The NFL is filled with so many star players and prominent head coaches that it's easy to overlook how much impact assistants can have on championship aspirations. The right hire at the right time can unlock the true potential of a team that just can't get over the hump. It can lead to more effective quarterback play, more disruptive defense and more excitement about all things possible. The men who usually thrive in those roles understand the pressure that comes with the job and can't wait to show how they'll respond.
The Chiefs, for example, hired Steve Spagnuolo to run a disappointing defense four years ago, and they've won two Super Bowls since. The Eagles represented the NFC in last year's Super Bowl largely because they had an offensive coordinator who helped quarterback Jalen Hurts become an MVP candidate (current Colts head coach Shane Steichen) and a defensive coordinator who lorded over a unit that produced a league-high 70 sacks (current Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon). This offseason, we've seen plenty of teams search for invaluable assistants to create a similar impact on their respective franchises. In fact, 23 clubs will operate with a new offensive or defensive coordinator -- or both -- this coming season.
Some of those men used to be head coaches, like Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores and Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. Others have been rising stars in the profession and popular names in past head-coaching search cycles, like Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. They're now all tasked with the same responsibility: being the missing ingredient that makes their new teams drastically better.
We could talk about all these coaches today. Instead, here are the five who, by my estimation, will have the greatest impact on this coming season.
The Jets have asked Aaron Rodgers to be their savior, and that means Hackett must be the man who makes the future Hall of Fame quarterback as comfortable as possible. We all suspect Rodgers will do his part as long as New York's offensive line protects him. The real question is: What kind of coordinator will Hackett be after the train wreck that was his only season as the Broncos' head coach? Hackett presided over the stunning demise of Russell Wilson in 2022, and he actually wasn't the guy calling the plays when he and Rodgers worked together in Green Bay (that role belonged to Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, although Hackett was the primary play-caller during previous stints in Jacksonville and Buffalo).
The good news for Hackett is that the bar is understandably low in New York. The Jets were one of the few decent teams that had more debilitating quarterback play than the Broncos last year, and that ineptitude cost New York a shot at the playoffs. All Hackett needs to do is help Rodgers be Rodgers. That doesn't mean the quarterback has to be the player who won league MVP honors in 2020 and 2021. He just needs to stay healthy, acclimate quickly and everything else will take care of itself. The Jets already have tremendous resources around the veteran quarterback, including a terrific defense, an assortment of talented skill players and a smart head coach in Robert Saleh. It also helps that Hackett and Rodgers have an obvious bond, one that certainly had to make Hackett an attractive candidate to succeed Mike LaFleur (Matt's brother) as offensive coordinator.
Realistic fans should know this won't be an entirely smooth transition in New York, especially when considering some of the ups and downs Tom Brady endured in his first season in Tampa Bay. However, that first year with the Buccaneers also ended with a Super Bowl win. The Jets have the goods to make that happen. Hackett proving he's a better play-caller than what he displayed in Denver will go a long way toward achieving that dream.
Like Hackett in New York, it feels like Monken arrived in Baltimore to make quarterback Lamar Jackson see that the Ravens really did have his back. Monken replaced the man who turned Jackson into an MVP winner in 2019 (Greg Roman), and the belief is that Baltimore is diving headfirst into an entirely new style of offensive football. Roman gave Jackson the runway to become a superstar by devising an innovative, run-first offense. Monken is supposed to take the quarterback to the next level with the pass game, as that has long been the fatal flaw for the Ravens when it comes to overcoming the other contenders in the AFC.
The Ravens didn't know what was going to happen with Jackson when they hired Monken away from the University of Georgia earlier this year, as the quarterback was engaged in some arduous contract negotiations with the franchise. Now that Jackson is signed, it's easy to see how attractive the Ravens made his situation look with Monken in charge. Baltimore signed free-agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a one-year, $18 million deal. After coming to terms with Jackson, the team used a first-round pick on wide receiver Zay Flowers, a move that was noteworthy because Baltimore easily could've selected a cornerback to help a defense that was lacking at that position. The Ravens have never put this much talent around Jackson -- the supporting cast also includes star tight end Mark Andrews, running back J.K. Dobbins and wide receiver Rashod Bateman -- and Monken will have every chance to make the attack more diversified.
There's going to be a lot of attention around rookie quarterback Bryce Young in Carolina, especially since he was the first overall pick in this year's draft. The reality is that there will be more pressure on the Panthers' defense to help this franchise reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017. That is exactly why Evero is on this list. He's an ascending talent, and he was one of the few positives for the Broncos in that frustrating 2022 campaign. As bad as Denver was last season, defense wasn't the problem. That unit ranked seventh in the league in yards allowed and 14th in points surrendered.
Evero now takes over a Panthers defense that wasn't nearly as productive but has the potential to be special with Evero moving the unit to a 3-4 scheme. Carolina has talented, young players in the right spots -- like edge rusher Brian Burns, safety Jeremy Chinn and cornerback Jaycee Horn -- and the free-agent acquisition of safety Vonn Bell should make the unit even better. The Panthers have high hopes for Young, but they also know they could've easily won the NFC South in 2022, finishing a game behind the 8-9 Buccaneers for the title. Evero is a disciple of former Broncos head coach and current Dolphins defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, so that means he's looking to forge a ball-hawking secondary and relentless pressure up front. He has the tools to create such chaos in Carolina, and the Panthers might be holding the division crown if he succeeds.
Moore could be the hottest head-coaching candidate in the NFL next year if he can accomplish what the Chargers have tasked him to do: Take star QB Justin Herbert to the next level. There isn't a quarterback in the league who has displayed more tantalizing skills without achieving consistent on-field success. The person who received the most blame for that in the past was Moore's predecessor, Joe Lombardi. The Chargers now have turned to Moore because he's shown what he can do with young quarterbacks when given the opportunity. He helped Dak Prescott play some of his best football in Dallas -- when the Cowboys had their strongest supporting cast around that quarterback -- and there sure seems to be a lot of similar tools in the Chargers' offense for Moore to utilize. Moore likes crafty, versatile running backs, and Austin Ekeler is one of the best in the business. Moore also favors the idea of spreading the football around and he won't lack for targets, as the Chargers have long, rangy wide receivers and athletic tight ends. The offensive line should be a strength, as well, as long it avoids the types of injuries that plagued it in 2022. This all means Herbert should be in a position to produce the best season of his career.
Lombardi often took heat for calling too many passes -- only Tom Brady attempted more throws than Herbert's 699 last year -- but there should be more variety with Moore. We all know the Chargers aren't going anywhere in the AFC unless they can overcome contenders like the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals. All three of those teams have young superstar quarterbacks who've shown they can play big when it counts most. It's time for Moore to help Herbert join that list.
Wilks likely has the easiest job of anybody on this list because of what he's inheriting. There isn't a defense in the league that is more stacked than the 49ers' unit. Wilks will have a D-line that includes the reigning Defensive Player of the Year (defensive end Nick Bosa) and a free-agent acquisition who racked up 11 sacks in Philadelphia last season (defensive tackle Javon Hargrave). San Francisco also has arguably the best linebacker in the league (Fred Warner) and an All-Pro safety (Talanoa Hufanga). There's a reason why the 49ers had the NFL's top defense in 2022, and they're pushing to be even more disruptive this coming fall.
San Francisco also has watched its last two defensive coordinators leave for head-coaching jobs (Robert Saleh with the Jets and DeMeco Ryans with the Texans), which says plenty about the level of excellence that unit has been able to sustain. Wilks will bring his own flavor to the D -- he's certainly known for blitzing more than Ryans ever did -- but he isn't planning on changing much about what the Niners already do. He also has proved how strong a leader he is. Wilks took over a Panthers team that had multiple reasons to implode last year after firing head coach Matt Rhule and led it to within a game of the NFC South title. Wilks won't have to do nearly as much to inspire this championship-caliber defense. All he has to do is pick up precisely where his predecessors left off.