The NFL went on a hiring spree this offseason, as 10 teams installed new head coaches. More clubs added a new HC this year than in the 2020 and 2021 offseasons combined. Four games aren’t nearly enough of a sample for us to judge these coaches’ long-term vision and potential, but we can make early assessments of their performances and determine where improvements need to be made.
Ranking the New NFL Head Coaches
Half of this year’s new head coaches are rookies, and they’ll get a little bit more leeway as we grade their work. Additionally, these coaches entered situations with varying degrees of roster talent, so we’ll evaluate them relative to expectations.
10. Nathaniel Hackett, Denver Broncos
What’s gone right: 2021 first-round pick Patrick Surtain II has already become one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks, and as a whole, Denver’s pass defense has been quite effective. Hackett, perhaps by design, assembled a relatively inexperienced staff around him, but defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has been outstanding through four games.
What’s gone wrong: Hackett’s game management was poor enough that the Broncos hired a strategy consultant after just two games. His decision to allow Brandon McManus to attempt a game-winning 64-yard field goal in Week 1 was his most high-profile mistake. Still, Hackett has continuously struggled to handle the clock or make correct fourth-down decisions. Meanwhile, the Broncos have been undisciplined, racking up a league-leading 34 penalties.
Hackett helped Aaron Rodgers to consecutive MVP awards, but there was a feeling-out year before Rodgers secured that hardware. Russell Wilson ranks in the bottom half of quarterbacks in both EPA per play and QBR, and Denver’s offense hasn’t shown any cohesion. Running back Javonte Williams’ season-ending ACL tear won’t help matters.
While we’re attempting to appraise process over results, look at how Denver’s four games have gone. They lost to the Seahawks in Wilson’s homecoming, and the previously 0-3 Raiders defeated them. They beat the still-winless Texans and barely eked out an 11-10 victory over the 49ers. The Broncos are 2-2, but they can’t feel good about any of their outcomes so far.
What comes next: Three of Denver’s next four contests are island games: vs. the Colts on Thursday night in Week 5, at the Chargers on Monday night in Week 6, and vs. the Jaguars in London in Week 8. Hackett’s game management will be on full display, and he needs to show meaningful progress in that area.
On Thursday, the pressure will be on Wilson to perform against an Indianapolis defense that’s significantly more stingy against the run than the pass. The Colts won’t have Jonathan Taylor, so there’s no excuse for the Broncos’ defense not to continue its solid run of point and yard prevention.
9. Lovie Smith, Houston Texans
What’s gone right: The Texans are the only NFL team without a win, but Houston’s ownership couldn’t have expected much more out of this roster. Wins and losses won’t determine if 2022 is a successful campaign for Smith, one of only two current head coaches — along with Pete Carroll — on their third stop.
It’s early, but the Texans appear to have hit on several of their draft picks this spring. That may say more about Houston’s front office, but credit Smith and his staff for developing young talent. Defensive backs Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre have flashed, while fourth-round RB Dameon Pierce looks like a find.
What’s gone wrong: Wins and losses aren’t Houston’s primary focus in 2022, but they may have already missed their best chance to lock up a few victories. Houston played the easiest schedule in the NFL through the first month of the season, but they’ll face the 11th-hardest slate of opponents over the rest of the year, per Football Outsiders.
Davis Mills showed competency in his rookie season, and the Texans were hoping he’d take a leap in his second pro campaign. He hasn’t done that through four weeks, so Brandin Cooks has struggled to produce, and Nico Collins hasn’t broken out.
What comes next: The Texans can claim their first win of the season by defeating the Jaguars in Week 5, but there’s no indication they’ll be able to beat a Jacksonville team whose rebuild has borne fruit far more quickly than Houston’s.
Long-term, we can’t even be sure if Smith will be around in 2023, let alone when the Texans find success and/or a new quarterback. Houston moved on from previous head coach David Culley after just one season, and while the franchise seemingly has more direction now, Smith’s standing is anything but secure.
8. Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders
What’s gone right: Davante Adams has gone over 100 yards in two of the Raiders’ four games, scored three touchdowns, and generally shown good chemistry with Derek Carr. Josh Jacobs has turned into a bell-cow running back. Maxx Crosby (four sacks) is a star, and Nate Hobbs looks like a legitimate No. 1 cornerback.
What’s gone wrong: The Raiders’ offseason acquisition of Adams signaled they were trying to contend in a tough division and conference, but they’ve started the season 1-3. To be fair, all of their losses came by six points or fewer, including an absurd overtime defeat to the Cardinals in Week 2. But Las Vegas has put themselves behind the eight ball early.
Derek Carr has been a roughly league-average quarterback, and both the Raiders’ offense and defense are performing at league-average rates, as well. The offensive line has been a minefield, and Vegas has used more OL combinations than any team in the NFL.
They’ve gotten a little unlucky, but the Raiders may have also preemptively viewed themselves as contenders. This is an odd roster stuck between competing and rebuilding, and McDaniels is in this for the long haul.
What comes next: A Monday night matchup with the Chiefs. Kansas City has destroyed the Raiders in recent seasons, and last year won both matchups by a combined score of 89-23. If McDaniels and first-year defensive coordinator Patrick Graham can post a better showing against Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, they’ll count that as a win.
7. Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saints
What’s gone right: The Saints paid a hefty price to move up and draft Chris Olave, but the Ohio State product has rewarded that decision. He’s put up a 21-335-1 line thus far and should be considered the early favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
New Orleans’ defense isn’t the elite unit it was when Allen was still just the defensive coordinator, but it’s still well above average. The Saints rank ninth in DVOA through four games, and Atlanta’s Week 1 effort notwithstanding, it’s still incredibly difficult to run the ball on this team.
What’s gone wrong: Jameis Winston hasn’t been effective at quarterback, but his play can be excused by the four fractures in his back. Although Andy Dalton offered improvement against the Vikings on Sunday, it’s fair to say the Saints don’t have their long-term QB on their roster.
The Saints’ offensive line has taken a step back, and they haven’t been able to get a look at first-round left tackle Trevor Penning, who’s been on injured reserve with a foot injury. Alvin Kamara has missed two games, and aside from Olave, none of New Orleans’ offensive weapons have done much. No team has accrued more penalty yardage than the Saints, and their special teams have been among the NFL’s worst.
What comes next: New Orleans went all-in on the 2022 season, sacrificing draft capital in each of the next two years to secure talent for this campaign. So far, their 1-3 record isn’t living up to that offseason work. Instead, this is starting to feel like a “treading water” season for the Saints, and Allen might just be a “treading water” head coach, too.
6. Matt Eberflus, Chicago Bears
What’s gone right: The Bears’ defense — Eberflus’ specialty — has been serviceable through four weeks, which is probably as good as anyone could have expected. Chicago looks to have unearthed contributors in rookies Jaquan Brisker, Kyler Gordon, and Dominique Robinson.
On offense, the Bears have cobbled together a functional offensive line from spare parts. And Khalil Herbert, filling in for the injured David Montgomery, has played well and should allow Chicago to move on from Montgomery when he hits the free agent market in 2023.
What’s gone wrong: Justin Fields looks like the worst quarterback in the NFL, and the Bears know it. The 2021 first-round pick has only attempted 67 passes, by far the fewest among regular starting QBs. Chicago is lapping the field in pass rate below expectation (-17.2%).
Fields’ supporting cast is almost non-existent, making it tough to evaluate his performance. But he’s not reading the field or playing with any sort of rhythm. The current Bears regime didn’t draft Fields, and while they may publicly support him, their actions speak louder than their words.
What comes next: Chicago really doesn’t have much of a choice beyond continuing to run Fields out there. They (probably?) aren’t going to turn the reins over to Trevor Siemian.
From Eberflus’ perspective, the Bears’ defensive pieces need to keep showing improvement throughout the year. This was always going to be a work-in-progress season for Chicago, and it’s not always — or ever — going to look pretty.
5. Brian Daboll, New York Giants
What’s gone right: From a results standpoint, the Giants couldn’t have asked for much more than a 3-1 record through four weeks. Daboll aggressively went for a two to seal a Week 1 win against the Titans, and New York also beat the Panthers in Week 2 and the Bears in Week 4.
Saquon Barkley is playing his best football in years. He’s remained healthy, allowing the Giants to use him at an absurd rate. Barkley leads running backs in both rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, and he’s on pace for an insane 2,423 total yards.
What’s gone wrong: A 3-1 record isn’t all that impressive when you factor in the Giants’ competition, and each of their games has been a one-score affair. FiveThirtyEight isn’t buying New York’s start, giving them just a 35% chance of making the postseason.
That’s largely acceptable, as no one expected the Giants to compete for the playoffs. Daniel Jones hasn’t shown any progression, though. While that isn’t necessarily Daboll’s fault, there was at least some hope that the first-year head coach could help Jones develop like Josh Allen did in Buffalo.
New York’s wide receiver, offensive line, and cornerback situations have turned into absolute nightmares, but again, it’s hard to fault Daboll too much. He and general manager Joe Schoen inherited a broken roster that will take a few years to ameliorate — the early, unexpected on-field victories are just gravy at this point.
What comes next: The Giants face the Packers, Ravens, and Jaguars over the next three weeks, so their house of cards is likely about to come crashing down.
The rest of this season will be about improvement from New York’s young players like Kadarius Toney, Wan’Dale Robinson, Evan Neal, and Kayvon Thibodeaux. If that group can cement themselves as contributors to future Giants teams, 2022 will be viewed as a success.
4. Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What’s gone right: Bowles took over an incredibly talented Bucs roster when Bruce Arians unexpectedly retired in March, and he acquired the expectations that come with coaching a Tom Brady-led team.
Bowles is still Tampa Bay’s defensive play-caller, and his unit has been outstanding through four games. The Bucs are fifth in EPA allowed per dropback, and no opposing team has passed for more than 250 yards against them.
While the Buccaneers are just 2-2, they’ll benefit from playing in an NFC South that again looks like one of the weaker divisions in the NFL. The Saints were Tampa Bay’s primary competition, but New Orleans is 1-3 and already lost to the Bucs in Week 2.
Bowles has always been a player’s coach, and he’s handled Brady delicately thus far. The future Hall of Famer left the Bucs for multiple weeks in the preseason to deal with family matters, and it was barely a blip on the radar.
What’s gone wrong: Injuries. After getting their wide receiver corps healthy, the Buccaneers posted their best offensive performance of the season in Week 4. But health issues for Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, and Russell Gage, plus a suspension for Mike Evans, may have cost Tampa Bay a win over the Packers in Week 3.
Injuries have also been a constant issue for the Bucs’ offensive line. Center Ryan Jensen will be out for most if not all of the year after injuring his knee in training camp. Tampa is on its third left guard of the year, and they were using their third left tackle before Donovan Smith returned on Sunday night.
Those OL problems have contributed to a running game that can’t get anything going. The Buccaneers’ entire offense has struggled, but they’ve been especially poor rushing the ball (29th in DVOA).
What comes next: This is shaping up as Brady’s final NFL season. Tampa Bay should coast into a home playoff game, but it’s Super Bowl or bust at this point.
If Brady retires, the Bucs’ offseason decisions will be fascinating. Will they give Kyle Trask a chance as their starting quarterback? Or will Tampa Bay try to trade for a veteran or land a signal-caller in the draft? If the offense takes a hit thanks to Brady hanging up his cleats, Bowles’ defense will become all the more critical.
3. Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota Vikings
What’s gone right: If the season ended this week, the Vikings would be the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Barring an unforeseen calamity, the season is not ending this week, but Minnesota still has to be happy with their progress under O’Connell.
For starters, O’Connell has created a more player-friendly atmosphere in the Vikings’ locker room. Current and former players have gone on the record about how dour the culture had become under ex-head coach Mike Zimmer. O’Connell comes from the Sean McVay school, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he’s helped generate a breezy workplace in Minnesota.
Additionally, the Vikings are doing the little things right. They’ve only been hit with 95 penalty yards, the fewest in the NFL. And their special teams units are playing well. Minnesota’s offense begins its drives with the best average field position in the league, while their opponents’ average starting line of scrimmage is the worst in the NFL.
What’s gone wrong: There haven’t been any disaster areas for the Vikings this season, but Kirk Cousins has not taken the leap some expected under O’Connell. He’s 21st in both EPA per dropback and completion percentage over expectation, and he generally looks like the same quarterback who can’t alter his approach when the defense changes theirs.
First-year Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is aware that Cousins is unlikely to take this team to the next level. O’Connell will be tasked with developing Minnesota’s next quarterback.
What comes next: A much easier schedule. The Vikings faced the fifth-most-difficult slate of opponents over their first four games, but their rest-of-season schedule is just the 30th-hardest, according to FO. That’s the largest gap in the NFL, and Minnesota could feast on teams like the Commanders, Jets, Giants, and Bears in the second half of the year.
2. Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars
What’s gone right: What a difference a year makes! Urban Meyer may have been the worst NFL coach of all time, so nearly any replacement would have been viewed as a massive improvement. But Pederson has turned around the Jaguars at a rapid pace, so much so that they already look like the favorites in the AFC South.
Trevor Lawrence looks like an entirely different quarterback, and Pederson is designing an offense that takes advantage of the former No. 1 pick’s strengths. Jacksonville is getting the most out of skill-position players like Christian Kirk, James Robinson, and Zay Jones. And Pederson remains elite at fourth-down decision-making and other components of game strategy.
The Jaguars’ offense has been revamped, but their defense might be playing even better. Pederson’s DC hire, former Bucs LBs coach Mike Caldwell, looks like a home run, and Jacksonville’s defense is fourth-best in EPA/play through four games. They’ve seamlessly integrated both draft picks (Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd) and free agent additions (Foyesade Oluokun, Folorunso Fatukasi, Darious Williams) to create a terrifying unit.
What’s gone wrong: Poor weather led to four Lawrence fumbles against the Eagles in Week 4, and the Jaguars’ offense generally looked erratic in Pederson’s return to Philadelphia. Still, the Eagles are one of the best teams in football, so Jacksonville couldn’t have been too upset about a seven-point loss.
If the Jags continue their upward trajectory, we’ll look back at their Week 1 defeat to the Commanders as an anomaly. They’d like to have that game back, but one loss probably won’t make much of a difference given the state of the AFC South.
What comes next: We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but the Jaguars could wrap up the division title by Thanksgiving. Jacksonville could be favored in each of their next five games: vs. Texans, at Colts, vs. Giants, vs. Broncos, and vs. Raiders. A Week 10 battle against the Chiefs in Kansas City may offer a chance for Lawrence and Co. to truly ascend.
On a macro level, Shad Khan has to feel like he finally got his head coach and quarterback right. The Colts and Titans are aging out, and the Texans haven’t really forged a new direction quite yet, so the division might be Jacksonville’s to lose over the next few seasons.
1. Mike McDaniel, Miami Dolphins
What’s gone right: The Dolphins are 3-1 with victories over the Patriots, Ravens, and Bills. When healthy, Tua Tagovailoa has looked like a star, and Miami’s offense is averaging 6.4 yards per play (second-best in the NFL). To call McDaniel’s first four games as an NFL head coach successful almost seems like an understatement.
McDaniel’s reputation as an offensive mastermind has only been solidified this season. He’s a wizard at creating space for Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and the Dolphins are leaning into the passing game. Only the Chiefs, Bills, and Chargers have a higher pass rate over expectation through the first month of the season.
Tagovailoa was previously creeping toward bust status, but he’s been totally revitalized. The 469-yard, six-touchdown game he posted against the Ravens in an epic Week 2 comeback would have been unimaginable before McDaniel took over in Miami.
From a culture standpoint, McDaniel seems to be well-respected by his players, and he’s helped create a more positive locker room than the Dolphins enjoyed under Brian Flores. Additionally, McDaniel has been clear and forthright regarding Miami’s approach to Tua’s injuries over the past two weeks.
What’s gone wrong: The NFL and NFLPA are still investigating the circumstances around Tua’s re-entry to the Dolphins’ Week 3 game. McDaniel has stood by Miami’s process, but it’s fair to wonder if Tagovailoa should have been on the field in Week 4. Head coaches don’t typically make the final call on injured players and their availability, but the buck does stop with McDaniel.
On the field, Miami’s defense hasn’t performed after McDaniel opted to retain DC Josh Boyer. While some individual players have shined, the unit isn’t living up to the sum of its parts, and the Dolphins rank fourth-worst in yards per play allowed.
McDaniel has firmly planted the Dolphins inside the NFL’s ring of contenders, and anything short of a playoff victory will probably feel like a disappointment. Long-term, though, there aren’t many entities more valuable than a talented offensive head coach and a franchise quarterback — and Miami may have both.