Everything is Not What It Seems

Invasion of the Body Snatchers “You know her uncle, Uncle Ira?…Well Miles, she’s got herself thinking he isn’t her uncle. She thinks he’s an imposter or something.”

What teams are better or worse than what the records and standings indicate. Here are three teams on both sides that are masquerading based on differential metrics of

  1. Explosiveness (20+ yard plays)
  2. Turnovers
  3. Starting Field Position
  4. Finishing Drives
  5. Drive Efficiency

Better Than Appear

Seattle Seahawks

Currently 3-3 and the eight seed looking from outside at the playoff teams. Even at this point one could say with some certainty that the Rams will win the NFC West. However the Seahawks have a clear shot to move up into the wildcard teams edging out the Packers or the Panthers.

The Seahawks lead the league in turnover differential. They lost Earl Thomas for the season and he contributed 3 interceptions. However his replacement, Tedric Thompson, in his first game starting had an interception against the Rams. For years the Seahawks have played with a swarm-to-the-ball mentality and routinely practice tip drills. Their defensive end Frank Clark is defensive player of the week in week 6 and has had three forced fumbles over the last two games.  Defensively they on average allow 1.71 points per drive which is seventh best in the league.

The Seahawks run the ball second most in the league and average 4.3 yards per carry. Per Pro Football Focus running back Chris Carson ranks first in yards per carry (2.3) and yards after contact (3.4) for backs with at least 25 carries in which they’ve been contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Quarterback Russel Wilson ranks sixth among starting quarterbacks in 40+ yard passing plays (5) and ranks seventh in passer rating (104.8).

Houston Texans

The Texans are 3-3, second in the AFC South and at ninth seed in the playoff race looking from the outside at the playoff leaders.

Quarterback DeShaun Watson has been sacked 25 times and hit 70 times. Both are most in the league and the next closest team for hits has 49. Watson is a tough player. In week five he suffered a cracked rib, a bruised lung, and a partially collapsed lung during the Texans/Cowboys game. Yet he led the Texans on the game winning field goal drive. He played the next week against Buffalo.

This season among starting quarterbacks, Watson is seventh in passing plays of 20+ yards (24), fifth in 1st down percentage (41.1%),  ninth in average yards per attempt (8.3), fourth in average yards per completion (12.8) and eight in passing yards per game (299.7).   In his 13 games since his rookie start Watson has 3,497 passing yards which is fourth most in NFL history in that span.  Since his rookie debut Watson has 28 touchdown passes which is the second-most ever through 13 games, behind only Kurt Warner.

The Texan special teams are playing good. On average their starting field position is the 31.2 yard line and their opponent starting position is the 26.1 yard line. The differential starting field position is second best in the league.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are 2-4, last in the NFC South and a 13th seed in the playoff race.

Quarterback Matt Ryan ranks third among starting quarterbacks in passer rating. He ranks fourth in touchdown passes (14)  and fourth in 1st down percentage (41.1%) among starting quarterbacks.  Ryan is ninth in passes of 20+ yards (23).

The team ranks fourth in turnover differential and contributing to that is the fact that Ryan has thrown only two interceptions. That is tie for fourth best among starting quarterbacks.  The Falcons have only one fumble lost for the season which is tie for second.

What is killing the Falcons is that their defense is ranked last in points allowed per drive with 3 points per drive. Three of their four losses were by six points or less.

Not As Good as they Appear

New England Patriots

The Patriots are 4-2, top of the AFC East and a second seed in the playoff race.

You have to go back a decade to 2008 for a season that the Patriots did not win the AFC East. That year the Dolphins took the division title. This season the Jets and the Dolphins so far do not trail the Patriots by much statistically speaking. The one caveat is the return of receiver Julian Edelman in week five could significantly adjust the stats.

In explosive plays the Patriots and Jets have the same play differential. The Jets are better in offensive big plays and the Patriots better in defense limiting big plays. Turnover differential is a wash between the three teams. Starting field position differential is a clear win by the Jets and Dolphins with the Patriots being 24th in the league. In finishing drives the Patriots lead (7th), followed close by the Jets (11th). However the Dolphins are poor at finishing drives(20th). Finally overall play efficiency goes Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.

The AFC East should be interesting to see how things develop.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are 3-2, second in the NFC South and a fifth seed making the playoffs as a wildcard.

With the Saints (4-1) doing very well it looks like the Panthers would have to get in as a wildcard. However they show some troubling stats.

From an explosive play angle the Panthers are last in the league. They have 15 passing plays of 20+ yards  and have given up 21 passing plays of 20+ yards. In rushing they have 3 plays of 20+ yards and have given up 6 such plays. This puts their differential at minus nine and trailing the Raiders at minus eight.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans are 3-3, first in the AFC South and fourth seed in the playoff picture.

The Titans are last in the league in passing plays of 20+ yards with only nine in six games.  Compounding the problem is that they are 23rd in rushing plays of 20+ yards with only two. Their explosive play differential is 27th in the league at minus seven.

The Titans are 28th in the league in starting field position differential. They are 23rd in points per drive differential. This even though they are second in defensive points per drive. This again highlights a offensive explosiveness problem.

Enjoy the week 7 games and check out a good horror movie for Halloween!

Week Four Rankings Based on Five Key Factors

Bill Connelly, a writer for SBNation covering NCAA football, came out with a list of five factors for winning football games. His list is

  1. you make more big plays than your opponent,
  2. you are more efficient when you have the ball than your opponent,
  3. you finish drives and stop your opponent from doing so,
  4. you win the starting field position battle, and
  5. you win the turnover battle.

Based on this list and associated data I ranked the thirty-two teams. The data used was

  1. Differential of 20+ yard plays (pass and run) for each team minus their opponents from nfl.com stats,
  2. Net team efficiency as computed by Football Outsiders,
  3. Net Points per drive as computed by Football Outsiders,
  4. Net Starting field position from Football Outsiders, and
  5. Turnover differential from the Football Database.

Here is the ranking starting with the best and a little blurb on each team. The data used was from weeks one thru four of this season. The team’s record at week four is shown for each team.

1 ) Los Angeles Rams (4-0)

The Rams have the most passing plays of 20+ yards with 23 over four games. They are number one in net points per drive (1.52 points) and in 1st down % on passing plays (47.4%).

2) Chicago Bears (3-1)

The Bears are one of only three teams that have not given up a rushing play of 20+ yards. They are one of two teams that have not allowed a rushing touchdown. The Bears have the shortest long running play against them (15 yards).

3) Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)

The Chiefs have a league high 47% of their drives end in a touchdown. The Chiefs are fifth in 1st downs per game, third in third downs made percent (49%) and tie for first in forth downs made with 100% on three attempts.

4) Washington Redskins (2-1)

The Redskins are one of only three teams that did not give up a rush of 20+ yards. They have also given up the least number of 20+ passing plays with only five surrendered.

5) Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1)

The Jaguars have the best 20+ yards big play differential in the league. For 20+ yard plays they are 2nd in passing defense (7 plays), 4th in rushing defense (1 play), 14th in passing offense (14 plays) and 5th in rushing offense (3 plays).

6) Baltimore Ravens (3-1)

The Ravens are second in Net Points per drive due in large part being second in Defensive Points per Drive allowed. They are tied for second in 3rd down conversion percent on defense (28%) . Opposing quarterbacks have the lowest passer rating against the Ravens (69.1).

7) Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)

Receiver A.J. Green is second in receiving touchdowns (5) and fellow receiver Tyler Boyd is eighth among wide receivers in 20+ yard receptions (6). Boyd is most deadly in the middle of the field where he had six 20+yard receptions and an 81% first down conversion rate.

8) New Orleans Saints (3-1)

Drew Brees has the highest completion percentage among quarterbacks with over 20 attempts (75.8%) and the third best passer rating (115.3). He should pass Brett Favre this weekend to take the number two spot in career passing yards.

9) Los Angeles Chargers (2-2)

The Chargers are tie for most rushing plays of 20+ yards (6). The percentage of Austin Ekeler’s runs that go for at least 10 yards (28.6%) , is the best mark in the NFL. The Chargers have 20 total runs of at least 10 yards, which is the most in the NFL.

10) Houston Texans (1-3)

The Texans are number one in Net Line Of Scrimmage (LOS) per drive with a net 7.94 yards. On average they start almost at the 32 yard line and their opponent starts at almost the 24 yard line. Running Back Tyler Ervin is tie in second for kickoff returns of 20+ yards with seven.  At his combine Ervin was 8th overall in broad jump, 12th in vertical jump and 11th in the forty.

11) Miami Dolphins (3-1)

The Dolphins are tie for third in turnover differential with a plus four. They have a league high nine interceptions that are spread across six players. Cornerback Xavien Howard leads with three. Opposing quarterbacks have a 72.2 passer rating against the Dolphins. That is the second lowest in the league.

12) Green Bay Packers (2-1-1)

The Packers have the fourth best 1st down percentage (29.7) on rushes. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers contributes to that with 11 attempts and a 54.5% first down percentage. That is the best in the league for any player with over five attempts. Running Back Aaron Jones also helps with 17 attempts and a 41.2% which is 7th best.

13) Cleveland Browns (1-2-1)

The Browns lead the league in turnover differential with a plus seven. they have a league high six forced fumbles. Khalil Mack leads the league with four forced fumbles.

14) Atlanta Falcons (1-3)

The Falcons are 30th in points allowed per game with 30.5 points. On the bright side they are 6th in points scored per game. Still their Net points per drive is -0.16 which is 20th in the league.

15) Carolina Panthers (2-1)

The Panthers are third in the league in turnover differential. They are one of only three teams that have turned the ball over twice or less. On the flip side they are sixth in the league in interceptions with five. The Panthers are tie for last in explosive play (20+ yards) differential.  They have a league low seven passing plays of 20+ yards.

16) New England Patriots (2-2)

The Patriots are ninth in the league in Net Points per drive. In scoring touchdowns in the red zone the Patriots are 8th with 2 out of every 3 trips in the red zone scoring a touchdown.

17) Seattle Seahawks (2-2)

The Seahawks are tie for third in the league in turnover differential with a plus four. They are third in interceptions with seven. Their secondary has three players in the top twelve in interceptions – Earl Thomas (3), Shaquill Griffin (2) and Bradley McDougald (2). With the loss of Earl Tomas for the season due to injury it remains to be seen if this trend will continue.

18) Denver Broncos (2-2)

The Broncos are tie at 26th in turnover differential. Quarterback Case Keenum is tie for second in the league for most interceptions with six. If that keeps up Chad Kelly may soon be starting.

19) Indianapolis Colts (1-3)

Quarterback Andrew Luck does not seem to be pushing the ball downfield. The Colts are tie for 23rd in passing plays of 20+ yards with nine. They are in 30th for both passing average per attempt (6 yards) and average per completion (8.48 yards).

20) Detroit Lions (1-3)

What happened to Detroit in that opening game loss to the Jets of 48-17? In his last three games quarterback Mathew Stafford has thrown one interception and has had a passer rating of 109.8 (7th best across other teams).  Detroit is tie for 8th in passing plays of 20+ yards (17). They have been close in the other two losses. That first game drags them down to 20th in this ranking.

21) Tennessee Titans (3-1)

The Titans have gone for it on fourth down more than any other team (7 times) and have made it 71% of the time. The Titans, Cowboys and Panthers all have a league low seven passing plays of 20+ yards.

22) San Francisco 49ers (1-3)

The 49ers have the worst Net Average starting field position per drive. On average they start on the 24 yard line and their opponent starts on the 32 yard line. For explosive plays running back Matt Breida has a league high six rushing plays of 20+ yards.

23) New York Jets (1-3)

The Jets are tie for last with the Lions in giving up the most 20+ yard rushing plays with five surrendered. This contributed to the jets tied for worst big play (20+ yards) differential with minus six. The teams tied for last in big plays differential are the Jets, Panthers, Eagles and Giants.

24) Dallas Cowboys (2-2)

Dallas has the 30th ranked third down conversion percentage with a 28.26%. Their passing completion percentage of 61.7% is 26th. For overall team efficiency they ranked 24th. They also had the fourth lowest net starting field position with them starting on average at their 24 yard line and their opponent at their 29 yard line.

25) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2-1)

The Steelers have the second worst net starting position with their average start on the 24 and their opponent on the 31. Their net points per drive of -.4 ranked 25th in the league.

26) Oakland Raiders (1-3)

The Raiders are 28th in big pass plays (20+ yards) given up with 19 and 27th in big rushing plays (20+ yards) given up with 4.  Their big play differential is minus five which ranks 27th. They rank 30th in finishing drives with a -0.61 net points per drive.

27) Minnesota Vikings (1-2-1)

The Vikings rank 30th in the percent of drives that produce points with 29.1% resulting in a score. The Vikings have a league second worst average point differential at the start of their drives of down by seven.

28) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2)

The Buccaneers are tie for a league high seven offensive interceptions with three coming in each of the last two games. Even the returned Jameis Winston had two. The Bucs are tie in last with a league low minus four turnover differential.

29) Philadelphia Eagles (2-2)

The Eagles are tie with the Panthers, Jets and Giants for worst big play differential with minus six. The Eagles are 29th in passing plays of 20+ yards with eight. Quarterback Carson Wentz has done better than Nick Foles in long passing plays but even Wentz only has five long passing plays over two games.

30) Buffalo Bills (1-3)

The Bills have the league lowest touchdown percentage on drives with only 10.2% of their drives ending in a touchdown and a league high 55% ending in a punt. Among current starting quarterbacks Josh Allen has the lowest completion percentage of 53.4% and the lowest passer rating at 63.8.

31) New York Giants (1-3)

The Giants are tie for last in big play (20+ yards) differential with the Panthers, Jets and Eagles at minus six. The Giants are ranked 31st in passing average per completion with an average of 8.3 yards.

32) Arizona Cardinals (0-4)

The Cardinals rank 32nd in passing average per completion with an average of 8.2 yards. They rank last in the league in scoring on drives with only 14.6% of their drives resulting in points.

Enjoy the week 5 games!

Picks for Starting Quarterback Padawans and Winless Teams

Back in my first post in August on the first and second year quarterbacks I referred to them as padawans. A term from Star Wars for young Jedi knights in training. Now in week four there are a total of eight padawans starting. The games and staring padawan are:

Browns vs Raiders  – Baker Mayfield

Texans vs Colts – DeShaun Watson

Bills vs Packers – Josh Allen

Chiefs vs Broncos – Patrick Mahomes

Jets vs Jaguars – Sam Darnold

Buccaneers vs Bears – Mitch Trubisky

49ers vs Chargers – CJ Beathard

Seahawks vs Cardinals – Josh Rosen

I have picked three of these games as being most likely for the padawan to get a win or loss. It happened that all three games include one of the three remaining winless teams. Here are the picks.

Browns vs Raiders (-2.5)

Baker Mayfield starts his first NFL game following being put in for an injured Tyrod Taylor in week three. In that week 3 game against the Jets, Mayfield helped lead the Browns to their first victory since December 24th 2016. He was 17 of 23 for 201 yards and a 100 passer rating.

The Browns and the Raiders are teams at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Browns are excelling in three main categories that are generally recognized as influencing the outcome of a game. Those three categories are explosiveness, starting field position and turnovers. For the sake of measurement explosiveness in this evaluation is the number of 20+ yard plays of the offense minus the number of such plays the defense gives up. The Browns are plus three in explosiveness, plus nine in turnover differential and fifth place in net starting position (their offense minus the opponent offense). The Browns are one of the top five teams in these categories combined. See my post on Best and Worst Teams by Turnovers and Big Plays. The Raiders on the other hand are one of the bottom five teams in these categories. They are minus five in explosiveness, minus four in turnover differential and twenty seventh place in net starting position.

Prediction: Look for Mayfield and the Browns to win and the Raiders to remain winless.

Texans vs Colts (-1)

DeShaun Watson and the Texans have had a bad start and are now one of only three teams without a win.  The Colts are a better team in turnovers and lead the Texans with a plus one turnover differential to a minus two differential for the Texans. However in terms of explosiveness the Texans are a plus five compared to the Colts minus three. In starting field position the Colts are a decent seventh place with a positive 5.17 yards Net Line of Scrimmage (LOS) starting field position. However the Texans are even better in third place with a positive 7.47 yards Net LOS.

Prediction: Watson and the Texans win and break their three game loss streak.

Seahawks (-3) vs Cardinals

Josh Rosen gets his first NFL start following replacing Sam Bradford with 4:31 remaining in the loss to Chicago in week three. He was 4 of 7 for 36 yards and one interception . The Seahawks have a plus three in turnovers, a minus one in explosiveness and are in 18th place in Net LOS with a minus 1.63 yards. On the other hand the Cardinals are minus three in turnovers, minus seven in explosiveness and in 15th place in net LOS with a minus 0.3 yards.

Prediction:  Seahawks to win as the Cardinals with Rosen remain winless.

So two of the three padawan quarterbacks get a win and two of the winless teams remain winless.  Enjoy the games!

Best and Worst Teams by Turnovers and Big Plays

Two factors that indicate a team’s win/loss potential are the takeaways/giveaway differential and the big play differential. The takeaways/giveaways are the difference in turnovers between the ones the offense gives up and the ones the defense take. The big play differential are plays (pass or run) of 20+ yards between those achieved by the offense and those given up by the defense.  Below are the teams that are excelling (positive) in these categories and those doing poorly (negative). Beside the team is their win/loss record followed by their big play differential and  turnover differential. Positive numbers are better. Teams are listed in order starting with best and decreasing. Criteria for selection was a combination of positive or negative in both categories.

Update: I added the Net Line Of Scrimmage (LOS) per Drive (Dr). It is the Offensive average starting field position minus the Opponent (Defensive) average starting field position. Positive is better. This is another indicator or contributing factor for win/loss outcome.

Positive Teams

Los Angeles Rams (3 W , 0 L)

Big Play differential: +6

Turnover differential: +3

Net LOS/Dr: 7.10 (4th)

Brandin Cooks is one of only five wide receivers to have reached over 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons.  This year his catch percentage of 76% is fourth among wide receivers with 100+ yards per game. His 17.7 yards per reception is third among wide receivers with 100+ yards per game. He is one of only nine wide receivers averaging 100+ yards per game. Though only 5’10” and 183 pounds Cooks has played every game over the last three seasons. Brandin Cooks ran the fastest forty yard dash at the 2014 NFL Combine (4.33 seconds). Cooks has got seven plays of 20+ yards, the second most receiving 20+ yards in the league.

Washington Redskins (2 W , 1 L)

Big Play differential: +6

Turnover differential: +2

Net LOS/Dr: -2.35 (21st)

Seven time Pro-Bowler in his nine year career, Adrian Peterson is starting 2018 strong. He has 100+ all purpose yards in two of his three games.In his week three game he averaged 6.3 yards per carry for 120 yards.  He has three rushing touchdowns for the season which is tie for fourth in the league. Peterson is one of only six running backs that have had a rush of 40+ yards. 

Cleveland Browns (1 W , 1 L , 1 T)

Big Play differential: +3

Turnover differential: +9

Net LOS/Dr: 5.93 (5th)

Rookie Denzel Ward was the fourth pick in the 2018 draft and the first defensive player chosen. He opened his rookie season with two interceptions and three passes defended against the Steelers. In his third game against the Jets Ward allowed just two receptions for nine yards in coverage. He also ripped a ball away from Jets receiver Robby Anderson and recovered the fumble to help the Browns to their first win.

Miami Dolphins (3 W , 0 L)

Big Play differential: +1

Turnover differential: +4

Net LOS/Dr: 7.97 (1st)

After returning from a season ending ACL injury in the 2017 preseason Ryan Tannehill is now enjoying what is so far the best season of his seven season career. His completion percentage has been above 70% in each of his three games for an average of 73%, the fifth best in the league.  He has the fourth best passer rating at 121.8. Tannehill’s touchdown to interception ratio of 3.5 is tie for seventh best among quarterbacks with at least one touchdown. He is sixth in touchdowns with seven. In week three he had a 34 yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills and a 36 yard pass down the sideline to DeVante Parker. he had a 155 passer rating, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in the third game.

Atlanta Falcons (1 W , 2 L)

Big Play differential: +1

Turnover differential: +1

Net LOS/Dr: 4.23 (8th)

Rookie Receiver Calvin Ridley was chosen 26th in round 1 of the 2018 NFL draft. He is tie for first among wide receiver for touchdowns with four. His 90.9% first down percentage on receptions is second among wide receivers with more than five receptions. Ridley was a top wide receiver in the forty (6th) and three cone (10th) at the Combine.  In week three he was targeted eight times and had seven receptions, 146 yards and three touchdowns.

Negative Teams

Minnesota Vikings (1 W , 1 L , 1T)

Big Play differential: -1

Turnover differential: -1

Net LOS/Dr: -4.96 (28th)

The offensive line has been identified as a potential weak link in a strong team. Their run game has averaged  3.5 yards per carry which is 29th in the league. In the passing game they have given up nine sacks which is 22nd in the league. Minnesota has nine big passing plays (15th) and zero big rushing plays (27th).

Pittsburgh Steelers (1W, 1L, 1T)

Big Play differential: -3

Turnover differential: -1

Net LOS/Dr: -5.93 (30th)

The Steelers lead the league in penalties with 37 and 361 penalty yards. The next closest team in number is Buffalo with 28 penalties. The next team in penalty yards is the Eagles with 266 yards.

Philadelphia Eagles (2W, 1L)

Big Play differential: -5

Turnover differential: -3

Net LOS/Dr: -9.34 (32nd)

The Eagles have just five passing plays of 20+ yards which is tie for 28th in the league. Their receiving corps has been hurt by injuries losing both Mack Hollins and Mike Wallace.  The Eagles have only two passing touchdowns thru three games which is tie with eight teams for least in the league.

Oakland Raiders (0W, 3L)

Big Play differential: -5

turnover differential: -4

Net LOS/Dr: -4.19 (27th)

The Raiders traded Khalil Mack and are now hurting to generate a pass rush. They have three sacks in three games which is the least in the league.  Opposing quarterbacks have a 105 passer rating which is 26th in the league. The Raiders have given up 15 passing plays of 20+ yards which is tie for 29th in the league.

Arizona Cardinals (0W, 3L)

Big Play differential: -7

Turnover differential: -3

Net LOS/Dr: -0.30 (15th)

Arizona has just six big passing plays (27th) and zero big rushing plays (27th). Their 23% third down conversion rate is last in the league. On passing plays 21% achieve first down (last) but 23% of their rushing plays achieve first down (17th).

Week Three Television Main Events

Today we look at the television main games for week three. There are some interesting story-lines and two potential shootouts.

Sunday Late: Dallas @ Seattle (FOX)

These are two teams that want to get their run games going.

Seattle was 23rd in the league in 2017 in rushing yards per game with 101. They drafted running back Rashaad Penny in round one of the draft.Their 2017 seventh round pick, Chris Carson, returned in 2018 from a season ending injury in 2017. Carson has rushed for an average of 5.8 yards per carry this season which is sixth best for backs with at least 10 carries. Carson runs with power, can make a quick cut and shows good hands. Penny got off to a slow start in game one with only a 1.1 yard average on seven carries. He did have four receptions for 35 yards. He improved in week two averaging 3 yards a carry on ten attempts with a long of 10 yards.  Carson is listed as running back one on the depth chart. Will Penny push to take over that slot?

The Cowboys are 29th in the league in opponent rushing first down percentage (30.6%).  In passing defense the Cowboys are fifth in the league in opponent passing yards per game (183).

Ezekiel Elliot is 14th in the league in rushing average with 4.6 yards per carry for backs with a minimum 10 carries. He is 13th in rushing first down percentage at 25%.  he does have two rushing touchdowns which is tie for sixth in the league. The Seahawks are one of ten teams in the NFL that have yet to give up a 20+ yard running back play. I see these two teams working hard to dominate in the run game.

Sunday Night: New England @ Detroit (NBC)

New head coach Matt Patricia squares off against his former boss Bill Belichick.

Even though the Lions were 9-7 last season and they made the playoffs twice in the last four seasons they felt a coaching change was needed. You have to go back to 1991 since the Lions moved beyond the wild card game in the playoffs. Before Patricia the coach was Jim Caldwell. Caldwell’s record as Lions coach was 36–28 (.563), making him the first Detroit head coach (who lasted at least one season) to have a winning record since 1972. Caldwell’s .563 winning percentage was the best for a Lions’ head coach since the 1950s.  Patricia is now at 0-2 and faces a tough game against the Super Bowl competitor New England Patriots.

Record-setting quarterback Mathew Stafford had a horrible opening game against the Jets. He had four interceptions to one touchdown, a 58.7% completion rate and a 47.9 passer rating. He came back to form in the second game in the loss to the 49ers with a 101.7 passer rating. The Lions lead the league in passing attempts per game with 52.   The Lions may have the most talented three wide receiver set with Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. The Patriots now have a talented receiver group with Josh Gordon and tight end Rob Gronkowski. The pass defenses of these teams are not great. The Lions have yielded n opponent passer rating of 117.7 and Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay is questionable after suffering a concussion last Sunday. The Patriots have yielded a better opponent passer rating of 90.7 but have yielded an average 267 passing yards per game (23rd).  This could be a shootout.

Monday Night: Pittsburgh @ Tampa Bay (ESPN)

In passing yards per game these teams are ranked number one (TB – 405) and number two (PIT – 377).

Roethlisberger gets there with a combination of number of passing attempts coupled with decent yards per completion and receiver YACs. He leads the league in passing attempts per game (50). Only Lions’ Mathew Stafford is close with 49. Roethlisberger is ninth in yards/completion (12.7 yards). However his completion percentage (61.4%) and passer rating (86.5) are not that impressive. He is aided by two receivers in the top five per receptions – Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers are fifth in passing plays of 20+ yards with 10. However most of those are due to yards-after-the catch by the receivers. Per Pro Football Focus Roethlisberger has attempted 17 passes of 20+ yards and has connected on only three of them for 75 yards. He may be affected by an elbow injury that occurred in week one.

Amazingly Fitzpatrick is 24th in the league in passing attempts per game at 30. He is efficient with a completion percentage of 78.7% which is third in the league. His yards per completion of 17.1 yards is second in the league.  The Buccaneers have the second most passes of 20+ yards (12) and Pro Football Focus lists Fitzpatrick as the top quarterback in Big-Time throws with ten. The next closest is Russell Wilson with seven. The Buccaneer’s  receivers are not on the level of the Steelers but they do have three good receivers in DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Ryan Fitzpatrick has the highest passer rating thru two weeks with a 151.5. A perfect rating is 158.3.  The average passer rating for the first two weeks of the season going back to 2002 hovers in the range of 84 to 92.4. We’ll see Monday if these two teams continue to light it up.

Enjoy the week three games!

 

Intrastate Super Bowl?

Technically there has only been one Super Bowl where both teams were from the same state. It was Super Bowl XXIX on 1/29/1995 between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers. Technically because the Bills-Giants in Super Bowl XXV does not count as the Giants are from New Jersey and the Bills from New York. What teams have a shot to make another intrastate Super Bowl a reality?

California

Los Angeles Rams (2-0)

The Rams are 2-0 and have the largest positive point differential with a whopping +54 points. They have outscored their opponents by 67 to 13. The next closest team in point differential is the Baltimore Ravens with a +33 but they have a 1-1 record.

Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)

Quarterback Philip Rivers is fourth in completion percentage (73.1%) and also in passer rating 119.6 this season. Rivers is a seven-time Pro Bowler with 51,028 career passing yards (9th all time) and 348 passing touchdowns (6th all time).  His career passer rating of 95.1 is 8th all time and his career completion percentage of 64.4% is 9th all time.

San Francisco 49ers (1-1)

San Francisco running back Matt Breida leads the league in rushing yards (184) and in average per carry (8.4 yards) (for backs with a minimum 5 carries) and in attempts of 20+ yards (3).  The 49ers are third in rushing yards per game (140).

Oakland Raiders (0-2)

According to Pro Football Focus, quarterback Derek Carr’s adjusted completion percentage of 93.8% (accounts for drops, throw aways, etc) against Denver is the highest for any quarterback in the NFL this year. He completed 29 of 32 passes. This season tight end Jared Cook has six receptions of 20+ yards, the most by a tight end.

Florida

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-0)

Ninety percent of Keelan Cole’s ten receptions this season made first down. That is fifth best among receivers with a minimum of five receptions.

Miami Dolphins (2-0)

Receiver Jakeem Grant may be the hottest kick returner in the league after two weeks. He had three kickoff returns with all three going 20+ yards and one going 102 yards for a touchdown. He has done four punt returns and has averaged 11.8 yards which includes a 22 yard return. The Dolphins lead the league in lowest opponent passer rating (56.6).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0)

The Bucs lead the league in average passing yards (13.4), passing yards per game (405), passing first down percentage (55.7%), passing plays of 40+ yards (4) and in passer rating (151.5).

Maryland

Baltimore Ravens (1-1)

The Ravens lead the league in lowest opponent pass completion percentage with a low 46.7%. They also lead in passes defended with 21.

Washington Redskins (1-1)

The Redskins lead the league in lowest yards per game allowed (247) and lowest passing yards per game allowed (161).

New Jersey

New York Giants (0-2)

According to Pro Football Focus, Saquon Barkley ranks 3rd in yards after contact per attempt (4.38) this season among running backs with a minimum of 15 carries.

New York Jets (1-1)

The Jets are tie for first in the league in interceptions with five.  The five interceptions are spread among the team’s defense with Darron Lee (2) , Jamal Adams, Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne all getting interceptions. They are fourth in the league in passes defended (17). The Jets are third in the league in lowest opponent passer rating (64.7).

Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)

The Eagles are tie for first in the league in rushing touchdowns with four. Running back Jay Ajayi is tie for first among rushers with three rushing touchdowns.

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1-1)

Rookie James Connor has been a nice surprise filling in for Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers are tie for first in the league in rushing touchdowns with four. James Connor is tie for first among backs with three of those rushing touchdowns. He had one for 22 yards and the touchdown.

Texas

Dallas Cowboys (1-1)

Dallas is ranked second in the league in sacks with nine for the season. The sacks are spread across eight players. Six of those nine sacks came against the Giants.

Houston Texans (0-2)

Houston leads the league in rushing yards (315). Contributing to that total is quarterback DeShaun Watson with 84 yards rushing ad a team high 6.5 yards per carry. Unfortunately he has had two fumbles on those rushes.

The most likely candidates for an intrastate Super Bowl would be Rams vs Chargers or the Jaguars vs Buccaneers (if FitzPatrick keeps his streak alive). Those two would next be followed by Steelers vs Eagles. But for that game has a load of questions. Will Wentz be back to his old form? Will Roethlisberger and the Steeler defense improve?

Enjoy the week three games!

Top Nine Running Backs in Rookie or 2nd Season in Week One

Here are my top 1-2 year running backs based on week one performance. Both rushes and receptions are counted.

1) Alvin Kamara (NOR)

Kamara had 17 attempts (pass/rush) and had 141 yards, three touchdowns, an 8.3 yard average, a long of 35 yards, two touches of 20+ yards and a 47.1% first down conversion rate.

2 ) Saquon Barkley (NYG)

Barkley had the longest run of all 1-2 year running backs with a 68 yard touchdown run.

3) Austin Ekeler (LAC)

Ekeler had the highest average among 1-2 year backs on combined pass/rush with a 12.6 yard average on 10 attempts. He gained 126 yards and one touchdown. Ekeler had a 60% first down conversion rate.

 

4) Phillip Lindsay (DEN)

Lindsay had 17 attempts (pass/rush) for 102 yards, a 29 yard touchdown reception, a 6 yard average and 35% of his attempts made first down.

5) Joe Mixon (CIN)

Mixon had a run of 20+ yards in each of the two games he has played in and another 20+ pass play. He had

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap3000000961915/Joe-Mixon-escapes-chaos-cuts-back-for-21-yard-gain

6) James Connor (PIT)

Connor had the most rushing attempts (31), rushing yards(135) and rushing touchdowns (2) of all 1-2 year backs. One of his touchdowns was a 22 yard run. He also had five receptions for 57 yards.

7) Chris Carson (SEA)

Though only attempting seven rushes, Carson had a whopping 7.3 yard average per rush which included a 24 yard long rush.

8) Christian McCaffrey (CAR)

McCaffrey had 16 touches for 95 yards averaging 5.9 yards per attempt.

9) Nick Chubb (CLE)

Though only having three attempts Chubb broke a long one of 17 yards.

https://www.clevelandbrowns.com/video/nick-chubb-fights-out-of-the-pack-for-a-big-first-down

 

 

Week One Bottom Ten Teams By Yards

Continuing my previous post on the top ten teams in week one by yards we now look at the bottom ten teams by yards gained and yards allowed.

23. San Francisco 49ers (0-1)

The 49ers rushed for only 90 yards and a 3.6 yard average. Alfred Morris, 49er running back, turned the ball over on a forced fumble in the red zone at the one yard line.

24. Houston Texans (0-1)

DeShaun Watson passed for only 158 yards, had a 50% completion rate and a 62.9 passer rating. He threw only one touchdown to one interception. His average yards per completion was 9.3 yards which was 24th compared to other teams. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble.

25. New Orleans Saints (0-1)

Drew Brees was in a shootout with Ryan Fitzpatrick.  With Saints running back Mark Ingram suspended for So the Saints decided to give up the run game. They had just 13 rushing attempts , the lowest in week one. Their rushing average was only 3.3 yards per carry. Interesting that the Buccaneers did not abandon the run and rushed for 34 attempts which was fifth most in week one. The Buccaneers also averaged only 3.3 yards per attempt. As for the other game aspects you could say both team passing offenses were outstanding or both pass defenses were abysmal. I lean on the side of poor pass defense.

26. Detroit Lions (0-1)

The feel of the game was that the Lions were disastrous. However the Lions did tie the game 17-17 at the top of the third quarter. Then it went to pieces. After tying the game the Lions allowed Sam Darnold to drive the Jets down the field and score a touchdown. The next Lions possession ended in a Stafford interception by Jets Darron Lee for a pick 6. On their ensuing possession the Lions went three and out and punted, That punt was returned by Jet Andre Roberts 78 yards for a touchdown. In 6 minutes on the game clock the Jets had pulled ahead by 21 unanswered points. The Jets would go on to kick a field goal and score another touchdown on a 62 yard run by Isaiah Crowell. The Lions run defense was terrible allowing the Jets to rush for 169 yards, a 4.7  yard average and giving up the Crowell touchdown run. In the passing game Stafford was picked off five times.

27. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)

What! The Chiefs! The Chiefs make this list due to the defense. Their pass defense allowed 418 yards (31st) of passing yardage, a 66.7% completion percentage, 45% first down completion and eight passing plays of 20+ yards (32nd). According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), the Chiefs defense combined to miss 19 tackles. This is tied for the third-most ever recorded by a team on the first week of a season. PFF rated the Chiefs defense as last. Granted they did play Phillip Rivers and the Chargers but still the defense was an area of concern going into the season.

28. Cleveland Browns (0-0-1)

Except for a run game aided by quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the Browns ranked poorly in all other aspects. They gave up 313 yards on passing offense (28th) and 41.5% of the Steelers passing attempts made first down. The Browns allowed 159 yards rushing (28th) and a 4.5 yard average. On passing offense the Browns had only 150 yards (27th) and had a passer rating of 51.8.

29. Dallas Cowboys (0-1)

The Cowboys had only 138 yards of passing offense (30th), a 7.3 yards per completion average and only one pass of 20+ yards which was exactly 20 yards. The rushing game was held to 94 yards. Their run defense gave up 147 yards (27th) and two touchdowns.

30. Buffalo Bills (0-1)

The Bills ranked dead last in passing yards with only 70 yards and a 6.3 yard average per completion. Their passer rating was 17. Their completion percentage was a league low 33%.  Bills’ run game ranked 25th with a total 83 yards and a 3.8 yards per carry average. Their defense yards allowed ranked 19th for run defense (117 yards) and 21st for pass defense (252 yards).

31. Seattle Seahawks (0-1)

The Seattle Seahawks run defense gave up 146 yards rushing (26th) and a 4.6 yards average. In Passing they gave up 324 yards (29th) and seven pass plays of 20+ yards (30th). Seattle’s run game had only 64 yards rushing (30th). In their passing offense they did gain 242 yards but that was only 14th in the league.

32. Arizona Cardinals (0-1)

Based on yards the Cardinals rank in last place. The best aspect of their game was their pass defense which gave up 247 yards (20th) and a 118 passer rating. The Cardinal passing game gained only 145 yards (29th) and their run game only 68 yards (29th). Their lowest score was for their run defense which gave up a league high 182 yards.

I would say not a lot of surprises. The only three are the Saints, Chiefs and the Seahawks.

The 48 points the Saints allowed Tampa Bay to score is the most the Saints gave up since the middle of 2015. That season they were dead last in points conceded and went 7-9. In 2016 they were 31st in points conceded and again went 7-9. The Saints brought in defensive talent drafting CB Marshon Lattimore, S Marcus Williams and DE Marcus Davenport. They had DE Cameron Jordan. In 2017 the Saints were 10th in points allowed, went 11-5 and made the playoffs. We shall see if this game was just an aberration.

The Chiefs are another high powered offensive team that has defensive problems. In 2017 they were 28th in yards allowed. For the 2018 draft five of their six selections were defensive players with only the last selection being on offense. In the NFL Top 100 Players of 2018 the Chiefs have three players but none on defense.

The Seahawks were 23rd in rushing yards per game in 2017. In the draft they went first round with running back Rashaad Penny. Defensively the Seahawks saw a large departure of defensive talent this offseason. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman, Sheldon Richardson, and Jeremy Lane will all be on new teams or retired in 2018. Safety Kam Chancellor is on the physically unable to perform list. Will the new starters be able to carry on the legacy of the Legion of Boom?

Enjoy the week two games!

Week One Top Ten Teams By Yards

The results are in for week one and here is a snapshot of the teams based on yards achieved and yards allowed. Granted one week is not a good sample size on which to draw conclusions but it does present a picture of what the teams were able to achieve coming together after a full preseason practice. The strength of the opponent is not factored into this analysis. However with parity being rampant in the NFL that may be okay. Just look at the Steelers-Browns game tie to see parity in full force. The analysis paints a picture based solely on yards gained and yards allowed. It is one aspect of analyzing the teams. This snapshot looked at passing and rushing yards achieved by the offense as well as passing and rushing yards allowed by the defense.  Here are the results.

The Top Ten

Eight of the top ten teams won in week one. The Steelers were the only team that tied and the Chargers were the only team that lost.

10. New England Patriots (1-0)

The Patriots excelled in pass defense allowing only 158 net passing yards which was ranked 8th  in the league. Edge rushers Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise had 1.5 sacks apiece. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had an interception in the end zone. DeShaun Watson had a 62.9 passer rating. The Patriots allowed only 23.5% of passing attempts to achieve a first down and limited Watson to only one pass of 20+ yards.

9. Minnesota Vikings (1-0)

The Vikings limited the 49ers to 90 yards rushing and a 3.6 yard average in the Viking victory. The longest rushing play allowed was only 14 yards. The 90 yards allowed was ranked ninth in the league. Defensive Tackle Linval Joseph had four tackles and a forced fumble.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0)

The Bucs excelled in both pass offense and run defense. The Saints did give up the run game to match FitzPatrick’s passing with their own. The Saints had the lowest rushing attempts in the league (13). Nevertheless the Bus did hold the Saints run game to an average of 3.3 yards and a long of 10 yards. In the passing game FitzPatrick had the league highest passer rating (156.2), highest passing 1st downs per attempt (60.7%), most 20+ yard passes (8 – tie), most passing touchdowns (4 – tie) and the third best completion percentage (75%). Jameis Winston watch out.

7. New York Jets (1-0)

Even though Sam Darnold had a good debut the real strength of the Jets was their run game and run defense. Like the Saints the Lions abandoned their run game to keep up with the Jets. The Lions had the second lowest rushing attempts (15). However the Jets did hold the Lions run game to a measly 2.6 yard average, a long of nine yards and a 13.3% first down conversion rate.  In the run game the Jets rushed for a league third highest 36 attempts and 169 yards. They averaged 4.7 yards per carry and had a long of 62 yards for a touchdown. Isaiah Crowell rushed for 10  attempts, 102 yards and two touchdowns. Bilal Powell had 12 attempts for 60 yards.

6. Los Angeles Chargers (0-1)

The Chargers are the only team to make the top ten and lose their game. The Chargers were second in passing yards (418), third in passing touchdowns (3), third in passing first down conversions (45%), tie for first in 20+ yard passing plays (8) and ninth in passer rating (103.7). Phillip rivers’ 66.7% completion percentage was ranked 10th in the league. The Chargers run game and run defense were decent. Melvin Gordon rushed for 64 yards on 15 attempts. The Chargers averaged 5.6 yards per rush and had a 31.8% first down conversion rate on rushing attempts. Their pass defense is where things went bad. Patrick Mahomes threw for 256 yards, four touchdowns and had six passing plays of 20+ yards.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0-1)

The Steelers had a tie against the Browns and are the only other team in the top ten besides the Chargers that did not have a win. The Steelers turned the ball over six times in the game. It is amazing that the Steelers got a tie with that many turnovers. If one can get past the six turnovers the Steelers had a dominant game in passing, rushing and pass defense. The Steelers passed for 313 net yards (5th), had a 41.5% first downs per passing attempts (7th) and had four pass plays of 20+ yards (8th).  In the run game the Steelers with James Connor rushed for 159 yards (5th), averaged 4.5 yards per carry (12th) and had two rushing touchdowns (2nd). The pass defense limited the Browns to 150 passing yards (6th) and 15% first down conversion on passing attempts (1st). Tyrod Taylor was limited to a 51.8 passer rating (5th). The Steelers were up 21-7 going into the fourth quarter after  the three interceptions. The Steelers gave up 177 yards in run defense (31st),  26% first down rushing conversion (24th) and two rushing touchdowns (26th).

4. Carolina Panthers (1-0)

The Panthers held the Cowboys scoreless until the fourth quarter. They the gave up one touchdown and a two-point conversion. The Panthers limited Dallas to 138 yards passing (3rd), a 5.9 yard average per pass attempt (11th) and had six sacks (2nd). In the offensive run game the Panthers had two rushing touchdowns. Cam Newton had the long run of 29 yards and one rushing touchdown. Christian McCaffrey had 10 attempts for 50 yards and a long of 15 yards. He also had six receptions for 46 yards and a long of 14 yards. The Panthers limited Ezekiel Elliott to 69 yards rushing and 17 yards receiving.

3. Baltimore Ravens (1-0)

The Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman could probably not have gone up against a tougher secondary than his disastrous opener. The Ravens secondary as covered in this prior post  is one of the more formidable secondaries.  The conditions of heavy rain and wind were not inducive to passing. Irregardless the Ravens held the Bills to 70 net yards passing which was the lowest in week one across the NFL. The Bills’ quarterbacks were sacked six times and had a combined passer rating of 17.1, the lowest in week one. The Raven’s run defense was also good holding the Bills to 83 yards rushing, a 3.8 yard average and a 13.6% first down conversion on rushing plays. The Ravens had a good passing offense with 252 yards passing, 68% completion percentage, three passing touchdowns, five pass plays of 20+ yards and a 113.9 passer rating.

2. Denver Broncos (1-0)

The Broncos held the Seahawks to 64 yards rushing with a 4.0 yard average and a league low 6.3% on first down conversions. Denver linebacker Von Miller forced two fumbles and recovered one of them. The Broncos had 324 yards net passing yardage (4th), three passing touchdowns, three interceptions and a 38.5% first down conversion on passing attempts. Case Keenum solidifies his choice as starting quarterback and quells any quarterback controversy for now. In addition the Broncos, led by rookies Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay,  rushed for 146 yards with a 4.6 yard average and a 25% first down conversion percentage on attempts.

1. Washington Redskins (1-0)

This was a surprise! The Redskins lead the top ten excelling in the run game and defense. The Redskins had a league high 182 yards rushing on a high 42 rushing attempts and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Newly signed Adrian Peterson was a workhorse rushing for 26 attempts and getting his 100th career rushing touchdown. The Redskins held Arizona to 145 yards passing (4th) and 68 yards rushing (4th). The Redskins do have a strong defensive front seven as covered in this post.

That is the top ten teams based on yards gained and allowed for week one. There were a few surprises for me. Those being the Buccaneers with a backup quarterback, the Jets with a rookie quarterback, the Broncos with “one year wonder” Case Keenum and the Redskins with the loss of Derrius Guice. They are off to a good start and have overcome adversity or the odds to get there.

I plan on putting out the bottom ten from week one before the Sunday games. So check back.

Enjoy the game tonight between the Ravens and the Bengals! The Ravens secondary should be tested a little more this week with A.J. Green.

 

 

Up-and-Coming Week One NFL Standouts

Following the quarterback padawan theme of my prior post, I expanded my search for a first to third year player at each position that stood out in week one.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (KAN – 2nd year)

Known for his arm strength, deep ball passing and extending the play from college Mahomes did not disappoint in his 2018 season opener. He completed six pass plays of 20+ yards on only 27 attempts (22%). Mahomes had four touchdowns to zero interceptions.  Admittedly two of those four touchdown passes were more like hand-offs down near the goal line that counted as forward passes. According to Pro Football Focus, Mahomes average depth of target was 14.6 yards downfield. The highest single season mark for the last decade is 13.4. Mahomes had the fourth highest passer rating (127.5) in week one. He should be an exciting quarterback to watch.

Running Back Phillip Lindsay (DEN – Rookie)

Undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay is nominated for Rookie Player of the Week. He is the only nomination that was not a round one draft selection. Lindsay rushed for 71 yards on 15 attempts for a 4.7 yard average. As his long was 14 yards, his average was not overly inflated on one big play. He also caught two passes for 31 yards including a 29 yard touchdown reception. the 29 yard touchdown pass was a dump-off at the line of scrimmage.

Wide Receiver Kenny Golladay (DET – 2nd year)

In a disastrous opening day for the Lions one of the bright spots was the play of receiver Kenny Golladay. Golladay had seven receptions for 114 yards and a 16.3 yard average. Two of the receptions were for 20+ yards and six of the seven made first down. Golladay was the leading receiver on the Lions and accounted for 38% of the Lions receiving yards. He also forced a turnover with his hit on a Matt Stafford interception. Golladay was a 3rd round pick in the 2017 NFL draft.

Tight End Will Dissly (SEA – Rookie)

Selected in the fourth round of the draft for being viewed as the best blocking tight end, Will Dissly also showed that he has good hands. He was the leading receiver on the Seahawks and accounted for 35% of the receiving yards. Dissly had 105 yards receiving on just three receptions. Each reception made a first down and he had a long of 66 yards and one touchdown.

The next two players are from the Denver Broncos’ offensive line. In their win on Sunday the Broncos had the fourth most passing yards (324), the seventh most rushing yards (146) and the tenth best rushing average (4.6 yards). The one sack they gave up put them in the top eleven teams for sacks allowed. All five starters played all 74 snaps and the offensive line had zero penalties.

Offensive Tackle Garett Bolles (DEN – 2nd year)

A first round draft pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Bolles made All PAC-12 first team his senior season and the PFWA All-Rookie team in 2017. Bolles is an athletic  tackle. At his 2017 combine he finished first and second among offensive linemen in the forty, 3-cone, broad jump and 20 yard shuttle. His NFL draft profile says ” plays with a mean streak and loves to finish”.

Offensive Guard Connor McGovern (DEN – 3rd year)

Connor McGovern Combine
Connor McGovern Combine

McGovern is another athletic lineman. His 2016 NFL draft profile stated that he is one of the strongest players in college football. McGovern has broken weight room records at Missouri. He was chosen in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL draft.  He is said to have a great work ethic and is competitive and aggressive on the field.

 

Defensive End DeForest Buckner (SF – 3rd year)

In week one Buckner led defensive linemen in sacks and tied for first in total tackles among defensive linemen. He was third across all position groups in sacks with 2.5. Buckner was the seventh pick in the 2016 draft. He was the third defensive player selected with the first two being Joey Bosa and Jalen Ramsey. Buckner made the 2016 PFWA NFL All-Rookie Team. He led all NFL defensive lineman with 1,108 snaps on the 2016 season and ranked second with 73 tackles. His six sacks ranked fourth among rookies. In 2017 Buckner’s tackles (45) and sacks (3)  significantly decreased. There were high expectations coming out of the 2016 NFL draft for Buckner. Per his nfl.com draft profile one NFC scout said “”His comp is going to be Calais Campbell or Arik Armstead but I think he’s more talented coming out than either one of those guys.”

Defensive Tackle Larry Ogunjobi (CLE – 2nd year)

Ogunjobi lined up against Steeler two-time first-team All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey in week one and came away with seven tackles and a sack.  The seven tackles was tie for a league high among defensive linemen. He was one of only eleven defensive tackles that had one or more sacks and one of only two defensive tackles with seven tackles. Larry went to college at North Carolina-Charlotte which was just starting a football program. He started every game in the school’s history and led the team in tackles for loss in each of his four seasons.

Linebacker Cory Littleton (LAR -3rd year)

Littleton led the Rams with 13 total tackles. He also recorded an interception and one pass defensed. His eleven solo tackles was tie for first among league linebackers.  Littleton played all 74 defensive snaps in the Rams victory over the Raiders.  Cory signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2016 draft. His rookie year he made 13 special teams tackles en route to winning the team’s Carrol Rosenbloom Memorial Award as the Rams’ top rookie.  In 2017 he started four games and had an interception off of Marcus Mariotta. This year he has taken on the starting role and the defensive signal caller following the trade of Alec Ogletree to the Giants.

Safety John Johnson (LAR – 2nd year)

Johnson had nine tackles (six solo), two passes defended and one interception in the Rams victory over the Raiders. Johnson was a third round pick in the 2017 NFL draft.  He started 11 games his rookie year and had 53 tackles, 11 passes defended and one interception.  In 2017 he was graded solidly in both run defense (72.8) and pass coverage (82.9) by Pro Football Focus.

Cornerback Denzel Ward (CLE – Rookie)

Ward had two interceptions and three additional passes defended in his rookie debut. He ties three other players for most interceptions in week one and is the only rookie among the four players. Ward also had six tackles (2 solo). Ward was the fourth overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft. In his junior year in college in 2017 he was a consensus All-American.

Special Teams Jakeem Grant  (MIA – 3rd year)

Grant returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. That was one of only two kickoff returns for touchdowns in week one. In college Grant had a career four kickoff returns for touchdowns. In his senior year Grant had a kickoff return of at least 30 yards in 8 of 12 games including a 103-yard touchdown return.