finished inside the top-10 in red-zone TD rate in seven of the last 10 seasons, including the seventh-best rate (63.1%) last season with a rookie quarterback leading the offense. The Patriots finished with a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns in the red zone last season and Damien Harris finished third with 13 RZ rushing TDs. Meanwhile, the Raiders had one of the worst offenses inside the 20-yard line despite reaching the playoffs as they finished with the fourth-worst RZ TD rate (49.2%). Jacobs is going to see a decline in receiving production this season but, depending on his odds, I could see myself wagering on him this summer to score the most rushing touchdowns in 2022.