Don’t Write-Off These NFL Underdogs

Since 2001 twenty-four teams have gone from last in their division to first in their division the following year. Three times one went on to win the Super Bowl. Since my beloved Giants are currently a bottom dweller, I thought I would look at the five lowest ranked teams based on current projected 2019 draft order and see what rays of hope exist. Here are the current projected top five draft teams and what is good about their team this season that could surprise a team this year or turn it around next year.

San Francisco 49ers

Run the Ball, Stop the Run

The 49ers rank second in long rushing plays (20+ yards) with 13 plays through week 12. Matt Brieda, an undrafted free agent in 2017, has 896 yards from  scrimmage and a 3rd best yards per rushing attempt at 5.81 yards. He was a speedy back at his pro day earning a 40 yard dash time of 4.39 which would have been second best among backs at the combine. His 6.85 at the three-cone would have been third best among backs at the combine, and a 4.34 in the 20-yard shuttle lined up as 8th best at the combine.

Another undrafted free agent to watch is 2017 UDFA running back Jeff Wilson. He was recently promoted from the practice squad. Wilson had very impressive stats in college. In his senior year Wilson had upper percentile numbers in red zone TDs (32%), 1st down percent (31%), long plays percent (22%) and touchdown percent (7.5%). He averaged 6.46 yards per rush. His one outstanding flaw was a high fumble rate.

Opening up holes for Brieda and Wilson will be 2018 first round pick tackle Mike McGlinchey. Known coming out of college as an “earth-mover as a drive blocker”, he was a two-year team captain and known as a lunch-pail worker. Pro-Football Focus has McGlinchey graded as the top graded rookie offensive lineman.

On the flip side the 49 defense has allowed just 5 rushing plays of 20+ yards. That is tied for fifth best in the league. A player contributing to this is the run defense of defensive end Arik Armstead. According to Pro Football Focus, Armstead’s 84.4 run-defense grade ranks sixth among all edge defenders.

Tight end George Kittle was a fifth round pick in the 2017 draft. He ranks third among tight ends in yards with 823 yards and has three touchdowns. His 9.8 yards per target ranks fifth among tight ends with 30 or more targets. Kittle has had 84 targets which is third most among tight ends. Through week 9 Pro-Football Focus rated Kittle as the third best run blocking grade among tight ends in the league. His nfl.com draft profile included “..one of the better blocking tight ends in this draft.” Kittle had the third fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends at the combine.

Oakland Raiders

It’s almost exciting to think about all the room for improvement that we have.” — Geno Smith in 2014 on the Jets.

Center Rodney Hudson may be the best pass-protecting center in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus through week nine Hudson had given up only two pressures all season. Pro Football Focus has him graded as the top pass blocking center and third overall.

Tankathon.com has the Raiders listed as having ten 2019 NFL draft picks with three in the first round as well as two first rounders in 2020. Their 2019 draft capital is listed as the highest among all teams with the next team 700 points below.

Arizona Cardinals

No Passing Zone

Cornerback Patric Peterson was a top five pick in the 2011 draft. Since then he has been a yearly Pro-Bowler. In his eighth season he has accumulated over his career 21 interceptions and 71 passes defended. According to Pro Football Focus this season he owns the NFL’s second-best passer rating when targeted (57.1) and has allowed all of 189 yards all season long.

Defensive end Chandler Jones is fourth in the league with 11 sacks on the year. As of week 11, Chandler Jones led the league in disrupted drop-backs per ESPN . A disrupted drop-back is a passing down in which the player got a sack, interception, batted pass or defended pass. Jones led with a 4% with the next closest defender being Aaron Donald at 3.4%.

The Cardinals are fourth in the league in opponent passing yards per game with 219.8 yards. They are second in the NFL with a 19.3 disrupted drop-back percentage. They sacked Patrick Mahomes five times – a season high for him. The Cardinals held the Chiefs to 212 passing yards, which is the Chief’s lowest thru week 12. The Cardinals are sixth in the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed at 16. They are third in the NFL in passing plays of 20+ yards allowed with 30.

New York Jets

Hope springs eternal especially with rookie first round quarterbacks and a lights out safety.

Safety Jamal Adams was the sixth selection in the 2017 NFL draft. He is a versatile player that has lined up as a deep safety, a box safety, a linebacker position, a slot corner and as an outside corner. He excels across the board. This season Jamal has 12 passes defended which is 4th in the NFL. Through week 11 Adams had the most run stops for a safety (19) as well as the highest run stop percentage for a safety at 7.09%. Pro Football Focus picked Jamal Adams as the best box safety in the league. Adams is a team leader and earned a captaincy in his second season.

Through week twelve the Jets have allowed only 62.4% of pass completions. That is good for sixth best in the league. Their opponent average passer rating of 90.1 is ninth best.

Kicker Jason Meyers has made 92% of his field goal attempts which is good for seventh in the league for kickers with a minimum 10 attempts. He has scored 89 points this season which is sixth among kickers. Meyers leads the league in 50+ yard field goals made with five. He holds the fifth longest field goal of 56 yards.

Rookie tight end Chris Herndon has the tenth best yards per targets (9.24 yards) among tight ends with a minimum 12 targets. Among that group his catch percentage of 76.5% is also tenth best. His 3 receiving touchdowns is tie for ninth among tight ends.

New York Giants

Explosive offense that needs more consistency and a killer instinct

Saquon Barkley has the third highest yards from scrimmage (1,410) and highest total with zero fumbles. Saquon is on track to be one of only three nfl players of all time with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in their rookie season. Barkley averages 3.54 yards after contact, fifth-most in the league, and leads all running backs with 25 missed tackles forced, according to Pro Football Focus. The Giants rank sixth in explosive rushing plays of 20+ yards with 11. Barkley is fifth in rushing touchdowns with eight. He ranks 11th in rushing yards per attempt (4.85 yards) among backs with over 100 attempts. Saquon Barkley has been in on 84.5% of the offensive snap counts which is fourth most among running backs.

Eli Manning has the 8th best completion percentage (69.1%) and the 11th best Interception percentage (1.75%). Both are career best. His quarterback rating of 96.2 is also a career best. The Giants are 10th in passing plays of 20+ yards (41 plays) and 7th in passing plays of 40+ yards (9 plays). The Giants are tie for 7th in turnover giveaways with only 12. They are one of eight teams (top 25%) that have two or more receivers with each over 500 yards receiving and with a catch percentage of greater than 64%. Beckham and Sterling Shepard have each been in on just over 93% of offensive snaps which is 6th and 7th among wide receivers. That is the most by any receiving duo in the league. Eli Manning sits at 11th place in all time 4th quarter comebacks. This year the Giants’ 4th quarter points/game is 8.5 which is tie for 5th best in the league. Last year it was 4.4 points/game which was 28th in the league.

Kicker Aldrick Rosas is one of fourteen kickers perfect on extra points. Rosas has the fifth best field goal percentage (95.8%) and the fifth most attempts. He is perfect on field goals within 50 yards.

There it is. I think all five have reason for hope. The Raiders with a beast at center and a ton of draft picks, the Jets with a Pro-Bowl safety and a potential franchise quarterback, the 49ers with a solid run game and a returning potential franchise quarterback next year, the Cardinals with a strong pass defense and a potential franchise quarterback, and lastly my Giants with an explosive set of offensive weapons and a quarterback that can still sling it.

As the season winds down only 12 of the 32 teams will make the playoffs, only 4 will make the Conference Championship, only 2 will make the Super Bowl and only one will win. For all the other teams and their fans remember the following quote.

I’ve missed more than 900 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan, six-time NBA champion

Enjoy the week 13 games!

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