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PFF: Brandon Staley is the NFL’s best defensive play caller

Still in Los Angeles, Staley is taking over a new defense in 2021

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NFL: Los Angeles Chargers OTA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“Any list that doesn’t have (Brandon) Staley at the top is probably wrong,” are strong words by PFF’s Eric Eager, but that was the opening line of his rankings of the NFL’s best defensive play callers headed into 2021. What’s probably more surprising than the confidence in that statement however is the difference in experience and data points between Staley and the other five coaches on the list:

  1. Brandon Staley, Chargers (1 season as NFL defensive coordinator)
  2. Don Martindale, Ravens (3 seasons)
  3. Keith Butler, Steelers (6 seasons)
  4. Josh Boyer, Dolphins (1 season)
  5. Todd Bowles, Bucs (5 seasons)
  6. Leslie Frazier, Bills (12 seasons)

It’s not that a lot of experience should heavily influence a list like this one — we’ve seen first-hand with Sean McVay that having multiple decades of experience may not matter that much — but it is interesting that all that Brandon Staley has done is coach 16 regular season games with the LA Rams. And Staley, 38, only had three seasons in the NFL prior to being hired by McVay in 2020.

Martindale started coaching in the NFL in 2004, when he was already 41.

Butler began his NFL career in 1999, when he was 43.

Boyer started with the Patriots in 2006, when he was 29, and he spent 13 years as an assistant in New England prior to calling plays for the first time with the Dolphins in 2019.

Bowles started his NFL coaching career in 1995, when he was 32, and his first NFL defensive coordinator job came in 2012 on an interim basis.

And Frazier joined the NFL in 1999, when he was 40.

Three of these six coaches were not even in the NFL by 38, and Brandon Staley is already head coach of the LA Chargers. The Rams have replaced him with Raheem Morris, who didn’t make this list for obvious reasons: Though Morris became a head coach in the NFL at age 33, he didn’t become a defensive coordinator for the first time until 2020.

Taking over for Staley could be the job that gets Morris back into a head coaching role, but if Staley is so undeniably “the best play caller in the NFL” then I guess the bar is set really high. It’s also easier to call plays on defense when you have Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey executing them on the field.