How Gary Kubiak Impacts the Denver Broncos

How Gary Kubiak Impacts the Denver Broncos

By TJ Hernandez (Associate Editor) on Jun 11, 2015

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

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As we roll into summer, I will evaluate the history of play callers in new locations in 2015 and define the impact of those coaches in their new landing spots. You can keep up with all of my findings on the impact of play callers here.

The Denver Broncos overhauled their coaching staff this offseason, hiring Gary Kubiak to be the head coach, and bringing on Rick Dennison as the offensive coordinator. Because Kubiak will be the primary play caller, this will be an examination of Kubiak's past, but Dennison and Kubiak have a history together and share similar offensive philosophies. Gary Kubiak's history as an offensive coordinator and head coach goes back 20 years, but in his first stint in Denver he defaulted to head coach Mike Shanahan as the primary play caller. Therefor, this study will analyze Kubiak's past nine seasons, where calling the plays was his responsibility.

 

A Snapshot of Kubiak's History

Overall Rankings
Year Total Yards Points scored
2006 28 28
2007 14 12
2008 3 17
2009 4 10
2010 3 9
2011 13 10
2012 7 8
2013 11 31
2014 12 8
Rushing Rankings
Year Att Yds TD
2006 21 21 14
2007 22 22 16
2008 16 13 11
2009 20 30 18
2010 19 7 1
2011 1 2 3
2012 4 8 4
2013 22 20 28
2014 11 8 5
Passing Rankings
Year Att Yds TD
2006 23 27 28
2007 19 11 12
2008 7 4 13
2009 4 1 5
2010 10 4 17
2011 30 18 18
2012 18 11 18
2013 6 15 25
2014 17 13 12

The narrative on Gary Kubiak is that of a run heavy play caller, but a quick glance at his teams' offensive rankings throughout the years shows a collection of units that can move the ball both on the ground and through the air and have had success scoring in both aspects of the game. Other than his first year in Houston, with a David Carr run offense, Kubiak's offenses have ranked in the top half of the league in toal yards every year, and five of those seasons resulted in top 10 finishes in total points.

Over the past five seasons, Kubiak's offenses have been run dominant, but his recent emphasis on the running game can mostly be attributed to the ascent of Arian Foster as a dominant running back in the league. Prior to Foster's rise, Kubiak's play calling actually favored the pass, and his units have ranked in the top 20 in passing attempts in seven of the last nine years, including three consecutive seasons ranked in the top five in passing yards, from 2008-2010. Even with an offense lead by Foster, Kubiak's teams have ranked in the top half of the league in passing yards in each of the past three seasons. 

 

Positional Breakdown

Quarterbacks

QB Per Game Averages, 2006-14
Completions Attempts Yards TD Int FP/G
21.4 33.5 248.6 1.4 0.9 14.0
QB Per Game Averages, By Season
Year Completions Attempts Yards TD Int FP/G
2006 18.9 27.6 172.9 0.7 0.8 9.2
2007 21.6 33.1 245.3 1.5 1.3 13.5
2008 22.9 34.6 279.6 1.3 1.3 14.6
2009 24.8 36.4 298.1 1.8 0.9 17.4
2010 22.8 35.9 273.1 1.5 0.8 15.2
2011 16.3 26.6 214.3 1.1 0.6 12.6
2012 21.9 34.0 250.5 1.4 0.8 14.0
2013 22.3 38.2 254.4 1.2 1.3 13.0
2014 21.5 34.6 249.1 1.7 0.8 16.4

On average, quarterbacks under Gary Kubiak have produced 14 fantasy points per game, a mark that would have ranked 21st in the league in 2014. While the average fantasy production is mediocre, it has little to do with Kubiak's play calling, as seen in his overall rankings. Kubiak has had a quarterback start more than 11 games in a season in just five of nine years as a play caller, and 23 games have been started by a combination of Sage Rosenfels, T.J. Yates, and Case Keenum.

The totals reflected in per game averages by season are a sum off all quarterback play, but from 2008-20011, Matt Schaub delivered three seasons ranked in the top 10 in FP/G under Kubiak.

 

Running Backs

RB Per Game Averages, 2006-14
Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP
31.5 5.2 153.8 26.1
RB Per Game Averages, By Season
Year Touches Rec Total Yards PPR FP
2006 32.6 6.5 145.3 22.5
2007 30.5 5.8 132.5 24.0
2008 28.8 4.8 139.4 24.1
2009 29.1 6.3 137.3 26.0
2010 30.0 5.3 174.4 30.7
2011 38.7 4.7 206.4 31.8
2012 33.3 3.4 148.9 25.3
2013 31.3 5.1 141.9 21.7
2014 29.9 4.8 158.3 25.7

Since 2006, Gary Kubiak has had a running back start 13 or more games just 5 times, so the numbers above represent total running back production with Kubiak calling the plays. Given the opportunity to feature a back, though, Kubiak has clearly favored a workhorse approach. On a per game basis, Gary Kubiak's starting running backs have averaged 64.2% of the running back touches and has been as high as 82% (Arian Foster, 2010).

The overall running back production with Kubiak calling plays stacks up against any team in the league. 31.5 touches to backs would have ranked third in the league in 2014 and 5.2 receptions per game by running backs would have ranked 11th among all teams. Only six teams in 2014 had fantasy points on a per game basis than the average Gary Kubiak backfield.

 

Wide Receivers

WR1 Per Game Averages, 2006-14
Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FPs
6.4 87.4 0.44 17.7
WR1 Per Game Averages, By Season
Year Name Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP PPR Rank
2006 Andre Johnson 6.4 71.7 0.31 15.6 13
2007 Andre Johnson 6.7 94.6 0.89 21.2 2
2008 Andre Johnson 7.2 98.4 0.50 19.9 2
2009 Andre Johnson 6.3 98.1 0.56 19.6 2
2010 Andre Johnson 6.6 93.5 0.62 19.7 1
2011 Andre Johnson 4.7 70.3 0.29 13.6 24
2012 Andre Johnson 7.0 99.9 0.25 18.5 5
2013 Andre Johnson 6.8 87.9 0.31 17.5 12
2014 Steve Smith 4.9 66.6 0.38 13.7 25

Despite spotty quarterback play, and a heavy emphasis on his backfield, Gary Kubiak has still been able to consistently produce a top tier fantasy wide receiver in virtually every season as a play caller. In eight seasons with Kubiak force feeding him targets, regardless of who was under center, Andre Johnson finished in the top 12 in PPR FP/G six times, and in five of those seasons Johnson ranked in the top five at his position.

Only five wide receivers averaged more than 6.4 receptions per game in 2014, and 17.7 PPR FP/G would have ranked 9th among wideouts last year.

WR2 Per Game Averages, 2006-14
Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FPs
3.3 43.2 0.26 9.2
WR2 Per Game Averages, By Season
Year Name Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP PPR Rank
2006 Eric Moulds 3.6 34.8 0.06 7.5 62
2007 Kevin Walter 4.1 50.0 0.25 10.8 36
2008 Kevin Walter 3.8 56.2 0.50 12.5 25
2009 Kevin Walter 3.8 43.6 0.14 9.2 48
2010 Kevin Walter 3.2 38.8 0.31 8.9 61
2011 Jacoby Jones 1.9 32.0 0.13 6.0 89
2012 Kevin Walter 2.6 32.4 0.13 6.6 89
2013 DeAndre Hopkins 3.3 50.1 0.13 8.9 68
2014 Torrey Smith 3.3 51.1 0.73 12.8 30

The secondary wide receiver in a Kubiak system has been ordinary, at best. Kubiak has produced two top 36 PPR wide receivers in the same year just twice in nine seasons, and has never had two top 24 wideouts. Most of the time, the second wide receiver under Gary Kubiak didn't even muster a WR5 season. A look at Kubiak's tight ends lends some insight as to why. 

 

Tight Ends

TE1 Per Game Averages, 2006-14
Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FPs
3.7 44.2 0.28 9.8
TE1 Per Game Averages, By Season
Year Name Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP PPR Rank
2006 Owen Daniels 2.4 25.1 0.36 7.1 14
2007 Owen Daniels 3.9 48.0 0.19 9.5 8
2008 Owen Daniels 4.4 53.9 0.13 10.4 6
2009 Owen Daniels 5.0 64.9 0.63 15.2 3
2010 Owen Daniels 3.5 42.8 0.18 8.8 18
2011 Owen Daniels 3.6 45.1 0.20 9.3 15
2012 Owen Daniels 4.1 47.7 0.40 11.3 9
2013 Garrett Graham 3.8 41.9 0.38 10.1 18
2014 Owen Daniels 3.2 35.1 0.27 8.3 20

Up to this point, I haven't examined the effect of play calling on tight ends, as it is usually a talent-dependent position, but Gary Kubiak has shown a clear affinity for the position. Kubiak's primary tight end has averaged 9.8 PPR points per game, a total that would have ranked 12th at the position in 2014. As a team, Kubiak's play calling has produced an average of seven touchdowns to the position each year, which would have been top 10 among all teams last year, and his teams have an average rank of 10th in overall tight end fantasy production.

 

What This Means for 2015

Gary Kubiak's play calling history supports the narrative that he is a coach who will normally produce a dominant rushing attack, but based on the entire scope of his play calling, he is the perfect candidate to oversee a high powered offense that will also throw effectively. Unlike his past stints as the play caller, though, Kubiak will finally have a dominant quarterback in Peyton Manning to feed all of his weapons. Even with inferior talent under center, Gary Kubiak has consistently overseen offenses that produce both WR1 and TE1 fantasy numbers.

Like most of his past offenses, Kubiak will be able to lean on Demaryius Thomas as a superior primary receiving option. The second wide receiver option has struggled in a Gary Kubiak offense, but the head coach has never had a roster this full of talent with a quarterback that has the ability to support multiple fantasy relevant options. In the latest Most Accurate Podcast, John Paulsen mentions that even Emmanuel Sanders has lowered expectations for himself this season compared to 2014, but Kubiak has shown the ability to go pass heavy when necessary, and a fringe WR1 season is still very likely for Sanders.

Probably not coincidentally, Owen Daniels is expected to be the primary tight end target for Gary Kubiak for the ninth time in the last 10 years. Daniels is now three seasons removed from his last TE1 finish, but Gary Kubiak has a history of loading up tight ends with targets, especially in the red zone, and Peyton Manning has made a fantasy star out of virtually every tight end that he has played with.

With Kubiak at the helm, there should be no concern about C.J. Anderson's fantasy value, but buzz around Broncos camp suggests that there may be a battle for the RB1 spot between Anderson and Montee Ball. Even if Ball does work himself into a significant workload, Kubiak's history suggests that Anderson won't need all of the touches to be a fantasy star. Recall that Kubiak's main back averages roughly 64% of the backfield touches, and the percentage is often higher for his featured runner. Given the average running back pie in Kubiak's system, even if Anderson yields 40% of the touches to other backs, his range of outcomes is still promising:

% of RB Production Touches/G PPR FP/G Expected FP/G Finish
60.0% 18.9 15.7 RB8
65.0% 20.5 17.0 RB6
70.0% 22.1 18.3 RB6
75.0% 23.6 19.6 RB5

Despite an aging Peyton Manning and possible concerns over a more balanced approach, an in depth look at Gary Kubiak's play calling history and the resulting production at each position shows he can adjust to his team's talent and strengths and produce fantasy relevant players across the board.

 

Filed Under: Preseason, 2015

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