Ejiro Evero, Ben Johnson and DeMeco Ryans among young NFL coaches to watch

Ejiro Evero, Ben Johnson and DeMeco Ryans among young NFL coaches to watch

DC Raiders Patrick Graham, 43: Not much has gone right this season for the Raiders, who are 2-7 under new coach Josh McDaniels. But let’s not forget that Graham got a second interview for the Vikings head coaching job a year ago and the Jets tried to interview him the year before as well. A former Yale defensive lineman, Graham is now in his 21st year of coaching, the last 14 having been spent in the NFL (including a Super Bowl XLIX win with the 2014 Patriots). He is passionate, has high expectations and holds the players accountable.

STC Ravens 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 special teams assistant coach the following year and succeeded Jerry Rosburg. in his current role in 2019. Horton has a presence and the confidence of John Harbaugh, himself a former special teams coordinator. The Ravens finished No. 1 in Rick Gosselin’s 2021 special teams standings, and not just because of world kicker Justin Tucker. Harbaugh gave Horton ownership of the operation and Horton ran with it, training players on both sides of the ball in what is still one of the NFL’s best units.

Lions OC Ben Johnson, 36: Those who have worked with Johnson say he has one of the sharpest minds in the NFL. (How many guys get on the football team as a quarterback while earning degrees in math and computer science, like Johnson did in North Carolina?) So it’s no surprise that the The Lions offense found life midway through the 2021 season when Johnson and head coach Dan Campbell — who spent four years with Johnson on the Dolphins team — took over. Johnson has coached quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends before, and he’s got a good feel for the big picture. Is he ready to direct his own show after a year with a title of coordinator? It is unknown. But his reputation should get him into the room sooner rather than later.

Giants OC Mike Kafka, 35: The Giants have been one of the best surprises in the NFL under new coach (and alum on this list) Brian Daboll, thanks in part to Kafka’s work as a point guard on a team that lacks receiver power. A fourth-round pick by the Eagles of Andy Reid in 2010 who rebounded in the NFL as a quarterback for six seasons, Kafka possesses innate leadership traits and earned a solid reputation as a QB tutor after finding Reid in Kansas City as quality control. coach in 2017. Last season, Kafka was the QB coach/passing game coordinator for the Chiefs, who had one of the best passing attacks in the NFL; this season, he’s the general manager of a Giants team that boasts the league’s top rusher in Saquon Barkley. Kafka knows how to execute both sides of attack at a high level, which should make him intriguing for teams who need not just a head coach, but a plan to fix an attack.

Jets OC Mike LaFleur, 35: It’s probably a little early for Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s younger brother, who continues to develop as a referee and a leader. But if the Jets keep winning with a very young core, it won’t be a shock to see Mike LaFleur get an interview request or two. He’s likable and from the same Shanahan/McVay offensive tree that has produced many other successful head coaches. In 2021, the Jets played four different QBs during a five-game streak in which they ranked No. 1 in the NFL in yards per game; this season, the Jets are 5-1 since Zach Wilson returned from injury despite all sorts of offensive line ailments and the loss of RB rookie Breece Hall. This adaptability will serve LaFleur well whenever the opportunity arises.

Buccaneers OC Byron Leftwich, 42: Last year, Leftwich was a long-time candidate for head coaching, spoke with the Jaguars and Bears and received a request from the Saints. The 10-year-old NFL quarterback was a backup in Pittsburgh under then-offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who hired Leftwich as a QB coach in Arizona in 2017 and brought him to Tampa two years later for serve as an OC. The Bucs’ offense hasn’t been as prolific this season, but it shouldn’t be forgotten how dangerous the offense was in Leftwich’s first three seasons, which included Tampa’s run to a Super Bowl win. LV once Tom Brady came on board.

Jerod Mayo, 36, ILB Patriots coach: Also in his fourth year of coaching, Mayo had head coaching interviews with the Eagles (in 2021) and Broncos (in 2022). Before becoming a coach, Mayo played eight seasons for Bill Belichick in New England, leading defense and relaying signals for most of that time, including as a rookie to veterans like Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Vince. Wilford. He now serves as the de facto coordinator for a Patriots defense that has played well again this season, ranking among the league leaders in sacks and takeouts. Mayo’s pedigree and makeup are intriguing.

Cowboys OC Kellen Moore, 34: Six-year NFL backup QB who dove straight into coaching as Dallas’ QB coach in 2018, Moore is highly regarded for his football IQ and creativity. And he was busy last January, interviewing the Jaguars, Broncos, Dolphins and Vikings for their head coaching jobs. (The Eagles also interviewed Moore the previous year.) Like many very young coaches, Moore has a lot to learn about running a program as a whole. He would need 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 first interview last January that they asked to fly him in for a second. Ryans responded by doing something that almost never happens: he refused, telling the team he felt he needed more time to develop. It speaks to the mentality and maturity of Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowler in his 10 seasons as an NFL linebacker, now in his sixth year as a 49ers assistant and second as a defensive coordinator. Despite a string of injuries, Ryans’ unit is showing up week in and week out, playing fast and physically. And he prides himself on impacting players on and off the pitch. His leadership traits outweigh his relative inexperience, and this could be Ryans’ year – if he decides he’s ready.

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