Ranking the NFL’s 11 freshman head coaches: Giants’ Brian Daboll and Jaguars’ Doug Pederson are the big winners

Ranking the NFL’s 11 freshman head coaches: Giants’ Brian Daboll and Jaguars’ Doug Pederson are the big winners

Ranking the NFL’s 11 freshman head coaches: Giants’ Brian Daboll and Jaguars’ Doug Pederson are the big winners

The 2022 NFL season is officially on the books, at least for non-playoff teams. The 2023 head coaching cycle is also underway, with the Texans firing Lovie Smith on Sunday to kick off a fresh search for a new leader. That said, how did this season’s freshman head coaches fare? A whopping five of them are still on the sidelines, ready for playoff action. But with the regular season on the books, we’ve had enough time to assess most of their early years on the job.

Here’s how we’d rate each of them, including rookie coaches and veterans making a fresh start in 2022:

rookies

Brian Daboll

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Brian Daboll (Giants)

Save: 9-7-1

Regardless of what happens in the first round of the playoffs, New York was never supposed to be in the playoffs this year. It’s a testament to Daboll’s seamless takeover that the Giants’ biggest concerns — O-line and cornerback depth, consistent down passes — are mostly personnel issues stemming from a tight salary cap. The former Bills coordinator rejuvenated Saquon Barkley, transformed Daniel Jones into a highly effective decision-maker and rebuilt the culture smartly and physically.

Class: A-

Kevin O’Connell (Vikings)

Save: 13-4

By the nature of their improbable point differential and the fact that their few losses were heaps of sinkers, it’s hard to assess whether O’Connell actually made the Vikings a contender for the title. But even if Minnesota does move forward in the playoffs, what’s undeniable is the positive voice O’Connell brought to a locker room that had deteriorated under the previous old-school regime. For the first time in a long time, this team has proven to be both resilient in difficult times and unafraid to embrace the aerial attack.

Class: B+

Mike McDaniel (Dolphins)

His spoken vision and transparency are second to none, and he deserves a ton of credit for how he unlocked quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — both physically and mentally — to start the year. But since Tua’s timing was disrupted by superior defenses, and the QB was subsequently lost to multiple concussions, McDaniel has struggled to generate much of any offensive pace; his club averaged just 19 points per game during a 1–5 streak to close the season. Finding a sustainable QB game will be key to his future.

Class: C+

Matt Eberflus (Bear)

Much of his debut, fair or not, was going to be about Justin Fields and the QB’s painfully obvious lack of help — an issue stemming more from GM Ryan Poles’ focus on a potential spending spree in 2023. And yet, it’s very possible, if not likely, that Eberflus would have gone winless had the QB not single-handedly emerged as a Lamar Jackson-esque ball carrier, even if the coach repeatedly reinserted the signalman under center as he fought off injuries.

Class: D+

Veterans

Doug Pederson

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Doug Pederson (Jaguar)

Save: 9-8

The Jaguars have won 10 games combined from 2019-2021 under Doug Marrone, Urban Meyer and Darrell Bevell. They are one playoff win away from tying that total in Pederson’s first year on the job. Like Daboll at his former NFC East stomping ground, the former Eagles coach has brought genuine combat and conviction to a roster in transition. Even better, it has QB Trevor Lawrence on the rise after the former No. 1 pick endured a lost rookie season. The AFC South could well be his for the foreseeable future.

Class: A-

Dennis Allen (Saints)

Save: 7-10

Allen compounded the front office’s curious off-season winning bets with conservative leanings, and his offense never emerged as a consistent threat. But what does that have to do with Andy Dalton/Jameis Winston and an aging, injury-prone supporting cast headlining its lineup? His signature defense was a bonafide force on the stretch, limiting opponents to an average of 13 points per game starting on Thanksgiving. But this is not necessarily the best recipe for success in 2023.

Class: VS-

Todd Bowles (buccaneers)

Save: 8-9

On the one hand, Bowles battled an injury-plagued front and occasional, unusual listlessness from Tom Brady to get Tampa Bay back in the playoffs. On the other, he and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich often seemed to handicap Brady and an elite receiving duo with predictable and careful reasoning. Were it not for the collective woes of the NFC South, he could be looking at a one-time run as Bruce Arians’ successor. Perhaps his “D” can force an early playoff upset as redemption.

Class: D+

Josh McDaniels (Raiders)

Save: 6-11

Like Allen in New Orleans and Bowles in Tampa Bay, the former Patriots coordinator was always going to struggle to get the offense off the ground without reinforcements in the trenches. But courage and strategy are legitimate concerns thanks to Las Vegas’ inability to stash away significant leads in a 2-7 start. And while Derek Carr is likely ripe for a breakup anyway, his inability to squeeze even the QB’s career-average output before airing Carr’s exit isn’t too encouraging.

Class: D+

Interims

Steve Wilk

USATSI

Steve Wilks (Panthers)

Save: 6-6

Wilks has always been a battle-tested defensive spirit, but in addition to guarding Carolina’s fiery forward, he’s gotten a lot more energy and efficiency from the QB position than expected, even factoring in Week 18. failed by Sam Darnold. While Matt Rhule needed 18 games to reach six wins, he only needed 12. At the very least, he made his point as the men’s leader.

Class: A-

Jerry Rosburg (Broncos)

“Incomplete” is the most accurate rating for Rosburg, the Ravens’ longtime special teams coordinator who got just two games as a replacement for Nathaniel Hackett. But those two games were encouraging: Russell Wilson appeared closest to him as he had all year, playing looser under center, and Denver not only upset the Chargers, but almost did the same with the Chiefs.

Class: B+

Jeff Saturday (Colts)

He’s been the laughing stock of interim hires since arriving from the broadcast booth, but it’s more about Colts owner Jim Irsay who put the former Pro Bowl lineman in an impossible position, replacing Frank Reich. by a battered O line and a revolving door to QB. Yet as beloved as he is in the locker room, it’s hard to justify some of his greatest moments, like turning to Nick Foles behind a faltering front or overseeing the biggest blown lead in NFL history against the Vikings.

Class: D+

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