DC Raiders Patrick Graham, 43: Not a lot has gone right this season with the Raiders, who are going 2-7 under new head coach Josh McDaniels. But it can’t be forgotten that Graham had a second interview for the Vikings’ head coaching job a year earlier and the Gates had tried to interview him the year before as well. Graham, a former Yale defensive lineman, is now in his 21st year of coaching, having spent the last 14 years in the NFL (including winning Super Bowl XLIX with the 2014 Patriots). He is enthusiastic, has high expectations and holds players accountable.
Ravens STC Chris Horton, 37: A seventh-round pick by Washington who played three seasons in the NFL as a safety, Horton joined the Ravens as a trainee coach in 2014, was promoted to assistant special teams coach the following year and succeeded Jerry Rosberg at his current position in 2019. Presence and confidence John Harbaugh, former Special Teams Coordinator. Crows finished 1 on the Rick Gosselin special teams rankings in 2021And not just because of all the world kicker Justin Tucker. Harbaugh gave Horton ownership of the operation and Horton ran with it, coaching players from both sides of the ball into one of the NFL’s best enduring units.
Lions O.C. Ben Johnson, 36: Those who have worked with Johnson say he has one of the smartest minds in the NFL. (How many guys make it onto the football team as a quarterback while earning degrees in math and computer science, as Johnson did at North Carolina State?) So it’s no surprise that the Lions offense found life in the middle of the 2021 season when Johnson and the president were Coach Dan Campbell—who spent four years with Johnson on the Dolphins’ staff—took the reins. Johnson has previously coached quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends, and has a good sense of the whole picture. Is he ready to run his own show after one year with a coordinating title? This is not known. But his reputation would cause him to enter the room sooner rather than later.
Giants OC Mike Kafka, 35: The Giants were one of the NFL’s best upsets under new head coach (W alum from this list) Brian Daboll, thanks in part to Kafka’s work as a caller on a team that lacked horsepower at receiver. A fourth-round pick by Andy Reid’s Eagles in 2010 who bounced around the NFL as a quarterback for parts of six seasons, Kafka possesses innate leadership traits and earned a solid reputation as a teacher QB after reuniting with Reid at Kansas City as a quality control coach in 2017. Last season, Kafka was the QB coach/passing play coordinator for the Chiefs, who had one of the best passing offenses in the NFL. This season, he’s the OC for the Giants team that boasts the biggest rusher in the league I will be Barkley. Kafka knows how to execute both sides of an offense at a high level, which makes him interesting for teams that need not just a head coach but a plan to fix an offense.
Jets OC Mike LaFleur, 35: He’s probably a bit too close to the younger brother of Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who is still developing as a talker and leader. But if the Jets continue to win with such a young core, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mike LaFleur get an interview request or two. He’s classy and from the same Shanahan/McVay tree of offense that has produced so many other successful coaches. In 2021, the Jets played four different QBs during one five-game span as they ranked first in the NFL in yards per game; This season, the Jets are 5-1 since Zack Wilson He came back from injury despite all sorts of offensive line ailments and the loss of a breakthrough rookie RB Bryce Hall. This adaptability will serve Lafleur well whenever he gets the chance.
Buccaneers OC Byron Leftwich, 42: Leftwich had a long look as a coach candidate last year, interviewing the Jaguars and Bears and receiving an application from the Saints. The NFL quarterback for 10 years was a backup in Pittsburgh under then-offensive coordinator Bruce Arrian, who hired Leftwich as Arizona’s QB coach in 2017 and brought him to Tampa two years later to serve as the OC. The Bucs offense hasn’t been as prolific this season, but we shouldn’t forget how dangerous the offense has been in Leftwich’s first three seasons, which included Tampa reaching one Super Bowl LV win Tom Brady came aboard.
Patriots ILB coach Jerrod Mayo (36 years old): Still only in his fourth year of coaching, Mayo has interviewed for the Eagles (in 2021) and Broncos (in 2022). Before going into coaching, Mayo played eight seasons with Bill Belichick in New England, managing defense and passing signals for most of that time, including as a starter to seasoned the likes of Mike Vrabel, Teddy Bruschi, and Vince Wilfork. He now serves as the de facto coordinator of a Patriots defense that has played well again this season, and ranks among the league leaders in sacks and tackles. Mayo’s proportions and makeup are intriguing.
Cowboys OC Kellen Moore, 34: A six-year NFL backup, Moore, who went straight into coaching as Dallas’ QB coach in 2018, is highly regarded for his football intelligence and creativity. And he’s been busy this past January, interviewing the Jaguars, Broncos, Dolphins, and Vikings for their head coaching jobs. (The Eagles had interviewed Moore the previous year as well.) Like many really young coaches, Moore has a lot to learn in terms of the whole picture of running the program. He will need to have a good plan for his staff and to surround himself with experienced people. But the tools are there.
49ers DC DeMeco Ryans, 38: The Vikings were so impressed with Ryans after his initial interview this past January that they asked for a second transfer. Ryans responded by doing something that almost never happened: He declined, telling the team he felt he needed more time to develop. This speaks to the mentality and maturity of Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowler in his 10 seasons as an NFL quarterback and now in his sixth year as a 49ers assistant and second as defensive coordinator. Despite the string of injuries, the Ryans unit appears week in and week out, playing fast and physically. He takes pride in influencing players on and off the field. His leadership traits outweigh his relative inexperience, and this could be Ryan’s year—if he decides he’s ready.
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