Fantasy Football: Buckle up for Kliff Kingsbury's offense in Arizona
Former quarterback Kliff Kingsbury went from fired college coach to head man for the Cardinals. It should mean big things for the passing game, and for David Johnson.
As far as coordinating offenses goes, Kliff Kingsbury is a genius.
It's coaching his defense, and winning, that has given him some trouble.
Perhaps not since Chip Kelly's arrival in Philadelphia has an NFL team made such a big commitment to a collegiate coach with no pro coaching experience. Kingsbury's offenses have posted ridiculously gaudy numbers, but they haven't resulted in wins. Unlike Kelly, who was a proven winner with his hurry-up offense in Philly, Kingsbury was 35-40 at Texas Tech, including 1-2 in bowl games. He never had more than eight wins in a season.
A former NFL backup quarterback, Kingsbury has been a pass-heavy schemer who uses spread offense concepts and fast receivers to stretch defenses. The offense tends to move quickly and pick up chunks of yardage -- it ranked in the top 16 in yards per game in each of Kingsbury's six seasons including four top-10 finishes. The Red Raiders also ranked among the top-25 in scoring each of the last four seasons.
Unfortunately, there's a lot that needs fixing in the desert. Rosen had an awful first year thanks to a terrible offensive line, a weak receiving corps, and most importantly, a bad offensive scheme complete with unimaginative play-calling. We should assume the play-calling will be much more fun and that Kingsbury, a savvy coach and play-creator, will surround Rosen with fast receivers who can run precise routes. He'll have a lot of work to do rebuilding the offensive line -- without it, Rosen will be sacked a bunch and the offense won't be anything special. That's worth watching this spring.
Here's how Kingsbury's tendencies looked in his six seasons at Texas Tech:
Kingsbury actually got tame in his past two years, dialing down to a 56-44 pass-run ratio after being at 62-38 pass-run in his first four seasons. Losing Mahomes might have been part of the reason for the drop-off. While Kingsbury would be wise to remember he has David Johnson on his sideline (a point we'll get to in a little bit), this is a pretty good indicator that the Cardinals will take to the air frequently.
You shouldn't believe that Kingsbury "forgot" about his run game, but it's not quite the priority for him that it is for other coaches. During Texas Tech's days with Mahomes and others, running backs really didn't get a ton of work. DeAndre Washington posted back-to-back 1,000-yard efforts but never averaged more than 18 carries per game. After Mahomes' departure, Kingsbury did lean on his run game a little more (26.1 running back carries per game) but didn't have any 800-yard producers. Last season he had to mix and match his backs with mediocre results.
Kingsbury inherits one of the league's best backs in Johnson. He'd be foolish not to use him. Not only is Johnson a physically gifted power runner but he's also a polished receiver, complete with a 65.6 percent career catch rate and a 10.8 yard career receiving average. Expect a full 180-degree difference in how Johnson is not only used with Kingsbury, but also in how effective he is in the offense. Someone's going to get a bargain on him with a second-round pick, especially in PPR leagues.
Speaking of Johnson and his potential in the passing game ...
In college, Kingsbury's air-raid offense relied heavily on receivers, a little bit on running backs and barely on tight ends. In fact, from 2014 through 2018, offensive linemen caught more passes than tight ends! If not for Jace Amaro leading the school in receiving in 2013, tight ends would have zero catches under Kingsbury. And let's face it, Amaro was far more a receiver than he was a blocker.
As for the running backs, it stinks the number wasn't closer to 20 percent, but that could be a byproduct of not having established pass-catchers at the position. It would be hard to believe Kingsbury would prefer dialing up plays to a slot receiver than to Johnson on a consistent basis.
Obviously, you can tell Kingsbury was all about throwing to his receivers. It's not definite he'll stay that way in the pros, but tendencies are hard to break. It would be a mild surprise to see Kingsbury ditch receiver-heavy formations for more traditional looks. If anything, it's proof he prefers speed over bulk.
This should bring great target volume to Christian Kirk, who is a quicker-than-fast slot-capable wideout with very good hands. Kirk should see a small bump in his 13.7 receiving-yard average and a big bump in his 5.7 target-per-game average.
Unfortunately, Kirk is the only sure thing in the Cardinals passing game for now. Larry Fitzgerald may not continue playing, and if he does he's sort of miscast in this offense. Backups like Trent Sherfield, Chad Williams and J.J. Nelson probably will have to earn playing time during training camp.
Kingsbury should use his smarts to attack defensive weaknesses and creativity to confuse opponents week after week. It'll hurt the Cardinals if he dedicates his offseason assets to improving the offense and not the defense, but that's the kind of development that could lead to a lot of high scoring, high-stat games. The Cardinals shouldn't be ignored in 2019 Fantasy drafts.
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