HEAD COACH HIRED
Breaking news, the Philadelphia Eagles have found their new head coach. Hiring Nick Sirianni from the Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia has an offensive-minded coach leading their team. Which can only mean positivity for the fantasy output expected from talents like Miles Sanders in 2021, right? Maybe. We will see.
This article will look into how Sirianni faired in his three years as offensive coordinator in Indianapolis. We will look at the coaching tree Sirianni came from and how that might affect fantasy production in his skill position players.
Personally, I like the hire. I think Philadelphia could have done a lot worse. However, it is a shame not to see Duce Staley bring his enigmatic self to the commander in chief role. But I am most definitely pleasantly surprised with the hire. I believe a coach like Nick Sirianni could work out exceptionally well for their Carson Wentz investment.
But you are not here for my opinion on the hire. You are here for how this hire may translate into fantasy production. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be more versed in what to expect from the players in this upcoming 2021 NFL season.
A look back at 2020
Sirianni, as previously mentioned, was the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts in 2020. He oversaw a top ten offense in yards per game and the ninth total scoring offense (28.2 PPG). Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor ended as RB6 on the year (RB10 in PPG), and third-year back Nyheim Hines even finished in the top 16.
TY Hilton was a little disappointing to start the year and ended up as WR51 on a PPG basis. Zach Pascal checked in at WR55 after playing in all 16 games for the 3rd season in a row. What was most surprising, however, was seeing how rookie wide receiver Michael Pittman faired. He was WR84 in PPG for the year, which was surprising as whenever I watched Indianapolis, it always seemed like he was at the forefront of a big play. I must have been wrong.
Not great for the receivers, with no receiver cracking, even a WR3 role in fantasy lineups. There are, however, extremely positive signs for Miles Sanders and Boston Scott if 2020 Taylor/Hines are anything to go by. (More on that later).
How did the Philadelphia Eagles’ skill position players perform in 2020? The short answer is not much better. Miles Sanders and Dallas Goedert were the ‘stars’ of the show. With Sanders ranking as RB20 with 14.2 PPG and Goedert ranking as TE9 with 10.9 PPG. No receiver cracked the top 60, with Desean Jackson posting the best averages of 9.0 PPG, ranked as WR69. Even Travis Fulgham, after his wonder few games, only finished as WR70 on the year. Jalen Reagor finished around the Michael Pittman range at WR87.
Effectively, there was not much to like about Philadelphia in 2020. Could that work in your favor, however, and potentially mean you can get inflated production for a minimal cost? At the running back position, I think there just might. (Again, more on that shortly).
If we look back further than 2020, in the three years that Nick Sirianni was the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator, they ranked as a top 10 offense twice. That is positive. Yards and points in real-life football usually translate to fantasy success. I think it is clear that Philadelphia is likely to have a much-improved offense in 2021. Questions still surround the quarterback position, but it seems likely that Carson Wentz will be leading the team to start 2021.
The above could be speculation. But I think there is a lot of basis behind it. First of all, the head office fired Doug Pedersen, suggesting they chose Wentz over Doug (probably because of the salary cap considerations mind). Then, they hired Nick Sirianni. Who, as some of you may know, worked for the last three years under Frank Reich. Why is this important? Well, because Wentz was noticeably a better quarterback under Frank Reich when he was coaching in Philadelphia.
I think it is noticeable that the front office in Philadelphia has hired a coach that worked so closely with the coach who made their $33 million quarterback one of the best in the league for a short period (that one glorious year before injury). If, and after 2020 this is a big if Carson Wentz can return to 2017 form, this could be an excellent year for Philadelphia’s skill position players.
Running backs and what to expect
There are currently three running backs on the roster in Philadelphia. Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Corey Clement. Sanders is going into year three, and Boston Scott is a restricted free agent. Clement, however, is out of contract at the end of the season, and with Philadelphia in ‘cap hell,’ it is unlikely he is brought back. I think it is safe to assume Boston Scott will be brought back, considering the low price, noticeable production, and the fact they have more holes they need to address in the draft than the running back position.
Last year in Indianapolis, they carried four running backs on the 53-man roster. Jordan Wilkins did okay when given the opportunity, so maybe we see practice squad running back Jason Huntley get a shot in 2021?
In three years as offensive coordinator for the Colts, Sirianni had his top running back rank as RB14 in PPG in 2017 (Marlon Mack), RB24 in PPG in 2018 (Marlon Mack), and RB10 in PPG in 2020 (Jonathan Taylor). In his two years in the league, Miles Sanders ranked as RB22 in 2019 and RB20 in 2020. There is a definite upside with Miles Sanders, but if you expect top-six running back numbers, I think you may be looking in the wrong direction. What is evident is Sirianni usually have two running backs give fantasy value each year (as Nyheim Hines has ranked as a top 30 back twice so far in his three years in the league, on top of Mack/Taylor), so Boston Scott may be the value pick up of 2021.
The concern with comparing the Eagles in 2021 with the Colts in 2020 is the offensive line. Yes, Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines had an exceptional 2020. However, the Eagles offensive line is not what the Colts offensive line is (regardless of how well it produced two years ago). My opinion with the running backs is that there is a definite cause for excitement. If Sirianni can continue the 2020 success with running backs, then Miles Sanders should see his best season to date.
My prediction with Sanders in 2021 is an RB12 finish. I would happily spend a second-round pick in start-up drafts on him as he is exceptionally talented and, in a situation, where he could very well succeed. However, the most significant value will most certainly be Boston Scott (assuming he re-signs in Philadelphia). From finishing as RB50 in back-to-back seasons, I predict at minimum top 30 production in 2021 out of Scott and would genuinely not be surprised if he ranked slightly higher. I think that depends on how well the Eagles offense performs as a whole, as when Sirianni has had his offense ranked as a top ten unit, both the top backs on the depth chart ranked as RB30 or higher.
Tight end and wide receiver
Now here’s the bad news. Sirianni has not had a wide receiver rank in the top 52 receivers in either of the past two seasons. TY Hilton ranked as WR35 in PPG in 2019 but missed six games, so his rank dropped. Injuries cannot be accredited to the offensive coordinator, but even a WR35 finish in PPG is not something to get excited about.
Interestingly enough, in 2018, TY Hilton ranked as the WR14. That is relatively good production considering the Colts also had two top 30 running backs. What was nice to see, though, in 2018 was tight end Eric Ebron come in as TE4 on the year. So in 2018, Sirianni fielded a top-five TE, two top 30 running backs, and a top 15 receiver.
It was not as good in 2019, however. Marlon Mack finished as RB22. TY Hilton finished as WR52. Their top TE was Jack Doyle, who ranked as TE15. But, there could have been ample reason for that. Before the 2019 season, we saw Andrew Luck retire. This meant Indianapolis went into the year with Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback. To say it was ugly would be an understatement. The offense never really got going with Brissett at QB, and the fantasy production from the skill players took the hit.
The play did improve in 2020, as seen previously, with Phillip Rivers under center. Unfortunately, that did not translate into success for the receivers, but the running backs sure did well. Sirianni showed in 2018 that there is potential for increased tight end production. However, he has been using two tight ends more often in recent years, which can and has limited fantasy output.
Due to salary cap constraints, I do not see Zach Ertz being back on the Eagles roster in 2021. This should mean increased volume for Dallas Goedert, who performed well in Ertz’s absence. He has finished as a top 12 tight end in PPG for two years straight. Hopefully, without Ertz, Sirianni may move back to his 2018 game plan, where Ebron was the primary beneficiary. This increased volume for Ebron came because Jack Doyle missed ten games that season. If Ertz does not return and the Eagles do not draft high at the position, I would be surprised if Goedert did not finish as a top 8 tight end in 2021.
However, if Zach Ertz does return or the organization draft Pat Freiermuth in the second round, then that really could limit the upside of either tight end. In 2020 the highest-ranked Colts tight end in PPG was Trey Burton, who finished as TE29. In 2019 it was Eric Ebron who ranked as TE19. The positive is Dallas Goedert/Zach Ertz, and even Pat Freiermuth is far more talented than Burton/Ebron. They have (barring Freiermuth) put up numerous seasons of great production, which should be considered.
With the tight end position, I am expecting more of a 2018 Colts offense look to the Eagles in 2021. Zach Ertz may not be returning, and with only one elite option on the roster (Goedert), he should see high volume (Eric Ebron saw 110 targets in 2018). However, if they draft someone high or retain Ertz, I would temper my expectation a little. Nick Sirianni does like to deploy two TE’s, but by the looks of it, only when he has the respective talent to do so (or lack thereof in 2020).
The wide receiver position is a questionable one. Carson Wentz has not had a receiver top 1000 yards in his career, and the only time Sirianni has had a top 15 wide receiver, he has cracked 1000 yards (TY Hilton in 2018 with 1270). In 2020 Hilton only saw 93 targets, with an average depth of target at 8.19 yards. In 2018, when TY ranked as WR14, he saw 120 targets with an average YPT of 10.58 and a YPC average of 16.71. For two years, Zach Pascal has seen similar YPT/YPC numbers. 8.86 YPT and 14.3 YPC in 2020, and 8.43 YPT and 14.8 YPC in 2019. Pittman in his 1st year was similar, with 8.25 YPT and 12.57 YPC.
Let’s compare that to the Philadelphia receivers. Greg Ward saw a YPT of 5.3 and a YPC average of 7.91. Jalen Reagor posted averages of 7.33 YPT and 12.77 YPC. DeSean Jackson saw 9.08 YPT and 16.86 YPC (compared to 15.9 YPT and 17.67 YPC in 2019). What I think is clear is that Greg Ward may not have that much of a role in 2021. His yards per target and yards per catch average is well below what we saw from the receiver output in Indianapolis and may limit what he does on the offense.
Who I think maybe the biggest beneficiary of the changes on offense is Jalen Reagor. With very similar averages in 2020 to that of Hilton in 2018, I think it is fair to say Reagor has the potential to fit well with a Nick Sirianni offense. Jalen Reagor only saw 54 targets in 2020, but we could see efficient fantasy output with the increased volume.
I believe the Eagles will draft a receiver that fits the TY Hilton mold perfectly. (Or maybe they sign TY Hilton? Who is a free agent this offseason). How nicely would Jaylen Waddle fit in a Nick Sirianni offense, though, seriously? Or even someone like Tutu Atwell out of Louisville. If Philadelphia lands Waddle (via a trade back), then I would seriously consider drafting him as the first receiver off the board in rookie drafts. Reagor is talented and could fit nicely into that TY Hilton role in Philadelphia, but I did not see enough of him in 2020 to be set on acquiring him in my leagues. He has upside, sure, but if Philadelphia does draft a receiver early in the 2021 NFL draft, I may prefer them.
What is the plan?
After looking into Nick Sirianni and how he has performed in the past three years, the person I am most excited for in 2021 is Boston Scott (or whoever they deploy as their receiving back). Based on the cost to acquire and expected fantasy output, Boston Scott tops my list of players I want on my fantasy team from Philadelphia in 2021.
Jalen Reagor has massive upside, but being a former first-round pick and an early rookie draft pick, his price is still high to acquire. It could be worth the risk, and if you can pick him up for a second-round rookie pick, I would advocate for that.
If Jaylen Waddle lands in Philadelphia, I am drafting him over Devonta Smith most likely (it depends on where Smith lands).
The positive, however, for the receivers is Doug Pedersen has now gone. I wrote an article pre-season stating how I would never draft a Philadelphia wide receiver. This was based mainly on Doug Pedersen and how he ran his offense (through his tight ends mostly and not having a 1000-yard receiver since Jeremy Maclin in 2015).
With Sirianni, if he runs the offense like 2018, then there is room for a top receiver, an elite tight end, and two good running backs.
Philadelphia will be better in 2021 for fantasy production than they were in 2020. Pick up Boston Scott; in deep leagues, try and pair him with Miles Sanders and whoever they draft to fit that TY Hilton role, pick him up as soon as you can.
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