Preseason Week 1 – Giants vs Browns

The two worst teams (record-wise) from 2017 square off and debut the top two draft selections. Both these teams got better in the off-season and are potential candidates for the biggest turnaround in 2018. Here are some positions that make for an interesting preseason opener.

Quarterbacks

  1. How long until Mayfield takes over at starting quarterback? Will Taylor put the Browns in position to win games?
  2. Will Eli exploit the offseason improvements on the O-line, healthy receivers and a good run game? How far has Webb progressed in his redshirt season? How does the rookie Lauletta look?

In college Tyrod Taylor was  ranked first in the NCAA in passing yards per attempt (9.5) in his junior year. He was seventh in his senior year in adjusted passing yards per attempt (9.5). Taylor was named ACC Player of the year his senior year and also twice named ACC Championship Game MVP. Taylor started 42 games at Virginia Tech and had a 34-8 record. He is the winningest quarterback in school history. Taylor is one of 26 FBS quarterbacks that had career totals of minimum 7,000 yards passing and 2,000 yards rushing since 2000. At the 2011 combine Taylor ranked first or second among quarterbacks in all events.

In his three years starting in the NFL (2015-2017) Pro Football Focus has ranked Taylor as the 7th, 11th and 12th best quarterback in the league. Taylor made the Pro-Bowl in 2015. Taylor is a safe quarterback. He has ranked 7th, 11th and 5th from 2015 to 2017 in touchdown to interception ratio. In 2017 according to Pro Football Focus, Taylor has a turnover worthy play percentage of just 1.07 percent, second-best in the league. Taylor is a dual threat quarterback. In the last three seasons Taylor has ranked 4th, 2nd and 1st among quarterbacks in rushing yards per game. He has no less than 5.1 average rushing yards per season, scored no less than four rushing touchdowns, had no less than a 27% 1st down conversion ratio, and had rushes of 20+ yards five, seven and two times.

Baker Mayfield will be getting a lot of snaps in this preseason opener. He is the backup quarterback on the unofficial depth chart. Mayfield excels in his passing accuracy. The accuracy shows in almost all situations – tight windows, under pressure, downfield, beyond first read, in the pocket, or on the move. Accuracy deals with throwing a catch-able ball. Ball Placement takes into account defenders and deals with maximizing YAC, minimizing receiver hits and shielding throws from defenders. According to data collected by Benjamin Solak of ndtscouting, Mayfield’s placement is not as good as his accuracy but it is still good. Whereas Mayfield my be the most accurate passer in the 2018 draft, there are other passers that excel better at ball placement such as Kyle Lauletta.

Mayfield led the NCAA his last two years in pass completion percentage, passing yards per attempt and passing efficiency rating. Passing efficiency rating is a formula that takes into account factors of yards, completions, touchdowns, interceptions and attempts. In 2017 Mayfield was AP Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. He won the Heisman Trophy, the Davey O’Brien Award, the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Player of teh Year.

At age 37 Eli Manning enters his fifteenth season as the Giants quarterback. Manning has been a two time Super Bowl MVP, four time Pro Bowler, the 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year, and has helped lead the Giants to six post season appearances. Recently in the 2015 season he was selected to the Pro Bowl, had his fourth highest completion percentage (62.6%) and his highest quarterback rating (93.6). Manning had a six touchdown game in 2015 against the Saints. In 2016 Manning helped lead the Giants to an 11-6 record and a playoff appearance.  He had his second highest completion percentage (63%) and a tie for career high six game winning drives.

However 2017 was a not a good year. Manning had his second worst quarterback win record only topped by his rookie season. He had lost his number one and number three receivers and his number two receiver was injured for part of the season.  However his completion percentage was of 61.6% was still sixth best of his career and his quarterback rating of 80.4 was ninth best.  The Giants had the second most dropped passes in the league with 29. Pro Football Focus ranked the Giants offensive line as 26th for 2017.

The Giants passed on selecting a quarterback in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. They are putting their trust in Eli and have bettered the team to help him succeed.  The Giants have improved the offensive line thru free agent signing of left tackle Nate Solder and right guard Patrick Omameh. They drafted left guard Will Hernandez in the second round. In addition the running game has improved with the first round selection of Saquon Barkley. With a healthy Odell Beckham returning and a healthy Sterling Shepard the Giants are in much better shape offensively. The key piece will be how does Eli Manning rebound from last year.

Davis Webb appears to be the lead candidate for the backup quarterback role and is currently listed as the number two quarterback on the unofficial depth chart.  He has one year of learning behind Eli and Geno Smith. Webb is recognized for an insane work ethic, not unlike Eli. In his senior year Webb started all 12 games for the California Bears, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors (4,295 yards, 37 TD, 12 INT, 61.6 completion pct.) In his final year Webb was 6th in the NCAA in passing yards (4,295) and 8th in passing touchdowns (37). Webb was one of the most frequent deep throwers in college football in 2016. His 1,186 yards on passes traveling more than 20 yards in the air ranked 10th in the NCAA and his 18 deep touchdowns ranked fourth. He was one of 18 semifinalists for the 2016 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award for the best NCAA quarterback. Webb was named MVP at the 2017 Reese’s Senior Bowl. At the combine Webb finished in the top five among quarterbacks in all events.

Kyle Lauletta is also a student of the game and like Webb takes notes on everything. Lauletta is ranked seventh nationally in 2017 career leaders for passing yards per attempt (8.76) and number one in the FCS. Lauletta is a very accurate passer. He throws well into tight windows, on the move and under pressure. He is best in the short to intermediate passing range. Lauletta has an average NFL arm. (Check out Contextualized Quarterbacking by Benjamin Solak) Lauletta was named MVP at the 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl. At the combine Lauletta finished in the top six among quarterbacks in all events including first in the 20-yard shuttle.

Running Backs

  1. Will Barkley shine in his rookie preseason debut?
  2. Will Nick Chubb push for the number one running back?

In 2017 Saquon Barkley ranked second in all purpose yards per game (179.2) in the FBS. He ranked second in career all purpose yards per game (145.7) among active career leaders. Barkley’s strength is the combination of a receiving running back. He is one of just fourteen running backs since 2008 that had a college season with a minimum 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. “I have a high opinion of what a running back brings to your offense,” Shurmur said at the NFL Combine, “but I also have a very high opinion that guy has to be able to run the ball, be able to pass protect and has to be able to catch. That’s one of things we have to get better at, catching the football. The running back can be a huge weapon in the passing game.” Last season Shane Vereen was the highest receiving running back on the Giants. He had 44 receptions for 253 yards at an average of 5.8 yards. That was ranked 16th among running backs for receptions. Look for a big change in this area.

The unofficial depth chart released this week for the Browns shows 2018 draft pick Nick Chubb as the third running back. He is behind Carlos Hyde and then Duke Johnson. Chubb is an explosive running back. In 2017 he had 42 rush attempts of 10+ yards which was third best among draft eligible running backs. Those accounted for 19% of his rushing attempts. Chubb is a strong back in both his legs and upper body as shown in his combine results.

His power and vision make him a very good between the tackles runner.

 

Offensive Line

  1. Who will replace Joe Thomas?
  2. Would Will Hernandez be a beast in the pros?

Joel Bitonio moves from starting the last four seasons at left guard to replace the retired future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas at left tackle. Bitonio made the PFWA All-Rookie team in 2014 at guard.  Except for injuries, he had been a mainstay at guard since and was considered an elite guard. Joel is an athletic lineman and had outstanding combine results in 2014. The move could be temporary as the Browns experiment with their options.

Will Hernandez “is a rare college blocker who enters the NFL with a mean streak to set a physical tone at the point of attack. Hernandez blocks through the whistle, pushes defenders around, buries them into the ground, and finishes them off with violence.” – Walter Football Review.  Hernandez bench pressed 37 reps at the 2018 combine. That was third best across all positions.

Enjoy the game!

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