NFL Analysis


22 min read

Ranking Every NFL Offensive Play-Caller Entering 2024 Offseason

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan on the sidleines against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Offensive coordinator is a sort of ambiguous term in the modern NFL. All but one team employs an official offensive coordinator, but the head coach calls the play for about one-third of those teams. That is largely a byproduct of the Shanahan-McVay offensive coaching spreading throughout the league. However, there are also a few unaffiliated head coaches who call the plays for their teams. 

The point is, we're here to rank all 32 NFL offensive play-callers. Some are head coaches, some are offensive coordinators and others still are some mildly ambiguous combination of the two. 

There's a lot that goes into good play-calling, but the core principles for the purpose of this list are flexibility, creativity, call sequencing and the ability to craft specific game plans. 

Every play-caller leans on different skills. Indianapolis Colts coach Shane Steichen is exceptionally flexible and understands how to put together targeted game plans, while Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel wins with creativity and devilish play sequencing. That difference in approach applies to almost any two play-callers on this list.

NFL Offensive Play-Caller Rankings

1. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers

I don't want to hear, "Kyle Shanahan can't win the big one," or whatever. Nobody has put more of a stamp on the NFL offensive meta than Shanahan in the past decade. That's an undeniable fact. 

What's most impressive is Shanahan has changed his stripes through the years. He's adapted to the league and still comes out on top. 

Back in Atlanta and in his early days with the San Francisco 49ers, Shanahan believed exclusively in outside zone runs. All he wanted to do was run outside zone from under center and use play-action off of that. 

More recently, Shanahan has embraced gap runs. He's leaned toward more shotgun and empty formations and expanded his dropback passing game from where it was before. All that change be damned, Shanahan is still managed to be the NFL's best, most consistent play-caller. 

He is the gold standard. Every team wishes their offense was as creative, explosive and difficult to defend as Shanahan's. 

2. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams

The argument for Sean McVay is similar to Shanahan's. Their legacies have been tied together for more than a decade, and there's a good argument McVay is the most influential mind in the modern NFL besides Shanahan. 

McVay, like Shanahan, has morphed through the years as well. 

When McVay first took over with Jared Goff at quarterback, all the Los Angeles Rams offense wanted to do was run weak zone and throw play-action crossers. Then, McVay revamped his run game around 2019-20 to incorporate more gap runs. Shortly after that, McVay shipped off Goff in favor of Matthew Stafford, who helped overhaul the team's dropback passing game. 

In 2023, the offense was some beautiful amalgamation of both worlds. The offense still wants to lean on the run game and use motion as a weapon, but it can also just let Stafford grip it and rip it when necessary. 

McVay so clearly hit a second wind with this version of the Rams in 2023. Hopefully, he will build on that further next season.

3. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs

It's a testament to Andy Reid's patience and long-term vision that this Kansas City Chiefs skill group was able to figure itself out by the end of the season. 

Reid has long been one of the NFL's best coordinators, specifically at getting guys open in space. Reid has always done well to get guys open outside the numbers, whether it's with motion or alignment or abusing certain coverage rules.

Big Red is good for a handful of cheeky designer plays each week as well, including some devilish screen calls. He's a creative, unique mind who continues to innovate each year. 

4. Mike McDaniel, Miami Dolphins

Mike McDaniel is what happens when the Kyle Shanahan offense trades size for speed. 

McDaniel has done an unbelievable job retrofitting the Shanahan offense to the Miami Dolphins' personnel. Above all, McDaniel has uniquely weaponized the Dolphins' speed. So many of the shifts and motions within the offense are sort of unique to the Dolphins, specifically Tyreek Hill.

McDaniel also uses Hill and Jaylen Waddle's speed to force defenses to concede space over the middle, where Tua Tagovailoa does his best work. 

The only downside with McDaniel is his offenses lose steam later in the season. I'm more willing to blame that on the quarterback and offensive line than anything else, but it is something McDaniel needs to address as he builds his play-calling resume.

5. Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers

Matt LaFleur checks every box. Adaptability, one-off game plans, cohesive structure, the ability to adjust on the fly — everything you want from a play-caller LaFleur has it. 

The Aaron Rodgers era was a testament to LaFleur's flexibility and game plan-specific strengths. He bent his Shanahan-esque offense to Rodgers' will, incorporating more shotgun and quick game passing and freedom at the line of scrimmage than those offenses typically believe in. That era also got some pretty sweet individual game plans, like the Aaron Jones game vs. the Arizona Cardinals. 

With Jordan Love, we saw more of LaFleur's sequencing and overall structure pay off. Not only did the offense make sense in terms of how it was sequenced, but LaFleur had such a clear vision for how this young unit would come together during the year.

It was rough at first, but LaFleur never wavered. He trusted his system and coaching would sort it all out in the end, and he was right. 

Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton
Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton during a game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on Dec. 3, 2023. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

6. Sean Payton, Denver Broncos

I am choosing to favor Sean Payton's two decades of innovative, effective play-calling in New Orleans rather than one shaky year with the Denver Broncos

Even then, the Broncos' offense wasn't all that bad last season. Payton did well to work around Russell Wilson's limitations, investing heavily in the run game and shot plays. Payton limited the scope of Wilson's game quite well, and Wilson looked better than he did in 2022 as a result. 

There's so much untapped potential with Payton in Denver, though. He always did his best work with quarterbacks who could attack the entire field, which Wilson can not manage at this stage in his career.

7. Kevin O'Connell, Minnesota Vikings

Kevin O'Connell came to the Minnesota Vikings as a Sean McVay disciple. Run the ball, use tight formations, throw on play-action — you know all the tenets at this point. 

Well, the Vikings' interior offensive line situation never let O'Connell be what he wants to the degree he wants to be. Running the ball and staying ahead of the sticks is hard with a line that can't get movement. 

Yet, O'Connell found ways to make this offense hum. Every player in the passing offense is used to perfection. Even the way O'Connell makes KJ Osborn useful as a blocker and underneath shallow runner is impressive. 

O'Connell is a pretty good game and clock manager as well. That's a little more ambiguous when it comes to splitting his head coach duties from his play-calling duties, but still.

8. Shane Steichen, Indianapolis Colts

In a world of sequential play-callers flooding out of the Shanahan/McVay coaching trees, Shane Steichen is a simpler man than that. Steichen's offense is less about forcing the defense to play its game and more about counterpunching it to death. 

In other words, Steichen will pick at a weakness until the defense concedes. Maybe it's the inside run game, maybe it's RPOs, maybe it's mesh concepts — whatever it is, Steichen will find whatever a defense is giving up philosophically and attack it. The moment the defense shifts to shore up that weakness, Steichien pivots to the next thing. 

That kind of mind controlling the offense with a quarterback as talented as Anthony Richardson behind center is a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski
Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski watches play against the Houston Texans in a 2024 AFC Wild-Card game at NRG Stadium on Jan. 13, 2024. (Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

9. Kevin Stefanski / Ken Dorsey, Cleveland Browns

Kevin Stefanski's quarterbacks in 2023 were Joe Flacco, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, P.J. Walker and the worst version of Deshaun Watson. The offense was obviously inefficient. 

When you watch the film it's hard not to be impressed by Stefanski. He so perfectly crafted the offense to each quarterback’s needs.

For Watson, it was a lot of screens, play-action and shotgun formations. Thompson-Robinson got more RPOs and a simple quick game. Walker got more vertical shots. Flacco, somehow the best of the bunch, got a ton of pure dropback passes and more volume than the other three. 

None of that even touches on Stefanski's run game, which is the best part of his call sheet. He is well-versed in zone and gap runs and can adapt his scheme to whichever is best at the moment. 

The Cleveland Browns may not have been a productive offense last season, but Stefanki is a really impressive coach. He's doing his part over there.

10. Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions

Ben Johnson has cracked the code in Detroit. 

Thanks to a hulking offensive line, the Detroit Lions have the most interesting run game in the league. They run every concept under the sun and typically pick out the right spots to call each one. Some games are for Jahmyrr Gibbs, others are for David Montgomery, and Johnson always knows which to lean on. 

Johnson is also getting the most out of Goff. Under Johnson's tutelage, Goff has become more confident in the pocket and an overall more effective dropback passer. 

Johnson is still learning how to adjust mid-game and find answers on the fly, but you saw glimpses of his ability to do that later in the season. Perhaps one more year of experience can get him into a better spot.

11. Todd Monken, Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens' offense didn't always look perfect in 2023. Injuries along the offensive line and a receiver room without a real ball-winner, especially once TE Mark Andrews went down, certainly presented its issues. 

Todd Monken always found a way to adapt to the team at hand, though. The Ravens could be an 11-personnel shotgun passing team one week, then a heavy-personnel downhill run the team the next. They could even flip that switch drive to drive, just like they did to Detroit or San Francisco. 

Hopefully, another year of tightening the screws in this system, as well as adding more talent, can kick this thing into hyperdrive.

Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Drew Petzing
Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing during training camp at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on July 31, 2023. (Arizona Republic)

12. Drew Petzing, Arizona Cardinals

Drew Petzing gets it. It didn't matter that Josh Dobbs started half the season, or that the interior offensive line was no good, or that the wide receiving corps was built out of Smurfs. Petzing found ways to make the Arizona Cardinals' offense competitive and productive. 

By and large, Petzing found the right ways to attack his opponents. The Ravens game midway through the season comes to mind. Petzing attacked the Ravens over and over again on the ground, relying on gap concepts and a quarterback run game.

It was the perfect way to attack a Baltimore defense that prefers to be in two-high shells and has a pair of linebackers who don't exactly love taking on blocks. 

More than that, many of Arizona's players were the best versions of themselves. Dobbs was functional, Kyler Murray looked good coming off injury and Trey McBride took a huge step forward in the second half of the year. Rookies Paris Johnson and Michael Wilson looked good in their first year, too. 

Expect the Cardinals offense to take off when it gets more players. 

13. Dave Canales / Brad Idzik, Carolina Panthers

There's a lot of projection with this pick. Dave Canales only has a year of play-calling under his belt. Brad Idzik has none. 

Canales was good in his lone year as a play-caller with the Buccaneers last season, though. QB Baker Mayfield had a career year under Canales. For the first time in Mayfield's career, his offensive play-caller embraced full-bodied dropback concepts and let Mayfield rip it. The approach was largely successful, insofar as a Mayfield revival project can be. 

I have some worries about Canales' run game, but it was so hard for him to show any of that off with Tampa Bay's interior offensive line last season. 

14. Arthur Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers

A majority of Arthur Smith's play-calling history is impressive. His work with the Tennessee Titans was impressive enough to convince the Atlanta Falcons to hire him as head coach in 2021. In Atlanta, Smith got everything out of a decaying Matt Ryan and somehow steered Marcus Mariota to a top-10 offense in 2022. 

Things fell apart in 2023, of course, but I'm willing to blame that on Smith being in over his head as a head coach, not being a poor play-caller in a vacuum. 

Now that Smith just has to handle the offense, expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to quickly have one of the best run games in the league and a lethal play-action attack off of it. 

Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik
Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik on the sideline during the game against the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium on Dec. 31, 2023. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

15. Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans

Bobby Slowik is a bright, young, offensive mind. There's no doubt about it. 

In his first year as a play-caller, Slowik was largely impressive. He enabled C.J. Stroud to be an aggressive downfield passer, regularly abusing play-action to open up windows over the middle of the field for the Houston Texans. Slowik looked like someone well-versed in the Shanahan system. 

However, Slowik's youth and inexperience showed at times. Too often he was insistent on hammering away on the ground with nothing to show for it. 

Moreover, Slowik sometimes struggled to come up with answers when thrown out of his rhythm. The playoff game against the Ravens was a fantastic example of that. Slowik continued to spam futile inside runs and attempt trick plays to get things going. He had no real substance to turn to in a moment of need. 

Slowik will learn, though. He's a sharp play-caller. 

16. Brian Daboll / Mike Kafka, New York Giants

Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka probably deserve to be higher on this list, I know. Daboll got Josh Allen rolling in Buffalo and got the most out of Daniel Jones in 2022. The way Daboll and Kafka crafted the New York Giants offense around Jones' strengths — quarterback run game and quick passing — were phenomenal. 

Unfortunately, all of that fell away in 2023. The offense added talent, but somehow got worse along the offensive line, which cratered the whole thing. 

At their best, Daboll and Kafka are probably top-10. I just want to see it again after how disastrous last season was.

17. Doug Pederson / Press Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars

Depending on who you want to give the credit to, "Jacksonville Jaguars play-caller" could be higher or lower on this list. 

When Doug Pederson led the offense in 2022, the Jaguars looked good. They got off to a slow start, as was expected coming off the Urban Meyer era, but they rounded into form during the last two months. Their short-to-intermediate passing game was as good as anyone's. 

With Press Taylor calling the offense in 2023, the unit looked disjointed. In fairness to Taylor, the offensive line took a step back, which affected the pass protection and the team's ability to run the ball. Taylor never found any answers to work around that, though. 

Who knows what we'll get from Pederson and Taylor in 2024? Could be good or bad. 

Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy
Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy before the 2024 NFC Wild-Card game against the Green Bay Packers at AT&T Stadium on Jan. 14, 2023. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

18. Mike McCarthy / Brian Schottenheimer, Dallas Cowboys

It's hard to separate the coach from the quarterback in this scenario. So much of what makes the Dallas Cowboys offense go is Dak Prescott's careful pre-snap control. Setting protections, anticipating hot answers and checking out of certain looks — the foundation of the Cowboys offense is always having an answer. 

McCarthy and his crew deserve some credit for equipping Prescott with those answers. I'm more inclined to give the quarterback the praise there, though, considering so few quarterbacks handle what Prescott does.

19. Kellen Moore, Philadelphia Eagles

Kellen Moore is solid. Nothing more, nothing less. 

Moore has a great understanding of variety and fundamentals. Moore calls a lot of staple West Coast concepts, especially in the short to intermediate game. We've also seen pretty expansive run games from Moore in the past, specifically with the Cowboys. 

Moore's passing game can feel too static, though. Too many stop routes and sharp breaks rather than getting guys on the move and allowing for routes that work freely in space. 

Moore probably isn't the wunderkind play-caller he was expected to be three years ago, but he's not a bust either. He's a perfectly adequate coordinator.

20. Shane Waldron, Chicago Bears

There's stuff to like with Shane Waldron. 

When he's on, Waldron calls a beautiful dropback passing game. Some of the magic Geno Smith and Waldron put together in the intermediate passing game the past two seasons was delightful to watch. Waldron also shows flashes of flair and creativity, such as his passionate use of 13 personnel or his early adoption of the yo-yo/bumper running back motion that took over the league during the last two months of the season. 

At the same time, Waldron's sequencing can get out of sorts every now and again, and his run game has never found its stride. Granted, it's not like the Seahawks' offensive line did him any favors there, but still. 

Waldron is overall a good play-caller. Not the best, but he does more to help than to hurt.

>> READ MORE: What Waldron's Hiring Means for Fields

Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Greg Roman
Greg Roman during AFC Pro Bowl practice in 2020. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

21. Greg Roman, Los Angeles Chargers

It feels like the Greg Roman discourse has swung too far the other way. 

Yes, it was probably time for a change in Baltimore. Roman helped Lamar Jackson to an MVP in 2019, but the offense, in part because of shaky wide receiver play, struggled to hit those highs again.

Roman is largely a successful coach, though. He led a new-age offense with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco. He followed that up with a sweet little stint with the Buffalo Bills, turning Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins into a force to be reckoned with. 

Maybe Roman isn't the shiny young coordinator everyone wants nowadays, but he has a history of producing quality offense. He'll probably do so again with the Los Angeles Chargers.

22. Brian Callahan / Nick Holz, Tennessee Titans

Brian Callahan's resume is not very expansive. Neither is Nick Holz's. There's a lot of projection going on with this duo.

At the same time, there is reason to have faith. Callahan recently served as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator under Zac Taylor. During the past few years, the Bengals showed success with a handful of different styles, ranging from the bombs-away glory of 2021 to the slower, more run-game-focused approach in 2022.

Even in 2023, the Bengals showed more under-center looks, especially with Jake Browning in for Joe Burrow. That ability to adapt is key. Hopefully, Callahan can tap into that again with the Tennessee Titans.

23. Joe Brady, Buffalo Bills

There was this idea that the Buffalo Bills offense got better when Joe Brady took over last season. I don't think that was true. Josh Allen stopped throwing brutal interceptions, which helped boost the perception of the offense, but the offense wasn't any more productive or efficient. If anything, the run game was less coherent.

For now, Joe Brady does well piecing together a passing offense and using space as a weapon. He does well to spread teams out and attack with RPOs where it makes sense. It doesn't feel like Brady has a firm grasp on the art of play-calling, though. 

Maybe a full offseason to install his stuff in Buffalo can change that.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Liam Coen
Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Caesars Superdome on Nov. 20, 2022. (Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports)

24. Liam Coen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Liam Coen is the unproven coordinator I am most excited to see in action. 

Coen started getting buzz in 2020 after a few seasons with the Rams. Then, Coen went to the college ranks in 2021. At Kentucky, he called an exceptional pro-style offense commandeered by future second-round pick Will Levis. The following year, Coen returned to the Rams and bounced back to Kentucky again in 2023. Weird cycle, I know. 

Coen has yet to be the primary play-caller in the pros, but his work at Kentucky, especially in 2021, was terrific. Though low on this list purely based on lack of experience, Coen has a shot to be an awesome offensive coordinator.

25. Ryan Grubb, Seattle Seahawks

Ryan Grubb is lower on this list purely based on a lack of NFL experience. It's just hard to know how a coach is going to transition to the NFL when they have never been in the NFL before, let alone been an NFL play-caller. 

That said, Grubb's offense with the Washington Huskies was one that anyone could admire. He embraced deep dropback concepts with five receivers out in the concept — real gunslinger stuff. There's no way Grubb gets away with five-man protections in the NFL like he did at Washington, but the aggressive dropback mentality is a good baseline. 

Moreover, that philosophy makes sense with Geno Smith. Smith is a big-game hunter in the pocket, which fits Grubb's offense exceptionally well.

26. Kliff Kingsbury, Washington Commanders

Designing plays is not Kliff Kingsbury's problem. The man knows how to get numbers in the run game or scheme open a deep crosser with the best of 'em. Kingsbury's got every variation of every quick game concept on a Rolodex. 

The problem has always been sequencing and tying the offense together. The best play-callers in the league either have rhythm or infallible if-then decision-making. For instance, McVay is the former, and Steichen is the latter. 

Kingsbury, based on his days with the Cardinals, is neither. He understands how to beat coverages and run looks in a vacuum, but not how to paint a clear, cohesive picture with his play calls. That's good enough to get by, but not enough to seriously scare defenses.

Las Vegas Raiders offensive coordinator Luke Getsy
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy talks with the media during training camp in 2022. (Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports)

27. Luke Getsy, Las Vegas Raiders

Luke Getsy spent the last two seasons calling plays for the Chicago Bears with Justin Fields as his quarterback. Fields is a sort of complicating factor in Getsy's evaluation. 

On one hand, Fields' athleticism and creativity helped mask how stale the offense was at times. On the other hand, Fields' limitations — namely quick-game passing and anticipation over the middle of the field — severely limited Getsy's playbook. It's hard to know exactly who holds what portion of the blame for the Bears offense never quite figuring itself out. 

Regardless, Getsy was not an abject disaster in Chicago and deserves another chance to prove himself.

28. Zac Robinson, Atlanta Falcons

Zac Robinson, briefly a pro quarterback himself, has spent the past five seasons under McVay in Los Angeles. Robinson got his first coaching job as an assistant quarterbacks coach with the Rams in 2019 and stuck with them through the 2023 season, slowly climbing up the ladder. 

It's hard to feel fantastic about any of these unproven OC candidates with so little to draw from, but I will say that I blindly trust anyone under McVay's tutelage.

29. Alex Van Pelt, New England Patriots

It's been a long time since Alex Van Pelt has been the clear steering force for an offense. Van Pelt's only two stints as an offensive coordinator were with the Buffalo Bills in 2009 and with the Cleveland Browns in 2020-23. 

With the Browns, however, it's not like Van Pelt was the primary voice. That was Stefanski, who ranks quite high on this list. That's not to say Van Pelt contributed nothing in Cleveland, of course, but it can be hard to separate head coach from offensive coordinator in these instances, and Van Pelt doesn't have many other things on his resume to pull from. 

That said, anyone who got along with and learned from Stefanski for that long has a good shot at churning out good offense.

New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) talks with quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Empower Field at Mile High on Jan. 8, 2023. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

30. Klint Kubiak, New Orleans Saints

The son of former head coach Gary Kubiak, Klint Kubiak bounced around for a decade between Denver and Minnesota before spending the 2023 season as the passing game coordinator under Shanahan in San Francisco. 

Kubiak's lone year of play-calling experience was with the Vikings in 2021. The Vikings finished 13th in offensive DVOA that year, thanks largely to their top-10 passing offense.

That said, nothing about Kubiak's offense felt particularly strong or inventive, and the offense was immediately more interesting when O'Connell took over the following year.

31. Nathaniel Hackett, New York Jets

Nathaniel Hackett is technically the offensive coordinator, but no quarterback in the league has as many of their fingers on the offense as Aaron Rodgers.

The "system" in New York is whatever Rodgers wants it to be, which is probably going to be a lot of shotgun formations, quick-game concepts and packaged plays to give Rodgers some command pre-snap.

32. Dan Pitcher, Cincinnati Bengals

Dan Pitcher's resume to this point is short and only with the Cincinnati Bengals. Pitcher has been with the Bengals since 2016, serving as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach over that span.

The only other stop on Pitcher's resume is as the wide receivers coach for SUNY Cortland, a Division III school, in 2012.