Recapping Impactful 2024 NFL Defensive Coordinator Changes

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Using his experience as a former scout and staff member at Central Florida under Josh Heupel, Jordan Vanek takes an in-depth look at how a few defensive coordinator changes during this NFL offseason could have an effect on the fantasy football landscape. Formerly of The 33rd Team and 4for4 Fantasy Football, Jordan will be bringing his football expertise to RotoGrinders this upcoming season, offering a weekly article for NFL Premium subscribers.

Each NFL offseason brings a lot of changes as teams adjust their schemes through promotions, firings, and shifts in player rosters. Keeping tabs on these changes can give you an edge in any fantasy football format. Here’s a rundown of two of the most significant philosophy changes across the league and my take on how they might shape the 2024 season.

In this piece, I’ll talk about different ways that teams set up their defense, focusing on man/zone coverages and single-high/two-high setups.

In man coverage, each defender sticks close to a specific opponent. Man coverage isn’t played at a significant rate anymore because of the evolution of NFL offenses and the increase of talent at WR.

Zone coverage is different; here, defenders are responsible for an area, covering anyone who enters that space and carrying them throughout the zone. It eventually becomes man coverage for certain situations, but how you play those assignments changes throughout the game.

Single-high coverage uses one safety deep in the middle of the field, similar to a center fielder in baseball, to help cover large areas. Two-high coverages have two players back deep, which splits the field into halves (or quarters, in some situations).

Green Bay Packers: A New Defensive Era Under Jeff Hafley

As the Green Bay Packers welcome new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, expectations are for a shift in defensive philosophy. My research on Hafley begins, as it always does, by delving into his coaching history and mentors. A notable mentor of Hafley is Greg Schiano; Hafley mirrors Schiano’s penchant for an aggressive, attack-first defensive style aimed at pressuring quarterbacks. Hafley comes over from Boston College, and in the graphic below, you can see their high usage of man coverage (~40%) compared to the rest of the ACC.

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This approach contrasts with the strategy of former DC Joe Barry, whose focus was more on preventing the big play and making teams march the field against them. Packers fans have long awaited a more assertive defensive strategy, and Hafley seems poised to deliver just that.

With Hafley at the helm, I anticipate a few key changes for the Packers’ defense:

In a move to help their defense, the Packers utilized their draft picks, selecting safety Javon Bullard from Georgia along with linebackers Edgerrin Cooper from Texas A&M and Ty’Ron Harper from Missouri, in the early rounds. Further strengthening that side of the ball, they signed safety Xavier McKinney to a substantial four-year, $67 million deal during free agency. These pivotal additions are primed to execute Hafley’s aggressive scheme effectively.

The scheme comes down to how good your corners are on islands and how disruptive of a front seven you have. The Browns ran this style of defense to perfection last season, while two years ago, the Dolphins could not run this style against the good teams.

So how can we use this to our advantage in DFS? Obviously, salaries and projected ownership will ultimately have to be layered in to these opinions, but I will still be looking to pick my spots early in the season before the field is able to fully catch on to some of Green Bay’s new tendencies.

For example, in Week 1, the Packers and Eagles will square off in Sao Paulo, Brazil for a standalone game on Friday, September 6th. I will be looking to go underweight the field on Saquon Barkley and go heavy on the Eagles’ passing game. I believe in the change of OC to Kellen Moore and the talent of AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith to put up numbers against these cornerbacks.

Another fun spot to look at will be Week 2 against the Colts. If Jonathan Taylor happens to become a popular option at running back, we could pivot to Colts passing game stack with Anthony Richardson two of Michael Pittman, Josh Downs, and AD Mitchell.

Philadelphia Eagles: Vic Fangio Returns Home

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Last season, the Eagles’ coordinators struggled, and it showed as the season went on. Teams figured out how to exploit the Eagles’ weaknesses, especially against an aging and injured defense. This season, things are looking up for the Eagles’ defense. They’ve added a lot of talent in the defensive-back room. C.J. Gardner-Johnson is back, and they’ve brought in Bryce Huff and Devin White. They also picked up promising early-round talents like Quinyon Mitchell, Cooper DeJean, and Jalyx Hunt. These changes, and the addition of a Vic Fangio scheme, will drastically turn around this defense.

Since 2011, a defense led by Fangio has only fallen outside the top 15 in points allowed per game once, which is a stark contrast to the Eagles’ 30th-place finish last season. Fangio’s defensive strategy focuses on shutting down the passing game, a strength evident throughout his coaching career. From 2017 to 2021, his teams consistently ranked in the top 10 for the fewest passing touchdowns allowed and were among the top 10 in yards allowed for three of those five seasons. Fangio prefers to keep a lighter box, chooses very specific situations for blitzing, and aims to make the most of his talented cornerback group.

Quinyon Mitchell (from Toledo) is set to make an immediate impact. Having seen him firsthand during Senior Bowl week, I can attest to his fluidity and natural instincts—qualities that make him one of the most promising cornerbacks emerging from college. I expect him to be a starter right away and significantly boost his team’s performance. Cooper DeJean, on the other hand, presents an intriguing prospect for Fangio’s scheme. I believe he’ll be utilized in a hybrid role, combining in-the-box safety with slot cornerback duties, similar to Brian Branch’s role with the Detroit Lions. DeJean’s versatility will likely make him a key player in Fangio’s defensive scheme.

The lighter box that Fangio prefers can make a defense more vulnerable to the run, and there are significant concerns about how this defensive line will manage run containment. Jordan Davis, despite his immense talent, has exhibited tendencies that limit his time on the field. Additionally, the departure of Fletcher Cox is a considerable loss. There are many uncertainties surrounding how the linebackers will perform, raising questions about the overall effectiveness of the run defense this season. Fangio had some of the best run-stopping defensive linemen in Miami last season, but for the most part, he has coached a bottom-tier run defense throughout his career.

Looking ahead to their early-season schedule for DFS purposes, I will want to target good offensive lines and running games against this Philadelphia defense to start the year. I have my eye on Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons, specifically, because I could see that being a huge day for Bijan Robinson.

Image Credit: Getty Images

About the Author

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Jordan Vanek (vanekjordan)

Jordan Vanek has been playing DFS since 2016. He attended the University of Central Florida, where he joined the football staff as a player personnel intern and participated in the recruitment of Dillon Gabriel and Ryan O’Keefe. Formerly of The 33rd Team and 4for4 Fantasy Football, Jordan joined the RotoGrinders team in 2024 and will be providing College Football and NFL DFS content for Premium subscribers. Follow Jordan on Twitter – @JordanVanekDFS