Norv Turner's Impact on the Panthers' 2018 Fantasy Outlook
Mike Shula has been a constant in the Panthers organization since Cam Newton entered the league, but the 2018 offseason saw Norv Turner replace Shula as Carolina’s offensive coordinator. One reason Carolina sought Turner is because of the seamless fit—head coach Ron Rivera and Turner have worked together in the past and have similar play-calling philosophies. The main objective of bringing in Turner is to help return Newton to his 2015 form—Newton finished 2016 and 2017 with the two lowest passer ratings of his career.
A Snapshot of Norv Turner’s History
Turner has served as a head coach or offensive coordinator in the NFL for 26 seasons but for the sake of time relevancy and brevity, this article will focus on his play-calling jobs dating back to 2006. From 1991–2005, Turner led offenses that ranked outside the top 20 in points scored or total yards just twice. In his last four stops spanning 11 years, though, his teams have ranked 20th or worse in total yards six times and in the bottom third of the league in scoring five times.
In his most recent stops, Turner has been one of the more moderate playcallers in the league, with an average rank of 18th in overall passing rate and 16th in neutral passing rate. Where Turner has shown a strong trend is in reacting to negative game script. His teams have ranked in the top 10 in passing rate in losses five times since 2006 and outside the top 20 just once—his tendencies have been to pass more than average when facing a large deficit as well.
While Carolina has hyped this OC hiring as a move to maximizes Newton's potential, Turner’s presence has done little to buoy the fantasy numbers of his quarterbacks. Over the last five seasons, the average fantasy points scored for the QB12 is around 275, a number Turner’s quarterbacks have exceeded just twice in his last 11 seasons. Though that might be understandable with quarterbacks such as Teddy Bridgewater and Brandon Weeden under center, one could argue Turner’s presence was handicapping Philip Rivers—of Rivers’ seven best fantasy seasons, five have come since Turner’s departure. Much of this can be directly related to Turner’s playcalling. The Chargers have ranked 11th or higher in passing rate in four of the five years since Turner’s departure—they never ranked higher than 15th with Turner calling plays.
Turner’s Running Backs
|Year||Player||G||Att||Yds||TD||Tgt||Rec||Yds||TD||PPR FP||% of RB Touches|
|Year||Tm||Att||Yds||TD||Tgt||Rec||Yds||TD||PPR||% Team Touches|
One position where Turner has shown noticeable flexibility is at running back, especially as it pertains to individual player usage. In four of his last 11 seasons, Turner has had a back reach at least 70 percent of backfield touches, a mark that just five backs reached in 2017. Without a clear workhorse, though, Turner has opted for a full-blown committee, not offering a back more than 52 percent of running back touches in his other seven seasons.
Even without huge touch shares, a handful of backs have put up starter-caliber fantasy seasons under Turner. This can somewhat be explained by Turner’s propensity to run in the red zone, specifically inside the 10. Turner’s offenses have ranked in the top 10 in passing rate inside the 10-yard line just twice in his last 11 seasons but ranked in the bottom third of the league in passing rate six times with an average rank of 20th.
|2010||Antonio Gates *||10||6.5||5.0||78.2||1.0||18.8||12.2%|
|2007||Vincent Jackson *||16||5.0||2.6||38.9||0.2||7.6||17.5%|
|2006||Arnaz Battle *||16||5.3||3.7||42.9||0.2||9.1||19.5%|
*A running back was second on the team in target share.
For a wide receiver to be a top-12 player in terms of target share, he usually wants to see about 25 percent of team targets. Only one player has reached that market share in recent history under Turner and it was a tight end. It should be noted that Josh Gordon was on pace for a 27 percent target share in 2013, but the fact remains Turner has rarely forced targets to a specific receiver.
Turner has emphasized the tight end position in his offense. Even after the Antonio Gates years, a tight end has been a top-two target in a Turner offense in three of his last four seasons, and Kyle Rudolph outpaced Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen just two seasons ago while Turner led the offense.
What It All Means for the Panthers in 2018
In terms of play-calling tendencies, Norv Turner’s most obvious habits pertain to negative game script but that doesn't figure to come into play much with these Panthers—Carolina’s nine projected wins puts them in the top third of the league.
Turner’s history is comprised almost exclusively of pocket quarterbacks and no quarterback in Turner’s last 11 seasons has rushed more than 47 times. Newton has rushed fewer than 100 times just once in his seven-year career. Regardless of who’s calling plays for Newton, we know what we’re getting—a fantasy stud who doesn’t need to be efficient throwing the ball because he gets so much done on the ground. Where Turner could have an impact is in ball distribution.
Without a clear workhorse back, Turner hasn’t been shy about using a committee and that’s what we should expect from this backfield. While Christian McCaffrey is a year matured in the NFL, the fact is that he was unable to out-touch Jonathan Stewart last season and C.J. Anderson is a better runner than Stewart with the added ability to cut into McCaffrey's targets. More often than not, Turner has favored the player who he perceives as the better rusher (see Matt Asiata's and Jerick McKinnon’s splits under Turner), so it’s reasonable to expect McCaffrey to not lead his own backfield in touches for a second straight season. This doesn't mean McCaffrey can't excel in PPR leagues—recall that a running back has ranked second in target share in a Turner offense three times in recent history.
Tight end has been a constant in Turner’s offense and Greg Olsen is clearly the most accomplished receiver on this roster. While Olsen is coming off of an injury-riddled 2017, his offseason extension suggests that he should push for a target share around 20 percent.
After the running backs and tight end, it will be tough for any wide receiver to push for a significant target share and that falls in line with Turner’s past. While Devin Funchess is a formidable red zone threat, he was miscast as a primary option last year, and the addition of rookie D.J. Moore only lowers Funchess’ target floor.
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.