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.
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.
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.
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.
How long until Mayfield takes over at starting quarterback? Will Taylor put the Browns in position to win games?
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.
Will Barkley shine in his rookie preseason debut?
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.
Who will replace Joe Thomas?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today I continue the second part of the NFL top wide receivers 2018 – Part 2 NFC. The AFC was covered in the prior post. From the 274 veteran wide receivers currently on rosters I selected 16% as the cutoff line for the top wide receivers. That comes to 44 receivers. I have slightly modified my selections since the AFC post and will go back and update that. Currently I have 20 receivers selected as top receivers in the NFC.
With the tables below I highlight the top receivers in yellow and the rookies in green. Rookies were not considered in this exercise. Although I do note some rookies that I find as interesting prospects but they are not considered in the top receivers. You can click on the table to open it into a larger display for better visibility. At the bottom of each team table I have a count of the number of non-rookie players and an average of the age column.
For my selections I looked at performance metrics for over the last three seasons combined. I felt on one year is not a good enough sample size but three should give a good sample of relatively recent performance. For first and second year players I used what was there. Those players were not penalized for being new and their data was compared to the three year average for the older players.
Here are the performance metrics used and a baseline for each that was considered the line between average and good performance.
yards after catch (YAC) per reception (4.6 yards)
100+ games per total games (16%)
1st downs per receptions (63%)
receptions per targets (63%)
yards per targets (8.32 yards)
games per touchdowns (3.1 games per 1 touchdown or less)
yards per receptions (13.3 yards)
drops and fumbles per targets (4% or less)
yards per game (60 yards)
big plays(25+ yards) per receptions (12%)
The baseline was used to calculate how close each player’s three year average was to the baseline. I used a per game or reception/target qualifier on most to better compare players without rewarding players that had more opportunities. I did penalize players that did not meet some minimum receptions numbers and also others that were heavily weighted to a good 2015 performance but did poorly since. The latter caused me to remove Brandon Marshall from consideration. Though his numbers were good for the three year average he had done poorly in the last two.
Here are the results for the NFC.
Allen Hurns, now with the Cowboys, was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the fourth most efficient receiver in 2017 in getting first downs with 50% of his targets getting a first down. Over the last three seasons his 1st down to receptions ratio was above 65% each season with two seasons being above 70%. Hurn’s 2015 season was outstanding excelling in 9 of 11 receiving metrics including a 1.5 game to touchdown ratio. Over 3 seasons and 274 veterans currently on rosters only a total of 21 player seasons accomplished a 1.5 ratio or better.
While Odell Beckham, of the Giants, does not have the most receiving touchdowns over the last three seasons, he does have the top games to touchdowns ratio among players currently on NFL rosters. Beckham has scored a touchdown on average every 1.35 games.
Alshon Jeffery, of the Eagles, is adept at picking up first downs. His 1st down to reception ratio over the last three seasons is 78.5%. Among wide receivers currently on rosters that is the third best. He was above 77% each of those three seasons.
Jamison Crowder, of the Redskins, had the 14th best catch percentage (68.6%) over the last three seasons. Crowder is one of only 13 wide receivers currently on NFL rosters that over the last three seasons have a yards after the catch of 5.68 or more with a minimum of 50 receptions.
The Cowboys selected Michael Gallup in the 2018 NFL draft. Gallup posted a 39% market share of his team’s receiving yards to passing yards in one of his college seasons. Gallup ranked fifth in receiving yards in his college senior year with 1,413. He was a combine top performer among wide receivers in the vertical jump (9th), broad jump (11th) and 60 yard shuttle (12th).
The Redskins selected Mr Irrelevant with the last pick of the draft – Trey Quinn. Quinn was ranked 11th in receiving yards in his 2017 college season. He had posted a 32% market share of his team’s receiving yards one of his college seasons. Quinn was ranked fourth in receiving touchdowns in 2017 in college with 13. Trey posted a 74% catch rate and a 56% success rate in a season in college.
Allen Robinson, now of da Bears, is looking to bounce back from injury in 2018. Robinson had a monster year in 2015 in which 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. Over the past three seasons for players currently on rosters only seven had a season with a big play to receptions ratio of better than 23% for minimum 32 receptions. None had more receptions on those big play seasons than Robinson’s 80. The next closest was Brandin Cooks with 65 receptions for his season.
Technically, over the past three seasons no other receiver has had more targets and a higher catch rate than Golden Tate of the Lions. I say technically because Larry Fitzgerald has had significantly more targets but his catch rate is a fraction lower. Doug Baldwin is also in that group with less targets than Tate but a tenths of a better catch rate. Of the forty-four receivers I selected as the top receivers, Tate has the fourth best YAC/Reception ratio at 6.67 yards.
Marvin Jones, of the Lions, excels in getting the big play. Of wide receivers currently on rosters only two had more big plays (25+ yards) than Jones in 2017. Jones was tied with three other receivers at 15 big plays. Over the past three seasons his combined big play total of 33 is topped by only seven wide receivers currently on rosters.
Kenny Golladay, of the Lions, was off to a good start his rookie season. Golladay’s big plays (25+ yards) per reception of 25% is ranked third among wide receivers currently on rosters with minimum 10 receptions in 2017. He is sure handed having zero drops and zero fumbles. His 17 yards per reception ranked 7th in the NFL for wide receivers with minimum 10 receptions. His 9.94 yards per target ranked 13th among wide receivers with minimum 10 targets. Among the 274 veteran wide receivers currently on rosters of those with minimum 10 receptions in 2017, only 12 had a better YAC per reception than Golladay’s 6.39 yards. Golladay needs to improve his catch rate (58%) and get more targets (48) in 2018. (YAC is yards after the catch.)
Davante Adams, of the Packers, has the seventh best games to touchdown ratio at 1.84 of all wide receivers currently on rosters for the last three seasons. Combined touchdowns for only the last two seasons Adams led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 22. Adams had a YAC per reception over 4.6 yards for each of the last three seasons. He was one of only 15 receivers currently on rosters to accomplish that.
Adam Thielen, of the Vikings ,had the 15th best catch percentage (68.3%) over the last three seasons. Thielen was one of only five wide receivers currently on NFL rosters that had 3 or more 100+ yard games in each of the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Adam was one of only 20 wide receivers currently on NFL rosters that had at least 12% of their receptions go for big plays (25+ yards) for each of the last two seasons. Over the last two season Thielen’s yards per target of 9.59 was ranked sixth among wide receivers with a minimum 50 targets. Thielen is one of thirty wide receivers currently on NFL rosters that had 63% or more of their receptions go for a first down for each of the last two seasons for receivers with a minimum 11 receptions per year.
Stefon Diggs, of the Vikings, is a sure handed receiver. He is one of four wide receivers currently on rosters that had a 1% or better fumble rate, a drop rate of 1.73% or better and a catch rate of 65% or better over the last three seasons for receivers with a minimum of 20 receptions. The Vikings had the highest team contested catch rate in 2017 and it was led by Diggs with his 64% contested catch rate.
The Vikings picked up Korey Robertson as an undrafted free agent following the 2018 NFL draft. Robertson posted a 36% team market share in receiving yards one of his college seasons. In his last college season Robertson was ranked 17th in receiving yards (1,106 yards), 8th in receiving touchdowns (12), and posted a very respectable 9.5 yards per target , a 65% catch rate and and a 52.5% success rate.
Julio Jones, of the Falcons, is one of three players in my top forty-four that have averaged in the 40 percentile for 100+ yard games over the last three seasons. Two of those three seasons he broke 100+ in half or more of his games. The other two are Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham (discounting his injured 2017 season). Over the past three seasons Julio’s yards per target average of 9.84 is ranked third among wide receivers with a minimum 30 targets. He was topped only by two rookies that did it only for one year -JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kenny Golladay. over the past three seasons Jones has the second highest receiving yards per game among wide receivers with 102.7.
For each of Ted Ginn‘s last three seasons both his ratios of big plays to receptions and his yards to receptions were above the average baseline in each season. Of the veterans on rosters only 15 players accomplished that feat. Ginn’s yards/receptions average of 15.09 yards was 16th in the league over that time-frame. Ginn is a fast receiver and clocked a 4.38 forty at his pro-day.
Over the last two seasons no wide receiver has a better combined catch percentage (72.6%) with more targets (270) than Michael Thomas, of the Saints. For combined rookie and second year since 2000 Michael Thomas is ranked 1st in receptions (196), 4th in receiving yards (2,382) and 7th in yards per game (76.8).
Over the last three seasons combined no wide receiver currently on an NFL roster with a minimum of 10 receptions had a better first down percentage (82.6%) than Mike Evans of the Buccaneers. Evan’s 76.7 receiving yards per game ranked seventh.
DeSean Jackson, of the Buccaneers, has had 136 receptions with a 1.26% drop percentage and 0% fumbles over the past three seasons . Of the wide receivers currently on NFL rosters only Pierre Garcon had better numbers related to receptions and drops/fumbles. Over the past three seasons Jackson’s 16.2 yards per reception ranked seventh among wide receivers with a minimum of 50 receptions.
Over the last three seasons of wide receivers currently on an NFL roster, Chris Godwin’s 1st down conversion percentage of 79.4% ranks second for receivers with a minimum 10 receptions. In 2017 Godwin’s 9.55 yards per target ranked 10th among wide receivers with a minimum 25 targets. In 2017 among wide receivers currently on NFL rosters only three receivers had zero drops and zero fumbles like Godwin but with more receptions than Godwin’s 34 receptions. Godwin’s 15.44 yards per reception ranked 12th in the NFL last season for wide receivers with a minimum 30 receptions.
The Saints picked Tre’Quan Smith in the 2018 NFL draft. Smith posted a 31% team market share of receiving yards one of his college seasons. In his last year in college Smith ranked 4th in receiving touchdowns(13), 12th in receiving yards (1,171 yards) and 15th in yards per reception (19.85). He had good numbers in yards per target (13.6 yards), catch rate (68.6%) and success rate (60.5%).
Over the past three seasons no wide receiver has had more targets (456) with a higher catch percentage (71.3%) than Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals. For wide receivers currently on NFL rosters with over 120 targets in that time-frame only Pierre Garcon had a better drop percentage than Fitzgerald ‘s 1.1%.
In 2017 Brandin Cooks, of the Rams, was tied for third among wide receivers currently on rosters for number of big plays (25+ yards) with 15. He is one of only four wide receivers on rosters that have over 40 big plays over the past three seasons. The others being Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton and Julio Jones. Over the past three seasons Brandin’s 70.7 yards per game ranks eleventh among all active receivers.
Over the past three seasons, Cooper Kupp, of the Rams, has the tenth best YAC per reception ratio (5.92) among wide receivers on rosters with minimum 50 receptions. Cooper Kupp’s catch percentage of 66% ranks 15th for active wide receiver rookies over the last five seasons (minimum 25 targets), his 9.24 yards per target at 14th and his 5 touchdowns as 16th.
Doug Baldwin, of the Seahawks, over the past three seasons has the highest catch percentage (71.8%) for wide receivers with over 300 targets. Over that time-frame Baldwin scored a touchdown on average once every 1.66 games. This is the fifth best Touchdown ratio for players currently on NFL rosters. Of the eleven categories evaluated, Baldwin’s average excelled in nine. In six of those nine he excelled for each of the last three seasons.
Following the 2018 NFL draft the 49ers signed undrafted free agent Steven Dunbar. Dunbar posted a 30.7% team receiving yards market share one of his college seasons. His senior year in college he broke 1,000 yards receiving. He also posted respectable numbers for yards/catch (14.1), yards/target (9.6) and catch rate (67.9%).
The data sheets used in evaluation are included for those that may be interested. One sheet has the player’s score summaries. The top 44 players are highlighted by yellow in column A. The other sheet has three seasons of data on the players followed by columns of calculations for evaluation criteria. See part II of the post for list of criteria. Cells exceeding the criteria baseline are highlighted in yellow. Each player has a line for the season denoted by year. This is followed by a line for the three season average. The average line is followed by a line denoted by an S in column A. The “S” line is a score summary computing the percentage the player’s average is from the baseline. I sum the S line and those totals are shown on the summary sheet.
The calculation was tweaked to combine data on fumbles and drops into one category. This was because using them separate distorting the results to overly favor “sure-handedness”.
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 receivers. The data verifies 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.
This is the first part of a two part post in which I look at the top NFL AFC wide receivers 2018. I identify the top wide receivers in the league based on historical statistics and how the receivers are dispersed across the teams. In determining top receivers I focused on their combined numbers for the last three seasons. In cases where two receivers were close I put a little more emphasis on their last year. However I was more than willing to overlook a down year and not greatly penalize for one bad year. I also did not penalize the new guys. I treated all receivers on an equal starting ground and if a new guy had one or two years of good performance he was treated the same as the veterans.
This is an update of an earlier post. After the original post I then posted the NFC receivers. In doing so my evaluation criteria became more refined and I came up with changes to the total 44 top receivers. This is that update. Changes are in italics and at the end of each division I list the changes made for that division.
Included are pictures of tables showing the teams. I highlighted the top receivers in yellow and all rookies are highlighted in green. Rookies were not considered in this evaluation. I only note for some exceptional rookie picks. Each team table is sorted by years experience and a total number of veterans are noted under the Player column. Under the Age column is the average age for the receivers on the team. The tables pictures are a little hard to read but you can click on them to open them up into an easier to read display.
The football rosters are pretty set in preparation for the start of preseason. There are 274 wide receivers listed on team’s rosters. In choosing my top receivers I had to draw the line somewhere. So I decided to use 16% as the line. I figure 16% roughly translates to one in six receivers and so I consider the top 16% to be the top receivers. This translates to 44 of the 274 receivers on rosters.
Today I start with the AFC receivers. Twenty-three of the forty-four top receivers were in the AFC. I will work on the NFC post and have that up in the next or two.
For the span of his NFL career Kelvin Benjamin, of the Bills, has had 19 receiving touchdowns from 2014 thru 2017. Kelvin ranks 30th in the NFL among active wide receiver for receiving touchdowns over that time period. This was accomplished in spite of missing the 2015 season due to a torn ACL in August of that year. Benjamin has a career first down percentage of 71.2%. According to fivethirtyeight.com, Benjamin leads receivers in average yards gained per route run in the fourth quarter and his average of 23.3 fourth-quarter receiving yards ranks fourth.
Robby Anderson of the Jets is a rising talent. Last season he accounted for 27% of his team’s receiving yards, the highest percentage. He was tied for eleventh in the league for big receiving plays (25+ yards) with ten. In 2016 he also had ten big plays for thirteenth most in the league. Anderson has great speed and lists as the 3rd fastest forty for wide receivers in the 2016 draft class.
Kenny Britt, of the Patriots, has had 15% or better of his receptions go for 25+ yards for each of the last three seasons. He is one of only twenty-one current players with a minimum of two years that accomplished that. His three year average of 18.55% for big plays is sixth best among my top 44 receivers. His three year combined yards per reception average of 15.44 is ranked 14th in the NFL among active wide receivers with a minimum 30 receptions for that time-frame.
Chris Hogan, of the Patriots, has a reputation for being able to get open. Maybe that’s why he has also done well in yards after the catch (YAC). Over the past three seasons he has averaged 4.8 YAC. He had a breakout season in 2016 where he averaged 6.55 YAC on 38 receptions which was 8th best for wide receivers with a minimum 10 catches. That year his yards per target was 11.72 yards – the tops for wide receivers with minimum 10 catches. His 17.9 yards per reception led the NFL. In 2016 21% of his receptions were for big plays of 25+ yards which was ninth best among wide receivers with a minimum 10 receptions. From a Belichick interview – “He’s one of our best players, (and) again, another hard working guy that’s tough. …”
Kenny Stills, of the Dolphins, is a speedster that can take the top off a defense. Of the top receivers I have looked at his last three season average of 18.1 % big plays to receptions is in the top five. Big plays are receptions of 25+ yards. Stills is 3rd on the NFL active leaders list for yards per reception with 16.1 yards. His 20 yards/reception in 2013 led the NFL.
Removed: Julian Edelman
Added: Kenny Britt, Kelvin Benjamin
A.J. Green, on the Bengals was selected for the Pro Bowl all seven years of his career. Green has a career games to touchdown ratio of a touchdown every 1.78 games. Of the top 20 active wide receiver career leaders for receiving touchdowns only Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham have a better ratio.
After the Brown’s Josh Gordon’s incredible 2013 sophomore season he was listed 13th on the Receiving Yards Single Season Leaders list, was selected to the Pro Bowl, was named First-Team All Pro and was designated number 16 on the 2014 NFL Top 100 list. That’s what amassing 1,646 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns in 14 games will do for you. . That was followed by three years lost to suspensions and substance abuse issues. He came back for the last five games of 2017 and finished the season leading the Browns in yards per game and 100+ receiving games(1). His 335 season receiving yards was fifth on the team. He had 18 season receptions with an average of 18.6 yards which was third best in the league for over ten targets. The team is saying all the right things commending his work ethic, how hard he works on and off the field and having an awesome mindset.
Jarvis Landry, now on the Browns, over his four year NFL career has 400 receptions and a combined season catch rate of 70.2%. The 400 receptions is the most by any player in their first four seasons. The catch rate is sixth best among all active receivers averaging 10+ yards and with a minimum 80 targets over that time frame. Last season Landry’s 112 receptions led the NFL and his 69.6% catch rate was 14th best in the league for over 50 targets. Landry has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last three of his four year career.
Antonio Brown , of the Steelers, has been voted 1st Team All-Pro each of the last four years and selected to the Pro-Bowl six of his eight year career. Brown is a two time NFL receptions leader and two time NFL receiving yards leader including last year with 1,533 yards. Over the last four seasons Brown has a game to touchdown ratio of 1.39 which is second only to Odell Beckham.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, of the Steelers, made the NFL and the sixth best All-Rookie team in 2017. He led rookie receivers in receiving yards (917) , longest reception (97T), receiving touchdowns (7), 20+ yard plays (12) and 40+ yard plays (6). His long reception led the NFL and he had a kickoff return for a touchdown. His catch percentage of 73.4% was third best in the NFL among wide receivers with 70 or more targets. Smith-Schuster has the top combined season yards per target number for wide receivers with over 30 targets (11.61 yards).
The Steelers pick of James Washington in the draft should be a nice continuation of a very good receiver corp. Washington looks like a great deep threat. He had outstanding numbers in college for his senior year in yards (1,544), touchdowns (13), yards per catch (20.9) and yards per target (13.2). I have him listed with a top level success rate of 57.3% which measures the percentage of plays that were successful in terms of yards gained.
Removed: Willie Snead
DeAndre Hopkins, on the Texans, has been in the top twenty in the NFL for 1st down percentage each of the last three seasons. He is one of only three players to currently hold that distinction. He has converted on 71.9, 71.8 and 74.8% of his receptions over those years. Over these last three seasons Hopkins had the third most receiving touchdowns (28) and the sixth best games to touchdowns ratio (1.68). Hopkins led the NFL in 2017 in receiving touchdowns.
Will Fuller, of the Texans, ranked tied at 14th among NFL wide receivers for receiving touchdowns (7) in 2017. He did that playing in only 10 games and with 50 targets. No other wide receiver scored that many or more touchdowns in 2017 with less opportunity. The next closest would be 7 touchdowns by Sammy Watkins in 15 games and 70 targets. Fuller’s game to touchdown ratio in 2017 was 1.43. Over his two year career Fuller has a 69.3% first down to receptions percentage with a 75% ratio in 2017.
T.Y Hilton, on the Colts, led the NFL in receiving yards in 2016. According to Pro Football Focus since 2013 Hilton has the second most receiving yards on deep passes. On receptions of 25+ yards Hilton has been 7th in 2017 (11), 1st in 2016 (16), 6th in 2015 (14), 1st in 2014 (17), 23rd in 2013 (9) and 12th in his rookie year in 2012 (11). He excels in 100 yard games also. In his six year career spanning 2012 thru 2017 he has had 28 hundred plus yard games. Spanning that time-frame only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas have had more. In his six years he has been in the top ten in the NFL for yards per reception four of those years and has a career average of 15.8 yards.
Keelan Cole, of the Jaguars, had 21.4% of his receptions for for a big play (25+ yards). That was 14th best among the 274 active veterans. Cole’s YAC per reception of 6.69 yards was ranked 15th among the active veterans on rosters. His 17.81 yards/reception was 14th in the league. Cole’s 1st down to reception ratio of 76.2% was 8th best among currently active NFL wide receivers with a minimum 20 receptions in 2017. Cole finished his rookie year with an NFL-leading 186 receiving yards and a touchdown in week 15, including a 73-yard reception to the 1 yard line. That 75 yard reception was tied for tenth longest reception among currently active NFL wide receivers.
Rishard Matthews, on the Titans, has the tenth best combined season reception yards per target (9.38) over the last three seasons for wide receivers with minimum 50 targets. Since joining the Titans he has accounted for 25% and 23% of the Titan’s receiving yards the last two seasons. Matthews is a tough runner and good at getting yards after the catch (YAC). Over his last three seasons his YAC totals accounted for 30% of his receiving yards. In 2017 his YAC per reception of 5.15 yards was twelfth best among wide receivers with a minimum of total 39 yards after catch.
The Jaguars picked D.J. Chark in the second round (61st pick) of the 2018 draft and signed Allen Lazard as a free agent. Both were good values. Chark is a deep threat and excelled in the Reese Senior Bowl with a game-high 160 yards on 5 catches. Lazard is a big receiver that was projected to go in the 5th round by nfldraftscout.com. He is a red zone threat and is fourth on NCAA active career leaders for receiving touchdowns. Both Lazard and Chark were top performers at the combine for vertical jump and bench press among receivers. Chark was also the top receiver in the 40 yard dash.
Added: Will Fuller, Keelan Cole
Emmanuel Sanders, of the Broncos, is a tough receiver not afraid to go over the middle, take a hit and fight for the first down. Sanders has said his goal is always to get a first down. “Anything after that is all positive, but I just try to get a first down. Ten yards, and whatever happens after that, happens.” Of the 16% top receivers I have noted Sanders is in the 31% of those that have achieved an above average 1st down percentage for each of the last three seasons. In that time-frame of his 202 receptions 64.85% have gone for 1st down. Likewise he has had 10-15% of his receptions go for big plays of 25+ yards for each of the last three seasons.
Sammy Watkins, now with the Chiefs, was eighth in receiving touchdowns in 2017. Over the last three seasons Watkins is tenth for games to touchdowns ratio achieving on average a touchdown every 1.89 games. In 2017 Watkins first in the NFL in first down conversion percentage achieving an 84.6% conversion on 39 receptions. He has a career average conversion percentage of 73.4% on 192 receptions.
Tyreek Hill, of the Chiefs, has in his two year career had catch percentages of 73.5% on 83 targets and 71.4% on 105 targets. That was good for 8th and 7th for NFL wide receivers. In that time-frame only one other wide receiver made the top ten more than once. That was Mohamed Sanu at tenth and ninth. Hill was one of only 13 wide receivers to break 1,000 yards receiving in 2017 and that in his 2nd year. There are only 28 active receivers that broke 1,000 yards in either their first or second year.
Speedster Travis Benjamin, of the Chargers, was tied for first at his combine in the 40 yard dash among wide receivers. He uses that speed to break out on the deep ball. According to Pro Football Focus, in 2017 on passes that traveled 40+ yards in the air, Phillip Rivers had the 3rd best passer rating when targeting Benjamin. In 2017 Benjamin’s 20.6% big play/receptions ratio was 7th best among current NFL wide receivers with a minimum 20 receptions. Benjamin’s three season average of 5.36 YAC/reception is ranked 13th among my top 44 wide receivers.
Keenan Allen, of the Chargers, was named 2017 NFL AP Comeback Player of the Year following an impressive 2017 season after coming back from two season ending injuries. Keenan suffered a lacerated kidney in a 2015 November game that ended that season. On his return in 2016 Keenan in the first game he suffered a torn ACL that ended the 2016 season. Coming back in 2017, in NFL receiving Allen was fourth in receptions (102), third in yards (1,393), fourth in yards per game (87.1), eleventh in yards after the catch (499), eleventh in receptions of 25+ yards (10), second in 100+ yard games (7), first in 1st downs (74) and twelfth in 1st down percentage (72.5%). It was as good or better performance as four years prior when he made the NFL All-Rookie Team. In 2017 Allen was selected for the Pro Bowl. Discounting his 2016 season, in which Allen only played one game, Allen has made the top twenty for 100+ yard games every season with a total of 18 games of 100+ yards . Over the last three seasons Allen achieved a 68.6% catch rate.
Tyrell Williams, of the Chargers, was signed as an undrafted free agent in May of 2015. In the 2016 season, after Keenan Allen went down for the season in the season opener with a knee injury, Williams was promoted to the third wide receiver. He made the most of this opportunity and had a 1,059 yard season with seven touchdowns. His 13 plays of plus 25 yards was ranked fifth in the NFL. In his three year career Williams has excelled in big plays (25+ yards) achieving 18.4% for big plays to receptions. Of 56 top receivers only three had a better ratio – T.Y. Hilton, Robby Anderson and DeSean Jackson. In 2017 his 16.9 yards/reception was 4th in the NFL. His combined yards/reception for the last three seasons of 16.46 is ranked 11th among active wide receivers with a minimum 25 targets for that time-frame. For the time-span of his career, Williams’ 9.73 yards per target is ranked fifth among active wide receivers with a minimum 25 targets. Over the last three season Williams’ 7.55 YAC per reception leads all top receivers covered in this two part article. Tyrell is tall, has great speed and an outstanding work ethic.
Jordy Nelson, now with the Raiders, was named 2016 NFL AP Comeback Player of the Year after returning in 2016 from an ACL injury in week 2 of the 2015 season. In 2016 Nelson led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with fourteen. Over the last three seasons Nelson has a combined games to touchdown ratio of one touchdown every 1.55 games. For that time-frame that is the third best ratio beaten only by Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown. Nelson made the NFL top ten for 100+ yard games for the two years prior to his lost 2015 season and for the year back in 2016 when he was 4th. Nelson has a total of 19 games of 100+ yards receiving.
Amari Cooper, of the Raiders, is fast and runs great routes. Cooper was in the top seven wide receivers at the combine for the forty (7th), 3-cone(5th) and 20 yard shuttle (1st). Amari had two breakout season’s his first two and got selected to the Pro Bowl for both. He was the ninth player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. Then he had a big downturn in 2017 and finished with just 680 yards but still had 7 touchdowns. Amari can haul in the big play and finished ranked 2nd in 2016 with 15 receptions of 25+ yards. In his first two seasons he ranked 7th and then 6th in 100+ yards games. Amari struggled in 2017 playing hurt for much of the year.
Added Travis Benjamin
I hope you have enjoyed this post and if so check toward the end of next week for the second part on the NFC wide receivers.
I have included the data sheet I used in evaluation for those that may be interested. One sheet has the player’s score summaries. The top 44 players are highlighted by yellow in column A. The other sheet has three seasons of data on the players followed by columns of calculations for evaluation criteria (See part II of the post for list of criteria). Cells exceeding the criteria baseline are highlighted in yellow. Each player has a line for the season denoted by year. This is followed by a line for the three season average. The average line is followed by a line denoted by an S in column A. That “S” line is a score summary line computing how far the player’s average is from the baseline by a percentage calculation. The S line is summed and those are the totals on the summary sheet.
The calculation was tweaked to combine data on fumbles and drops into one category. This was because using them separate distorting the results to overly favor “sure-handedness”.
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 receivers. 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.