Quarterback Padawans Revisited After Preseason Week One

Previously I wrote about the AFC and NFC Quarterback rookies and second year players competing for roster spots. There are 42 so-called quarterback padawans. Today I revisit these players to see who are the top twelve of these quarterback padawans following preseason week one. In addition which players did not make the top twelve for which there were high expectations. (Twelve was picked due to that number being above an average measure for the 42 quarterbacks)

The Top Twelve

1) Baker Mayfield of Cleveland had the highest quarterback passer rating among rookie and second year quarterbacks in week one of the preseason. His rating of 125.4 was twelfth best among all quarterbacks. Mayfield went 11 of 20 for 212 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He rushed three times for thirteen yards and got a first down on each rush. Mayfield had five passing plays for 20+ yards, the best across the league. He showed poise, accuracy and the ability to scramble to throw or run. Mayfield is considered to be  the Browns future franchise quarterback.

2) Green Bay’s Tim Boyle went 7 of 15 for 130 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He had two passes of 20+ yards including a 54 yard touchdown pass. His quarterback passer rating of 116.7 was fourth best among rookies and second year quarterbacks. Boyle showed off his arm strength, poise under pressure and zip on the ball.  He stood in there and delivered the ball with pressure coming. Boyle had only a 47% completion percentage but was the victim of at least three dropped passes. Boyle will have a battle to make the team as he is currently the 4th string quarterback behind Hundley and Kizer. He could make the practice squad.

3) Panther Garrett Gilbert was selected in round 6 of the 2014 NFL draft. However he spent 2014 thru 2016 either on only an offseason roster or on a practice squad. The upcoming 2018 season is considered his second active season. In preseason week one Gilbert went 7 of 12 for 93 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. He had a passer rating of 110.8 which is third best among rookies and second year quarterbacks.  Coach Rivera says Gilbert’s strengths are “His arm strength. He makes good decisions and delivers a good ball,”.  Gilbert is the front-runner to backup Cam Newton.

4) Denver’s Chad Kelly went 14 of 21 for 177 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Forty three percent of his passing attempts went for a first down and he had two 20+ yard passes including a 36 yard touchdown. Mr. Irrelevant was anything but that in his NFL debut following a redshirt 2016 season due to injury. Kelly showed toughness, mobility, zip on the ball and ability to throw into tight windows. He is a competitor. See every play on Youtube. If Kelly continues to play like that he could easily move from third string to Case Keenum’s backup.

5) Cowboy’s Cooper Rush completed 15 of 23 (65.2%) for 145 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. He showed poise and accuracy. One snap was over his head but he maintained composure, caught the snap and made a pass downfield for a gain. Cooper had a nice touchdown pass on the run to Lance Lenoir with good placement into the corner of the end zone. Rush is the front-runner to backup Dak Prescott.

6) Viking Kyle Sloter was a 2017 undrafted free agent that only started nine games as quarterback in college. He also played receiver in college. Sloter completed 9 of 11 for 69 yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. Sloter showed his speed in a 14 yard touchdown run. Only Sloter and Lamar Jackson had both a passing and rushing touchdown among the padawans. Sloter’s 123 quarterback passer rating was third best among the padawans. Last preseason he had the second highest rookie passer rating.

7) Buffalo’s Nathan Peterman completed 9 of 10 attempts (90%) for 119 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His 11.9 passing yards average was seventh best in the league. Sixty percent of his passing attempts went for a 1st down which was fourth best in the league. Peterman had a 110 quarterback passer rating. He went 7-for-7 for 75 yards and a 28-yard touchdown on the opening drive. His one interception was off a ball that went off the receiver’s hands. Peterman is in competition with A.J. McCarron for the starting quarterback role.

8) Saint’s Taysom Hill completed 8 of 9 passing attempts for 72 yards. Forty-four percent of his pass attempts went for a first down. In addition Hill rushed seven times for 52 yards and four first downs. No quarterback rushed for more first downs. “The guy is a freak athlete. I’ve never seen anyone like him at this position,” said Joe Lombardi (the Saint’s quarterback coach), who said Hill “might be the strongest guy on the team — at least pound for pound.” Hill is competing with Tom Savage  to be Drew Brees’ backup. He is currently behind Savage on the unofficial depth chart.

9) Jet Sam Darnold completed 13 of 18 for 96 yards and one touchdown. Darnold looked poised and in control in the game. He was 9 of 11 for 74 yards and a touchdown in the first half. However in the second half he was only 4 of 7 and 22 yards. He completed 72% of his passes but averaged only 5.3 yards per attempt. His longest pass play was 18 yards. He ran twice for eight yards and zero rushing first downs. Darnold is expected to be the franchise quarterback the Jets have long searched for.

10) Steeler Joshua Dobbs led two scoring drives in the preseason opener.  At the end of the first half Dobbs ran the two minute offense . Dobbs started at their 25 yard line with 1:58 remaining in the half. He led the team 75 yards completing 6 of 9 including the 29 yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds remaining. Prior to that drive Dobbs led another scoring drive that included Dobbs running an option around end for 18 yards. All together Dobbs was 9  of 13 for 91 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also ran twice for 19 yards.

11) Bill’s Josh Allen was 9 of 19 for 116 yards and one touchdown. He also ran three times for 29 yards and two 1st downs. He showed his big arm with three passes of 20+ yards. Allen is a big physical player and showed the ability to escape tackles. See every Allen play on YouTube.

 12) Steeler Mason Rudolph went 7 of 12 for 101 yards averaging 8.4 yards per attempt. He played the entire second half and led three drives resulting in field goals. Rudolph is fourth on the Steelers depth chart but he was a third round draft pick.

Honorable Mention

Arizona Chad Kanoff only had five pass attempts but he made the most of them. He was 3 of 5 for 66 yards, a 14 yard touchdown pass, two first downs and a 48 yard pass. Kanoff has a strong arm, athleticism, velocity and accuracy. He is fourth on the depth chart.

Colts Brad Kaaya only had four pass attempts and he was 3 of 4 for 24 yards and two first downs. Kaaya is known for a quick release and a high football IQ.

Conspicuously Absent

Houston’s Deshaun Watson returned from his season ending ACL injury of last November. He was in on only the first drive and completed 1 of 1 attempts for four yards. “I think it was important for him to go through the whole warmup process and preparation for the game and get out there and operate the offense,” Coach O’Brien said. “Without having watched the film, I thought he did what we asked him to do.”

Chief’s Patrick Mahomes completed 5 of 7 for 33 yards. He was in on two drives both of which ended in punts. Here is a nice view of a  Mahomes’ pass for a first down completion to the tight end. More to come next week.

Bear’s Mitchell Trubisky was 2 of 4 for four yards. “This is so early right now, it really is,” Coach Matt Nagy said. “… It will be fun as we go here to get them some more snaps, let them get into a rhythm and, really, for all the guys to get into a rhythm offensively. He’s going to have eight snaps to take a look at and see what was right and what was wrong, but it’s hard to judge off of eight plays.” 

Raven’s Lamar Jackson has now played in two preseason games which included the Hall of Fame Game. Over two games Jackson is 11 of 28 (39%) for 152 passing yards (5.4 yards per attempt). Jackson has had three passes for 20+ yards. He has had 13 run attempts for 46 yards, one rushing touchdown and a long rush of 10 yards.  Jackson’s 1st down conversion percentage on rushes is 15%. Jackson is third on the four man quarterback depth chart.

Cardinal’s Josh Rosen is 6 of 13 for 41 yards and has one pass of 20+ yards. He played behind a second team offensive line and had a number of bad snaps. Rosen is listed as the backup quarterback on the depth chart.

Giants’ Davis Webb was 9 of 22 for 70 yards. Webb is listed as the backup quarterback on the depth chart.

Preseason Week 2 – Redskin Pass Rushers Versus Jets Quarterbacks

Preseason week two kicks off with a Thursday night game on ESPN on Thursday August 16th at 8 PM of the New York Jets versus the Washington Redskins. The strength of the Redskins team are their Pass Rushers. These guys in the trenches on defense that put pressure on the opponent’s passing game.  Today I look at the Redskins D-Line and examine how the Jet’s quarterbacks respond to pressure.

Washington Redskins – The Avalanche

If I was to compare a well executed pass rush to anything I pick a small avalanche.  An avalanche is a cohesive slab of snow lying upon a weaker layer of snow in the snowpack that fractures and slides down a steep slope when triggered. Large avalanches have the capability to entrain ice, rocks, trees, and other surficial material.

In 2017 the Redskins ranked 7th in the league in sacks with 42. According to Football Outsiders the Redskins were ranked first in pressure rating. Pressure rating is Pressure Plays divided by Opponent Passing Plays. Pressure plays include sacks, hurries, and forced scrambles. In Matt Harmon’s nfl.com article he ranks the Redskins as the NFL’s second best pass-rushing unit from 2017. His determination is based on total pressures and data collected from Next Gen Stats. Pro Football Focus ranked the Redskins third in pass rush productivity for 2017. Washington had three players finish inside the top 12 in pressure rate in 2017.

Pass Rusher
Navy quarterback Jarod Bryant eludes Notre Dame defensive end Pat Kuntz
By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tommy Gilligan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I am including outside linebackers such as Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith in the defensive line. These are outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense and they typically excel at rushing the passer.

The Core – Projected Starters

In college Defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis made All-Conference First Team AAC in his senior year and All-Conference Second Team in his junior year. The Temple Owls award single digit numbers to the nine toughest players on the team and for two years  in a row Ioannidis was awarded #9.  He was a two time team captain and a three year starter. Matt posted 118 career tackles (77 solo, 30.0 for loss), 10.0 sacks, eight pass breakups and a forced fumble.  As a rookie on the Redskins in 2016 he appeared in 10 games and had eight tackles (six solo). In 2017 Matt played in 14 games and started in 10. Matt had 27 tackles (13 solo), 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble and 19 hurries. At his combine Matt bench pressed 32 reps which was tied for second best among defensive linemen. Matt is said to be relentless and competitive. Pro Football Focus gave Ioannidis the 14th-highest graded pass-rush grade among interior defenders last season. Ioannidis should be a favorite to win starter as one of the defensive ends. His competition would include Stacy McGee and Anthony Lanier.

Jonathan Allen 95
Jonathan Allen (# 95 in 2017). In week 3 Allen recorded his 1st NFL sack against the Raiders.
By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen returns from a season ending injury he had in week 6 of his 2017 rookie year. Prior to the injury Allen started five games. He has 10 tackles (3 solo), one sack three hits and 10 hurries on just 112 pass-rushing snaps.

In college Allen was a beast. In his junior and senior years he amassed 105 tackles (52 solo), 30.5 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, 3 passes defended and five touchdowns.  He was 3-time First Team All-SEC. In his senior year he won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player), the Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker), the Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player), the Ted Hendricks Award (best defensive end) and was a Unanimous All-American. Now supposedly at 100 percent back from the injury Allen is a sure thing as a starter at defensive end.

Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has started every game since his rookie debut in the 2011 season opener. In addition Kerrigan has been on the field for 88.6 percent of his team’s defensive snaps over his career. During his rookie season Ryan played every defensive snap. In his seven seasons he is a three-time Pro-Bowler and was selected in each of his last two seasons. In the last two seasons alone he has had 60 solo tackles, 24 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 8 stuffs and 48 hurries according to Fox Sports. His sack total of 13 last season was  fourth in the league. According to nfl.com and Next Gen Stats, Kerrigan had 51 pressures in 2017.  They define a pressure as a pass-rushing play in which a defender gets within 2 yards of the opposing quarterback at the time of the throw or sack. For some perspective Charger’s Joey Bosa had 56 pressures, Denver’s Von Miller 59, Cardinals Chandler Jones 66 (led the NFL) and Aaron Donald had 65. Ryan can rush with both speed and with power. He has a strong work ethic and is humble.  Coming out of high school in Ryan’s words – “This isn’t being bashful, but I honestly thought I’m going to play my four years and get my degree and go get a job,” he said. “That was my thought process. Never did I think anything like this would transpire.”

Outside linebacker Preston Smith was drafted in round 2 of the 2015 draft. Smith has started every game for the last 2 seasons following his rookie year. In his three year career Smith has had 73 solo tackles, 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, 10 passes defensed, 8.5 stuffs and 37 hurries.  In 2017 Smith had 16 quarterback hits which was ranked sixth in the league. According to Next Gen Stats in 2017 Smith led all players with 200 or more pass-rush attempts in pressure rate, recording a pressure on 15.9 percent of his rushes.

At his 2015 combine among defensive linemen, Smith finished 1st in the 3-cone (7.07s), 2nd in the 60 yard shuttle (11.7 s), 2nd in the broad jump (10’1″), 4th in the forty (4.74 s), 6th in the 20 yd shuttle (4.28 s) and 8th in the vertical jump (34″). These numbers are impressive and even more so from a player that is 6’5″ and 271 pounds. In addition to his athleticism Smith brings other intangibles to the table. “He’s (Smith) more of a team guy than anybody I’ve been around,” Redskins outside linebackers coach Chad Grimm.

Others With Starting Experience

Defensive lineman Anthony Lanier was a three sport athlete in high school – football, basketball and tennis. In college at Alabama A&M he played football and two years of basketball. He played in 47 football games  and accumulated 38.5 tackles for loss. That was ranked 24th in active career leaders in the FCS for the 2015-2016 season. In the NFL, Lanier made the Redskin 53 man roster his rookie season and played in four games. He registered only a fumble recovery on 48 defensive snaps. In 2017 Lanier again made the 53 man roster. In his second year Lanier played in 11 games, started 2 games, and played in 31% of the season’s defensive snaps. He registered 6 passes defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovered, five sacks and 11 tackles with eight of those solo. Lanier’s basketball skills probably help in him getting  five passes batted down. His five sacks was good for third on the team.

Defensive lineman Ziggy (Evander) Hood has a tremendous work ethic. “He’s an interesting guy,” said Chip Smith, who trains NFL players in the offseason in Atlanta. “I’ve put over 1,600 guys in the NFL and have 250 clients on rosters. I’ve been doing this a long time, and he (Ziggy Hood) is by far the hardest-working player I’ve ever trained.” Ziggy is supposedly moving back to his more natural position of defensive end for 2018. He had been filling in at nose tackle for two years. Here is Ziggy’s combine data compared to defensive tackles.

Defensive Tackle Phil Taylor was a first round selection by the Browns in the 2011 NFL draft. His rookie season Taylor started all 16 games. He had 59 tackles (37 solo), four sacks, one forced fumble, one pass defended, two stuffs and three hurries. He made the 2011 NFL All-Rookie Team. In 2012 Taylor missed the first eight  games due to a torn pectoral muscle. In 2014 Taylor missed a month of games due to knee surgery. Upon his return on November 6th 2014  he suffered a knee injury and was out for the season. The Browns released Taylor with an injury settlement on September 1, 2015. After missing the 2015 season the Broncos signed Taylor in February 2016. In July 2016 Taylor was placed on Injured reserve due to a knee injury suffered in training camp and was released in August. After missing the 2016 season Taylor was signed by the Redskins in January 2017. In the Redskins’ third preseason game, Taylor suffered a torn quad that would keep him out for the entire 2017 season. Taylor has not played a regular season game since November 2014. At age 30 Taylor will attempt to make an amazing comeback. With Da’Ron Payne sidelined due to injury, Taylor is taking snaps with the ones at nose tackle. He doesn’t appear to be facing any limitations.

Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee has played seven seasons, 96 games and has 23 starts. He has 182 tackles (139 solo), 31 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 11 stuffs and 63 hurries. In the last four seasons he has never recorded less than four sacks a season.

Others With Game Experience

Outside linebacker Ryan Anderson was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft. In college Anderson earned first team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press. He finished his senior year with 61 total tackles, including a team-high 19.0 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks to rank tied for second on the team, 10 quarterback hurries, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and three pass breakups. In his rookie NFL season Anderson played in 14 games. He accounted for 11 solo tackles, three assist tackles and one hurry. He has approached his upcoming second season with a more determined attitude to make more of an impact to help his team.

In his junior year at Texas Tech linebacker Pete Robertson made AP All-Big 12 First Team. He was ranked sixth in the NCAA in sacks (12.0). Robertson was a three year starter and amassed a career 140 solo tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss and 21 sacks. Among active career leaders in 2015 Robertson ranked eleventh in sacks (21), ninth in solo sacks (20), twelfth in forced fumbles (8) and fourteenth in total tackles for loss (38.5).  Robertson signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seahawks following the 2016 draft. However he was waived that summer and not picked up by another team. He spent the 2016 season working at UPS. In January of 2017 he was signed by the Redskins. Robertson played in four games in 2017 for 2% of defensive snaps and 20% of special teams snaps. He was credited with two tackles. Pete has a great team attitude and is eager to learn.

One to Two Year Players Yet to See Action

In college Alex McCalister  recorded 6 and 6.5 sacks in his last two years. His college career sacks per game (.43) was 28th among FBS active career leaders in 2015. At the 2016 combine McCalister showed his athleticism among defensive linemen with a 4.0 twenty yard shuttle (1st), 10’8″ broad jump (1st), 7.01 three cone drill (4th), 34.5 vertical jump (9th) and a 4.8 forty (8th). McCalister is  6’6″ tall and has an arm length of 36″”. That length and his quick feet are ideal for pass rushing. McCalister was drafted in the 7th round by the Eagles. He suffered a left calf tear in August, was placed on IR and missed his rookie season. Alex was released by the Eagles at the 2017 roster cuts in September. He was signed to the Redskins practice squad in December 2017.   McCalister’s high school coach, Adrian Snow, spoke highly of McCalister’s work ethic, coachability and team spirit.

Defensive lineman Ondre Pipkins was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2017 NFL draft. In his senior year at Texas Tech Pipkins started in 11 games and led the interior defensive linemen with 32 tackles (21 solo). He was  ranked eighth overall on the team for tackles. Four of his tackles went for a loss which was tied for third on the team.

Rookies

Nose Tackle Tim Settle was picked in the 2018 draft round 5.  As a redshirt freshman Settle was named to the ACC All-Freshman Second Team. His sophomore year he made the All-ACC Second Team. Settle had a blocked kick in each of his two years.  Over his two years playing he had 53 tackles (28 solo, 19.5 tackles for loss, and one pass defensed. He entered the draft after his sophomore season.

Linebacker Jerod Fernandez was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2018 draft. Jerod had six forced fumbles in 2017 which was ranked second in the NCAA. His 99 total tackles in 2017 was ranked 9th in the ACC.

Linebacker Vontae Diggs was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2018 draft. Diggs spent a stretch growing up homeless living out of a car, hotel and friend’s houses. In college finished second on the team as a senior with 77 tackles (45 solo) and contributing 3.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups in 11 games.

When Dante Sawyer realized he would not be able to go straight to South Carolina following high school due to academic non-qualification, he buckled down and did the next best thing. Sawyer completed what is typically a two year junior college degree in a little over a year. Starting in March of 2014 he completed 63 credit hours in fourteen months all while starting for an East Mississippi football team that went 12-0 and won the national championship. Sawyer was able to join the University of South Carolina football team for the fall 2015 season. In his senior year at South Carolina Sawyer had five forced fumbles, five passes batted down,  three sacks, five tackles for a loss and 19 solo tackles. His five forced fumbles ranked second in the FBS in forced fumbles per game. Sawyer brings quickness, versatility and hustle. He went undrafted and was signed by the Redskins prior to preseason game one.

Currently Injured

First round draft pick Nose Tackle Da’Ron Payne suffered an ankle injury on July 27th. Payne has returned to practice but is questionable to play in Thursday’s game. Payne is projected to be the starting nose tackle.

Defensive end Stacy McGee is on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He is recovering from groin surgery. McGee is projected to make the 53 man roster.

New York Jets – Under Pressure

The  quarterbacks for the Jets are rated good for performance under pressure.

Quarterback Josh McCown had one of the best years of his fifteen year career in his first season as the Jets quarterback in 2017 following his free agent signing.  He was fifth in the league in completion percentage (67.3%). and thirteenth in quarterback rating (94.5). McCown set career highs in touchdown passes (18), yards (2,926) and completions (267). According to Pro Football Focus the areas that he excelled were adjusted completion percentage (4th), passer rating versus pressure (6th) and throwing the deep ball (8th). His passer rating versus pressure was 79.6. According to nfl.com McCown was the fourth most pressured quarterback in 2017 and he had the eighth highest passer rating when pressured. Josh McCown was also one of the best quarterbacks on third down in 2017. He had a passer rating of 101 on third down. That rating was fourth best  and put him in the company of Wentz, Stafford, Goff, McCown and Alex Smith (in passer rating order). McCown embraces the role of a teacher and mentor. “I want other guys to be able to have that opportunity. When I lay down at night, that’s what gives me the most peace: knowing that I was able to share and help somebody along that ride. (to have a career with one team). Prior to the 2017 season McCown adopted a new additional training exercise for his brain to help optimize cognitive performance.  With the results of 2017 he plan to continue this training for 2018.

 

Due to an ACL and knee injury in the 2016 preseason, Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has not played an NFL game since his 2015 season. (He did have a minor backup game in 2017 where he had only 2 attempts). Bridgewater was a first round pick in the 2014 draft. He had the fourth highest rookie completion percentage (64.4%)  in NFL history for rookies with a minimum eight starts. Among active quarterbacks he had the seventh best rookie quarterback rating (85.2). Pro Football Focus ranked Bridgewater the most accurate qualified passer in the league while under pressure with a pressure % of 39.9% and an accuracy under pressure of 75.2%. In 2015 continued to have a high completion percentage under pressure with Pro Football Focus ranking him fifth in adjusted completion rate on throws under pressure at 70.7%. However Bridgewater is a mixed bag under pressure as he graded negatively with six of his nine interceptions coming under pressure. They gave him a similar grade in 2014.

Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold had two seasons at quarterback at the University of Southern California (USC). In his redshirt freshman year Darnold handled defensive pressure very well. Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 2 in adjusted completion percentage while under pressure at 67.6 percent. Darnold also thrived against the blitz where he ranked No. 1 in adjusted completion percentage at 79.0 percent.  In 2016, Darnold had a 100.1 under pressure rating completing 38 of 69 of his passes (55.1%) for 487 yards, 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He also had a 107.5 rating against a standard rush and a 106.1 rating against the blitz. Darnold regressed in his final sophomore year for performance under pressure. In 2017, Darnold had a 72.3 rating while under pressure completing 44 of 91 (48.4%) for 726 yards, 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He also had a 91.7 vs. standard rush and 103.9 rating against the blitz.

It should make an interesting night of football as one of the best pass rush defense goes up against three quarterbacks that have been successful against pressure. On Washington there are 18 defensive linemen and outside linebackers competing for what may be about 7 defensive linemen and 4 outside linebackers. Who will help their case? On the Jets will Darnold push up into the number two spot as backup?

Enjoy the game!

Preseason week 1 – Giants versus Browns – How They Did

In my previous post on Preseason Week 1 – Giants vs Browns I highlighted some players to watch. Here I give a brief review of how they performed.

Quarterbacks

 

Tyrod Taylor showed why he is the starting quarterback. He was a perfect 5-of-5 for 99 yards and one touchdown. He started to show his dual threat ability on one rush but was stopped for a 2 yard gain.

 

 

Baker Mayfield was very impressive for a rookie quarterback. He was 11-of-20 for 212 yards, and two touchdowns. He also had 3 rushes for 13 yards. Mayfield showed poise, accuracy and the ability to scramble to throw or run.

 

Second year quarterback Davis Webb struggled  playing with the second team offense. He completed just 9 of his 22 pass attempts, for 70 yards over the course of seven drives. A number of his passes sailed high.

The other Giants quarterbacks did nothing exceptionally noteworthy. Eli was 4-of-7 for 26 yards and a sack. Kyle Lauletta was 6-of-9 for 48 yards. However Lauletta did look calm and had some nice throws. The team passing stats for both teams are shown below.

Browns/Giants Pass Stats
Browns/Giants Pass Stats

Running Backs

Saquon Barkley opened the game showing why he was a first round draft pick. He broke a big one for 39 yards. In the run he runs into traffic, stops and does a nice cut to get to an open lane. After that he was quiet on his other four carries getting an additional four yards.

Nick Chubb was held to just 11 yards rushing on 15 carries. Although on his one pass target he did get 12 yards. The Giants held the Browns run game to  just 1.5 yards per attempt on 33 rushes for the night.

Offensive Line

In his debut at left tackle Joel Bitonio played with the first string team and did fine. The Giants were unable to put pressure on Tyrod Taylor.

Will Hernandez was not called for any holding penalties and didn’t surrender any outstanding pressures. He held up well in some pressure brought on the first series.

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!

Hall Of Fame Game: Birds of Prey – Ravens Secondary

By Torsten Bolten, AFpix.de [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Previously I posted on the strength position group of the Hall of Fame game participant the Chicago Bears. Today I address the strength of the other participant – the Baltimore Ravens Secondary. The Ravens have the same secondary players from 2017 returning. In 2017 for the regular season the Ravens were

    • tenth in passing yards allowed (3,421)
    • tenth in number of passing plays allowed of 40+ yards (7 plays)
    • seventh in opponent 1st down conversion percentage (31.5%)
    • sixth in opponent passing completion percentage (58.5%),
    • fifth in passing touchdowns allowed (18)
    • fifth in longest passing play allowed (57 yards)
    • third in average passing yards allowed (6.5 yards)
    • second in quarterback rating of opponent (72.4)
    • first in interceptions (22)

The Raven’s roster is loaded with talented pass defenders both seasoned veterans and promising young talent.

The Veterans

Eleventh year cornerback Brandon Carr will be in competition to show why he should be one of the starting cornerbacks. After high school Carr started out at a small school – Division II college Grand Valley State. Due to limited exposure Carr did not receive a combine invite nor an invite to any All-Star games. In the 2008 NFL draft Chiefs owner allowed head coach Herman Edwards to make the 140th overall pick (5th round) due to it being his birthday. Edwards responded “I want Brandon Carr!  I promise you this, by opening day he’ll be starting.” Carr did start opening day and went on to start every game over the next ten seasons. His current 160 consecutive starts is second only to Phillip Rivers among active consecutive start leaders.

Over ten seasons Carr has had 122 passes defended, 19 interceptions and 527 solo tackles.To compare that to other defensive backs including new backs let’s look at the average per year. Out of all active secondary players there are only eleven that have averaged a yearly minimum of fifty tackles, one interception and ten passes defended. Brandon Carr has done this over 10 years. The next closest is Logan Ryan for five years.  Seven of the eleven have done it for two years or less. Here are the eleven sorted by draft pick.

Minimum Tackles, Interceptions and Passes Defended per year
Minimum Tackles, Interceptions and Passes Defended per year – Click to enlarge

Carr has not simply front loaded these numbers early in his career. In 2017 he had twelve passes defended, four interceptions and fifty solo tackles. Recently Carr has been praised for his work ethic on both the Cowboys and the Ravens. In Carr’s words “I was a fifth round, late round pick, a Division II guy, and you aren’t expected to make it, But I just kept my head down, stayed humble and kept grinding.”

This is a good lead-in to the next Raven. There are only nine active defensive backs that have a career minimum of 15 interceptions, 500 tackles and 80 passes defended. Carr is the only one that has never been selected for the Pro Bowl. Guys like Carr should be on at least one Pro-Bowl. Raven’s safety Eric Weddle is also on the list. The Ravens have two players in that group – the one with the most Pro Bowls and the only one with none.

DBs filtered by Tackles, Interceptions and Passes Defensed and sorted by Pro Bowls
by Pro-FootBall-Reference.com

Safety Eric Weddle is a five time Pro-Bowl selection and two time first-team All-Pro selection.  He has come a long way from the 5’11” 185 pound high school senior that received only one college scholarship offer. The offer came from Utah who was at the time in the Mountain West Conference. Weddle is known for an epic work ethic, being fiercely competitive,  loving football, and his toughness.  He has been known to go to work at 4:30 in the morning and getting home at 7 at night. In the 10 seasons following his rookie year he has started 154 out of 160 regular season games. Rarely missing a game and playing thru pain and injury. He had a Pro-Bowl 2017 season even though he played thru a separated shoulder.

“For me, personally I’m a simple guy. I live and breathe football,” Weddle said. “It’s my family away from my family. The things I felt Baltimore would give me is a team that gives everything for each other and a team that wants to win and has a goal to win a Super Bowl every year. When you think of Baltimore, you think of football. You don’t think of anything else. This is what I want. I’ve always wanted it.”

Safety Tony Jefferson had received a draft grade of second-to-third round from the NFL’s college advisory committee. ESPN had Jefferson ranked as the 5th best safety in the 2013 draft. It was a tough weekend as Jefferson went undrafted in 2013. His agent advised him to sign with the Cardinals. In the 2016 offseason after three seasons on the Cardinals, Jefferson was not pleased with the path  his career was going. He was recognized for being a good run-stopper but not much for coverage. In three seasons he had started only 17 games, had 2 interceptions, and 6 passes defensed. “Basically, I said, ‘You need to stop playing around. You’re wasting your career. It’s already been three years. You’re still a bottom-seed guy and nobody is willing to give you the contract you think you’re capable of [receiving].’” He set out to get even better. That offseason he as up at 4 a.m. for runs, then go workout, after that he would box in the evening.  He changed his diet and reported to camp about 16 pounds lighter and with a 6 % drop in body fat.

In 2016 Jefferson’s career took off. Jefferson started 14 games in 2016. He had 96 tackles (5th among DBs), 78 solo tackles (5th), two sacks (3rd), five passes defensed, two forced fumbles (5th), ten run stuffs, and four quarterback hurries. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF) Jefferson had the highest run stop percentage (6.7%) among safeties since 2012. He went from un-ranked in 2015 to number 84 on PFF’s top 101 Players from the 2016 season. PFF had this to say ” Jefferson has transformed from a run-stopping safety who was a liability in coverage, to an elite run-stopping safety who’s also competent in coverage. ” Jefferson started all 16 games in his first year as a Raven and had a solid year though not as well as his 2016 season. He had 79 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception, 3.5 run stuffs and one forced fumble.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith returns from an Achilles injury and suspension for PED violation at the end of 2017.  Smith was having a career year in 2017 before he suffered a season ending injury in week 13. According to Pro Football Focus quarterbacks had a 49.2 passer rating when targeting Smith. That was fourth best among cornerbacks up to week 14 of 2017. Will Smith stay healthy is the big question. During the seven years on the Ravens he has played in all 16 games in a season for only two seasons. In the six seasons of 2012 thru 2017 he had four seasons that his defensive snap counts ranged in the 41% – 55% range.

In the words of Safety Anthony Levine – “I’m just a Ball Player”, “I’m just a guy who brings his hard hat and my lunch pail to work every day, Wherever my coaches need me to go, that’s where I’ll go. ” Undrafted free agent Levine has played every game for the last five seasons on the Ravens. In 2017 he played 77% of the special teams snaps (2nd most on the team) and 24% defensive snaps. Levine has played safety, cornerback, special teamer and linebacker. Last year he had three passes defended, one interception, 23 solo tackles and three sacks. In the December game against the Steelers PFF graded Levine as the second highest graded Raven.

The Future

In 2017 Cornerback Marlon Humphrey played in 16 games his rookie season, started five, and was in on 55% of the defensive snaps.  According to PFF, quarterbacks had a 53.5 passer rating when targeting Humphrey. That was the fifth lowest in the league among cornerbacks. Humphrey was one of 12 cornerbacks who didn’t give up a touchdown all season.

Coach Harbaugh’s goal – “We have two teams at least — Cincinnati and Pittsburgh — that put great receivers on the field against you and you have to match that talent for talent”. So far Humphrey has held up his part of that goal. In a week 14 loss to the Steelers (39-38) Humphrey was targeted 12 times, allowing just six completions for 37 yards, only two of which went for first downs. When he was covering Antonio Brown, he allowed just two catches for seven total yards on five targets. Unfortunately Brown torched them in the game with  213 receiving yards on 11 catches.

Cornerback Tavon Young watches film and studies offenses. He develops a feel for what the offense and the receiver is going to do. He then is ready to make a play. The fact that he is 5’9″ and 185 pounds is not a problem for him. Though others throughout his football life have thought it would be. In his rookie season in 2016 Young had 44 solo tackles, eight passes defended and two interceptions. He played in all 16 games, started 11 and was in on 79% of the defensive snaps. PFF graded his rookie season with an 80.3 which ranked as the third highest graded rookie cornerback in the NFL. Young missed the 2017 season due to a torn ACL. He is currently back in training camp feeling near 100% back.

“Never back down and never fear any man. You have to attack every situation. People are always going to doubt you, If you just have that confidence and that dog in you, then none of that matters.” – Tavon Young

Rookie safety DeShon Elliott was picked in the sixth round of the 2018 draft. In his last year in college Elliott had a team market share of 9% solo tackles, 38% interceptions and 17% pass defended.  All these figures share the same data traits of high quality and successful NFL players over the last 20+ seasons. Elliott’s last year he had eight tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, six interceptions, nine passes defended and three forced fumbles. Elliott was a 2017 unanimous All-American. He was one of three 2017 Jim Thorpe Award finalists. The Thorpe Award is given to the nation’s best defensive back. Elliott is said to possess a studious demeanor and work ethic spending the time needed in film study to become a play-maker.

Rookie undrafted free agent Darious Williams remained at UAB when the football program was shutdown for financial reasons following the 2014 season. He spent two years training and when the program started again in 2017 he was ready. In 2017 Williams had thirty-eight solo tackles, five interceptions, fifteen passes broken up, and four tackles for loss. He was credited with 5 run stuffs. His 20 passes defended was ranked fifth in the FBS.  His market share data sum for solo tackles, interceptions and passes defended ranks fourth among FBS defensive players. Darious Pro-Day results were showed his athleticism and speed. His numbers with equivalent combine rank are a 4.44 forty (9th), a 6.85 three-cone (10th) and a 39 inch vertical (2nd). “When you got all those things – smart, good person, good player, really intelligent player. He’s got all the attributes that they’re looking for.” – UAB head coach Bill Clark.

The Ravens also have Maurice Canady, Kai Nacua, Anthony Averett, Chuck Clark, Bennett Jackson, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Jackson Porter and Jaylen Hill on the roster.

Chicago’s quarterback Mitch Trubisky and receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller will have a good test to open the preseason against this Raven’s secondary.

 

Hall Of Fame Game: Backs for the Future – Bears Run Game

An earlier post looked at the interesting players in the Hall of Fame Game. Now let’s look at the best positions for each team starting with the Bears. For the Bears I would say the highlight of a disappointing 5-11 season in 2017 was the Bears run game. They have a dynamic running back duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen referred to as Thunder and Lightning. In 2017 the Bears averaged 4.2 yards per rushing attempt (11th), had 13 rushing touchdowns (11th), had a 22% 1st down conversion per attempt (11th) and had 5 rushes of 40+ yards (1st – tie).

The Bears will have some tough decisions to make concerning the rushing backfield come September. Their RB1 and RB2 players are already set. After that it is wide open. How many backs will make the roster? Last season they kept five which included a fullback. But what will new coach Matt Nagy want to do? In his former job as Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator he got to work with a roster of four backs which included a fullback.  Here is a look at the current roster of backs on the Bears.

Thunder and Lightning – The Starters

Jordan Howard is one of only four backs that had over 1,000 yards rushing in both their rookie and second season over the last 10 years. Jordan’s rookie season in 2016 was his better year. That year he was third in the league in rushing average (5.2), second in rushing yards (1,313 yards) and third in rushing attempts of 20+ yards (10).  Howard has a decisive, one-cut running style. He sees the hole and is deceptively fast through it. His feet keep going after contact and gets those extra 3-4 yards falling forward. Howard will run right thru tackles. He is the thunder of the Bears Lightning and Thunder running back duo.

Lightning is Tarik Cohen. He has got speed. At the combine Cohen was third in the forty (4.42s) among backs and his Pro-Day 3-cone (7.22s) would have been tenth.  Cohen will change direction, reverse back, juke around would be tacklers. Among 27 rookie running backs Cohen had the tenth best average rushing yards (4.3), the fifth longest rush (46 yards) and the fifth best 20+ yard runs (4).

In week three of 2017 the Bears beat the Steelers in overtime. Thunder and Lightning combined for over 200 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Howard, had to leave the field on two separate occasions because of a shoulder injury but he kept playing. Here is a film of their highlights for that game. Due to NFL content when you click it you will have to  click again to select to view it on YouTube. It’s a good film to see their two different running styles. They highlight in the bottom left corner who is carrying.

Being preseason we probably won’t see much Thunder and Lightning as both are a lock to make the team. We should see the players battling for a roster spot – rookie undrafted free agent(UDFA) Ryan Nall, 2nd year UDFA Taquan Mizzell, 6th year veteran Benny Cunningham and 4th year veteran fullback Michael Burton.

The Roster Competition

Ryan Nall was nicknamed the “Wrecking Nall” in college. He shows the ability to break tackles and to fall forward for extra yards. His last year he converted 77% of his third down rushing attempts and 85% when there was only 1-3 yards to go. His combine/Pro-Day results shows athleticism, agility and quickness. In what may be the most important drills for running backs – 3 cone, 20 and 60 yard shuttle – Nall finished in the top six among backs in all three. (Aside: An article I found useful on combine drills: What does combine data mean )

In college Taquan Mizzell achieved a 31% team market share for yards from scrimmage his last two seasons. He is one of only ten current running backs that had a college season with both 500+ rushing and 500+ receiving yards since 2013.  Mizzell had over 1,300 yards from scrimmage each of his last two years in college. He is a fast cutting, shifty runner with good hands.

The other competitor is Benny Cunningham.  This guy can do it all – returns, special team gunner, runner, receiver and blocker. In his five years in the NFL he has had 102 kick returns, a 26.7 yard average, 82 returns of 20+ yards, 9 returns of 40+ yards and only 1 fumble. His career average of 26.7 is second among active players.  He has had long returns of 102, 75 and 61 yards. As a gunner he was tied last year for team lead of 12 special teams tackles including a Bears best 9 solo. As a receiver he caught 20 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed nine times for 29 yards with an average of 3.2 yards. Cunningham was the Bears passing down blocking back. He presents a veteran presence among the young backs and is well liked.

Fullback Michael Burton will also figure into the competition. He is a lunch-pail, hard working, smash-mouth football player. He is an unselfish team-first player. At his combine Mike Mayock called Burton a thug “in a good way”. Burton can block, catch the ball and open up holes. He’s a football player. After his rookie season in 2015 on the Lions, Pro Football Focus graded Burton as the third highest fullback.  Since then his grade dropped slightly in 2016 (79.3) but fell off the cliff for 2017 (40.2). We probably won’t see much of Burton on television coverage as he plays at a thankless position. But keep an eye out for number 46. If one of the backs breaks one open you may catch 46 leading the way.

They all have worked hard to get where they are. I wish them success in the preseason. If not to make the Bears then perhaps another team will take notice. It makes for an interesting story-line to see how it plays out.

 

The 2018 Hall of Fame Game Players

The Hall of Fame (HOF) Game will be within two weeks. I consider it the unofficial start of the season. We get to finally watch some football. This year the game will be on Thursday August 2nd on NBC at 8:00 PM Eastern Time. The teams are the Baltimore Ravens versus the Chicago Bears. This will be the first time the Ravens have played in the HOF game. The Bears have been in four HOF games and have won each one. Here are some of the Hall Of Fame Game players that I think make the game interesting.

Tom Benson HOF Stadium-July2017
Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium
By BeautifulRiver1964 [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

Chicago Bears

Bears head coach, Matt Nagy, will have his first game as a head coach. He was the Chiefs quarterback coach and offensive coordinator prior to being hired as the head coach on January 8, 2018. Nagy had been an offensive coordinator for only two years and had play calling responsibility in a regular season for only five games. The Chiefs did go 4-1 with Nagy play calling. Back when Nagy was a quarterback for the Blue Hens in 2000, assistant Brian Ginn would send in plays for the quarterback. Ginn noticed about 4 or 5 times a game the play run was not the one they sent in. Nagy would claim he messed up the signal. However it turned out the plays Nagy was changing were working. So Ginn started taking credit for changing the call even though he knew it was Matt.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky will be opening his second year. Trubisky had started the final 12 games of 2017 and the Bears went 4-8 for those games.    Trubisky passed for 2,193 yards, 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions for a completion percentage of 59.4% and a quarterback rating of 77.5. He had 248 yards rushing with an average of 6 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. Trubisky had 10 fumbles of which 3 were lost.  Not the best stats but compared to other rookie quarterbacks they were middle of the road. To help the Bears added receiver Anthony Miller in the draft to go with  top receiver Allen Robinson. Trubisky will be implementing a new offense under coach Nagy.

Running back Howard Jordan has had twelve 100+ rushing games in his two year career. Per game that is 38.7% of his games which is third best among active backs over the last three seasons. Howard is the first running back in the history of the Bears franchise to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns. Off the field he is a spokesman for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation in Chicago. An organization dedicated to to educate and work for a cure for a respiratory disease that has a life expectancy of less than five years for those directly affected.  Howard’s father died from the disease when Howard was twelve years old.

Receiver Allen Robinson looks to bounce back from his injury lost 2017 season.  In 2015 over 23% of his receptions went for big plays (25+ yards), he scored a touchdown every 1.14 games, and he had six 100+ yard receiving games. “One of my No. 1 goals is to put on that yellow jacket. That’s where I want to be. I aspire to be a Hall of Fame player.” – Robinson.  Allen Robinson puts in the effort to get there. Prior to the 2017 season Robinson spent part of the off-season training with future Hall of Famer Randy Moss. Robinson never blamed the Jaguars from achieving his goal. That even though they were 11-37 during Robinson’s career. Speaking about who is throwing the ball Robinson says   “It won’t matter at all,” Robinson says. “You want to be in the Hall of Fame? You’ve got to make Hall of Fame plays.”

Hopefully we get to see rookie linebacker Roquan Smith. As of writing this post Smith still had not signed a contract and was holding out of training camp. Smith was the first linebacker picked in the draft with pick 8.  Roquan Smith had 85 solo tackles in 2017 which was a 16.6% solo tackle market share of his team’s solo tackles. It was the highest solo tackle market share in the FBS. Team market share measures the players production against the team production for the specific metric say solo tackles. The larger the market share the better. Per Football Study Hall, offenses only had a 33.6% success rate when tackled by Smith. “Great player. Really fun to watch because he can get to just about any play on the field and he’s only going to get better…” — AFC team personnel director

Tight end Ben Braunecker enters his last year of his 3 year rookie contract.  This season he needs to give the Bears reason to offer him a new contract. Making the 53 man roster is the first step. From his draft profile – “Physical and mean as a blocker. ” His combine numbers were top five across all events for tight ends. Braunecker graduated Harvard with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology. Yet in Braunecker’s words  “I would learn my best lessons not in the classroom, but on a football field.” The Harvard team he was on was 36-4 during his career and won three consecutive Ivy League championships “Being a part of this team has shown me that the Harvard athletic experience is much deeper than on-field performance or championship rings. It’s about integrating young, determined individuals of diverse backgrounds and buying into a philosophy, a culture, so that we can put aside what separates us and unite to achieve what we couldn’t alone.” (Written Senior Perspective).

Undrafted free agent running back Ryan Nall could be a hidden gem. Nall is very effective as a short yardage back. On 3rd down with 1-3 yards to go, Nall converted 78% of his career 37 attempts. In 2017 his success rate was 85% on 20 attempts. However Nall also has sneaky speed. Over his last two seasons he had had long runs of 89, 80, 75, 52, 45 and 40 yards. Nall also proved he can pound out the yardage having seven 100+ yard rushing games over two seasons. Nall has good hands and has 454 receiving yards over his last two seasons. According to Football Study Hall the Opportunity Rate for Nall was only 33.9% in 2017. That is percentage of carries in which the offensive line “does its job” and produces at least five yards of rushing for the runner. Nall achieved a 26% market share of his team’s yards from scrimmage at least once in his career.  Another plus is that Nall turned 22 years old on December 27. Nicknamed “Wrecking Nall” he is a force to take down at 6’2″ and 232 pounds. Check out his height and weight as compared to other backs.

Baltimore Ravens

Linebacker Patrick Onwuasor has overcome adversity to be a starting linebacker on the Ravens. In college after his redshirt freshman season he was kicked off the Arizona football team due to an arrest on gun and drug charges. The charges were ultimately dismissed. Onwuasor says the items were not his and attributes the ordeal to falling in with the wrong crowd. He got a second chance at Portland State where as a safety in his senior year he was second on the team in total tackles (85) and solo tackles (49). He led the team with nine interceptions. Patrick went undrafted in 2016 and signed with the Ravens.

In his rookie season Onwuasor played on 52% of the special teams snaps and led the team in special teams tackles with 11. In 2017 he played in 16 games and started 13 games. Onwuasor recorded 67 solo tackles and never had less than three solo tackles in the games he started. Throughout his career he has at various times been described as “I heard he was one of the hardest working, best athletes on the team in his time at Arizona..” – Portland Coach Burton, “He has a nose for the ball… He hunts the ball well” – Ravens Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg (2016) , and “…But what he does, he does 100 miles per hour, which is what we like.” – Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees (2017).  In two years at Portland Onwuasor got his degree in sociology in spite of working with a learning disability. He volunteered at camp Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp for people with varying disabilities and formed a bond with one of the campers.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his rookie debut. Michael Vick has said “If I’ve ever seen another guy that looks like me, it’s been Lamar Jackson.”  , Vick is regarded by some as the best dual threat quarterback of all time. Jackson averaged 109 rushing yards per game. He had 50 career rushing touchdowns in just three years. That was third most in the FBS in 2017. Over his last two seasons Jackson had a quarterback rating of over 146 each season. He had 57 passing touchdowns to 19 interceptions. At the Ravens first public training camp practice they ran plays with multiple quarterbacks on the field at the same time. One play quarterback Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson both touch the ball. On the next play, Jackson and  Robert Griffin III both touched the ball. It will be fun to watch.

Linebacker Alvin Jones could be another hidden gem among undrafted free agents. In his sophomore season Jones had 48 solo tackles which was good for a 12% market share of the team’s solo tackles. In 2017 Jones had 102 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 19 run stuffs and three forced fumbles. Offenses had only a 29.7% success rate when tackled by Jones in 2017. Jones was a four-year starter who led UTEP in tackles in each of his final three seasons. According to draftanalyst.com Jones is an active linebacker who is constantly around the ball and makes positive plays.

Free safety DeShon Elliot was an unanimous All-American in 2017. He had fifty solo tackles, six interceptions, nine passes defended, 1.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Elliot’s sum of his market share for all five metrics (solo tackles, interceptions, passes defended, sacks and TFL) was ranked sixth among 2017 defensive players. Elliott is a hard-hitter and a sure tackler. He had only five missed tackles in 2017on 815 snaps. Scouts say he loves the game including the work that goes into it.

Cornerback Darious Williams is another potential undrafted free agent gem. Williams remained at UAB when the football program was shutdown for financial reasons following the 2014 season. He spent two years training and when the program started again in 2017 he was ready. In 2017 Williams had thirty-eight solo tackles, five interceptions, fifteen passes broken up, and four tackles for loss. He was credited with 5 run stuffs. His 20 passes defended was ranked fifth in the FBS.  His market share data sum for solo tackles, interceptions and passes defended ranks fourth among FBS defensive players. Darious Pro-Day results were showed his athleticism and speed. His numbers with equivalent combine rank are a 4.44 forty (9th), a 6.85 three-cone (10th) and a 39 inch vertical (2nd). “When you got all those things – smart, good person, good player, really intelligent player. He’s got all the attributes that they’re looking for.” – UAB head coach Bill Clark.

Every player has their story. These are just some that stood out to me.

2016 NFC East Undrafted Free Agents

Continuing my prior post on the 2016 Undrafted Free Agents  where I covered the AFC East, today I’ll start with the 2016 NFC East Undrafted Free Agents.

The Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have no remaining UDFAs from 2016.

The New York Giants

Donte Deayon is a cornerback on the Giants. In college Deayon was selected to Mountain West All-Conference Second Team each of his last three years.  He was seventh and ninth in interceptions in the FBS for his sophomore and junior seasons.  Deayon was tied for third in FBS active career leaders in 2015 with a career 17 interceptions and he led in interceptions per game. He was also 5th in active career leaders with a career 43 passes defended. Deayon only allowed three touchdowns across 133 targets. He was invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl where he had an outstanding week.

One of four 2015 season Boise State banners. “The banners are not reserved for star players at star positions, but rather for players who best represent the team’s work ethic and values.” This was Donte’s 2nd straight year with a banner on Albertsons Stadium.

Deayon went undrafted most likely due to his size – 5’9 and 155 lbs. The Giants signed him following the draft. Donte did not play in 2016 his rookie year bust spent time on the practice squad. Donte has since upped his weight to 163 lbs. In 2017 he was promoted to the active roster October 12th. He played for 94 snaps as corner over 4 games and had 7 tackles with 6 solo tackles and one pass defensed.  Pro Football Focus gave him a 59.1 rating (poor). Donte suffered a fractured forearm and was placed on IR on November 27. “Pound for pound he’s the toughest guy on our team.” – Dominique Rodgers Cromartie about Deayon (2017)

The Giants drafted Sam Beal in the supplemental draft and signed UDFA Grant Haley.  In free agency they signed four cornerbacks. The Giants currently have 11  cornerbacks on the roster. Last season they had five corners on the 53 man roster and two on the practice squad. The only locks on the 53 man roster currently would be Sam Beal, Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple. If he does not make the 53 man roster, Donte would qualify for one more year on the practice squad.

The Philadelphia Eagles

Destiny Vaeao is a defensive tackle for the Eagles. He was born and raised in Pago Pago, American Samoa which is about 5,000 miles from California. According to a 60 Minutes report a boy born to Samoan parents is 56 times more likely to get into the NFL than any other kid in America. Football is their ticket out of a tough economy. Vaeao went to Washington State where he was a three year starter. in his senior year he was named to All-Pac-12 Second Team. His nfl.com draft profile has “Tough guy with desired motor.” He earned his degree in criminology in four years.  Vaeao was Pro Football Focus top graded player on Team National in the 2016 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Vaeao went  undrafted and was signed by the Eagles.

In his rookie year he played in 16 games , 26% of the defensive snaps and had  2 sacks and 9 tackles (3 solo).  In 2017 Vaeao played in 11 games, 22 % of defensive snaps, and had one pass defensed and seven tackles (3 solo). This even though he battled through a hand injury and surgery during the 2017 season. The Eagles did not draft a defensive tackle, but did sign undrafted free agent defensive tackle Bruce Hector and free agent Haloti Ngata. The front line starters will most likely be Haloti Ngata and Fletcher Cox.  Tim Jernigan is probably next on the depth chart. However Jernigan underwent surgery on a herniated disc in his back at the end of April and is expected to be out four months. There are seven defensive tackles on the Eagles roster. Vaeao will  compete against 2017 6th round draft pick Elijah Qualls for snaps.

The Washington Redskins

Anthony Lanier is a defensive end for the Redskins. Lanier was a three sport athlete in high school – football, basketball and tennis. In college at Alabama A&M he played football and two years of basketball. He played in 47 games  and accumulated 38.5 tackles for loss. That was ranked 24th in active career leaders in the FCS for the 2015-2016 season. On nfldraftscout.com Lanier was ranked 71st out of 169 defensive ends for the 2016 draft and 934th among total prospects. He went undrafted and was signed by the Redskins.  Lanier made the 53 man roster his rookie season and played in four games. He registered only a fumble recovery on 48 defensive snaps. In 2017 Lanier again made the 53 man roster. In his second year Lanier played in 11 games, started 2 games, and played in 31% of the season’s defensive snaps. He registered 6 passes defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovered, five sacks and 11 tackles with eight of those solo. Lanier’s basketball skills probably help in him getting  five passes batted down. His five sacks was good for third on the team. This November 2017 Bleacher Report article identified Lanier as one of nine players with the most untapped potential. Lanier gives back to his hometown community of Savannah Georgia by conducting his second  Lanier’s summer youth football training camp in 2018.

The Redskins drafted defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne in the first round. Payne  probably would start as nose tackle. They also have  defensive ends Jonathan Allen and Matthew Ioannidis. Both of which project ahead of Lanier on the depth chart. Lanier will be competing against Stacy McGee and Ziggy Hood for for backup spots. However McGee is recovering from groin surgery and may not be ready for training camp. Hood has the advantage of having also played nose tackle.

If I were to name common trait(s) among these three players I would list humility and a great work ethic. They are continuously learning, absorbing as much as they can from the veterans and put in that extra effort to get better. Their work is cut out for them. There are only 30 undrafted free agents remaining from the 2015 draft class.

2016 AFC East Undrafted Free Agents – the remaining “Long Shots”

I got the idea of this post thinking about Giants cornerback Donte Deayon. Deayon was an undrafted free agent the Giants signed following the 2016 draft. When the Giants recently picked CB Sam Beal in the supplemental draft, I thought of Deayon and what that might mean to him. I like Deayon. He has a great attitude, was a ball hawk in college,  and has a great work ethic. His rookie contract is up after 2018 and he would be an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA). It gave me the idea to take a look at the 2016 undrafted free agent class. Many of their contracts should be expiring after 2018. Who of these “longshots” are left? Who are they and what is their story? How are they doing? What are their chances to continue pursuing their dream? Today we look at the 2016 AFC East Undrafted Free Agents.

According to the NFL Players Association the average length of an NFL career is 3.3 years.  The average goes up to six years for players that make the team’s opening day roster in their rookie season. It goes up to 7.1 years for players with at least three pension-credited seasons. A credited season is one in which the player spends at least three games on an active/inactive roster and/or injured reserve.

The 2016 draft class is entering their third year in the 2018 season. Following the 2016 NFL draft, approximately 476 undrafted free agents signed with an NFL team. Of those there are 105 UDFAs remaining on NFL rosters for 78% attrition. Based on player average career data, the 2018 season is a critical one for the 2016 draft class. Also it typically is the last year of their 3 year rookie contract. These are the guys the newest wave of rookies could be pushing out. Starting with the AFC East here are one 2016 UDFA from each team.

The Buffalo Bills

Reid Ferguson is a long snapper for the Buffalo Bills.  He is the sole UDFA signing from the 2016 class remaining on the Bills. Ferguson started snapping in eighth grade when his father encouraged him to fill in for his team’s injured snapper. In high school Ferguson started all four years as long snapper and guard. Reid studied under long snapping guru Chris Rubio. Rubio’s evaluation of Ferguson in high school included – “…Terrific work ethic”.  Coming out of high school he was rated as the number two  long snapper in the country. Reid went to LSU on a scholarship. That was considered a rarity at the time for a player that was strictly a long snapper. At LSU Ferguson was a four year starter at long snapper. In his four year LSU career he made 497 snaps and had only one errant snap and that was as a freshman. Ferguson made Phil Steele’s 2015 Postseason All-American First Team. Still Ferguson went undrafted in the 2016 NFL draft though one long snapper was drafted. Ferguson was signed by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent in May 2016. Ferguson is the only long snapper listed on the Bill’s roster going into the 2018 season. He was not on the 2016 opening day roster but did make the 53 man roster in 2017. Ferguson will be an ERFA in 2019. Here you can see Ferguson showing his long snapper skills in some trick snaps.

The New England Patriots

Jonathan Jones is a cornerback on the Patriots. He is the sole UDFA remaining on the team from the 2016 draft class. In college Jones earned AP All SEC second team during his junior year coming in fourth in the nation in passes defended and ninth in interceptions. At the combine Jones came in first among cornerbacks in the forty and second in the bench press. His 10 yard split time of 1.47 seconds was in the 96 percentile. Jones battled through some injuries and a foot surgery in college.  But he worked hard and given a chance he produced. Yet Jones went undrafted with possible concerns about his history of injuries and his size (5’9″ and 186 lbs). Jones was signed as an UDFA and in 2016 carved out a role on the team using his amazing speed on special teams. He impressed Belichick with his coachability, toughness, competitiveness and speed. Jones also covers well. He gradually worked his way into the defense as a nickel corner and performed well. Jones has played 32 games the past two seasons and started in five. In 2017 he had 9 passes defended and one interception. In a 2017 game against the Dolphins Jones shadowed Dolphin’s receiver Jarvis Landry for the majority of the game. Landry is a receiver that Belichick has high regard for. Jones was in on 41% of the defensive snaps in 2017. Here is a graph of Jones combine results.

The Patriots drafted two cornerbacks – Duke Dawson in the 2nd round and Keion Crossen in the 7th round. They also signed UDFA JC Jackson. All are shorter corners and may compete with Jones for a slot cornerback position.

The Miami Dolphins

Jake Brendel is a center for the Dolphins. As a senior on the offensive line in high school Brendel recorded 71 knockdowns, 31 finishes and allowed no sacks. He was ranked the as the 15th best center coming out of high school by rivals.com. In college, after redshirting his freshman year, he started every game all 4 years for a total 52 games. He became UCS’s all-time leader in games started. Brendel played in 92% of UCLA’s offensive snaps over the four year span. He was a three year co-captain, First-team Academic All-Conference, and last two years a second-team All-PAC-12 selection.  Brendel, a four year starter, stepped up to being a de facto player/coach his senior year when the offensive line coach was temporarily suspended. It is reported that Brendel had an excellent game at the Shrine Bowl. Yet he went undrafted. The Cowboys signed him as an UDFA but after getting hurt three weeks into the regular season the Cowboys released him. Brendel was signed by Miami in October of 2016. In 2017 Brendel played in all 16 games and participated in 7% of Miami’s offensive snaps and 20% of the special teams snaps. He filled in for Mike Pouncey when Mike suffered a concussion in the Atlanta game. Jake played well and had a key role in Jay Ajayi’s two 18-yard runs on Miami’s final drive. The Dolphins did not take a center in the draft.

The New York Jets

Lawrence Thomas is a fullback on the Jets. Thomas was ranked as the #5 inside linebacker in the nation coming out of high school y rivals.com. Thomas went to Michigan State. He finished his Michigan career with 27 consecutive starts on the defensive line playing defensive end, nose tackle and defensive tackle. He also had three starts his redshirt freshman season as fullback. His senior year he made honorable mention All-Big Ten(coaches) and was invited to the Senior Bowl. Thomas went undrafted and was signed by the Jets following the draft. During the 2017 season Thomas made an in-season switch from defensive lineman to fullback.  He played in 14 games and recorded 6 receptions for 43 yards. He has impressed the staff as a consistent blocker. Thomas was in on 15% of the offensive snaps, 31% special teams and 2% on defense.  The Jets signed fullback Dimitri Flowers as an undrafted free agent following the 2018 draft giving Thomas competition. Thomas was awarded the Ed Block Courage award in 2017. This years recipients were 32 NFL players elected by their teammates and peers who overcame adversity in order return to the field. Thomas it seems was for the in-season switch from defense to fullback.

Well I hope you enjoyed the post. Drop me a comment to let me know either way. If there is a 2016 UDFA that you would like covered let me know.

 

2018 NFL Top Running Backs

Today I take a look at who are the 2018 NFL top running backs going into the new season. Following the approach taken on my posts on the top receivers, I will again draw the line at 16.6% of the current backs would be the top ones. That gives a nice rough 1 in 6 backs would be in the top.  Currently there are 140 veteran running backs on NFL rosters. In addition there are 52 rookies on NFL rosters. Of the veterans the 16% would mean 23 top backs.

To examine the prospects I took the performance statistics for the last three seasons. That goes back far enough so it is not overly influenced by a peak last season but still maintains a recent sample. Two areas will be examined – the rushing statistics and the receiving statistics. The rushing statistics I used are

  • Percent of games that were 100+ yard rushing games
  • Percent of first downs achieved to total rush attempts
  • Games to touchdowns ratio
  • Percent of Fumbles to rushing attempts
  • Percent of Big Plays to rushing attempts. A big play is a rush of 10+ yards.
  • Percent of Stuffs to rushing attempts. A stuff is a rushing attempt that is held to zero or negative gain.
  • Rushing Yards per game
  • Rushing Yards per attempt
  • Long rushing play.
  • Yards per Stuff.

More teams now use the pass play to a running back as a designed play or a relief valve under pressure. I have weighted the pass play at roughly a third less important than the rushing play.  For the pass evaluation I used the same criteria used in the wide receiver evaluations. They are

  • Yards after the Catch (YAC) per reception
  • Percent of 100+ receiving games to total games
  • Percent of first down receptions
  • Catch percentage or Receptions to Targets
  • Yards per target
  • Games to receiving touchdowns ratio
  • Yards per reception
  • Drops and Fumbles to targets
  • Receiving Yards per game
  • Percent of Big Plays to Receptions. A big play is a reception of 25+ yards.

With receptions the data can be skewed on a small sample size to look good. To avoid this I limited credit on receiving data for running backs that averaged less than an arbitrary number of receptions per game, 1.6 to be precise. I placed a similar limit of the Percent of Big Plays when using a low number of receptions.

Here are the results of the top 23 running backs going into the 2018 season.

AFC East

AFC East Running Backs
AFC East Running Backs

LeSean McCoy, of the Bills, has the sixth best 100+ yard games percentage of active NFL backs with 32.6% of his games going 100+ over the last three seasons.  His yards per game of 76.7 yards is ranked seventh.

Bilal Powell, of the Jets, had a 75 yard touchdown run in 2017, good for 2nd longest touchdown run in Jets franchise history. It was tie for sixth best long run among current NFL players over the last three seasons.

Isaiah Crowell, of the Jets, had an 85 yard touchdown run against the Ravens in 2016. That was the 2nd longest in Browns history and ranked tied for third longest over the last three seasons for current NFL players. Of current players no one had a lower fumble percentage (0.51%) with more attempts (589) over the last three seasons.

Frank Gore, of the Dolphins, is working out in the off-season with his incredible work ethic. It has allowed him to achieve 12 straight seasons since his rookie season of a minimum 1,200 yards from scrimmage each year. That, his drive and his toughness have helped Frank to play 112 consecutive games. Frank has averaged 61.5 rushing yards per game over the last three seasons. That is 15th best among active running backs.

AFC North

AFC North Running Backs
AFC North Running Backs

Giovani Bernard, of the Bengals, has a 28.5 receiving yards per game over the last three seasons. That is ranked 10th among current NFL players. In 2017 Bernard had 458 rushing yards with an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Only ten running backs had more yards with a better average. Bernard is a well rounded back. He also had 389 receiving yards with an average of 9.0 yards per reception. Only four other backs had more yards with a better average.

Le’Veon Bell, of the Steelers, has the 2nd most receiving yards per game (42.6 yards) over the last three seasons among current NFL players. He has the most receptions per game (5.58) in that time-frame for current players. As for rushing he is ranked second in 100+ games/game with 39.4% of his games going 100+ yards. This among active NFL players. Bell is also second among active NFL backs in rushing yards per game averaging 94.4 yards/game over the last three seasons.

AFC South

AFC South Running Backs
AFC South Running Backs

Lamar Miler, of the Texans, has had 4 fumbles on 700 attempts over the last three seasons. No current player has a better fumble rate with that many carries. Miller had an 85 yard rushing touchdown in 2015 which was tied for third among active NFL backs over the last three seasons. That run was second in Miami franchise records for long rushing plays. Lamar also owns first in Miami records for the longest rushing play of 97 yards set in 2014.

Leonard Fournette, of the Jaguars, had five 100+ yard rushing games in his rookie season. He had 38.5% of his games were 100+ yard rushing games. That was ranked 4th among current NFL running backs for over the last three seasons. His 80 yards per game was ranked fifth among current backs over the last three seasons. His 90 yard touchdown run against the Steelers is the longest run among active running backs over the last three seasons. Fournette had 9 rushing touchdowns in 13 games for a 1.44 games to touchdown ratio. That ranks third among active running backs averaged over the last three seasons.

Dion Lewis, of the Titans, has a 26.3% first down conversion rate on rushing attempts over the last three seasons. That ranks at seventh among active backs with a minimum 10 carries. Lewis’s 13% big rushing plays (10+ yards) to attempts ranks eight among active backs with minimum 100 carries over the past three seasons.

AFC West

AFC West Running Backs
AFC West Running Backs

Kareem Hunt, of the Chiefs, has six 100+ yard rushing games in his rookie season. This was good for a 37.5% ratio of 100+ games per game. It ranked fifth among active NFL players as  averaged over the last three seasons. Kareen had 3 receiving touchdowns which earned a games to receiving touchdown ratio of 5.33. That was tenth best among active backs over three seasons. His receiving yards per game of 28.4 is ranked eleventh of a three season average.

Melvin Gordon, of the Chargers, has a three year average yards per game of 63.8 yards which is ranked 13th among active running backs. His 87 yard rushing touchdown in 2017 is second longest among active running backs over three seasons.

NFC East

NFC East Running Backs
NFC East Running Backs

Ezekiel Elliott, of the Cowboys, has led the NFL over the span of his two year career in yards per game with 108.7 yards per game. He leads active running backs in 100+ rushing games per game with 48% of his games being 100+ yards. His two year games to touchdown ratio of 1.14 leads all active running backs averaged over the last three seasons.

Chris Thompson, of the Redskins, has a three season games to receiving touchdown ratio of 4.88. That ranks seventh among active NFL running backs. Thompson’s 510 receiving yards in 2017 ranks sixth among active NFL running backs. Thompson’s average of 5.2 yards per rushing attempt over the last three seasons ranks seventh among active NFL running backs with minimum 40 attempts.

NFC North

NFC North Running Backs
NFC North Running Backs

Jordan Howard, of da Bears, has twelve 100+ rushing games in his two year career for 38.7% of his games. This ranks third among active NFL running backs over a three year period.  His 78.5 yards per game ranks sixth over a three year period. Howard has had two fumbles in 528 rushing attempts. Among active running backs over the last three seasons he has the least fumbles for backs with over 400 attempts.

Ty Montgomery, of the Packers, converted from a wide receiver to a running back in his 2nd year in 2016. In his 1st year as running back Ty had a banner year with 457 rushing yards, a 5.9 yard average, 3 rushing touchdowns, a 61 yard long play, 12 big plays of 10+ yards, one 100+ rushing game and a 26% 1st down conversion rate. Ty is moving from “winging it” to understanding techniques and reading gaps and defensive fronts. In 2017 Ty was injured and played in only 8 games.

Latavius Murray, of the Vikings, has a combined 3 season 1.77 game to rushing touchdown ratio which is 8th best among active running backs. Murray ran a 4.38 forty at his pro-day in 2013. That would have been 3rd best among running backs at the combine. Murray was ranked as the third best running back in pass protection during 2016.

NFC South

NFC South Running Backs
NFC South Running Backs

Devonta Freeman, of the Falcons, has eight 100+ rushing games over the last three seasons. That is the tenth best 100+ games to game ratio among active backs.  His games to rushing touchdown ratio of 1.55 is fifth best. Freeman’s yards per game of 66.7 yards is ninth best. His 75 yard touchdown run in 2016 against the Saints is tie for sixth longest over the last three seasons among active backs. Freeman’s 30 receiving yards per game is eighth best among active backs.

C.J. Anderson, of the Panthers, while not excelling in any specific metric, he performed good on all rushing metrics and decent on the passing ones. Anderson had a good 2017 season breaking 1,000 rushing yards and 1,200 yards from scrimmage. I will leave Anderson with this highlights of his 2017 season – NFL.com videos _ Anderson 2017 highlights.

Christian McCaffrey, of the Panthers, had a receiving yards per game of 40.7 yards which was ranked fourth among active backs over the last three seasons. His 5 receiving touchdowns in 2017 made a games to touchdown ratio of 3.2. That was tie for first among active running backs over the last three seasons. His 45% receiving first down conversion rate was third for active backs with over 100 targets over the past three seasons. His rushing numbers are not as impressive but in his rookie season on 177 attempts he did have a long of 40 yards, 8 big plays (10+ yards),  two rushing touchdowns, an average of 3.7 yards and only one fumble.

Mark Ingram, of the Saints, has 18% of his games being 100+ rushing yards. That is ranked ninth among active backs over the last three seasons. His 1.83 games to rushing touchdown ration is tenth. With 601 rushing attempts over the last three seasons, Ingram has the lowest stuff per attempt ratio (7.15%) for any active back with over 300 attempts. His 66.7 rushing yards per game is ninth best. Ingram’s 4.9 yards per attempt ranks tied for 9th among active backs with minimum 40 attempts. Ingram’s 2016 touchdown run of 75 yards against the 49ers is ranked tied for sixth among active backs over the last three seasons. Ingram has had a long rushing play of 70+ yards in each of his last three seasons.

Looking at all active running backs average over the last three seasons, Alvin Kamara, of the Saints, in his rookie season has a rushing first down conversion percentage of 33% which is ranked third. His rushing big play (10+ yards) per attempt ratio of 22.5% is ranked fourth. On his 120 rushing attempts Kamara’s 6.67% stuffs per attempt is ranked fifth lowest among backs with a minimum 20 attempts. Kamara’s 6.07 yards per rushing attempt is ranked fourth. Besides being a top rusher  Kamara’s receiving skills are also tops. Among active backs he had the most receiving yards (826 yards) in 2017 and the second most over the last three seasons. His receiving game per touchdown ratio of 3.2 games was tied with McCaffrey for first. Kamara’s 51.6 receiving yards per game is ranked first. His receiving big play (25+ yards) per reception ratio of 8.6% is ranked ninth.

NFC West

NFC West Running Backs
NFC West Running Backs

Even though David Johnson, of the Cardinals, missed all but one game in 2017 due to a dislocated wrist he still makes the top backs list based on his three season performance.  Johnson’s 1.38 games to touchdowns ratio is ranked second. His 54% receiving first down conversion rate on his 122 receptions leads all active backs with a minimum 20 receptions. Johnson’s 4.13 games to touchdown ratio is ranked fifth.  His 11.5 yards per reception ratio is ranked fifth among active backs with a minimum 20 receptions. His 42.5 receiving yards per game ranks third.

Todd Gurley, of the Rams, averages 29.6 receiving yards per game which ranks ninth among active backs. His 10.16% big plays to receptions ratio ranks seventh. One fourth of his games are 100+ rushing yard games which ranks seventh. His 1.52 games per rushing touchdown ratio ranks fourth. Gurley’s 74.9 rushing yards per game ranks eighth.

Data Backup

I have included the data sheet I used in evaluation for those that may be interested. One sheet has the player’s total list of score summaries. The top 23 players are highlighted by yellow in column B. Two other sheets has three seasons of data on the players followed by columns of calculations for evaluation criteria.  One is for rushing data and the other for receiving data. At the top is a line showing the average value for the evaluation criteria. Each player has a line for the season denoted by year. This is followed by a line for the Summary of the three season average. The average line is followed by a line denoted by Score in column A. That Score line is a score summary line computing how far the player’s average is from the baseline by a percentage calculation. The Score line is summed and those are the totals on the summary sheet. There are two other sheets containing the Summary lines only for each player. These can be sorted by the evaluation criteria to see where a player ranks in relation to other players.

Using the data I avoid putting to much emphasis on the results. Specifically the scores. The exercise was to help systematically come up with a top 16% of current running backs. It is more for a verification with data of what is generally reported on the player’s skills. I would not use the scores as a “ranking” of those top receivers. Although it was useful to tweak the calculation to arrive at a list that looks reasonably accurate.

If you are interested I have attached the data here – Running Back Data.