NFL Coordinator Changes: Ranking 10 Most Intriguing New Hires, Including Arthur Smith, Vic Fangio, and Mike Zimmer

Half of the NFL's OC and DC jobs will be held by new hires in 2024. Which new play-callers are the most intriguing? We've ranked the top 10.

Coordinator changes are nothing new in the NFL.

In 2024, 31 of the league’s 64 offensive and defensive coordinator posts will be held by new hires. Count Joe Brady — promoted from interim to full-time Buffalo Bills OC this offseason — as a new hire, and we’re at 50%.

Which first-year OCs and DCs will make the biggest impact next year? Here are the top 10 coordinator hires that intrigue us the most heading into 2024.

10 Most Intriguing NFL Coordinator Hires of 2024

10) Greg Roman, OC, Los Angeles Chargers

Jim Harbaugh is getting the band back together in his first season as Los Angeles Chargers head coach. Former Michigan DC Jesse Minter followed Harbaugh from Ann Arbor and accepted the same role with the Bolts, but new offensive play-caller Greg Roman’s addition might be even more compelling in 2023.

“Can you imagine Justin Herbert with a great running game?” Roman said in February. “We don’t know, but I can imagine what it might look like. So that’s kind of the vision.”

Under Roman’s guidance, the Baltimore Ravens were the NFL’s most productive rushing team from 2019 to 2022. Roman and Harbaugh last worked together with the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-14 and benefitted from a strong rushing attack in the NFC West.

Los Angeles has the offensive line to commit to the run, and the club added free agent RBs Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins — both of whom worked with Roman in Baltimore — over the offseason.

While the Chargers may improve on the ground after ranking dead last in rushing EPA in 2023, anyone hoping that Herbert’s next offensive play-caller would be willing to let him air it out might be disappointed. Herbert lost WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams this spring, his remaining pass-catching options are limited, and Roman wants to pound the rock.

9) Ryan Nielsen, DC, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars needed a fresh start on defense after collapsing down the stretch. Players at every level of the unit looked confused as the Jags allowed 28+ points in four of their final six games, missing out on the playoffs in the process.

Mike Caldwell is out, and former Atlanta Falcons DC Ryan Nielsen is in. Nielsen got the most out of an understaffed Atlanta defense in 2023, and his plan for Jacksonville’s personnel will probably look quite a bit different than his predecessor’s.

The Falcons’ Cover-1 (man coverage) usage rate was 7% higher than the Jaguars last season, per Cody Alexander. With Nielsen in town, Jacksonville should be expected to run a more aggressive scheme in the back end — and the team’s offseason acquisitions fit that plan.

Free agent addition Darnell Savage Jr., who is expected to play the slot for the Jaguars, has always been better in man coverage than zone. Veteran Ronald Darby has played in virtually every type of scheme over nine NFL seasons.

PFN Draft Analyst Ian Cummings highlighted Jacksonville third-round pick Jarrian Jones’ press abilities in his pre-draft scouting report.

8) Ryan Grubb, OC, Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks first-year head coach Mike Macdonald’s experience is on the defensive side of the ball. Ryan Grubb, who spent the last two seasons creating an uber-dynamic offense at the University of Washington, should have complete control of the offense in his first season as an NFL coach.

Grubb will bring air raid concepts to Seattle, hoping to make things easy on Geno Smith with pre-snap motions and simple reads. Smith is no stranger to the deep ball, which should be an essential part of the Seahawks’ offense after Grubb and Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. aired it out last season.

DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are already established receivers, but Grubb might help 2023 first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba develop into a more consistent pass catcher. Grubb got the most out of a Washington WR trio that included Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk, and Jalen McMillan, all drafted before the end of Day 2.

7) Zach Orr, DC, Baltimore Ravens

Macdonald’s hiring in Seattle meant the Baltimore Ravens had to replace one of the NFL’s best defensive minds. The ex-University of Michigan DC optimized every aspect of Baltimore’s defensive roster, getting career seasons out of veteran mercenaries like EDGE Jadeveon Clowney and CB Arthur Maulet.

New play-caller Zach Orr is facing a daunting task after the Ravens’ defense ranked first in points per game (16.5), points per drive (1.35), yards per play (4.6), DVOA (-23.3%), and sacks (60).

However, Orr is regarded as something of a defensive wunderkind. At 31, he’s the NFL’s second-youngest DC. Orr, whose playing career with the Ravens ended after a 2016 neck/spine condition, has only been coaching for seven years.

John Harbaugh could’ve scoured the market for a veteran coach to replace Macdonald, but the fact that he stayed internal and hired Orr means the Ravens’ new DC must be ready for the job. While Baltimore lost some pieces over the offseason, Orr will still have All-Pro level talents like LB Roquan Smith, S Kyle Hamilton, and DT Justin Madubuike at his disposal.

6) Mike Zimmer, DC, Dallas Cowboys

Mike Zimmer is heading back to Texas. After a two-year hiatus from the NFL, Zimmer — the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach from 2014-21 — is returning as the Dallas Cowboys‘ defensive coordinator, the same job he held from 2000-06.

Dallas’ defense will look different under Zimmer than it did under former DC Dan Quinn, who left to become the Washington Commanders’ head coach in February.

In March, Cowboys personnel chief Will McClay said that Zimmer would require bigger bodies. Last week, head coach Mike McCarthy said to expect new language and defensive line techniques with Zimmer in charge.

However, the most significant change may be in temperament. Quinn was viewed as a laid-back, player-friendly coach. That’s not Zimmer, whose gruff personality often rubbed players the wrong way in Minnesota. Can he connect with modern Cowboys athletes like Micah Parsons?

5) Kellen Moore, OC, Philadelphia Eagles

After Shane Steichen helped Jalen Hurts to an MVP-caliber season in 2022, the Philadelphia Eagles‘ offense took a step back under Brian Johnson in 2023. Head coach Nick Sirianni fired Johnson — formerly the Eagles’ QBs coach — in January and replaced him with Kellen Moore.

Moore spent last year with the Chargers and was the Cowboys’ offensive play-caller from 2019-22. He’ll try to get Philadelphia back on track after Hurts and Co. collapsed down the stretch and into the playoffs last season.

Moore’s Chargers used pre-snap motion at the NFL’s fifth-highest rate (63%) in 2023. Getting Eagles stars like A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith on the move could result in advantageous matchups.

Free agent running back Saquon Barkley will also alter Philadelphia’s offensive plans. In 2022, Hurts targeted RBs on just 12.1% of his attempts, the lowest rate in the NFL. While that increased to 17.7% (16th in the league) last season, Barkley’s presence means Hurts could check the ball down even more in 2024.

4) Shane Waldron, OC, Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears interviewed nine offensive coordinator candidates before landing on Shane Waldron, who spent the last three seasons as the Seahawks’ OC. Waldron, a disciple of the Sean McVay system, helped Russell Wilson tamp down his sack numbers in 2021 before revitalizing former journeyman quarterback Geno Smith’s career over the past two years.

In 2023, Waldron will work the best collection of talent he’s ever had. No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams is the most impressive QB prospect to enter the NFL in years. Watching how Waldron sets things up for Williams while implementing a bevy of weapons — including RB D’Andre Swift, WRs DJ Moore, Keenan Allen, Rome Odunze, and TE Cole Kmet — will be illuminating.

In Seattle, Waldron used motion and creative alignments and formations to create space for his pass catchers and throwing lanes for Smith. He’ll do the same in Chicago while figuring out how to let Williams work his off-script magic.

3) Jeff Hafley, DC, Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers finally ended the Joe Barry era in January, firing their defensive coordinator after three seasons at the helm. With a young, impactful offensive core already in place, the Packers had to make a change on defense after ranking bottom third in scoring, yards per play, and efficiency in 2023.

Jeff Hafley, Boston College’s head coach from 2020-23, should institute several noticeable changes from Day 1 as Green Bay’s DC.

Hafley’s defense will be far more aggressive than Barry’s, who preferred to limit explosive plays. It might be as much of a mentality shift as a schematic change. Hafley, a longtime defensive backs coach, should help the Packers create more ball production after they tied for 31st in interception rate (1.3%) last season.

Green Bay will also convert from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 look. While the NFL’s move toward sub packages has negated the differences between the two alignments, a 4-3 approach should nominally lend itself to Hafley’s attacking style.

2) Arthur Smith, OC, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are starting over on offense. Russell Wilson and Justin Fields are in town to replace former first-round quarterback Kenny Pickett, while ex-Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is taking over for Matt Canada, who routinely struggled over three seasons as the Steelers’ OC.

Smith had his share of dismal games in Atlanta and failed to develop a quarterback after letting go of veteran Matt Ryan before the 2022 season. Third-round pick Desmond Ridder was repeatedly benched, while longtime backup Taylor Heinicke wasn’t much better for the Falcons.

But Smith ran effective offenses for the Tennessee Titans from 2019-2020, resurrecting Ryan Tannehill’s career while helping the Titans to 20 wins over two seasons. A solid rushing attack has always been a part of Smith’s plans and will fit with the Steelers’ ethos, but his passing preferences could also work in Pittsburgh.

Expect a heavy use of play action now that Smith is calling the Steelers’ plays. In 2023, the Falcons used play fakes on 26% of their dropbacks, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. The Steelers ranked 29th, deploying play action on just 13% of their plays.

Smith might also consider increasing the use of tight ends in Pittsburgh. Atlanta used multiple tight ends (12 or 13 personnel) on a league-high 41.8% of its plays last season, while the Steelers ranked 19th (17.4%).

Pittsburgh’s wide receiver corps is weak behind George Pickens. Could we see TEs Pat Freiermuth and Darnell Washington on the field together frequently?

1) Vic Fangio, DC, Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles wanted to hire Vic Fango as their defensive coordinator in 2023 after he spent the 2022 campaign as a team consultant, but a delay in the coaching carousel process led to Fangio departing for the Miami Dolphins.

Things didn’t go great for either party last season. The Eagles hired one of Fangio’s disciples, Sean Desai, but he was demoted in favor of Matt Patricia at midseason. Neither play-caller could stem Philadelphia’s defensive collapse.

Meanwhile, Fangio’s Miami defense finished just 15th in efficiency, well below expectations for one of the league’s best defensive minds. The 65-year-old also had trouble connecting with his players and drew criticism from veterans such as corner Xavien Howard and safety Jevon Holland after he left the Dolphins.

Fangio has years of DC experience, and his system has become the NFL meta. For the most part, we know what his Eagles scheme will look like: A 3-4 front that doesn’t blitz and relies on pass rushers to get home, a two-high shell with the ability to morph after the snap, and a willingness to prevent explosive plays while accepting unearth completions.

Fangio should have the pieces in place in Philadelphia. Jalen Carter, Bryce Huff, and Josh Sweat will create pressure up front, and a rebuilt secondary that includes rookie CBs Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean and free agent safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson should hold up better than Darius Slay and James Bradberry did in 2023.

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