What Kyle Shanahan Means for Atlanta

What Kyle Shanahan Means for Atlanta

By TJ Hernandez (Associate Editor), last update Jul 20, 2017

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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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With draft picks now rooted in new homes, and depth charts being shaken up, how players fit into their offenses will dominate summer discussions. Before talking about players’ ”fit”, it’s imperative to understand how new play callers might impact the offenses they will oversee. John Paulsen already gave us a preview of what to expect. I’d like to dig a little deeper.

Kyle Shanahan is taking over a Falcons offense that was run by Dirk Koetter for the last three seasons, and has ranked in the top 10 in the league in three of the past four seasons. The core of Atlanta’s offense will look familiar, but how will Shanahan’s playcalling tendencies mesh with an offense that has relied largely on the right arm of Matt Ryan?


A Snapshot of Shanahan's History

Since 2008, Kyle Shanahan has spent seven seasons as an Offensive Coordinator with three different teams. His success has varied, but overall Shanahan’s units have been able to move the ball with relative success, with an emphasis on the passing game.

Overall Rankings
Year Total Yards Points Scored
2008 3 17
2009 4 10
2010 18 25
2011 16 26
2012 5 4
2013 9 23
2014 23 27
Rushing Rankings
Year Att Yds TD
2008 16 13 11
2009 20 30 18
2010 31 30 24
2011 25 25 26
2012 3 1 2
2013 13 5 13
2014 6 17 4
Passing Rankings
Year Att Yds TD
2008 7 4 13
2009 4 1 5
2010 4 8 22
2011 5 14 23
2012 30 20 13
2013 9 16 24
2014 26 20 32

While Shanahan hasn’t completely ignored the running game, his play calling has been slanted towards the pass. In five of his seven seasons, Kyle Shanahan’s offense has ranked in the top 10 in passing attempts, and in all seven years his offense has ranked in the top 20 in passing yards.

Shanahan’s teams have ranked in the top 20 in rushing attempts five times, but in the top 10 just twice. Rushing yards in a Shanahan offense have been somewhat scarce, as well. His offensive units have ranked in the top 10 in the league in total rushing yards just twice, and both of those seasons were aided largely by the legs of RG3.


Positional Breakdown

A preliminary look at Kyle Shanahan’s play calling history suggests fantasy owners should be targeting the passing game. A position by position breakdown will give owners a more specific idea of which players and positions tend to flourish in a Shanahan passing attack. (Unless a play caller has an explicit fondness for tight ends, talent usually far outweighs playcalling tendencies when it comes to targeting the tight end position in fantasy drafts.)



QB Averages, 2008-14
Completions Attempts Yards TD Int FP/G
339.6 555.0 4,130.7 20.7 17.3 15.3
QB Totals, By Season
Year Comp Att Yards TD INT FP/G
2008 367 554 4474 21 20 14.5
2009 396 583 4770 29 15 17.4
2010 349 605 4261 21 19 14.4
2011 345 590 4009 18 24 12.4
2012 291 441 3666 24 8 21.9
2013 355 611 4057 20 19 15.4
2014 274 501 3678 12 16 10.9

As an Offensive Coordinator, Kyle Shanahan has had a quarterback start all 16 games just once, and in five of his seven seasons as OC, the starting signal caller going into the season has started 13 games or less. While Kyle Shanahan has overseen three quarterbacks who finished the season in the top 10 in FP/game, the 15.3 FP/game average output would have ranked 18th among starters in 2014.


Running Backs

RB Per Game Averages, 2008-14
Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP
24.1 2.9 113.0 18.5
RB Per Game Averages, By Season
Year Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP
2008 25.2 3.8 124.1 20.8
2009 27.9 5.1 127.6 23.4
2010 21.6 3.9 107.4 19.2
2011 26.6 4.7 127.8 19.5
2012 21.6 0.7 105.6 15.7
2013 17.8 0.6 84.6 11.1
2014 28.4 1.8 114.0 19.4

When looking at running back numbers under Kyle Shanahan, it’s virtually impossible to define a feature back in his offense. In seven seasons as a coordinator, Shanahan has had a running back start 15 or more games just three times and has had at least two running backs start four or more games in each the other four seasons. Only two of his running backs have finished a season in the top 12 in FP/game.

Because Shanny has mostly opted for a committee, these numbers represent the total production of all running backs to start under Shanahan. In lieu of the general committee approach, we can compare Shanahan’s running back averages against total team ranks rather than individual end of season totals.

As a team, 24.1 running back touches per game would have ranked 30th in the league in 2014. The reception average is dragged down by the stone-handed Alfred Morris, but 2.9 catches per game by running backs would have produced the second worst total in the league last season, and just three running back units in 2014 scored less than 18.5 PPR fantasy points per game.


Wide Receivers

WR1 Per Game Averages, 2008-14
Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FPs
5.6 75.4 0.35 15.2
WR1 Per Game Averages, By Season
  NAME Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP PPR Rank
2008 Andre Johnson 7.2 98.4 1.11 19.9 2
2009 Andre Johnson 6.3 98.1 1.43 19.4 2
2010 Santana Moss 5.8 69.7 1.03 14.7 16
2011 Jabar Gaffney 4.3 59.2 1.16 11.9 34
2012 Pierre Garcon 4.4 63.3 0.91 13.1 27
2013 Pierre Garcon 7.1 84.1 0.70 17.2 14
2014 Andrew Hawkins 4.2 54.9 0.48 10.5 50

Outside of Andre Johnson in 2008-09, the lead wide receiver in Kyle Shanahan offenses has underwhelmed. The 5.6 reception per game average by WR1s in Shanahan’s offenses would have ranked 13th among receivers in 2014, while 15.2 PPR points would have equated to WR17 numbers last season, tied with Roddy White.

Though the averages are respectable for the primary target under Shanahan, the variance has been wide. Shanahan's offense has produced a PPR WR1 just twice, while his top receiving options have ranked outside the top 24 three times.

WR2 Per Game Averages, 2008-14
Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FPs
3.7 47.4 0.21 9.2
WR2 Per Game Averages, By Season
  NAME Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP PPR Rank
2008 Kevin Walter 3.8 56.2 0.50 12.4 25
2009 Kevin Walter 3.8 43.6 0.14 9.0 49
2010 Anthony Armstrong 2.9 58.1 0.20 9.8 53
2011 Santana Moss 3.8 48.7 0.33 10.7 39
2012 Josh Morgan 4.8 49.7 0.13 6.8 83
2013 Santana Moss 2.6 28.3 0.13 6.0 97
2014 Miles Austin 3.9 47.3 0.17 9.7 62

Given the inconsistency of WR1s under Kyle Shanahan, it’s no surprise the secondary receiver has also been less than spectacular. No WR2 has put together a top 24 season in a Shanahan regime, and the 3.7 reception per game average would have ranked 47th among wideouts in 2014.


What This Means for 2015

When looking at Kyle Shanahan’s history as a playcaller, few patterns emerge on the individual level. What is consistent in his seven seasons as an Offensive Coordinator is that he favors the passing game whenever possible, and his offenses tend to utilize the running back as little as any team in the league.

Given Shanahan’s past and the current makeup of Atlanta’s roster, the Falcons offense in 2015 should mirror the team’s recent history; Matt Ryan will lead the charge, and, given Roddy White’s age and recent injury history, Julio Jones will be the biggest beneficiary.

The real question for the Falcons this offseason is the backfield. Shanahan has no fear of going with the hot hand approach at running back. Though Kyle Shanahan has sung Devonta Freeman’s praises in the past, Atlanta invested an early round draft pick on Tevin Coleman, and the explosive Antone Smith could still play a role in the offense.

In the four seasons Kyle Shanahan has used a running back committee, the “lead” back has averaged just 44.8% of the total touches given to running backs and accounted for over half of the backfield opportunities just once. Based on the historical running back “pie” for Shanahan running backs, we can construct an expected range of outcomes based on various market shares.

% of RB Touches Touches/G PPR FP/G Expected FP/G Finish
44.8% 10.8 8.3 RB34
50.0% 12.1 9.2 RB32
55.0% 13.3 10.2 RB27
60.0% 14.5 11.1 RB24

*Expected finish based on 2014 end of season totals

Running back by committee is by no means a death blow to the fantasy value of a backfield. Over the past three seasons, there have been 22 instances of backfield tandems both finishing as an RB3 or better, and five of those occurrences yielded two backs that finished the season in the top 24 in fantasy scoring.

Considering Kyle Shanahan’s play calling history, overall running back usage, and the current makeup of the Falcons roster, a committee seems probable in the Atlanta backfield, but the promise of a top 24 PPR back is unlikely.


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