There's nothing like watching an offensive maestro befuddle defenses with exceptional game planning and superb play calls. The best offensive coordinators in the NFL are able to manipulate defenses with various formations, pre-snap shifts and diverse personnel groupings in exotic deployments. These offensive wizards are also savvy enough to maximize the talents of their top playmakers, despite the best efforts of opponents intent on limiting their impact.
After reviewing the All-22 Coaches Film and placing a few phone calls to my coaching buddies around the league, I've come up with a list -- presented in reverse order below -- of the top 10 offensive coordinators in the NFL heading into 2015.
10) Tom Clements, Green Bay Packers
It's a little presumptuous to include Clements here, since the Packers' recently appointed play-caller hasn't yet officially called a play for Green Bay in his new role. He's also no longer technically an offensive coordinator, having ceded that position to Edgar Bennett. But I'm willing to step out on a limb, based on Clements' solid reputation as a teacher and contributor. He's garnered rave reviews for his work with quarterbacks during his nine years in Green Bay, including his tweaking of Aaron Rodgers' mechanics early in Rodgers' career. While questions persist about Clements' ability to keep the offense operating at a high level, his wealth of experience (Clements spent 12 years as a CFL quarterback, directed the Bills' offense in 2004 and 2005 and, of course, served as the Packers' quarterback coach from 2006 to 2011 and offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014) should alleviate concerns about his management skills. Considering the Packers' success with Clements acting as a silent coordinator, he deserves a spot on this list on reputation alone.
9) Kyle Shanahan, Atlanta Falcons
While some might attribute Shanahan's rise through the coaching ranks to his famous last name, the Falcons' new offensive coordinator has earned a solid reputation as a play designer in his own right over the past few seasons. Evaluators around the NFL were impressed by his work with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins during his time with the Redskins, giving him props for showing creativity and adaptability based on which player was under center. He couldn't get great production from quarterbacks Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel during his lone season in Cleveland, but he did craft a solid running game for the Browns with a pair of rookies (Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell); that accomplishment speaks volumes about his ability to teach the outside zone running game. If Shanahan successfully retools Atlanta's offense to feature a more dynamic rushing attack to complement Matt Ryan's strong passing skills, he could emerge as one of the hot head-coaching candidates in the 2016 hiring cycle.
8) Pep Hamilton, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck's budding greatness has overshadowed Hamilton's masterful orchestration of the Colts' offense. The wily play designer, who served on Stanford's staff during Luck's time at the school, has helped his star pupil post impressive numbers the last two seasons despite lacking a solid running game. Hamilton's clever utilization of personnel groupings and diverse formations has helped Luck torch opposing defenses. Critics took Hamilton to task for not putting the entire offense on Luck's shoulders early on, but the veteran play caller has slowly placed more on the Pro Bowler's plate, creating big-play opportunities while featuring a quick-rhythm passing game. Overall, the approach has worked splendidly, with the Colts reaching the AFC Championship Game last season. With more artillery coming onboard during the offseason (in the form of veteran additions Frank Gore and Andre Johnson and first-round pick Phillip Dorsett), Hamilton could finally be in position to blend the Colts' dynamic aerial attack with the power-based running game he used to help make Stanford a powerhouse on the collegiate level.
7) Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offensive coordinators who can develop young quarterbacks always earn solid reviews from the scouting community, and Koetter is one of the best in the business at helping young passers perform at a high level from the pocket. From his masterful work with David Garrard in Jacksonville (in 2007, Koetter's first year with the team, Garrard led the Jaguars to a playoff berth after compiling an 18:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio) and Matt Ryan in Atlanta (under Koetter's direction in 2012, Ryan set single-season franchise records in passing yards, completion percentage and passing touchdowns) to his impressive collegiate résumé, it's easy to see Koetter excels at creating a quarterback-friendly offense that allows young playmakers to thrive. With Koetter also adept at cultivating potent rushing attacks (the Jaguars averaged 132.0 rushing yards per game during his tenure, from 2007 to 2011 -- the third-best mark in the NFL during that span), the Buccaneers' new offensive coordinator is unquestionably one of the best in the business.
6) Greg Roman, Buffalo Bills
Despite the San Francisco 49ers' offensive implosion during Roman's final season with the team, the crafty play-caller deserves to be mentioned among the NFL's best offensive minds. Roman helped the 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game three straight seasons, relying on a powerful rushing attack and savvy playmaking from the quarterback position. His creative scheming and clever deployment of multiple tight ends were things of beauty. Yet, it was Roman's ability to coax championship-level performances out of Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick that earned him high marks in the NFL coaching community. If he solves the Bills' quarterback dilemma in training camp, Roman could be the hottest head-coaching candidate in the league.
5) Scott Linehan, Dallas Cowboys
Credit Linehan for checking his ego at the door to give the Cowboys the best opportunity to win in 2014. The passing guru made a philosophical shift, adopting a run-first approach to help Dallas pound opponents behind a massive offensive line and a talented, one-cut runner (DeMarco Murray). It's telling that, even with the aerial attack on the back burner, Tony Romo led the NFL in completion percentage (69.9) and passer rating (113.2), with Dez Bryant snaring a league-best 16 touchdown receptions. Given the discipline and adaptability Linehan has shown in Dallas, the savvy play-caller deserves a spot on this list.
4) Hue Jackson, Cincinnati Bengals
It is unfortunate that some observers allow Jackson's swagger to overshadow his offensive brilliance, as coaches within the league respect his ability to manipulate opponents with his clever schemes and personnel deployment. Jackson earned rave reviews for his retooling of the Raiders' offense during his tenure as Oakland's offensive coordinator/head coach, and he's receiving high marks for his work in Cincinnati in the wake of Jay Gruden's departure. Jackson unleashed running back Jeremy Hill down the stretch to stabilize the Bengals' offense last season, yet he still featured receiver A.J. Green as the top playmaker in the passing game. Considering Jackson has to work around quarterback Andy Dalton's limitations as a playmaker, the fact that the Bengals are expected to field one of the AFC's most explosive offenses in 2015 is a testament to his superb play calling and game planning.
3) Todd Haley, Pittsburgh Steelers
The evolution of the Steelers' offense under Haley has coincided with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's ascension to the ranks of the elite. The crusty coach challenged his star signal-caller to become a more efficient player from the pocket while crafting a scheme that showcased an electric receiving corps brimming with young talent. Haley has earned his reputation for developing pass-catchers (Haley has helped Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Dwayne Bowe and Keyshawn Johnson all earn Pro Bowl honors). The bottom line is, Pittsburgh's offense is more dynamic and explosive than the previous versions trotted out in the Steel City.
2) Norv Turner, Minnesota Vikings
The veteran play-caller is not only one of the brightest offensive minds in football, but he is an exceptional teacher adept at developing young talent at the premier skill positions. Turner helped Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin develop into Hall of Fame-caliber players with the Dallas Cowboys. He also transformed a young LaDainian Tomlinson into a touchdown machine when he directed the San Diego Chargers' offense. In Minnesota, Turner is poised to help Adrian Peterson put the finishing touches on a stellar career while developing one of the next young stars at the quarterback position in Teddy Bridgewater. With the Vikings featuring a young, dynamic receiving corps boasting several intriguing playmakers (Kyle Rudolph, Charles Johnson, Mike Wallace and Cordarrelle Patterson), Turner could claim the top spot when we revisit this list at the end of the season.
1) Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots
There isn't a play-caller in football who gets more out of an overachieving unit than McDaniels. While Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski give McDaniels a solid foundation to build around, the fact is, the Patriots don't have as many blue-chip weapons as many of their counterparts. This puts immense pressure on McDaniels to generate a game plan that uses a systematic approach to create opportunities for playmakers on the perimeter. He'll use a number of inverted formations (TE or RB flexed outside of the WR) from various personnel groupings to dictate coverage and discourage blitzes. Moreover, McDaniels will cleverly incorporate "tempo," unbalanced sets and quirky alignments to gain an edge on the perimeter. Factor in the Patriots' seamless transition into and out of power formations to bludgeon opponents between the tackles during the team's annual playoff pushes, and it's hard to dismiss McDaniels' offensive wizardry when examining his body of work. Granted, the case can be made that Brady is key to the unit's success, but the fact that Matt Cassel (in 2008) and Kyle Orton (in Denver in 2009) also played good football within McDaniels' system is a testament to his brilliance as a schemer.