Analysis  

 

Joe Flacco, Mike Wallace among new-coordinator beneficiaries

I've been around a lot of NFL offensive coordinators during my time as a player and scout, and I've seen that the best play callers have a keen understanding of how to build around their best players.

When I played for the Green Bay Packers, I noticed that coach Mike Holmgren (with whom I later worked in Seattle) had a special section of plays on his call sheet designed specifically with receivers Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman in mind. Although Holmgren couldn't guarantee touches -- as defensive game-planning is unpredictable -- the wily offensive wizard made it a point to target his top playmakers six to eight times per game.

When I played in Oakland, I watched coach Jon Gruden build an offense around Rich Gannon, a veteran athletic quarterback with slightly above-average arm strength. Despite his limitations as a vertical passer, Gannon went on to earn four straight Pro Bowl nods (three under Gruden and another under Bill Callahan) during his time with the Raiders, thanks to a system built around his virtues as a playmaker.

Clearly, a talented play caller can quickly transform a good player into a great one. This offseason, several teams switched offensive coordinators/play callers. Many brought in savvy guys who can help devise different ways to enhance the skills of the franchise's top offensive pieces.

Here are a few notable players who will each get a huge boost from the addition of a new offensive coordinator:

Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

It's uncommon for a former Super Bowl MVP to appear on a list of players who could take a leap forward. That said, I expect Flacco will reap the benefits of Gary Kubiak's arrival in Baltimore. The crafty play caller is installing a version of the West Coast offense that will accentuate Flacco's strengths as a deep-ball thrower while showcasing his underrated athleticism and mobility on a variety of bootleg passes. More importantly, Kubiak will implement an efficient system that will help Flacco complete a higher percentage of passes and keep the Ravens' offense on schedule.

Consider Kubiak's work with two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub in Houston. The Texans' system helped Schaub post a 90-plus passer rating in five consecutive seasons; over that span, Schaub threw 105 touchdown passes against 55 interceptions. Not to mention, Schaub recorded three 4,000-yard seasons, including in 2009, when he led the NFL with 4,770 yards.

Given Flacco's talent, arm strength and mobility, I expect Kubiak's dynamic offensive system to help the quarterback thrive and get the Ravens back on track as legitimate contenders in the AFC.

Mike Wallace, WR, Miami Dolphins

After suffering through a disappointing debut season with the Dolphins, Wallace should bounce back in a major way in Year 2. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is implementing a warp-speed, no-huddle offense -- with reported similarities to the Philadelphia Eagles' attack -- that will create big-play opportunities for the speedster at every turn. Wallace could surpass the production of Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson in Philly last year (82 receptions, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns).

Wallace should be able to capably fill his role as the Dolphins' No. 1 receiver in a system specifically designed to get him touches on catch-and-run plays -- and through vertical routes that allow him to utilize his speed and explosiveness in space. In the salary-cap era, it's imperative for the speedster to deliver the kind of production that matches the blockbuster deal he signed last offseason.

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Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings

It's not a coincidence that Jordan Cameron, Antonio Gates and Jay Novacek all enjoyed Pro Bowl seasons under Norv Turner. The Vikings' new offensive coordinator loves to feature the tight end prominently in a vertical passing game. Simply consider the numbers. During the six seasons Gates played for Turner in San Diego, the tight end recorded 377 receptions for 4,943 yards and 49 touchdowns. Novacek's numbers in three seasons with Turner as his offensive coordinator: 171 receptions for 1,739 yards and 11 scores. (Remember, that was a different era -- those numbers are legit.) And with Turner calling plays in Cleveland last season, Cameron caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns.

Thus, it's reasonable to expect Rudolph will be a big part of the Vikings' game plan as the primary target between the hashes. Checking in at 6-foot-6 and 258 pounds with long arms and big mitts, Rudolph is a masterful post-up player with a feel for creating space over the middle through physicality and toughness. Additionally, he is a viable red-zone target with a knack for working free near the end line on seams, post routes and corners. With each of those concepts featured heavily in Turner's scheme, Rudolph definitely should set career-best marks this season.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Former Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden built a dynamic attack, but he didn't fully utilize all of his weapons, particularly in the backfield. That certainly won't happen in 2014 with Hue Jackson taking over. The loud and bodacious coach is a masterful schemer adept at building a powerhouse running game. He directed a pair of top-10 rushing offenses during his tenure with the Oakland Raiders, including the second-ranked ground attack in 2010. Jackson adroitly blends personnel in the backfield while cleverly using a mix of unbalanced lines and power-based run schemes that bludgeon opponents between the tackles.

Bernard, a second-year pro, is a dynamic change-of-pace runner who excels at finding running room on the perimeter. He vows to produce more "explosive runs" in 2014; with Jackson directing the offense, it's easy to see this coming to fruition. Of course, Bernard won't just benefit from a new offensive coordinator, but a new backfield mate, as well: Cincinnati selected LSU product Jeremy Hill in the second round of last month's draft. Hill is a big bruiser with the toughness and physicality to grind it out between the tackles. Although he has yet to take an NFL snap, his dominance as a "banger" at the college level could encourage Jackson to make him a prominent player in short-yardage, goal-line and four-minute situations. Inherently, this will keep Bernard fresh, allowing him to fulfill his home run-hitting desires. With Jackson directing the offense, Cincy has a 1-2 backfield punch that can wreak havoc on the AFC North.

ROOKIE BENEFICIARY: Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns

Manziel is different from the other players on this list in that any Browns offensive coordinator would have been new to him, given his status as a rookie. Still, Kyle Shanahan's arrival in Cleveland will have such an impact on Manziel, I felt it was worth including him here. After all, this column is about identifying players who will benefit from savvy hires at offensive coordinator.

Johnny Football's social life has dominated headlines this spring, but once the regular season kicks off, Shanahan's offensive brilliance could put the spotlight squarely on the rookie signal-caller's game. While skeptics wonder if the diminutive playmaker has the tools to excel in the pocket, Shanahan is crafting a scheme that could enhance Manziel's skills as a dynamic passer on the move.

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During his time in Washington, Shanahan helped Robert Griffin III become a standout performer as a Redskins rookie by building an offense that featured a mix of read-option concepts, bootlegs and traditional West Coast dropback passes. Additionally, Shanahan featured a handful of bubble and "now" screens designed to quickly get the ball into the hands of dangerous playmakers on the perimeter. Shanahan also helped Kirk Cousins perform well as a spot starter, displaying the adaptability needed to put a young quarterback in position to succeed.

Manziel should hit the ground running in a version of the West Coast offense that routinely places him on the perimeter on stretch-bootlegs and naked passes. Additionally, Shanahan will incorporate a handful of Manziel's favorite passing concepts from spread formations to help the rookie play with confidence and conviction from the pocket.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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