NFL coordinator grades: Assessing the hires from across the league during 2023 coaching cycle

In this NFL coaching cycle, there have been six coordinator hirings so far, with several more soon to come.

Aside from head coaches, these are the most important assistants across the 32 organizations, many of whom dictate the offensive, defensive and special teams philosophies their teams will run. In many cases, their schemes can influence the acquisition of personnel in free agency, trades and the NFL draft. And while coordinators can adapt to their new teams and players, we can assess the quality of the new hires based on their track records at previous stops.

One point that needs to be stressed, however, is the sheer lack of diversity in new coordinator hires, an insidious trend that goes as far back as the league has been operational. It is one that keeps coaches of color from being in position to advance. Of the new coordinators hired through Wednesday, not a single one identifies as a person of color.

Kellen Moore has been the Cowboys
Kellen Moore has been the Cowboys' offensive coordinator for the previous three seasons.  

Here's a rundown of all the new coordinator hires and a grade for each.

Ryan Nielsen (Atlanta Falcons)

This fit does make sense to a certain degree. Nielsen's expertise is on the defensive line, where he was an assistant in New Orleans for five seasons before he became co-defensive coordinator last year. In the past four seasons, the Falcons have ranked last (3.74%), last (3.12%), 26th (4.64%) and 29th (5.22%) in sacks per pass attempt. The directive is clear: fix the pass rush.

Since he joined the Saints staff in 2017, New Orleans recorded 282 sacks, second-most in the NFL in that span. Still, Nielsen, 43, is still somewhat of an unknown commodity. This will be the first time he calls plays, and it's safe to assume there will be a learning curve. He's a relatively young coach with tons of potential. This grade may seem low, but if he's as good as his previous bosses made him out to be, he could wind up as one of the better hires of this cycle.

Grade: C+

Jim Schwartz (Cleveland Browns)

This move presents a clear upgrade over Joe Woods, whose teams were often gashed early in games and struggled against the rush. In particular, Cleveland's defensive line should be thrilled, no one more than defensive end Myles Garrett. Schwartz loves putting his most athletic pass rusher out wide to allow his speed to disrupt offenses and stack sacks.

Schwartz has loads of experience and his impact on the Titans the last two seasons was instantly palpable. In 2020, Tennessee ranked last in third-down efficiency (51.87%) and sacks per pass attempt (3.02%) and 28th in total defense (398.3 yards per game). The next season, the Titans ranked sixth in third-down efficiency (36.67%), 13th in sacks per pass attempt (6.85%) and 12th in total defense (329.8).

Grade: B

Kellen Moore (Los Angeles Chargers)

L.A. unquestionably improved from previous offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who often hamstrung star quarterback Justin Herbert with a short passing game. That happened despite Herbert's excellent arm strength and accuracy on strikes down the field and the talent the Chargers had at receiver last season.

In his four seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Cowboys, Moore oversaw the unit reach peak efficiency at times, though Dallas' offenses did occasionally sputter when some key players went down with injuries. Still, Moore relied heavily on play action and rollout passes and - given Herbert's ability to fire passes with velocity while on the move - this should be an excellent pairing for the 24-year-old passer coming off a career low in touchdown passes (25). The speed with which L.A. hired Moore after he became available indicates exactly how valuable the Chargers felt he would be on the open market.

Grade: A

Mike LaFleur (Los Angeles Rams)

As a rookie play caller when he took over the Jets' offense in 2021, LaFleur's stint was uneven and often predictable. The Jets, though, had an erratic quarterback in Zach Wilson, and LaFleur's work with backup-turned-eventual-starter Mike White showed promise of what could've been with more stability at the position. Still, the Jets offense stagnated late in the season, when a playoff berth was still within grasp.

This is a low-risk move for Los Angeles because this is head coach Sean McVay's offense, which - if you go back far enough - is a variation of current 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan's offense. McVay calls the plays and almost certainly won't cede that responsibility to LaFleur. But prior to his arrival in New York, LaFleur had spent seven consecutive seasons serving different offensive roles under Shanahan. This is about getting another like-minded coach in the building to enhance and refine what already works in the offense.

Grade: B-

Bill O'Brien (New England Patriots)

This is a total familiarity play, as O'Brien returns to New England, where he coached five seasons from 2007-11. He started out as an offensive assistant, working his way up to receivers coach (2008) then quarterbacks coach (2009-10) and finally culminating as offensive coordinator in 2011. This time, O'Brien won't have a 22-year-old Rob Gronkowski or Wes Welker or - most importantly - a 34-year-old Tom Brady.

Still, the Patriots were in disarray last season because they lacked identity. That wasn't a surprise, considering the offense was a collaborative effort between Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. Bringing O'Brien back makes sense. New England needs to give stability to quarterback Mac Jones, who will enter his third season and will have worked with four different offensive or co-offensive coordinators in that span. O'Brien won't revolutionize the scheme; he'll rely on foundational philosophies. As for Jones, who basically had to beg to be "coached harder," he shouldn't have that same issue with O'Brien.

Grade: B+

Nathaniel Hackett (New York Jets)

As a rookie head coach, he was a disaster. Still, Hackett has plenty of experience, having served as an offensive coordinator for seven-and-a-half seasons. While he's a favorite of Aaron Rodgers', Russell Wilson's struggles in Denver spell serious concern for whoever is under center in New York.

Hackett's best string with a passing offense was with the Packers. In 2020, Green Bay led the NFL in touchdown-to-interception ratio (48:5), and they ranked ninth and eighth in passing yards in 2020 and 2021, respectively. The issue? Packers coach Matt LaFleur called plays. While in Jacksonville in 2017, the Jaguars led the league in rushing with 140 yards per game, but Hackett has had mixed results since then on the ground. New York lacks stability at quarterback and has a coaching staff that doesn't have a ton of job security; the Jets likely weren't ever going to be a destination for top candidates.

Grade: D+


Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL coaching news: Grading all coordinator hires across league


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