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.


The 2018 Hall of Fame Game Players

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

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

Chicago Bears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baltimore Ravens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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