Good players on that should make some NFL team

The last preseason game was played and on Saturday (9/1) the teams will cut their rosters from 90 players to 53. Ten players could be selected for the team’s practice squad. So for 864 players they may have played their last football game. Here is a look at the last preseason game match-ups and good players that deserve a chance to make some NFL team – either their current team or a pickup on the waiver wire.

Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions

Browns’ rookie Wide Receiver Da’Mari Scott had 57 receptions and 566 yards in 2017 at Fresno State. He had 11 kickoff returns for 260 yards and a long return of 63 yards. He loves football, has a strong work ethic and has good hands.

Lions’ running back Zach Zenner only played in 8 games in 2017 due to injury. In those 8 games he only had 14 attempts for 26 yards. This disappointing season followed his best season o in his sophomore year in 2016. Then he rushed for 88 attempts, 334 yards and a 3.8 yard average. Zenner was tied with Theo Riddick as the top two backs on the Saints in 2016.  In college at South Dakota State Zenner had over 2,000 yards rushing in each of his last three years and averaged 5.74 yards per carry or better each year.

Status Update: Zach Zenner was placed in Injured Reserve and will miss the 2018 season.

Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons

Dolphin rookie linebacker Frank Ginda led the FBS in 2017 in total tackles, solo tackles and total tackles per game.

Falcon linebacker Anthony Winbush was ranked fourth in the FBS in 2017 in sacks and sacks per game.

Status Update:

Falcons cut Anthony Winbush.

Dolphins cut Frank Ginda.

New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles

Jet linebacker Obum Gwacham  converted from wide receiver to defensive end for his final year in college in 2014. That year he had 4 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, 17 solo tackles and 28 total tackles. Gwacham displayed good athleticism at his combine among defensive linemen coming in third in the forty, sixth in the vertical jump, second in broad jump, ninth in the three cone and sixth in the 20 yard shuttle. Per Lance Zierlein NFL.com scouting report prior to the 2015 NFL draft:  Exceptional personal and football character with a desire to learn his new position.

Status Update: Obum Gwacham cut.

Rookie Eagle safety Jeremy Reaves was the 2017 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year. The sum of his 2017 team market share production for solo tackles, sacks, tackles for a loss, interceptions and passes defended was the second highest sum among all FBS defensive players. Reaves is team-oriented, high football character, defensive back with a strong work ethic. He has overcome adversity such as a broken the L5 Vertebra in his high school senior year, a no-invite to the combine, and going undrafted. He is a hard hitting safety. In his 2017 college senior year he had 104 tackles (70 solo), 1.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 8 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles and 10 run stuffs.

New England Patriots at New York Giants

Rookie Patriot linebacker Christian Sam came back from a season ending injury that cut short his junior year after one game. In 2017, his senior year, Sam had 127 tackles, 87 solo tackles (4th in FBS),  9.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 1 pass defended and 1 forced fumble. At his combine Sam had the top bench press among linebackers and the ninth best linebacker 3-cone drill. Sam excels in coverage and almost converted to a defensive back in college.

Giant cornerback Donte Deayon was an undrafted free agent from the 2016 NFL draft. He played in four games in 2017 before getting injured. He had 10 tackles (9 solo) and one pass defensed. In his last year of college (2015), Deayon led active career leaders in Interceptions per game (.43), was fifth in career passes defensed (43) and fourth in career interceptions (17).  Deayon was a ball-hawk in college and has flashed that capability when healthy in 2018 training camp.  (Note Deayon probably secured a roster spot with a two interception performance in week 4).

Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals

Colt second year quarterback Phillip Walker is Temple University’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense. Walker became the first Temple quarterback to lead his team to multiple bowl games. His senior year he was awarded a single number jersey which is given to the toughest players on the team as voted by their teammates. Walker had a 139.6 passer rating in his 2018 preseason opener where he completed 5 of 8 passes for 88 yards and one touchdown.

Rookie Bengal quarterback Logan Woodside put up some impressive numbers in college. In 2017 he was 20th in completion percentage (64.2%),  fifth in passing yards per attempts (9.4 yards), fifteenth in passing touchdowns (28), sixth in passer rating (162) and 17th in passing yards per game (277 yards). He was ranked second in career passing efficiency (162.9), seventh in career passing yards (10,514 yards), third in career completion percentage (65.1%) and third in career passing yards per attempt (9.02 yards). Per Pro Football Focus Woodside was calm under pressure in 2017 ranking second in adjusted completion percentage (70%) and fourth in passer rating (96.5). Woodside has yet to have any meaningful playing time in the preseason having only 9 snaps so far in the Dallas game.

Status Update: Phillip Walker was cut.

Washington Redskins at Baltimore Ravens

After a redshirt freshman season in college, Washington rookie offensive Tackle Timon Parris started all 41 games of his other four years playing at both tackle positions. Parris shows some nastiness in his play, carrying blocks thru the whistle.

Rookie Raven cornerback Darious Williams had a decent sophomore season at UAB in 2014. In 2015 UAB shutdown their football program for financial reasons. Two years later it started up. Williams stayed with UAB during the shutdown and continued to workout. When it restarted for William’s senior year he had a breakout season. He had 50 tackles (38 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 5 run stuffs, 5 interceptions and 15 passes defended. His 2017 sum of team market share percentages for solo tackles, sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions and passes defended was ranked third among FBS defensive players. Williams made the Pro Football Focus 2017 All American 1st Team .

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jaguar linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka was impressive in coverage per PFF. He led all FBS linebackers in fewest yards allowed per snap in coverage (0.21) and had most snaps per reception allowed (49.9). He was also good at rushing the passer. On 82 pass rushes he had 24 quarterback pressures.

Buccaneer safety Godwin Igwebuike started 43 games at safety at Northwestern. In 2016 Igwebuike was fifth in the FBS in solo tackles with 78.  His college career solo tackles of 214 is fourth in the Big Ten since 2005. Pro Football Focus had Godwin posting three straight years of 80.0-plus grade.

Status Update: Godwin Igwebuike was cut.

Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers

Panther Tight End Cam Serigne had 44 receptions in 2017 over 11 games. Thirty percent of his receptions were for 15+ yards and he got a first down on over half of his receptions. Per Pro Football Focus Serigne had a 76.9% catch rate from the slot which was third among 2018 draft tight ends. Serigne had nine receiving touchdowns in 2017 which tied for second among draft eligible tight ends. He made the Pro Football Focus 2017 All-ACC first team.

Status Update: Panthers waived Cam Serigne

Steeler Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has had a good preseason to date.  He has achieved a 67.7% completion rate on 31 attempts, an average of over 9 yards per passing attempt, a 38.7% 1st down conversion rate, five passes of 20+ yards including a long of 54 yards, a 101.9 passer rating, a 13.5 yards per completion and has three touchdowns with two interceptions. In my post on  rookie and second year quarterbacks, Dobbs is ranked number one. The Steelers will have some tough decisions to resolve their three quarterbacks behind Roethlisberger of Dobbs, Landry Jones and Mason Rudolph.

Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints

Ram linebacker Travin Howard has had to deal with a preseason injury that kept him out of the first two preseason games. He had 12.2% team market share of solo tackles in 2016. That percentage is indicative of a potential All-Pro to Pro Bowl players since the 1989 NFL draft class. Howard led the team in total tackles for three years.

Saints quarterback JT Barrett was a four year starter at Ohio State and has a record of 38-6. His Ohio state career statistics include 63.5% completion percentage, 2.4 touchdowns per game, 0.68 interceptions per game, 3.5 touchdown to interception ratio, 152.3 passer rating, 74 rushing yards per game and 0.98 rushing touchdowns per game. Barrett holds the Ohio State record for passing yards and passing touchdowns.

Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears

Bills’ Defensive End Mat Boesen was fourth in the FBS in sacks in 2017 with 11.5. He is one of only 14 FBS defensive ends that met the following defensive market share criteria – 6% solo tackles, 25% sacks and 15% tackles for a loss. Those percentages are indicative of a potential Pro-Bowl or All-Pro player.

Rookie Bear Running Back Ryan Nall had an 85% conversion rate on 3rd down with 1-3 yards to go in 2017.

Status Update: Ryan Nall was cut

Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans

Quarterback Kyle Sloter has a preseason passer rating of 111.4 which is best among Vikings quarterbacks and ninth in the league. This preseason he has three passing touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Titans Quarterback Luke Falk had a good college career. He had a career 68.3 completion percentage, 345 passing yards per game, 2.8 passing touchdowns per game and a 3.1 touchdown to interception ratio. This carried on a high school career where he averaged 232 yards per game and 2.4 touchdowns per game.

Status Update: Luke Falk was cut.

Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans

Rookie Cowboy Safety Kameron Kelly had eight pass breakups and two forced fumbles in 2017. Opposing team success rate of 55.4% when Kelly made a tackle is good and low for a safety.

Rookie Texan Cornerback Andre Chachere in 2016 had 27 solo tackles, four interceptions and fourteen passes defended. Per Pro Football Focus in his sophomore 2015 season he allowed only 37% of passes into his coverage to be caught. That was tied for best among 2016 returning cornerbacks.

Status Update: The Texans cut Andre Chachere

Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs

Packer Quarterback Tim Boyle through the first three preseason games has the second best passer rating of the four Packer quarterbacks with 105.7.  Only Aaron Rodgers had a better rating.

Rookie Chief’s Cornerback Arrion Springs had a college career high 44 passes defended which was seventh best in career leaders for the 2017 season.

Status Update: Arrion Springs was cut.

Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals

Rookie Cardinal Quarterback Chad Kanoff in 2017 completed 73.2% of his passes setting a Princeton and Ivy League record for single-season completion percentage. Chad tied the Ivy League record for most 400-yard passing games (three) and 300-yard passing games (eight) in a single season.

Bronco Running Back Phillip Lindsay averaged 5.4 yards per rushing attempt in the first three preseason games on 13 attempts. That was 8th best among rookie backs. His 30.8% first down conversion rate was ranked fourth among rookie backs.

Los Angeles Chargers at San Francisco 49ers

Rookie 49er Wide Receiver Steven Dunbar ha. d 1,070 receiving yards in 2017 for a 34% team market share of receiving yards. That is indicative of potential Pro-Bowl or All-Pro players. He also had a 14.1 yards per catch and 9.6 yards per target with a 69.7% catch rate.

Rookie Charger Running Back Detrez Newsome had the second longest kick return in the preseason with 63 yards. For rushing Newsome averaged 3.6 yards on 42 carries. His long was 31 yards. In college at Western Carolina University he had a career 3,728 yards rushing which was second in program history and had 46 touchdowns which is the school record. Newsome had 2,279 career kickoff return yards and two for touchdowns.

Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks

Raider Running Back DeAndre Washington only played in one preseason game due to injury and arthroscopic knee surgery. He had a good rookie year in 2016 when he averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 87 attempts.  His 2017 season did not go well with only 57 carries and a 2.7 yard average. His long was only 11 yards. Washington was a beast in college. In the 2016 draft class he led all prospects in scrimmage plays of 10+ yards with 66 and averaged 5.08 ten plus yard scrimmage plays per game. Weighting the long plays for each 10 yards over 10 and averaging them per game, Washington ranked second among draft prospects. Scrimmage yards per play had Washington second with 6.9 yards. For touchdowns per game he came in 5th with 16 touchdowns or 1.23 per game. He has a respectable  one fumble per 104 touches good for 6th in the draft class. Pro Football Focus had him ranked third among draft prospects in elusiveness rating.

Rookie Seahawks Quarterback Alex McGough has had a strong preseason. He has demonstrated that he should be the backup quarterback in Seattle. He has a preseason completion percentage of 61.5%, a 7.3 passing yards average, four passes of 20+ yards and a 90.2 passer rating.  In college McGough was a four year starter at FIU and only missed 3 games due to injury. Alex holds eight FIU records including career passing TDs (48), single season passing yards (2722) and single season passing TDs (21).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quarterback Padawans Revisited Following Preseason Week Three

The preseason is winding down with a wrap on week three. We revisit the rookie and second year quarterbacks to see who has excelled so far for this preseason. The previous week raking is shown in parenthesis following the name (NR=Not ranked, HM=Honorable Mention).

The Top Twelve

1 ) Joshua Dobbs (1) of Pittsburgh maintains his number 1 spot even though he did not play in week three. Dobbs has shown why he should be the third quarterback in the depth chart ahead of rookie Mason Rudolph. Interesting developments in Pittsburgh as both Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs have done well in the preseason. Third round selection Rudolph appears to be a candidate for the practice squad.

2 ) Nathan Peterman (3) of Buffalo moves up one spot after another solid preseason week. Peterman was 16 of 21 for 200 yards and one touchdown. For the preseason Peterman has a passer rating of 124.7 which is fifth best in the league and tops among Bills quarterbacks. Of the Bills quarterbacks AJ McCarron is next with a passer rating of 87.5 followed by Josh Allen at 82.6. Peterman is making a strong case to be the starting quarterback.

3 ) Second year quarterback Phillip Walker (10) of the Colts completed 4 of 6 for 69 yards. Walker’s preseason average yards per attempt of 10.2 yards is second among the padawans. His yards per completion of 16.6 yards leads all padawans. Walker’s preseason passer rating of 109.1 leads all Colt quarterbacks. The Colts cut quarterback Brad Kaaya on Friday.  Will Walker usurp Jacoby Brissett for the backup quarterback role or will he be stashed on the practice squad?

4 ) Chad Kelly (4) of the Broncos remains at the number 4 spot for the third week in a row.  He completed 7 of 11 passes for 73 yards. Denver has updated their depth chart to now show Kelly as the backup quarterback with Paxton Lynch now number three.

5 ) Patrick Mahomes (11) of the Chiefs takes another big leap up this list. He was 18 of 24 for 196 yards and one touchdown. He also ran twice for 11 yards. Mahomes’ passer rating has increased each week of the preseason three games. Of the first round quarterbacks of the last two years that have played three preseason games only Lamar Jackson can also make that claim.

6 ) Tim Boyle (6) of the Packers holds on to the number 6 spot even though he did not play in week three.  Through the three preseason games Boyle has the second best passer rating of the four Packer quarterbacks with 105.7. Rodgers (119.8) has the best and Kizer (88.8)  trails Boyle with Hundley last (81.2).

7 ) Chase Litton (NR) of the Chiefs makes a debut on this list with a week three performance of 4 of 7 for 67 yards and one touchdown. He also had one run for nine yards. Currently buried fourth on the quarterback depth chart Litton could use a good week 4 performance to justify a practice squad spot.

8 ) Alex McGough (12) of the Seahawks moves up again in week three with a performance of 5 of 14 for 140 yards, one touchdown, one interception and two sacks. He started off bad with two incomplete passes and then a pass off the receivers hands was intercepted. However he came back on his next drive and led the Seahawks 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown.  He went 3 of 4 for 50 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown pass. McGough also rushed for 19 yards on the drive. He has shown he deserves to be the backup quarterback over Austin Davis. Davis has had a poor preseason with the second lowest passer rating in the league of 38.4.

9) DeShone Kizer (5) of the Packers falls down the list this week but remains in the top twelve. Kizer was 11 of 23 for 120 yards and was sacked twice and fumbled once. Recognized for his arm strength, Kizer is tied for first among the padawans in plays of 40+ yards with two. It is a three way tie with CJ Beathard and Davis Webb. Kizer’s yards per completed pass of 14.9 yards is third among padawans with more than three completions.

10) Baker Mayfield (7) of the Browns was 8 of 12 for 76 yards, one interception, two sacks and one fumble. It is the third week Mayfield is in the top 12.  This preseason Mayfield has seven passes of 20+ yards. That is tie for second most in the league.

11) Viking Kyle Sloter (HM) has a preseason passer rating of 111.4 which is best among Vikings quarterbacks and ninth in the league. This preseason he has three passing touchdowns and zero interceptions. The touchdowns is tie for tops among the padawans and no other padawan has three touchdowns with no interceptions. His 73.2 preseason completion percentage is third among padawans with more than four attempts.

12) CJ Beathard (NR) of the 49ers was 7 of 8 for 83 yards and one sack.  Beathard is a football junkie, tough and professional. In the preseason he has had five pass plays of 20+ yards which is tie for second among the padawans.

Honorable Mention

Garrett Gilbert (8) of the Panthers was 5 of 9 for 46 yards and one touchdown. He is one of five padawans that has two or more touchdowns with zero interceptions in the preseason. His preseason passer rating of 101.8 is 0.1 behind Taylor Heinicke for the top Panther preseason passer rating.

Davis Webb (NR) of the Giants was 5 of 11 for 73 yards and one sack. He has performed better than Kyle Lauletta in the preseason and of the two deserves to be Manning’s backup.

Under Performing Expectations

Deshaun Watson (2) of the Texans after a stellar week two followed it with a poor performance in week three. He was 3 of 6 for 15 yards and one interception. He ran once for five yards. Watson was not used much in the preseason attempting only 15 passes over three games. His 72.1 passer rating for the preseason lags the other Houston quarterbacks. It will be interesting to see if he plays in week four.

In Preseason Week 3 Saints versus Chargers Game Talent Abounds

This should be a good match-up in the third preseason game. The third preseason game is typically the game in which the starters play the most out of all preseason games. Last season the Saints won their division.  The Chargers just missed the playoffs tied at 9-7 for the wildcard and losing the tiebreaker.

Adam Schein , nfl.com columnist, puts the Chargers and Saints in his top nine offenses in 2018. Pete Prisco of cbssports.com predicts both will go 11-5. Vinnie Iyer of Sporting News.com predicts a Chargers – Saints Super Bowl. The Chargers and the Saints were number six and seven respectively on Gil Brandt’s ten most talented NFL teams. In the nfl.com list of the top 100 players of 2018 the Saints had the fourth most talented players (six) and the Chargers had the eighth most (five).

Here is a look at the talent that will be displayed in this “dress rehearsal” preseason game three.

Quarterbacks

Last season at age 38, Drew Brees completed a career-high 72 percent of his passes. He led the league in completions (386) and yards per attempt (8.1) while throwing for 4,334 yards and 23 touchdowns. This year Brees is in position to become the career leader in Passes Completed and Passing Yards. He should pass Brett Favre in career Passing Touchdowns competing with Tom Brady for the number two position. Brees is currently sixth in career Passer Rating, first in career Passing Yards per Game, first in career Pass Completion Percentage and fifth in Game Winning Drives. He is a Super Bowl MVP and has been selected to eleven Pro Bowls.

Seven time Pro-Bowler Philip Rivers has the eighth  best career quarterback rating for over 1500 attempts, fifth among active quarterbacks. His career completion percentage is tenth best and fifth among active quarterbacks. Pro Football Focus has Rivers as one of the league’s most accurate passer in short yardage (0-9 yards) and eighth best in intermediate (10-19 yards). Rivers is a competitor. He is one of three quarterbacks in 2017 that had four or more consecutive games with a passer rating of 103 or better and all were wins.

Saints second year quarterback Taysom Hill had a good preseason week one. He completed 8 of 9 passing attempts for 72 yards. In addition Hill rushed seven times for 52 yards and four first downs. He is said the be a freak athlete. Hill is a dual threat quarterback. He ran a 4.44 forty at his pro day which would have been the best at the combine for quarterbacks. Hill has been used on kickoff coverage by the Saints. He racked up four tackles and contributed to a blocked punt against the Vikings in the playoffs. In his sophomore year at BYU Hill ranked 8th in the FBS for total offense which included 1,344 rushing yards and 19 rushing TDs.

Wide Receivers

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 speedster Travis Benjamin.

In his rookie season of 2013, Charger Keenan Allen made the NFL All-Rookie Team. Last season he was NFL AP Comeback Player of the Year.  In between he had season ending injuries in both 2015 ad 2016 and played only nine games over those two years. As Comeback Player of the Year he was third in receiving yards (1,393) and second in 100+ yard games (7).

Over the last three seasons Charger Tyrell Williams’ 7.55 Yards after the Catch per reception leads all top receivers. He has a significant 18.4% of his receptions go for 25+ yards. Williams has speed. He ran a 4.43 forty and a 6.74 three-cone at his Pro-Day.

No player has ever had more receptions in their first two seasons than Saint’s receiver Michael Thomas with 196. Over the last two seasons no wide receiver has a better catch percentage (72.6%) and more targets (270) than Thomas. The closest would be Danny Amendola with a 73% catch percentage on 115 targets.

In 2017 Saint’s Ted Ginn had the highest catch percentage (75.7%) of his career which was third best among wide receivers in the league. According to Pro Football Focus only four teams had two wide receivers finish top-20 in yards per route run in 2017. New Orleans was one of the teams with Michael Thomas (2.39) and Ted Ginn (1.94).

Saint’s 2018 third round draft pick Tre’Quan Smith is a big receiver with good speed and solid hands. He is a red zone threat and tied for 2nd most receiving TDs among draft eligible receivers. Smith is also one of college football’s best deep threats. He had the 3rd most deep pass receiving yards among draft eligible receivers and the most touchdown receptions on deep passes among all FBS wide receivers. He will go up and fight for jump balls and makes some spectacular catches. In 2017 Smith had a high catch rate (67%) and a 61% success rate (the measure of efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not based on down and distance).

Charger’s 2018 undrafted free agent signing J.J. Jones has been returning kickoffs in the preseason. He had a punt return of 72 yards for a touchdown in week two. At his Pro-Day Jones had a 4.35 forty and a 6.83 three cone.

Running Backs

Not since 1967 has there been AP Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year on the same team. In 2017 running back Alvin Kamara joined cornerback Marshon Lattimore to  do it for the Saints. Kamara led the NFL in rushing yards per attempt (6.1 yards). The next running back had 5.0 yards per attempt. Kamara was second in rushing/receiving touchdowns with 13. He was third in All-Purpose yards (1,901). Kamara is an explosive runner,  uses quick sidesteps to avoid tackles  and even leaps over would be tacklers. He is arguably the best active receiving running back in the game. Kamara’ s career 51.6 receiving yards per game leads all active backs by almost 9 yards.

Among the 120 running backs on NFL rosters at the start of preseason, Mark Ingram ranked in the top 10 in most significant metrics for backs who had a minimum 100 attempts over the last 3 seasons. Those metrics were 100+ yard games, rushing touchdowns, stuffs per attempt, yards per game, yards per attempt and longest play. Ingram had rushing plays of 70+ yards in each of the last three seasons.

Gordon Melvin of the Chargers has power and speed. He excelled at the 2015 combine in the broad jump, 20 yard shuttle and 60 yard shuttle. According to Pro Football Focus Gordon has the second most forced missed tackles since 2015 among running backs.

Boston Scott of the Saints is an athletic back drafted in the 6th round of the 2018 draft. In college he was touted by Pro Football Focus (PFF) as an elusive back with a forced missed tackle percentage of 26% – second best among draft eligible backs. Preseason week two Scott showed his ability to make people miss both as a rusher and as a receiver according to PFF. In the preseason Scott has had five kickoff returns of 20+ yards, the most among rookies. His long return was 35 yards.

Pass Rushers

The three veterans in this group combined for a total 36 sacks during the 2017 regular season. All three were in a group of just 16 pass rushers that had double digit sacks, hits and hurries.

In 2017 Cameron Jordan of the Saints had a career high 13 sacks, 11 tipped passes and two forced fumbles. He was selected for his third Pro Bowl. For the year Jordan had 14 sacks, 14 hits and 47 hurries.

In 2017 Joey Bosa of the Chargers had a career high 12.5 sacks and made his first Pro Bowl. He had 13 sacks, 11 hits and 51 hurries for the year.

In 2017 Melvin Ingram of the Chargers had a career high 10.5 sacks and made his first Pro Bowl. He is credited with 11 sacks, 12 hits and 53 hurries for the year.

Marcus Davenport of the Saints was the 14th pick in the 2018 NFL draft. In college he was Conference USA Defensive Player of the year and 1st team All C-USA in 2017. Davenport had a career 21.5 sacks in college which was ranked 10th among active career leaders in the FBS in 2017. He is said to have a great work habit.

Uchenna Nwosu of the Chargers was a 2018 NFL draft second round draft pick.  In college he was selected to the 2017 First Team All-Pac-12. Nwosu is passionate, relentless and tough. He had 13 passes tipped at the line of scrimmage in 2017 which was second in the PAC-12 for passes defended.

Secondary

According to Pro Football Reference the Saints (3.6%) and the Chargers (3.4%) had the third and fourth best pass interception percentage respectively in 2017. Quarterbacks had the fourth (Chargers – 78) and the seventh (Saints –  79) lowest passer rating against these teams.

In his rookie season Marshon Lattimore of the Saints was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and made the 2017 NFL All-Rookie team. He had five interceptions and 18 passes defended. Quarterbacks had a 45.3 passer rating when targeting Lattimore. Lattimore did not allow a touchdown on 415 coverage snaps in 2017, and gave up a first down or touchdown on just 27.9 percent of his targets, per nfl.com.

Casey Hayward of the Chargers made the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons. In the last two years he has had 11 interceptions and 42 passes defended. He was the 2017 Pro Football Focus coverage defender of the year recipient. Hayward was tied with Lattimore in third place for passes defensed i 2017 with 22. According to PFF Hayward led all full-time starters in completion percentage allowed (42.7%) and was fourth in passer rating allowed (58.6).

Derwin James of the Chargers was selected with the 17th pick of the 2018 NFL draft. He may be the most versatile defender from that draft having played safety, linebacker and cornerback. James was a 2017 FWAA, USAT and CBS All-American. He exhibits strength, athleticism, excellent spatial awareness and great closing speed.  PFF has him as their second top candidate to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The game is on Saturday August 25th at 8:00 PM ET and is carried on CBS. Enjoy the Game!

Quarterback Padawans Revisited Following Preseason Week Two

Half way thru the preseason here are the rookie and second year quarterbacks that have stood out over their preseason games.  The top twelve takes into account all preseason games played this year. The player’s rank from last week is in parenthesis after their name. (NR = Not ranked, HM = Honorable Mention, 1 = top rank). The player’s week two stats are listed.

The Top Twelve

1 ) Joshua Dobbs (10) of Pittsburgh had another good week. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 192 yards, 2  touchdowns and an interception. In the preseason Dobbs has completed five passes of 20+ yards for second most among the padawans.

 

2) Deshaun Watson (NR) of the Texans. On his lone series, Watson led an 11-play march, including a fourth-down red-zone score. Watson was 5 of 8 for 73 yards and a touchdown. In the preseason 44% of his nine attempts have gone for a first down.

3) Nathan Peterman (7) of the Bills completed 8 of 10 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. In the preseason Peterman has completed 85% of his 20 pass attempts. In week two his passer rating of 147.1 led all padawans.

4) Chad Kelly (4) of Denver maintains his four spot on the list after week two. Kelly completed seven of nine passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. Kelly holds the fourth best passer rating (116.9) among preseason quarterbacks with a minimum of 10 completions.


5) DeShone Kizer (NR) of the Packers was 7 of 12 for 149 yards and two touchdowns. In week two Kizer’s passer rating (142) was third among quarterback padawans. After week two Kizer has two passes of 40+ yards which is in a three way tie for first among all quarterbacks.

6) Tim Boyle (2) of the Packers completed four of seven passes for 37 yards. Boyle has a strong arm. He is fourth among rookie quarterbacks in passing yards (167) and average passing yards (7.6 yards). Boyle is tie for second among rookies in passing plays of 20+ yards with three.

7) Baker Mayfield (1) of the Browns was 7 of 13 for 75 yards. He was in on six possessions and led two scoring drives on his final two drives. So far in the preseason Mayfield has six passes of 20+ yards which is tie for second in the league.

8) Garrett Gilbert (3) of the Panthers was 3 of 5 for 23 yards. A sixth round pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Gilbert has yet to play in a regular season game. He is credited as a 2nd year player as he has spent the four seasons as an offseason and/or practice squad member only.

9) Chad Kanoff (HM) of the Cardinals completed 5 of 10 for 43 yards. Kanoff’s 13.6 yards per completion is ranked sixth among the padawans. He is said to have a strong arm.

10) Phillip Walker of the Colts completed 2 of 4 for 26 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He only got in the game with 6 minutes remaining. However he makes the top twelve from a strong performance in week one. (Walker was overlooked in week one therefore no ranking for last week).

11) Patrick Mahomes (NR) of the Chiefs was 8 of 12 for 138 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He rushed twice for 16 yards. He showed off his strong arm in this touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill.

12) Alex McGough (NR) of the Seahawks was 9 of 12 for 97 yards and one touchdown. On his touchdown drive, McGough completed all six passing attempts marching the team 70 yards for the score. His touchdown was a 12-yard strike.  He also had a 39 yard pass to Cyril Grayson. McGough’s 76% completion percentage for the preseason leads all rookie quarterbacks with more than two attempts.

Honorable Mention

Kyle Sloter (6) of the Vikings was 10 of 15 for 82 yards. Sloter has played quarterback, receiver and tight end in college. Kyle Sloter is a gamer.

Josh Allen (11) of the Bills was 9 of 13 for 60 yards and one touchdown. Allen also ran for three attempts and 18 yards. According to Pro Football Focus Josh Allen has the second best ball location accuracy (70%) among the 2018 first round quarterbacks.

Under Performing Expectations

Mitchell Trubisky of the Bears was 9 of 14 for 90 yards , one touchdown and one interception. He also had a fumble for a safety.  Trubisky has averaged 5.2 yards per pass attempt. Only 22% of his pass  attempts achieve a first down. He has rushed three times for seven yards.

Lamar Jackson of the Ravens was 7 of 15 for 49 yards and one touchdown. He rushed four times for 26 yards. Over three preseason games Jackson has completed only 42% of his passes, had 19% go for 1st down and has a passer rating of 62. However he does have 17 rush attempts with a 4.2 yard average. That is good for second best among quarterbacks with a minimum 10 attempts.

Quarterback Padawans Revisited After Preseason Week One

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

The Top Twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

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

Conspicuously Absent

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preseason Week 2 – Redskin Pass Rushers Versus Jets Quarterbacks

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

Washington Redskins – The Avalanche

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

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

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

The Core – Projected Starters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others With Starting Experience

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

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

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

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

Others With Game Experience

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

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

One to Two Year Players Yet to See Action

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

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

Rookies

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

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

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

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

Currently Injured

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

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

New York Jets – Under Pressure

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

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

 

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

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

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

Enjoy the game!

Preseason week 1 – Giants versus Browns – How They Did

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

Quarterbacks

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

Browns/Giants Pass Stats
Browns/Giants Pass Stats

Running Backs

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

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

Offensive Line

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

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

Preseason Week 1 – Giants vs Browns

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

Quarterbacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running Backs

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

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

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

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

 

Offensive Line

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

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

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

Enjoy the game!

Hall Of Fame Game: Birds of Prey – Ravens Secondary

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

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

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

The Veterans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Thunder and Lightning – The Starters

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

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

In week three of 2017 the Bears beat the Steelers in overtime. Thunder and Lightning combined for over 200 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Howard, had to leave the field on two separate occasions because of a shoulder injury but he kept playing.

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.