This week, I've been examining the guys behind the guys -- spotlighting the finest coordinators across the NFL landscape. After talking to folks around the league and reviewing a whole bunch of All-22 Coaches Film, I revealed my top 10 offensive coordinators on Monday and my top 10 defensive coordinators on Tuesday. But how do these guys stack up against each other when they're all tossed into the same pool?
Here is my countdown of the top 20 coordinators in the NFL, with a little bonus ranking of the top three head-coaching candidates for the next hiring cycle:
20) Kris Richard, defensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks: The superb play of the "Legion of Boom" will help this novice play caller ease into his new role as the leader of the NFL's stingiest defense. Yes, he's in Year 1 as a coordinator, but as you can glean from this ranking, I highly respect what the former secondary coach did in developing the "LOB" and anticipate major success from him in directing the entire D.
19) Tom Clements, associate head coach/offense, Green Bay Packers: The "silent" contributor to the Packers' offensive dominance finally gets an opportunity to showcase his play-calling skills this season, with head coach Mike McCarthy ceding that duty to Clements. Given Clements' exceptional work with Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre in his previous role with Green Bay, the Packers' offense shouldn't skip a beat.
18) Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons: The creative play caller is one of the best teachers of the stretch-bootleg combination (outside-zone run complemented by the bootleg passing game), but it is his ability to meld collegiate concepts with traditional NFL schemes that has made him a hot commodity in league circles.
17) Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts: Critics have taken Hamilton to task for failing to fully turn over the offense to his talented young quarterback, Andrew Luck, but the savvy play caller is intent on building a championship-caliber unit that blends a power running game and explosive, vertical aerial attack. With Frank Gore and Andre Johnson coming over in free agency and Phillip Dorsett joining the party via the draft, Hamilton will have an opportunity to fully put his vision into practice on the field.
16) Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: One of the best quarterback developers in the game is also a crafty run-game specialist capable of building a two-pronged attack that befuddles defensive coordinators. With Koetter inheriting a talented cast of playmakers and a rookie quarterback with moxie in Tampa, we could see his offensive wizardry go to a new level in 2015.
15) Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills: Despite a disappointing end to his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers, Roman remains one of the top offensive tacticians in the game. He has the rare ability to blend creative personnel packages and odd formations into a smash-mouth attack that punishes opponents between the tackles. Considering his ability to also manage and develop young quarterbacks, it is hard to dispute his inclusion on this list.
14) Gregg Williams, defensive coordinator, St. Louis Rams: The ultra-aggressive defensive master earns high marks for his ability to craft unique blitzes at the point of attack. Despite living on the edge with his reckless Cover 0 (all-out pressure) tactics, Williams' creative brilliance makes him one of the most difficult defensive coordinators to face on game day.
13) Dennis Thurman, defensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills: Rex Ryan's right-hand man doesn't garner the headlines, but he is a key contributor to his boss' defensive success as the pass-coverage specialist. Thurman masterfully builds coverage concepts to match Ryan's exotic pressures, which is why the defensive scheme flusters even the most experienced NFL quarterbacks.
11) Scott Linehan, offensive coordinator, Dallas Cowboys: Whenever a play caller is willing to make a philosophical shift to better match the talents of the team, it speaks volumes about his adaptability, versatility and ego-less character. Linehan's reshaping of the Cowboys' offense into a run-first unit last season not only made the team a heavyweight contender, but it showed his growth and maturity since his last head-coaching gig.
10) Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos: There isn't a better coach at building a defensive scheme around his personnel than Phillips. The wily defensive architect will tweak his system to put his top dogs in prime position to make plays. Yet, he keeps the scheme simple enough to allow his players to play free and loose on the field.
9) Sean McDermott, defensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers: McDermott's superb game planning and play design has given rise to Carolina's recent defensive dominance. McDermott believes in bringing pressure from all angles -- something he learned in his time under the late Jim Johnson -- but he has a keen understanding of when to ratchet up or scale back the heat, based on different game situations.
8) Teryl Austin, defensive coordinator, Detroit Lions: Credit Austin for transforming the Lions' underachieving defense into a powerhouse in his first season. The Lionsranked second in total defense and third in scoring defense in 2014. Coaches laud Austin's adaptability and schematic versatility, but his communication skills and trustworthiness are what make him a hit with players.
7) Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals: It's a shame Jackson's swagger leads some observers to overlook his offensive ingenuity, but defensive coordinators around the NFL certainly respect the schemes and concepts he brings to the table each week. Jackson persistently challenges the discipline of defenders while putting his top players in position to make plays. Sounds simple, but few can rival Jackson's chess skills.
6) Romeo Crennel, defensive coordinator, Houston Texans: It didn't take long for Crennel to put his imprint on the Texans' defense with cutting-edge schemes and meticulous attention to detail. The savvy defensive play caller quickly transformed Houston's D into a takeaway machine (the Texans led the NFL with 34 forced turnovers) by demanding assignment discipline and situational awareness at all times.
5) Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers: The volatile assistant can rub some players wrong with his demanding ways, but there is no disputing his effectiveness as a play caller, scheme designer and talent developer. He has a knack for getting prime production out of young players while also crafting schemes that drive defensive coordinators nuts.
4) Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator, Chicago Bears: The shrewd coaching veteran is one of the best in the business at putting his guys in the right position to make plays. He routinely outfoxes the most creative offensive minds by throwing in unanticipated tactics that allow his top players to wreak havoc all over the field.
3) Norv Turner, offensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings: The veteran offensive guru is known as one of the top quarterback developers in the business, but coaches within the NFL community also rave about his clever utilization of top running backs and his uncanny ability to get big-time production from the tight end position. Turner fully maximizes the talent at his disposal to create an offense that is balanced, diverse and explosive in every aspect.
2) Rod Marinelli, defensive coordinator, Dallas Cowboys: The gruff ex-Marine won't wow observers with spectacular schemes, but his ability to get a unit to play hard-nosed football with relentless passion sets him above his peers. Marinelli's demanding style and commitment to his core principles (toughness, effort, tackling and turnovers) helped transform a cast of misfits into a stout defense in his first season as the DC in Dallas.
1) Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots: There isn't a play caller who gets more production from a unit devoid of exceptional talent than McDaniels. The offensive wizard turned a unit with only two blue-chip players (Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski) into a juggernaut through exceptional scheming and play calling each week.
Top three head-coaching candidates
Who will garner attention in next offseason's hiring cycle? Well, obviously, that'll depend on how things play out in the 2015 campaign. But as of right now, these three guys stand out among current coordinators: