Building the NFL Offense of Your Dreams

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterNovember 22, 2018

Building the NFL Offense of Your Dreams

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    This Bleacher Report Offense of Dreams is not just an All-Pro team.

    Anyone can throw together a roster of the NFL's hottest players and most established superstars and muse about how many Super Bowls a squad comprised of Aaron Rodgers, Todd Gurley and Antonio Brown types would win. (All of the Super Bowls, of course).

    We're shooting for something different here: an offense that reflects everything that's great about the current scoring renaissance. Our goal is to build an offense of the present and future: the most dangerous next-gen playmakers, the most creative thinkers, the most innovative plays and schemes.

    So the following Offense of Dreams includes coaches and a few play concepts, in addition to lots of outstanding weapons (and blockers!).

    We also established some ground rules to keep things from looking like a Pro Bowl ballot:

    • Just one player or coach per team. That way we can't just squish the Chiefs, Saints and Rams together and call it a day.
    • Players still under their rookie contracts only. This offense is affordable under the salary cap and would be great for years (assuming we can figure out a way of paying everyone down the line).
    • Team chemistry matters! So we'll look for role players who don't need 25 touches per game to be productive and satisfied. 

    Here's an offense which, if it were real, would win it all, keep you glued to your television and change the way the game is played.

    If we build it, something like it will come.

    In fact, something like it is already here.


Head Coach: Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The brilliance of Sean McVay's system is in the details.

    Superficially, the Rams offense lacks the wacky formations and gee-whiz sleight of hand teams like the Chiefs and Bears use to befuddle opponents and light up scoreboards. But under the hood, everything the Rams do has been re-engineered and reimagined.

    Watch other offenses, and you'll see coaches doing things because Bill Walsh or Don Coryell did them 30-plus years ago, not because they help open a hole or free up a receiver. But everything the Rams do offensively—the fake reverses and real ones, the tight bunch formations and pre-snap motion, the twin crossing routes and deep over routes, the play-action screens, the sudden tempo changes—works in harmony with everything else they do to force 21st century defenses to do things they don't want to do.

    That's why Monday night's 54-51 Rams victory over the Chiefs was unlike anything the NFL has seen before. Both teams have unstoppable offenses. But McVay's Rams beat you with preparation, efficiency and deceptive simplicity, and it's a little less likely to beat itself with a turnover or a penalty.

    It's a joy to watch, and the closer you examine it, the more impressive it looks.

Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    If you thought Patrick Mahomes was overhyped in the first half of the season, Monday night's six-touchdown effort in a 54-51 loss to the Rams forced you to change your mind.

    If you think athleticism and arm strength are overrated skills for a quarterback, Mahomes' 73-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill forced you to change your mind.

    If you want to nitpick Mahomes' game—forced passes, overthrows, a dangerous urge to do a little too much at timesthat's fine. Monday night's game to end all games was just his 12th career start. We'll cope with the growing pains and take the accuracy, velocity, quick release, decisiveness, ability to escape the pocket and make plays on the run and, of course, the potential to get much, much better as he gains experience.

    The only downside to making Mahomes the quarterback of our dream offense is we lose the rights to add his Chiefs teammates to our squad. But it's a fair trade-off. Mahomes is living up to the hype, and then some. This simply wouldn't be an offense worth daydreaming about without him. 

Running Back: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    We can have our pick of all-purpose rusher-receivers, from Christian McCaffrey to Alvin Kamara to a more traditional featured back (who can still catch), like Ezekiel Elliott. So why Saquon Barkley?

    First, we want Barkley's size-speed mismatch opportunities no matter where he lines up on the field. McCaffrey and Kamara don't quite provide as much I-formation thump as Barkley does.

    Second, we want natural receiving ability and route-running chops. Elliott may be versatile, but he's not much more than a screens-and-dump-offs threat as a receiver.

    Finally, we want the big-play capability that separates "replaceable" running backs from guys who are worth top-10 draft selections. Barkley has produced five 40-plus-yard offensive plays and eight more 20-plus-yard plays this season. Given the open space he'll have to work with in our offense, he'll be a threat to score with every touch.

    So since Barkley's starting, we'll just slide McCaffrey, Kamara or Zeke into a backup role, right?

    Not so fast. We have a one-player-per-team restriction to work with, and we don't want a bell cow on the bench grumbling about his lack of touches.

    Our backup running back will be someone who, not too long ago, was just another backup running back. 

Backup Running Back: James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    When Barkley leaves the field—which won't be that often—he'll be replaced by a bruiser who does the dirty work, doesn't limit the offense in any way and has proved he can take over the featured role in a pinch.

    James Conner can get it done as a between-the-tackles runner, receiver or pass protector. He's also well-suited to two-back personnel groups: Imagine him as a fullback in front of Barkley (running wheel routes off play action!) or as a single setback when Barkley goes in motion. Combine the mismatch possibilities with the ability to hammer out a yard on 3rd-and-short, and you have an ideal complementary back.

    Sure, Conner dropped an easy would-be touchdown pass against the Jaguars on Sunday. But look at that play from a glass-half-full perspective: Conner got wide open up the sideline in a clutch situation against one of the NFL's most talented defenses. Few big backs would ever be in position to make that catch in the first place. 

    Best of all, Conner spent this whole season overshadowed by both the Le'Veon Bell saga and by his big-name superstar teammates. He thrives outside the spotlight. That makes him perfect for the Offense of Dreams, where the spotlight will almost always be elsewhere.

Offensive Coordinator: Norv Turner, Carolina Panthers

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Before we get to the receivers and tight ends, let's give McVay a majordomo. Someone older, to provide a little gravitas (sorry, John DeFilippo), but not someone too old to learn new tricks.

    Norv Turner reinvented himself this season as Mister Misdirection, a late-life convert to the new NFL religion of options, reverses and general ball-faking hocus pocus. After decades of trying to turn every offense he coached into the 1991 Cowboys, the 66-year-old Turner suddenly has Cam Newton going one way, McCaffrey another, Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore two other ways, Greg Olsen right over the middle and defenses running in circles figuring out what to do.

    Turner will help McVay attach some fins and spoilers to our offense. He'll also coach the quarterbacks and receivers. Turner is a master technician when it comes to fine-tuning footwork, route running and all the micro-details that go beyond sketching X's and O's. And we're about to give him the most amazing receiving corps any coach could imagine.

Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Michael Thomas has caught 90 percent of the passes thrown to him for 1,042 yards and eight touchdowns.

    You might look at that 90 percent rate and think, Oh, that's just a Drew Brees thing. No. Brees has been completing over 70 percent of his passes for years, but 90 percent is a lot bigger than 70 percent. Alvin Kamara only catches 78 percent of his targets, and Kamara gets to catch most of the screens and short stuff.

    Thomas catches 90 percent of his passes because no receiver in the NFL is harder to cover than him (and also because Brees is awesome). Thomas is both a route technician and a size-speed matchup headache. The cornerbacks big enough to cover him are rarely quick enough to stick with him.  

    Thomas will be the primary target in our Offense of Dreams. We'll use him to work underneath for yards after the catch and burn Marcus Peters types when they make mistakes. He may not catch as many of his targets as he does in real life, but he will come close.

    And if some defense comes at us with a Josh Norman capable of slowing Thomas a little (or goading him into an internet beef), we'll just hit them with our other weapons.

Wide Receiver: Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Our Offense of Dreams needs players on the rise, athletes who can exploit mismatches and role players suited to specific tasks. 

    Courtland Sutton is all three. He made Demaryius Thomas expendable in Denver with 17 catches for 324 yards (a whopping 19.1 yards per reception) in the first half of the season. At 6'3", 218 pounds, he's a handful for any cornerback. And with his long arms, king-sized meat hooks and leaping ability, Thomas is the ideal 50-50 ball threat.

    Sutton will be the boundary receiver in our offense. He'll work the sidelines and the back of the end zone, pressing the defense vertically and horizontally and making opponents pay when they focus on Thomas, the running game or anything else.

    Sutton has also proved to be a hard-working blocker in the running and screen games, making him useful when the ball goes to someone else.

    He may only get two or three targets per game in our offense, but Sutton will turn them into 60-plus yards and a touchdown. 

Slot Receiver: Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    Versatility is the name of the game in our Offense of Dreams. We don't want defenses to know what we're doing or be able to change personnel based on who we have on the field. That means our slot receiver has to be able to do a little bit of everything.

    Tyler Boyd has taken over a featured role in the Bengals offense due to A.J. Green's and Tyler Eifert's toe and ankle injuries, respectively, catching 56 passes for 756 yards and five touchdowns this season. But in our offense, he'll return to his complementary slot role: working the short middle of the field, moving the sticks on third downs, run blocking (he's great at it) and all the little things to punish opponents for focusing on our bigger-name playmakers.

    Boyd is also a threat on reverses and option passes, giving opponents yet another thing to worry about. Literally anything can happen with Boyd on the field, from a routine running play to a trick play so wacky it makes the Philly Special look like a routine running play.      

Tight End: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Whoa. Check out the George Kittle gun show! And that cocky backward cap: like Fred Durst circa 1997, only far less ridiculous.

    Kittle looks like the guy your sister-in-law brings to Thanksgiving dinner, and while that may not be great for your father-in-law's agita, it's perfect for our Offense of Dreams.

    Kittle is enjoying a breakout sophomore season, with 50 catches for 775 yards and three touchdowns. He's the second-rated tight end in the league, according to Football Outsiders' metrics; not bad for a guy who's catching footballs from a series of backup quarterbacks.

    Kittle is the focal point of the 49ers offense and is used as everything from a deep threat to a safety valve to a screen weapon to a spearhead of run blocking. He'll fill a similar role in our offense. Think of him as an up-and-coming Travis Kelce, with the potential to be even more versatile. 

Tight End: O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    There are only so many footballs to go around, so the second tight end in our offense has to be able to do a lot with only a handful of touches.

    O.J. Howard has 34 catches for 565 yards (16.6 yards per catch) and five touchdowns on just 48 targets as the fifth option in a passing game that features Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries.

    (Howard is now on IR with an ankle injury. But fear not: Our Medical Staff of Dreams will fix him up in a jiffy.)

    One thing that makes Howard such a big-play threat—and a perfect fit for our offense—is his blocking. He's an old-school thumper as a tight end who can line up next to the right tackle and seal the edge for our running backs. Once opponents start lining up big linebackers to take on Howard against the run—wham! We'll send him up the seam.

    Two- and three-tight end personnel packages have become some of the most effective play designs in the NFL because of the mismatches they can create. With Kittle and Howard on the field, defenses will be overmatched in the running and passing game. All we need now are some play concepts to take advantage of those stressed-out defenses.

Concept: Quick Snap Quads

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    Tanier Art Studios

    Our dream offense will throw the kitchen sink at defenses to create mismatches. In this example, we'll use a three-tight end personnel group and a quick snap to catch the defense with all the wrong guys in all the wrong places.

    The 49ers used this play to score a touchdown against the Giants last Monday night. They broke huddle, lined up with four eligible receivers on the right side of the formation and snapped so quickly that the television crew almost missed the play. Running back Matt Breida ran an over route from inside a cluster of tight ends and receivers while Giants defenders were still pointing to one another and figuring out who was supposed to cover whom.

    This is a simple play your high school could run, but there's a lot under the hood. The multi-tight end group keeps the defense in something close to its base package (the Giants used a heavy nickel), creating mismatch opportunities when linebackers try to cover backs and tight ends. The quads formation confounds both man and zone schemes. The quick snap is an example of how varying tempos can stress a defense that assumed, because the offense huddled, that it had time to make post-snap adjustments. 

    Imagine this play with Barkley running the over route and catching a pass from Mahomes while the defense worries about Thomas, Kittle and Howard.

    Excited yet? Wait until you see who is blocking for our skill position studs! 

Left Tackle: Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore Ravens

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Ronnie Stanley doesn't get much attention because he plays for the Ravens, who are the C-SPAN3 of NFL offenses, and is tasked with protecting Joe Flacco, which is as thankless as trying to keep the Leaning Tower of Pisa from collapsing.

    But Stanley is versatile and reliable as an exceptional fundamental pass protector who can drop the hammer on runs. He also fits the ideal prototype at left tackle (6'6", over 35-inch arms, ideal quickness) and has been mostly durable until recent knee and ankle injuries limited him.

    Stanley battled through injuries on Sunday to block for the Lamar Jackson Service Academy Option Experience, helping the Ravens grind out 265 rushing yards with a junior varsity playbook. So he's versatile enough for our offense, which will ask him to do a little bit of everything.    

Guard: Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Let's listen to that Quenton Nelson primal scream again, shall we?

    Oh yeah. That's the stuff. We need that scream for our Offense of Dreams. Heck, we need Hollywood Foley artists to replace the Wilhelm Scream with the Nelson Scream so we hear it every time a Star Wars character falls into a hyperspace engine or something.

    Wait...the Nelson scream is doctored video? It's f...f...f...fabricated news? He actually spends most of the game just chitchatting with teammates and singing falsetto on the sideline instead of howling like an anime villain transforming into a death robot?

    Whatever. He's not here for the screaming. Our Offense of Dreams won't settle for some ordinary, interchangeable interior linemen. Nelson will pull and trap on runs and clobber linebackers on screens. We need his athleticism on the edge and raw power up the middle—plus his ability to keep the pocket clean against Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox types.

    Oh, and a burst of intensity won't hurt, either. Whether or not it comes with audio.     

Offensive Line Coach: Bill Callahan, Washington Redskins

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    Instead of creating separate segments for each lineman, let's make sure they have the best available coaching.

    Bill Callahan is shepherding Washington's offensive line through its latest injury crisis, doing his best to make sure the offense doesn't collapse as Trent Williams and other starters bounce in and out of the lineup.

    Before that, Callahan coached the Cowboys offensive line when it was the Cowboys offensive line. Previously, he coached the Jets line when they were a playoff team and the well-protected Mark Sanchez looked like a decent quarterback.

    Go back far enough, and you'll find Callahan coaching the 1990s Eagles offensive line when Rodney Peete and Ty Detmer led them to the playoffs, and then following the young Jon Gruden to Oakland to build a Super Bowl-caliber Raiders offense.

    Spot a trend? Callahan builds lines so well-coached that they make ordinary quarterbacks look great. And while he couldn't quite protect Alex Smith from J.J. Watt with a collection of randos subbing along the line, he'll do amazing things with the talent we're assembling.

    Speaking of talent, let's fill out the rest of Callahan's line, sticking to our rules of rookie-contracts only and one player per team (sorry, Ryan Ramczyk!):

    • Center: Graham Glasgow, Lions
    • Guard: Shaq Mason, Patriots
    • Right Tackle: Jack Conklin, Titans

Other Offensive Weapons

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Let's fill out the rest of our skill position depth charts with useful "role players":

    Backup quarterback: Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans. Why settle for less? Imagine Watson behind a real offensive line with more than one-and-a-half playmakers to work with. It could almost (but not quite) make you want to pick him over Mahomes. 

    Fourth wide receiver: Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons. Ridley will play about 30 snaps per game in four-receiver packages, lifting the lid off the defense and making deep safeties wish they had taken up basketball instead. Ridley will get some screens and end arounds, too, just to keep things interesting.

    Third running back: Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears. The Human Joystick will return punts, play a little slot in specialized packages and do Tyreek Hill stuff. He may also run the Wildcat when we are leading by 35 in the third quarter.

    Third tight end: Dallas Goedert, Phialdelphia Eagles. Just a guy with a power forward's body and a wide receiver's ball skills—plus emerging value as a blocker—coming off the bench for a dozen snaps per game. Have fun with that, defenders. 

    Sixth offensive lineman: George Fant, Seattle Seahawks. Fant was a disaster as a Seahawks left tackle but has found an odd little niche as the designated extra tackle/blocking tight end in the six-lineman formations the team frequently uses. Fant will take the field on 3rd-and-inches or when we are leading by 60. And maybe Coach Callahan can make a backup tackle out of him, in case of injury. 

Concept: Fake-Screen End Around

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    Tanier Art Studios

    Now that we have every offensive weapon we could ever hope for, it's time to play some chess while NFL defensive coordinators play Candyland. The play diagrammed above is adapted from one that resulted in a 20-yard Hill run when the Chiefs faced the Cardinals in Week 10.

    The play design is simple enough: The running back (Kareem Hunt in real life) goes in motion before the snap, Mahomes fakes a toss in his direction (that's the blue arrow), then pitches to the slot receiver (Hill in real life), who's running an end around. The tight end acts as a lead blocker to take out the only edge defender in any position to cause real trouble for the ball-carrier.

    Teams like the Panthers are also using designs like this, which devastates poor defenders who must worry about everything from the running back screen to those wide receivers streaking up the field. Our Offense of Dreams will run a whole series of tosses and play-action passes from this look. And we'll score so often, and so quickly, that we won't even scratch the surface of what can be done with concepts like these.      

And Finally: The Offense of Nightmares

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    You thought this was offensive heaven? Muah-ha-ha-ha! It's really The Bad Place! Let's wrap things up by torturing you with this Offense of Despair: 

    Head coach: Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers. The only person in the world capable of stopping Aaron Rodgers in his prime. McCarthy will install his signature passing-route concepts for us. Both of them. 

    Quarterback: Nathan Peterman, Free Agent. Do we really need to explain this one?

    Running back: LeGarrette Blount, Detroit Lions. Three feet and a cloud of dust, plus the Jedi mind-trick ability to fool coaches into giving him red-zone carries because he used to break tackles long ago.

    Wide receiver: Kelvin Benjamin, Buffalo Bills. Here in The Bad Place, 50-50 balls have a 95 percent chance of getting knocked out of the receiver's hands by a gentle breeze.

    Wide receiver: Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns. He'll lead our team in touches, with 15 catches on 20 shallow-cross targets each week for 72 yards, all for just $15 million in cap space. 

    Wide receiver: Tavon Austin, Dallas Cowboys. He'll spend the offseason convincing you he's the ultimate all-purpose rusher-receiver-returner, and then lose two yards on a bubble screen. 

    Tight end: Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals. From the Ironic Punishments Department: Eifert will make a one-handed 30-yard catch over the middle on the first play from scrimmage, but then get injured.

    Offensive line coach: Tom Cable, Oakland Raiders. We'll give everyone's favorite pass-protection saboteur Ereck Flowers (Jaguars), Jets center Spencer Long (who forgot how to snap this season) and a bunch of decent veterans he can injure by forcing them to suddenly play out of position.

    Play concept: The three-yard checkdown on 3rd-and-25. We'll complete just enough of these to make everyone's stats look good, so no one gets fired, and our Offense of Nightmares can endure for eternity. Muah-ha-ha-ha-ha!