In the final part of the Breakout Performers series, I will feature which first or second year coaches for their respective teams will have the most success. With young NFL Coaches bursting onto the scene like Sean McVay and making an immediate impact on not only their teams but the entire league, it’s become a trend for rookie Head Coaches to take the league by storm. After breaking down a variety of different positions and predicting who’s in store for a big year, I will analyze five different Head Coaches who we should be all in on this season to lead their team to success.
Matt Lefleur (Packers)
Lefleur is the former Offensive Coordinator of the Tennessee Titans which last season featured one of the best stretches for a running back in Derrick Henry’s late season surge. Between the Quarterback carousel with Mariota and Blaine Gabbert, Lefleur showed a lot of creativity trying to keep the team afloat. It goes without saying that coach has a bit of an upgrade with Aaron Rodgers. The success of Green Bay will rely heavily on the performance and health of Rodgers, but with all of the controversy surrounding his relationship with former coach Mike McCarthy, it’s in everyone’s best interest these two compromise together. Whether or not the Packers can translate this new system into wins will be based on what Rodgers and Co. can do at this critical stage for the franchise.
Freddie Kitchens (Browns)
The only questionable spot on this Browns team after the first two preseason games is Head Coach Freddie Kitchens. Thus far he’s looked phenomenal, but preseason doesn’t prove much for a Head Coach. It may install confidence, but until week 1 arrives, nothing is guaranteed. What I can guarantee is that Kitchens should a short leash – there is a ton of talent on this roster at every unit. The offense is locked and loaded, the defense is young, fast, and hungry. There are no excuses and if Kitchens doesn’t provide at the very least a winning season, if not a playoff berth, fingers are going to get pointed in a number of directions, starting with him. With that being said, his style of play and the way he’s taken the locker room and the support he has from them, I think he’s going to have the best season out of every coach on this list.
Vic Fangio (Broncos)
This is a match made in heaven. Vic Fangio, the former defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, the same Bears team that had the number one defense last season, and he now has Von Miller at his disposal. He has Bradley Chubb, Chris Harris Jr, he’s playing in Mile High where their true identity begins and ends on defense. Could this defense be reminiscent of the same defense that captured Peyton Manning his second Super Bowl ring? Maybe not in year one, but Joe Flacco is the new signal caller in Denver while Drew Lock sits behind him and develops. If Fangio can take the guys on this defense and accomplish what he was able to in Chicago but in Denver, this will be one of the best defenses in the league and that will certainly translate into wins. This isn’t the most talented roster, but this is easily the best fit at Head Coach out of every new Head Coach in this league.
Adam Gase (Jets)
Gase has the tallest task ahead of him heading into this season. New York is ready for their new face of the franchise to take that sophomore year leap, and assert himself as a legitimate QB1. It doesn’t make it any easier that this is all happening under the bright lights of New York City. The Jets open up the season against the Bills, Browns, Patriots, Eagles, Cowboys, Patriots again, and then the Jaguars before finally facing Miami. In that list you have 3 playoff teams, one Super Bowl Champion, and 3 teams who are expected to make huge leaps of improvement from last season. It’s crazy to me that I can look at this schedule and actually say I wouldn’t be shocked if they start 0-7. With that being said, Darnold and Adam Gase have to be ready to prove themselves right away. There are winnable games during that stretch and it will be on the shoulders of Gase. With newly acquired Le’Veon Bell and a few new faces on the defensive side of the ball, this is the most well-rounded Jets team we’ve seen since Mark Sanchez was leading them to back-to-back AFC Championship appearances. I don’t expect Darnold to come anywhere close to that, but posting at least 8-9 wins this season given their schedule, that’ll translate to a huge improvement for me. Perhaps he’ll even post eye popping numbers, (pun fully intended). The progression and development of Sam Darnold is why they brought Gase in, and if he is able to get the most out of his quarterback, the franchise will accomplish what they set out to do in 2019.
Mike Vrabel (Titans)
Vrabel had a respectable rookie season as a Head Coach for the Titans last season, especially considering the carousel at Quarterback. With Mariota and Tannehill as your 1-2, they seem prepared for any injuries that may come to Mariota. Regardless of what happens, Tennessee had one of the best defenses in the NFL last season and first round pick Jeffrey Simmons, when healthy, will be a huge addition to the defensive line. Vrabel’s defense ranked 3rd in the league in points allowed at 18.9 p/g, and 8th in the league at yards allowed p/g, so they’ve already established the defense. With new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, Mariota and Tannehill have both looked solid. Mariota has shown confidence that we haven’t seen from him since his days in Oregon, and Tannehill has fit in perfectly thus far. With Henry looking to build off of his ridiculous end of season performance last year, this seems to be their best chance at making a run. With flaws within their division rivals, this might be their only opportunity to string together wins to out-do Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Houston, and it will be a huge Prove-it year for Coach Vrabel.