Nathaniel Hackett is a Leading NFL Coach of the Year Sleeper in His First Year Calling the Shots

The Denver Broncos fan base has a lot of reasons to be excited about the 2022 season. After back-to-back head coaching failures, the club is entering the new campaign with a fresh approach as to who will be leading the team.

The Broncos went out and hired Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to become the next head coach. Hackett will be entering his first season as an NFL head coach after spending two years with the Packers and three years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Hackett has been very successful in his past positions, as he helped the Packers become one of the most explosive passing attacks around, including a top-10 passing and scoring offense in 2021. He also helped the Jaguars reach the AFC Championship game in 2017 as the offensive coordinator while making Blake Bortles look like a franchise quarterback in the process.

The Broncos have one of the best all-around rosters in the league, which immediately labels him as a potential Coach of the Year candidate. His odds of winning the award currently sit at +1600, according to FanDuel. While many first-year head coaches struggle, Hackett certainly deserves your attention.

First-year head coaches usually tend to struggle in the NFL

It’s not easy to become a successful coach in year one, as many rookie bench bosses have failed in the past. Seven new head coaches were hired in 2021, and none ended up making the playoffs. This year, Hackett will be one of five coaches that will be supervising an NFL team for the first time.

With a rebuilding franchise, there normally wouldn’t be many expectations to win now. But in the extremely competitive AFC West, it’ll be important for Hackett and the Broncos to get off to a good start right out of the gate and quickly prove they’re making progress. 

History has shown that it is very difficult and unlikely for a first-year head coach to make the Super Bowl, much less win it. The last time this was done was George Seifert with the San Francisco 49ers back in 1988-89.

There have been many, however, that have made the conference championship in year one, including Jim Harbaugh, Sean Payton, and even Hackett’s former boss, Matt LaFleur. And while Broncos fans might be expecting a Super Bowl appearance, making a deep playoff run to championship weekend will still be considered a massive improvement in light of both the recent shortcomings and the rest of the AFC.

Still, the Broncos are optimistic about their chances this season and believe their team has the components to compete for a championship. This hasn’t always been the case, but one key transaction this offseason can bring this team back to life.

A massive upgrade at quarterback should help spark the Denver Broncos offense

Bringing Hackett to Denver was supposed to be a potential avenue to lure Aaron Rodgers away from the Packers and bring him to Mile High. That clearly didn’t go according to plan, but the Broncos still got a great plan B option by acquiring Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks.

Wilson won’t be leaving Denver for the foreseeable future after signing a five-year, $245-million contract extension in early September. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback will be a much-needed upgrade to a Broncos offense that has struggled to move the ball in the past.

Denver has finished bottom-10 in total offense three times since 2016 and never higher than 17th. They’ve also finished bottom-10 in scoring each of the past five seasons. To be quite frank, the offense has looked bad, which is supported by by the fact that the club has cycled through five different signal callers across its six-year playoff drought.

Pairing Wilson with Hackett should make the Broncos a much more efficient offense, and maybe Hackett will finally “let Russ cook” like he never was able to in Seattle.

Hackett will look to end Denver’s disastrous run since Super Bowl 50

Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett during a preseason game.
Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett. | C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

Legendary quarterback Peyton Manning brought a Super Bowl to Denver in the 2015-16 season for the first time since the John Elway era. Since then, though, it’s been a long, downward slope filled with disappointment. 

The Broncos have gone through three head coaches in six years, with Gary Kubiak, Vance Joseph, and Vic Fangio taking the reins. They have gone 39-58, the seventh-worst record in the league during this stretch, which includes five consecutive seasons with seven or fewer wins.

Joseph and Fangio struggled in their first year with the Broncos. The former went 5-11, while the latter led Denver to a 7-9 record, which was only a one-win improvement from the year prior. Both coaches were known for their defensive minds, but Fangio, in particular, severely struggled to manage the quarterback room during his tenure.

Hackett’s hire, though, shows that the Broncos are ready to go in a different direction to help right the ship. His offensive mind combined with Wilson, Javonte Williams, Courtland Sutton, and Jerry Jeudy should mesh together to create a dynamic, high-scoring unit.

The pressure will be on Hackett to produce an elite offense, which Broncos fans haven’t seen since 2015. Only time will tell if the Broncos made the right hire. If Hackett takes over the talented AFC West, he has a legit chance of becoming one of the league’s best coaches in just one year.

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