Former Bears GM Jerry Angelo Rates Every Quarterback from the 2013 NFL Season

Editor’s Note: Former Chicago Bears GM (2001-2012) Jerry Angelo rates every quarterback from the 2013 NFL season on his nine-point scale. Angelo’s notes are included.

9.0-8.5

The upper class quarterbacks. They can elevate the play of their team. Has an extraordinary make-up physically and has intangibles. An elite player.
9.0 Peyton Manning He is definitely in a class by himself in my eyes.  I think he sees the game so much better than any quarterback I have ever seen.  The stats, NFL records, speak for themselves.  He needs a Super Bowl this year to go down as the best ever, in my eyes.
8.9 Tom Brady Having one of his finest years, because of what he’s had to overcome to lead his team to another extraordinary season. When they talk about Manning, they always use Brady as a comparison.
8.8 Aaron Rodgers A gifted arm with crossbow accuracy. He can maneuver and find a down field target as good as any. His late-in-the-game heroics are well documented. You may sack him, but can’t stop him.
8.7 Cam Newton A special talent with flaws. He took a good team and had them playing consistently well. They didn’t back into being divisional champs, they took it and he lead the charge. Needs to continue to grow his football IQ. More work in the classroom is the key to his continued development.
8.7 Drew Brees He plays as fast as any QB in football and has too given his height. He can see around a defense and throw over it as good as any in his mold. He struggled more than any other elite QB on the road. Comfort level has more to do with his performance, than supporting cast.
8.6 Philip Rivers For the first time in his career he played beyond the sum of his parts. He was a driven leader who got results in big games. His play was special and his team over achieved, because of it.
8.5 Andrew Luck If you’re in a ‘pick-up’ game, you’re picking him first. He plays with reckless abandon. He’ll have some ‘bonehead’ plays, but so did Favre. After watching him in the playoffs this year, he made some terrible decisions that led to turnovers. Yes, he responded well to those turnovers, but he put his team in major holes through turning over the football. He’s fearless and as he matures his game will improve. The only thing he’s missing is a championship ring.

8.4-8.0

Played at a high level. Was one of the reasons – but not the reason – for his team’s success… not elite.
8.4 Ben Roethlisberger Still has the power in his arm and the ‘hang in’ toughness to move an offense.
8.4 Russell Wilson He has all the savvy you want for the position. His size and arm talent limit him. You can win with him, because he follows the script and can make plays down field. He keeps defenses honest with his play making ability. A great leader.
8.4 Colin Kaepernick A great talent. Though he has the size and arm strength he’s not a comfortable as a pocket passer. His vision is tunneled and relies more on his athleticism, than his reads to make plays when things start to unravel. When his instincts kick in he can take over a game.
8.3 Alex Smith Has a high IQ in the classroom and on the field. He’s mobile and tough. He’s not as good as Rich Gannon, but like him. He consistently maximizes on the extent of his abilities.
8.0 Nick Foles Put up top numbers and achieved the best QB rating in football. Once they made the change to him, they won. He knows how to protect the ball and get them in the end zone. Oakland got a dose of how good he is doing it.

7.9-7.5

Talented, has good history of play, but had a subpar year. Lack of durability, deficiency in an intangible area, poor cast around him or coaching. Any of these reasons may have kept him from playing to his potential. May be a descending player.
7.9 Matt Ryan A good, but not special player. He is tough minded and smart, but his arm talent is not elite. He needs a good cast around him. When he is not supported with talented receivers, a solid line and a good running game, you see his flaws.
7.9 Tony Romo He has a blind spot. His instincts are just average and his accuracy is not consistent enough given the amount of times they let him wing it and that’s what he does…wing it. His mental toughness is suspect and physically he is the danger zone given his two back surgeries.
7.9 Jay Cutler Has all the physical tools, but inconsistent in the clutch. Mostly due to a lack of poise. He’s not comfortable reading defenses and consequently locks onto a favorite or pre-determined target, that may or may not be the right choice. The less he’s asked to see the better he is. A better half field general, than a full field one.
7.9 Matt Stafford Stafford, in my eyes, not only did not win games for the Lions this year, but also LOST them for his team.  Carelessness with the ball, inaccurate throws, and poor mechanics will prevent him from ever turning into an elite QB.  Calvin Johnson masks a lot of his faults.

7.4-7.0

Solid traits but limited. Can “win with him” but need a good supporting cast and quality coaching. Shown to be a consistent performer, but not a top one.
7.4 Andy Dalton Top character and work habits. Is book smart, with average football IQ. He’s in his comfort level when everything around him is working. He struggles when it’s all on him. His accuracy isn’t as sharp as his ability to read coverage. Part of his problem is he was over used. Too many attempts for a pedestrian QB. You can like him, but can’t love him.
7.3 Carson Palmer He’s experienced with size, arm strength and good accuracy. He’s a adequate learner with good football sense. He can make big plays given his arm talent, but not going to play over mediocre coaching or a marginal supporting cast.
7.1 Joe Flacco He only gets into this category because of his Super Bowl win.  I’m not sold he has the ability to be an elite QB. He can play too cautious or get locked on to a receiver. He can be hot and cold, needs to be more room temperature; if the Ravens are going to make a run again.
7.0 Eli Manning He showed this year, as he did when he lost Plaxico Burris, he’s only as good as the sum of the parts around him. He lost his confidence and poise this year. A veteran quarterback with his pedigree, that should not have happened regardless of injuries, etc.

6.9-6.5

Has strong traits but hasn’t done it. Lack of experience, injuries, missing intangible may be the reason for his erratic play. Still a work in progress. He can move up or down.
6.9 Robert Griffin III Talented, but yet to define himself as an NFL quarterback. He won’t have a successful career by working outside the pocket. No one at his position did or will. Too many games and too many hits keep QB’s from having a career based on their feet, rather than their pocket accuracy.
6.8 Sam Bradford Top intangibles, good size and arm strength. Can make all the throws, but has yet to make them consistently for a season and not for a handful of games. Has one more year to show it. History says the longer it takes the lower his ceiling.

6.4-6.0

Can start and compete with him with a good supporting cast and quality coaching, but lacks something, i.e., arm talent (strength or accuracy), poise, instincts. Not good enough. To win with him 2 of the 3 of the phases have to be dominate or surround him with high caliber players.
6.4 Josh McCown Had the best year of any back-up at his position. He played consistently and without having his coaches compromising the play book to get it done. He was well schooled and efficient moving the team.
6.4 Kyle Orton A solid player. One game start this year. Almost became a good off season story; if it weren’t for an untimely interception. A strong arm, tough and good play history. He locked himself into a career back up job. Money became more important than opportunity.
6.4 Matt Schaub Lost his confidence, his fans and eventually his teammates and coaches. No quarterback went from the “penthouse to the out house” quicker than him. His team went they way he did… to the bottom.
6.3 Jake Locker Has the skills, but not a quick thinker or an intuitive one. He struggles with the game plan, not learning it, but implementing it. Have to keep things basic and hopefully with more play time things start coming together for him. A great kid.
6.3 Ryan Tannehill He’s an athlete who is trying to develop into a QB. His arm is good, but his accuracy is questionable. He isn’t comfortable from within the pocket. Led the league in sacks, something isn’t right, given he’s an athletic QB. Protection is one thing, ‘feel’ is another. When things aren’t going well, he can’t pull himself or his team out of it. Those aren’t good signs for a signal caller.
6.3 Mike Glennon He showed good poise and good arm strength. Can see over the rush and can get the ball down field. Those are the pluses. The negatives are he’s to slow and immobile. Will hold onto the ball long after his internal clock should have gone off and struggles to extend a play once it breaks down. His accuracy is average and struggles in the intermediate area of the field.
6.2 Geno Smith Got a lot of playing time, which may have helped him or hurt him. Too many interceptions and negative plays. His numbers were terrible. His progress will depend on his learning from this year’s struggles. Otherwise, defensive coordinators will have a field day with him. Quarterbacks make a living from the neck on up, not the neck on down.
6.0 E.J. Manuel
6.0 Thad Lewis
6.0 Terrelle Pryor

5.9-5.5

Can be an emergency starter. Does not have the mental make up or physical talent too perform as a consistent starter. He’s temporary relief, but not a long term solution.
5.9 Michael Vick
5.8 Ryan Fitzpatrick
5.8 Matt Cassell
5.8 Kellen Clemens
5.8 Chad Henne
5.8 Matt Moore
5.8 Brian Hoyer
5.7 Christian Ponder
5.5 Matt Sanchez
5.5 Josh Freeman
5.5 Brandon Weeden
5.5 Jason Campbell
5.5 Blaine Gabbert
5.5 Charlie Whitehurst
5.5 Brady Quinn
5.5 Seneca Wallace
5.5 Shawn Hill
5.5 Tavaris Jackson
5.5 Luke Macon
5.5 Dan Orlovsky
5.5 Rex Grossman
5.5 Derek Anderson

5.4-5.0

A band-aid, can get you through a game. Not a starter. He lacks the arm strength or needed accuracy. May also be missing something intangible, i.e. toughness, instincts etc.. Cannot win with him, regardless of supporting cast or coaching.
5.4 Kirk Cousins Smart, hard working and well liked and respected. Lacks the arm talent to start and become a guy you can win with.
5.0 Colt McCoy Nothing that gets him to the line in any area tangible speaking, will be a memory in 2014.
5.0 Matt McGloin A lot of moxie with marginal arm talent. No traits to compliment top intangibles.
5.0 Case Keenum
5.0 Scott Tolzein
5.0 Jordan Palmer
5.0 Jimmy Clausen

BEST TO WORSE:

  1. 8.9 Peyton Manning
  2. 8.8 Tom Brady
  3. 8.8 Aaron Rodgers
  4. 8.8 Andrew Luck
  5. 8.7 Drew Brees
  6. 8.6 Philip Rivers
  7. 8.6 Cam Newton
  8. 8.5 Ben Roethlisberger
  9. 8.4 Russell Wilson
  10. 8.4 Colin Kaepernick
  11. 8.3 Alex Smith
  12. 8.0 Nick Foles
  13. 7.9 Matt Ryan
  14. 7.8 Tony Romo
  15. 7.7 Jay Cutler
  16. 7.6 Matt Stafford
  17. 7.4 Andy Dalton
  18. 7.3 Carson Palmer
  19. 7.1 Joe Flacco
  20. 7.0 Eli Manning
  21. 6.9 Robert Griffin
  22. 6.8 Sam Bradford
  23. 6.4 Matt Schaub
  24. 6.3 Ryan Tannehill
  25. 6.3 Jake Locker
  26. 6.3 Mike Glennon
  27. 6.2 Geno Smith
  28. 6.0 EJ Manuel
  29. 6.0 Terrill Pryor
  30. 5.9 Christian Ponder
  31. 5.5 Blaine Gabbert
  32. 5.5 Brandon Weeden

Source: Cardinals Fear LT Lost for the Season

Arizona Cardinals starting OLT Levi Brown suffered a triceps injury during last night’s game against the visiting Oakland Raiders. And according to an NFL source with knowledge of the situation, the team fears Brown will be lost for the season due to a torn triceps.

If Brown is lost for the season, as feared, the Cardinals could turn to D.J. Young, who is listed as his backup. Young was signed as an undrafted free agent last season. Another option for the Cardinals could be journeyman OT Jeremy Bridges, who played left tackle for the team in the 2009 season. Bridges started the first preseason game at right tackle against the host Kansas City Chiefs.

The best available options at left tackle for the Cardinals in free agency include Marcus McNeill and Chad Clifton. However, both players have injury concerns.

After being released by the Cardinals earlier this season, Brown re-signed for five seasons. The deal, according to a source, included $12 million guaranteed ($8 million of it is fully guaranteed) and has a total value of $30 million. Brown’s $1 million base salary for this season is fully guaranteed. $4 million of his $4.75 million base salary for 2013 is guaranteed for injury only.

Ranking the Top Three QBs in the 2014 NFL Draft: Teddy Bridgewater

This is Part 3 of Lance Zierlein’s Assessment of the Top Three Quarterbacks in the 2014 NFL Draft. Assessing: Johnny Manziel » | Blake Bortles » | Teddy Bridgewater »

Editor’s Note: All data mentioned represents the 2013 season.

Toughness and Poise

Read The Sideline View’s Scouting Report on Teddy Bridgewater »

Growing up and coming out of the Liberty City neighborhood in Miami is your first clue to Bridgewater’s toughness.  Bridgewater didn’t miss any games due to injury during his three years as QB at Louisville and continued to play through a broken wrist in 2012 against UConn.  With a bad ankle and a cast on that same broken wrist, Bridgewater beat Rutgers in his next game to earn a conference championship and BCS bowl bid against Florida whom he beat with a cast on his left wrist.

Like Manziel, Bridgewater was blitzed on 29% of his throws, but the results were much better than Manziel’s.  While Manziel’s completion percentage fell 12% when blitzed, Bridgewater stayed right at 71% and saw his yards per attempt go from 8.5 to 11.3 YPA.  Anyone who blitzed Bridgewater got the ass torn out of them (is that a scouting term?) with 16 TDs to 1 INT.  A whopping 51.6% of Bridgewater’s TD passes came when blitzed which, remember, was just 29% of his pass attempts.  In fairness, Bridgewater faced a lower level of defensive competition than Manziel.

I tried to find a hole in Teddy’s poise or toughness based on the data, but I couldn’t really do it.  In fact, in “close and late” situations which I defined as the 4th quarter with a score range of +7 to -7, Bridgewater was 26 of 39 (66%) for 306 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs.

Accuracy (including on the move)

Up to this point, there really seems to be no reason to doubt Teddy Bridgewater’s accuracy as he moves to the next level.  For the most part, that perception is correct.

As previously noted, “accuracy” in NFL circles is generally defined how a QB throws the ball from 0-15 yards and Bridgewater shines in that area.  In fact, from 6-15 yards (intermediate throws), he completed 75.6% of his passes with 8 TDs and just 1 INT.

From the pocket, Bridgewater completed 71.9% of his passes for 27 TDs and 4 INTs and averaged 8.8 yards per play.  There were some issues with Bridgewater’s deep ball consistency and he showed some troubling tendencies, but we’ll get to that later.

Makes NFL Throws

Teddy Bridgewater can make all of the throws on paper, but when I watch him, I can’t help but think that he’ll have some issues with ball-hawking defenders if he wants to test the boundaries with his intermediate throws.  Keep in mind that for all of Bridgewater’s accuracy with short and intermediate routes, he’s going to see much more varied coverages from NFL secondaries which means he has to be comfortable throwing to all areas of the field and that appears to be a concerns.

Bridgewater is very capable with is play-action bootleg throws as long as he’s moving right and that is one of my problems with him.  While I really like Teddy’s toughness, poise and accuracy, I’m worried defensive coordinators will rush him from his right and force him left and that is an issue.  Bridgewater was just 7 of 17 for 55 yards and no TDs when moving to his left via rollout or scrambling.  When scrambling or rolling right, he was 20 of 30 for 266 yards and 2 TDs.

Moreover, Bridgewater had just 1 TD to go with 1 INT on 60 pass attempts to the left from 6-15 yards.  When making intermediate throws to the right, he had 4 TDs to 0 INTs on 63 attempts.  The same issues left and right are found with his deep ball where he completed 33% of his passes 16+ yards to the left while completing 51.2% of deep balls to the right.  Bridgewater hit some home runs deep which is to be expected on the college level, but he completed just 44.3% of his deep balls compared to 51.9% for Manziel and 49.2% for Bortles who both show better NFL-caliber touch on those throws when you watch them.

Mobility

When you watch Teddy Bridgewater operate around and even outside of the pocket, you can see he not only has the ability to escape pressure, but to also damage defenses with his legs.  However, Bridgewater simply doesn’t utilize those legs as often as I think he should.

Bridgewater scrambled 31 times for 217 yards but no TDs which is surprising considering how big a weapon that can be for all QBs on any level.  As noted previously, Bridgewater was clearly more comfortable scrambling and throwing to the right, but all told, Bridgewater was 17 of 31 for 221 yards and 2 TDs when flushed from the pocket.  Manziel laps Bridgewater in this category and Bortles was more effective as well.  I admire Bridgewater’s ability to hang in the pocket and make plays, but he will be a more dangerous player on the next level if he can threaten teams more frequently with his feet.

Final Analysis

The tape shows that Teddy Bridgewater has an NFL understanding of progressions and the type of poise and decision-making that should allow him to avoid being a high-turnover risk on the next level.  However, the data and the tape don’t always match-up as it pertains to what to expect on the next level.

Bridgewater’s accuracy is a wonderful thing and will serve him well on the next level, but I question whether he can maintain anywhere near the same level of accuracy with his throws 12-16 yards…. especially against teams running 2-deep shells.  Bridgewater doesn’t have a plus arm by NFL standards and I see him float it too often over the middle and between the CB and the safety on the sidelines.  These passes turn into negative plays on the next level.

What I really like about Bridgewater is that unlike Manziel, Bridgewater seems to have a mature understanding of when to take shots and when to play it safe and dump down to the easy option.  I also want to make sure and stress that Bridgewater’s ability to handle blitzes and excel against them is going to be something that teams who rely on analytics will hang their hats on when grinding the numbers on him.

Against teams running soft zones, Bridgewater was willing to take what defenses gave him and was also able to find soft spots in the zone defenses all the way up to 15 yards down the field.  And while I have some doubts about his arm with some of his intermediate to deep throws, it is good enough to fit it into tight windows vs. zone coverage and he didn’t take many unnecessary chances.

NFL teams will really like the fact that 102 of Bridgewater’s 303 attempts came from under center so he can fit into most of the schemes that he will see in the NFL.  What NFL offensive coordinators won’t like is that Bridgewater has a noticeably weaker throwing to the left side of the field vs. the right side – especially when he’s forced to move left.  Defensive coordinators will feast on that info if he doesn’t tighten it up in the pros.

Bridgewater isn’t a running QB, but he can be a more dangerous QB with his feet than we’ve seen previously and may have to be depending on what his offensive line looks like.  Despite completely just 44.3% of his passes beyond 16 yards and lacking the same deep ball touch as Manziel, Bridgewater did attack defenses down the field to the tune of 16 TDs and 3 INTs.  In my estimation, the biggest question mark for Bridgewater is how he will respond if he struggles to complete his intermediate passes at a high rate.  Will he default to becoming a “Check-down Charlie” or will he adjust and continue to attack defenses down the field?

Updated: the Next NFL General Managers

At this time of the year, I rarely go a few days without being asked about potential general manager candidates. And if you’re following me on Twitter or have heard me in any recent radio interviews, you might have caught some of the names I’ve mentioned. But because I’m constantly having conversations with NFL executives over the course of the season, that list expands or gets reduced by the information I gather by the week.

With only five weeks left in the regular season, it’s a good time to take an extended look at the best candidates for potential general manger openings, which should start to open up in early January. Heck, one already opened up last month.

In order to get an idea of who the best candidates are, I asked two current NFL general managers, one former NFL general manager, three personnel executives, and three prominent NFL player agents who they thought should be on the list. And I asked each guy to remove friendships, the best they could, and give me their list of the top-five most qualified names.

Here’s the list broken down by the ones most likely to get jobs for 2013 and executives likely to get strong consideration in the future:

Tom Gamble/San Francisco 49ers/Director of Player Personnel: In my 14 years of covering the NFL, I don’t recall getting as many strong comments about a potential GM candidate from high-ranking personnel executives and NFL player agents as I’ve received about Gamble in doing research for this piece. In fact, one NFL GM said my list should start with Gamble for the very fact that he’s about as well-rounded of a candidate as you’ll find.

And when you examine Gamble’s background, you can understand why.

He got started in the NFL at a very young age — literally right out of college — with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1988. His father, Harry, was the president of the team at that time. And the younger Gamble was around football growing up. His father was a long-time coach (pro and college) and then moved on to become an NFL executive late in his career.

Like his father, Tom Gamble is a rarity in NFL scouting departments these days: He not only has extensive pro and college scouting experience, he has experience with contract negations and the salary cap, and even has coaching experience (defensive assistant/quality control coach with the New York Jets for two seasons: 1995-1996) on the NFL side. While Gamble was promoted to his current role nearly two years ago, other teams have also been interested in him in recent years (St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders on more than one occasion).

Now in his 25th NFL season, Gamble has worked for five teams over that time period and has touched just about every possible aspect on the personnel side. He has helped build 10 playoff teams (four with the Eagles, five with the Indianapolis Colts, and one with the 49ers—and very likely another one this season).

Before taking a job with the 49ers back in 2005, Gamble worked for seven seasons as a college scout under former Colts GM Bill Polian, who is widely recognized as one of the best personnel evaluators in NFL history.

“He’s got a complete grounding in the game. He grew up in the game,” Polian explained to me recently about Gamble. “This is exceedingly important when you consider there are a lot of issues that you have to deal with when becoming a general manager that will come up with a team. You’re at a big disadvantage if you don’t have this experience in dealing with everything. That’s why non-football people have a harder time succeeding. Because Tom has so much experience and grew up around the game with his dad, he’s going to be more prepared than most. That’s a huge advantage.”

And it’s that extensive experience which should help Gamble land a GM job for next season.

UPDATED 12/21: Two  personnel sources said that Gamble should receive attention from at least three teams for expected GM openings next month.

Eric DeCosta/Baltimore Ravens/Assistant General Manager: The veteran personnel evaluator received his latest promotion in May of this year. DeCosta turned down several interviews with other teams earlier this year because it’s a well-known fact that he’ll eventually take over the entire football operations once (GM and Executive VP) Ozzie Newsome retires. What makes DeCosta one of the strongest personnel executives is due to his extensive pro and college scouting background, which spans over 16 years. And he has worked alongside of Newsome for many seasons. It also doesn’t hurt that DeCosta has been part of one of the NFL’s most successful scouting departments in regard to the NFL Draft for many years.

Marc Ross/New York Giants/Director of College Scouting: Ross joined the Giants in his current role in 2007. He got started as a college scout back in 1997 with the Philadelphia Eagles and was promoted to team’s college scouting director in 2000, at the age of just 27. And after working as a college scout for the Buffalo Bills after leaving the Eagles, he moved up the ladder again with the Giants. As one former NFL executive who worked with him for many years told me, Ross is one of the most organized and forthright people he’s come across in his years in the league. Ross, over the past few years, has interviewed GM jobs with the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, and Seattle Seahawks. And it’s widely believed that he’ll get an interview for the vacant Carolina Panthers GM opening since former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi is advising the team in their GM search as a consultant. UPDATE 12/21: Multiple personnel executives said that Ross is Accorsi’s early choice for the job opening. However, Accorsi was still gathering information on other possible candidates for the team to interview, along with Ross, after the season concludes.

Steve Keim/Arizona Cardinals/Vice President of Player Personnel: Keim, who started with the Cardinals in 1999, was promoted to his current role earlier this year after the NFL Draft. He essentially oversees both of the pro and college scouting departments. And Keim, who mostly had scouting experience for several years on the college side, got more involved on the pro side five years ago. One high-level NFC executive with another team said that he expects Keim to get a GM job over the next few years based on his extensive experience in player evaluations. It’s worth noting that Keim interviewed for the Rams GM job earlier this year.

David Caldwell/Director of Player Personnel/Atlanta Falcons: Caldwell, who was promoted to his new role earlier this year where he will oversee the college and pro scouting departments, also interviewed for the Indianapolis Colts GM job earlier this year, which eventually went to Ryan Grigson. While most if not all of his scouting experience came from the college side prior to this season, Caldwell’s name has been brought up to me on several occasions over the past few year as one of the top GM candidates based on his outstanding eye for talent and solid organizational skills. In fact, one current NFL GM said he would put him in the top-5 of best candidates available.

John Dorsey/Director of Football Operations/Green Bay Packers: UPDATE 12/21: One personnel source suggested to me recently that there’s no question that Dorsey is one of the most highly qualified executives not to currently have the GM title attached to his name.

After doing some background checking on Dorsey, that’s pretty much an accurate statement.

The former linebacker for the Packers for six seasons, Dorsey moved to the college scouting side for seven seasons after his playing career was cut short due to injury. He then became the team’s director of college scouting for 15 seasons (left to handle player personnel for the Seattle Seahawks for two seasons, but then returned to the Packers) and was promoted to his current role earlier this season.

While Dorsey’s scouting experience mostly comes from the college side, he still has had exposure to the pro side in recent years. And he has been exposed to contract negotiations over the years, according to a source.

George Paton/Assistant General Manager/Minnesota Vikings: Paton was promoted to his current role earlier this year after receiving strong interest from the St. Louis Rams for their vacant GM job, which eventually went to Les Snead. While most of his scouting experience is from the pro side, he’ll get additional experience on the college going forward based on his new role, which firmly cements him as the No.2 man in the team’s personnel department.

Jason Licht/Arizona Cardinals/Director of Player Personnel: Licht is a rarity these days: He has extensive scouting experience on the pro and college levels from working with five teams over a 12-year period. Plus, he has coaching experience on the NFL level (1996 for the Dolphins as an offensive assistant/quality control coach) albeit brief. Licht also interviewed for the Chicago Bears GM job earlier this year, which eventually went to Phil Emery. In fact, Licht was the runner-up for the job.

Others who have been mentioned as possible GMs for future seasons

Brian Gaine/Miami Dolphins/Assistant General Manager: Gaine, now in his 15th year in the NFL and fifth with the Dolphins, was promoted to his current role with the team back in June of this year. While his scouting background mainly has come from the pro side (previously with the Jets and  Cowboys), the veteran personnel evaluator ramped up his evaluations of college players in recent years based on his recent promotions. His name has come up a bit in conversations over the last few years with various NFL executives as a future GM. And he interviewed for the Rams GM job earlier this year.

Tom Telesco/Indianapolis Colts/Vice President of Football Operations: He was promoted to his current role earlier this year and has spent 14 years with the Colts, which puts him second in command in the personnel department. And Telesco has extensive pro and college scouting experience going back nearly 17 years. One personnel source who worked with him in the past said he could definitely see Telesco becoming a GM in the future based in his solid scouting and organizational skills.

Doug Whaley/Buffalo Bills/Assistant General Manager+Director of Pro Personnel: Because of his dual role he received when he joined the Bills in 2010, Whaley is basically second in command on the personnel side for the Bills. And he has plenty of experience with pro and college scouting (with the Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Seattle Seahawks), which is a major plus for any prospective general manager candidate. While it’s assumed that he’ll eventually replace GM Buddy Nix when Nix decides to retire, it still wouldn’t be surprising to see other teams show interest in Whaley going forward.

Tag Ribary/Seattle Seahawks/Director of Pro Personnel: Ribary was promoted to his current role two years after working with the Seahawks in various capacities on the pro scouting side. He also had pro scouting experience with the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers. While he doesn’t have extensive college scouting background that some other candidates have, Ribary’s long tenure spanning over two decades in the NFL makes him a well-known and qualified candidate.

Chris Ballard/Director of Pro Scouting/Chicago Bears:  One other NFC team, according to a source, wanted to interview him for a personnel job earlier this year, but the Bears denied that team permission to talk to him, which shows how highly the Bears think of him. And Ballard, who had college coaching experience for many years before joining the Bears 12 years ago, got promoted to his current role back in June. Prior to his promotion, Ballard worked as a college scout, but he oversees the pro scouting side these days, so he now has exposure to all facets of NFL scouting.

Matt Russell/Denver Broncos/Director of Player Personnel: The veteran talent evaluator has 12 years of extensive scouting work with the Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, and Broncos. And Russell has widely been given credit for discovering QB Matt Cassel back during his time with the Patriots. Russell’s scouting background was on the college side prior to this season, but his latest promotion from earlier this year should help him get a stronger handle on the pro side.

Scott Cohen/Assistant General Manager/New York Jets: The veteran personnel evaluator began his 21st season in the NFL earlier this year. Cohen has extensive pro and college scouting experience over his 20+ seasons in the league with the Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Washington Redskins. His experience from scouting pro and college levels as well as being exposed to contract negotiations over the years should help him garner attention from teams looking for a general manager going forward.

Alonzo Highsmith/Senior Personnel Executive/Green Bay Packers:  The former NFL running back joined the Packers as a college scout in 1999. He was targeted at least twice by other teams in recent years for upper level management jobs (non-GM role), but the Packers blocked him from interviewing, which is obviously an indication how strongly they want to keep him. And the Packers, recognizing his solid player evaluation skills, promoted him to his current role earlier this year. Highsmith, who has been largely recognized for discovering CB Tramon Williams, won a scouting award in recent years.

The NFL believes the Read/Option is here to stay

So far this off-season, the “Pistol formation” originator, Chris Ault, got hired as a consultant, coaching staffs have spent time with collegiate teams like Alabama for help defending the read/option and front offices have pushed to conduct special research to find analytical trends regarding the read/option.  This off-season shows that NFL teams believe that the read-option won’t be going away anytime soon.

Our Tyler Oberly recently completed a read option study reviewing and compiling over 300 plays run last season by San Francisco, Washington, Seattle, Carolina, and Tennessee.  Here are some of the numbers behind the read option.

Seattle Seahawks

  • In games reviewed (weeks 12-17), Seattle ran the read-option an average of 9 times per game
  • Running backs averaged 7.2 yds/rush
  • Russell Wilson kept the ball 29% of the time (averaged 8.1 yds/rush)
    • Left: 46%
    • Middle: 13%
    • Right: 41%

Most common read-option formations:

Tennessee Titans

  • In games reviewed (weeks 13-17), Tennessee ran the read-option an average of 1 time per game
  • Running backs averaged 7.2 yds/rush
  • Jake Locker kept the ball 0% of the time
  • QB Option Movement:
    • Left: 20%
    • Middle: 0%
    • Right: 80%

Only read-option formation:

Carolina Panthers

  • In games reviewed (all 16 games), Carolina ran the read-option an average of 9.5 times per game
  • Running backs averaged 5.0 yds/rush
  • Cam Newton kept the ball 28% of the time (averaged 8.6 yds/rush)
    • Left: 45%
    • Middle: 31%
    • Right: 24%

Most common read-option formation: (variations of 1 wide-left, 3 wide-right):

Washington Redskins

  • In games reviewed (weeks 9-17), Washington ran the read-option an average of 11.4 times per game
  • Running backs averaged 4.9 yds/rush
  • RG3 kept the ball 44% of the time (averaged 9.5 yds/rush)
    • Left: 45%
    • Middle: 24%
    • Right: 31%

Most common read-option formation (going both directions):

San Francisco 49ers

  • In games reviewed (weeks 15-NFC Championship), San Francisco ran the read-option an average of 8.8 times per game
  • Running backs averaged 5.4 yds/rush
  • Kaepernick kept the ball 16% of the time (averaged 14.1 yds/rush)
    • Left: 32%
    • Middle: 14%
    • Right: 55%

Most common read-option formation (going both directions):

The NFL is Changing

They say the NFL is a copycat league and it is.  Teams mimic the success of others in an attempt to glean those same advantages.  It’s also been said that the NFL moves at a slow pace when it comes to change.  That has been true in the past.  Make no mistake that copying success and “changing” can be two very different things.

Fundamental changes in the way that NFL football happens sparingly and it usually happens over time.  If something isn’t being done en masse around the league, NFL types will tell you that “the league is cyclical” and that defenses will “catch up with” whatever the offenses might be doing at that time.

The “Wildcat” was a package that was limited and was a fad.  Aaron Rodgers said back in January of 2013 that the zone read would be gone soon enough:

“I think the league is cyclical,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio visit with ESPN Wisconsin, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Things have come back around that have been used 20, 30 years ago. But this, too, I think, will pass. Some of the pistol, read-option stuff will eventually pass.”

Aaron Rodgers is many things (including the most well-rounded QB in the league), but prescient isn’t one of them.  The irony of those comments paired with the Packers butt-kicking at the hands of the forward thinking Seahawks is certainly not lost on me.  Let’s see how the zone read stacked up in the 2012 season that Rodgers was citing versus the 2013 season.  Below are the top 10 teams who showed zone read looks for both seasons and the results of those running plays.

– Statistical analysis provided by STATS ICE and STATS GM of Sports Solutions, John Pollard.

RO% = Percentage of all offensive plays that feature the read option.

2012

Team Plays RO% Yds/Rush
(Read Op)
Yds/Rush
(No RO)
Carolina 987 8.2% 5.5 4.3
Redskins 994 6.7% 7.0 5.0
Seahawks 971 5.1% 6.7 4.6
49’ers 968 3.2% 7.1 4.9
Jets 1030 1.7% 4.5 3.8
Dolphins 978 1.2% 6.1 4.1
Bills 983 .3% 5.0 5.0
Titans 957 .2% 2.0 4.5
Steelers 1022 .2% 4.0 3.7
Ravens 1037 .2% 3.5 4.3
  • Carolina was easily able to utilize the zone read due to Cam’s familiarity with it in college and his ability to run without getting hurt.
  • The zone read was a massive component in the Redskins ascension to the top of the NFL in rushing.  Besides RG3’s rushing total, it helped open up running lanes for Alfred Morris.  Griffin dealt with injury issues thanks to too many direct run calls and consistently poor decision-making regarding sliding.
  • The Seahawks began 2012 in a very conservative fashion and didn’t open up with more zone read plays until later in the season.
  • San Francisco’s zone read % would have been much higher but they didn’t add that element until later in the year with their full-house concept after deciding on Kaepernick as the starter.
  • All four teams who used the read option at least 3% of the time saw an increase of 1.2 ypc or more for read option rushes over their standard rushes.
  • Of the top four zone read teams in 2012, three made the playoffs and two of those QBs were not drafted in the first round.

2013

Team Plays RO% Yds/Rush
(Read Op)
Yds/Rush
(No RO)
Eagles 1054 11.4% 6.7 4.6
Bills 1116 10.1% 4.7 4.1
Seahawks 972 8.4% 4.8 4.2
Jets 1019 6.3% 5.2 4.3
49’ers 961 5.4% 4.5 3.8
Redskins 1107 5.2% 6.1 4.1
Raiders 999 5.1% 5.0 5.0
Panthers 999 5.1% 2.0 4.5
Dolphins 1000 3.4% 4.0 3.7
Bengals 1096 2.1% 3.5 4.3
  • Chip Kelly’s offense features a high percentage of inside handoffs and zone read looks and many observers were astonished to see him continue to utilize zone read plays with the heavy-footed Nick Foles at QB.
  • Doug Marrone brought the college philosophy to Buffalo which included running more up-tempo offense which lead to 133 more plays and a much higher percentage of zone read looks.
  • With Russell Wilson having more experience under his belt, the Seahawks ran almost an identical amount of plays as 2012 but saw their zone read total go from 5.1% to 8.4%
  • The 49ers got away from so many zone read plays during the middle of the year after teams had made adjustments to slow their full-house package down.
  • The Panthers changed OCs and went to Mike Shula who promptly de-emphasized the zone read in the Panthers attack.  The Panthers went from 8.2% to 5.1% last year
  • The Dolphins figured out that the zone read might have some merit with a guy like Ryan Tannehill at QB, but only ran it 3.4% of the time.  Look for that 2014 number to be closer to 10%.

“What is clear from my interactions with our clients’ coaching staffs is that diversification; the ability to execute varied game play methods is a growing key ingredient in evolving offensive schemes,” noted STATS Sports Solutions Group GM John Pollard who works directly with teams around the league in integrating the STATS X-info data.  “I see this in terms of the tempo of play calling, numerous formation variations within personnel groupings, QB location and obviously the utilization of zone read conepts.”

NFL Making Rapid Changes

Make no mistake, the changes that you are seeing right now are not fads, they are fundamental changes.  Will everyone run the same offense?  Of course not.  Teams will operate differently and some of these trends will level out.  However, there is a big difference between leveling out and going away.

The Run-and-Shoot went away because it was too flawed and inflexible.  The concept made its way back into the league, but this time without the half-rollouts, with tight ends and with a greater understanding of pass protections.  Instead of scrapping ideas and concepts, more and more coaches are willing to improve and diversify their concepts so that it is more adaptable to their rosters.

Another fundamental change we are seeing involves tempo. Teams used to frown on anything that resembled a “gimmicky” college offense, but play tempo has been gaining steam for a couple of years now.  Two former college coaches, Chip Kelly and Doug Marrone, coached teams who were 1-2 in plays per minute in 2013 (2.50 and 2.43) with Kelly’s offense taking off and Marrone’s still needing work.  Some would see this is a shortcut due to both teams lack of a great QB, but that doesn’t really tell the story of why up-tempo is here to stay.

Two teams with dominant QBs in Denver in New England also used up-tempo and finished 3rd and 5th in the league in plays per minute (2.37 and 2.34).  Denver and New England ran completely different offenses than Kelly and Marrone but the idea was still the same –  keep defensive lines from substituting so frequently and to keep defenses in base packages.  This is a fundamentally sound concept which is why you will see the plays per minute skyrocket around the NFL.

For years now, defensive coordinators like Dick LeBeau of the Pittsburgh Steelers have had offenses playing a guessing game and he’s been able to make them timid.  So what did Kyle Shanahan do to the old master?  He went no-huddle in the second half of their week one game and gashed LeBeau’s defense.

“We became a little bit rattled and we can’t allow that to happen” said LeBeau.  “We’re working on it.”

Offensive coaches are fighting back with tendency busters thanks to their self-scouting through the use of data.  They are also fighting back with more fluid attacks that focus on formational flexibility, players with positional flexibility that generates matchup problems and through the use of the shotgun and pistol that allows them to disguise their run and pass intentions.

Is This a “Passing League”?

While everyone will say “this is a passing league” and the sheep will nod, I’m here to tell you that things aren’t quite what they seem.  This is a passing league for teams who have great QBs.  For everyone else, it is just a tail-chasing league if they play into the “passing league” notion.

Sure, teams will look for franchise QBs, but history has taught us that the chase for a franchise QB is frequently a futile endeavor.  Instead of trying to out-Manning, out-Brees, out-Rodgers and out-Brady those offenses with the likes of Romo, Cutler, Stafford and Dalton, teams are beginning to look at the running game and mobile QBs like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Tannehill, Johnny Manziel and RG3.

Why not include the threat of these QBs running the ball to help strengthen a run game which, in turn, will cause teams to be less reliant upon upper-echelon QB play?

The running game is coming back, but it looks much different.  More teams than ever are relying on “11” personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WRs) as their primary running formation because it takes a defender away from the box.  Fullbacks?  Those guys just invite another defender into the box.  Who needs that?  We are also seeing the running games originating from the shotgun.  Running from “11” and “12” (1RB, 2TEs, 2WRs) because they give OCs more flexibility to create matchup issues within run and passing games – especially if you don’t have a “running QB”.

“We are all familiar with the terms ‘system’ and ‘scheme’ in reference to offensive or defensive game-planning and perhaps we tend to believe that these terms connote a fixed and static set of ideas and philosophies,” notes Pollard.  “While this may historically be true, game plans and how teams are using personnel groupings are becoming much more fluid as teams are enhancing their ability to adapt quickly and seamlessly during a game.”

Teams rushing % from 11 Personnel

2011 – 27.6%
2012 – 28.6%
2013 – 29.5%
2014 – 31.9%

While this is only a one week sample size for 2014, I will guarantee you that the percentage of rushing plays from these 3-WR sets is going to stay above 30% for the year.  Another interesting trend that I found inside the STATS Ice X-info data was that teams were throwing at a higher percentage from the 12 personnel with features 2 RBs and has always been a run-heavy personnel grouping.

If you want to line up in conventional sets with your QB under center and try to run downhill against increasingly faster and stronger defensive fronts, then have at it.  And don’t forget to turn in your access card to the building on your way towards retirement.

“College Coaches” Bring Change

The notion of the college coach being unable to make it in the pros seemed foolproof after the failures of Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban, and that theory went hand-in-hand with the failed Run-and-Shoot offenses that fizzled out by the mid ’90s.  Robert De Niro was making important movies back then as well.  Things change.

Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh had pro football backgrounds that served them well in college and definitely helped them acclimate to the pro game quickly, but they also brought with them an open-mindedness to utilize some elements of the college game.  Chip Kelly came into the league and immediately proved that his offense could work and work with a QB who isn’t considered tailor-made for the offense in Nick Foles.

Playing the game in space utilizing zone-read package you can bet that more and more NFL teams will be looking for aggressive, offensive-minded head coaches because the NFL is a copycat league.  However, spreading the field, up-tempo offenses, zone-read packages and hybrid offenses aren’t going to be just copycat fads…. they will be part of the foundation of change that is the new NFL.  The more diversified offensive attacks are the more defensive coordinators have to prepare for.

“There are two primary constants in today’s game,” quipped Pollard.  “One is that there are only so many hours in a week to prepare and the other is inevitable change.”

Can a Quarterback’s Mechanics Be Altered?

Quarterback mechanics are one of the most highly debated aspects among NFL scouts and experts because they come in many different forms, few of which seem to be ideal. Whether it’s an old school sidearm style that Rich Gannon had, Tom Brady’s over-the-top delivery or Philip Rivers’ shot-put pass, the passers have shown that they can get to the ball out to their intended target with success. Neither of these are incorrect, but if they were deemed as such, could they be altered?

Some believe the mechanics of a quarterback can be altered, while others don’t. Because of this, I asked former NFL personnel man turned writer for RealGM.com Jeff Risdon if mechanics can indeed be altered:

“I believe mechanics above the waist can be fixed but it takes time and dedication,” Risdon stated. “I think it’s a delicate balancing act to try and do anything major (like Tim Tebow) but changing release points, follow through, back shoulder rotation, even how the football is held are all tweaks that can absolutely be done.”

He furthered comment: “You don’t want to change an unconventional throwing motion that clearly works, like Philip Rivers or Kerry Collins, but cleaning up the little intricacies can still be very effective. It’s remarkable how something as simple as holding the ball further back on the laces can impact accuracy. Footwork and waist/hips are more important but the kind of stuff that George Whitfield did with Cam Newton, altering his elbow angle and teaching him a consistent follow through and shoulder rotation can make a big difference.”

I also contacted NFL Films football guru Greg Cosell about the possibility of altering the mechanics of a quarterback and he immediately said “yes”.

Cosell expanded on his answer by stating that “anything that is mechanical can be altered, anything that is a function of a movement can be altered. There are four parts to throwing the football: legs, hips, shoulders and arm, which comes along for the ride when the others are done right.”

McCarthy-isms

Although there are many that don’t share Risdon and Cosell’s sentiments, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy does. McCarthy has run a “quarterback school” since 1993 that charts “quarterbacks in five footwork drills that rate agility and movement,” and focuses on “hand-eye coordination, finger dexterity, mechanics,” according to Greg Bishop of The New York Times.

McCarthy’s quarterback school paid off in a big way for signal caller Aaron Rodgers, who came into the league with quirky mechanics taught by the University of California’s infamous (in NFL circles) head coach Jeff Tedford and has since become arguably the league’s best quarterback.

Rodgers held the ball next to his ear when he was in a pre-pass triangle set at California. The mechanics appeared efficient at the time because he was able to get the ball out quickly in the Golden Bears short passing game, but he struggled throwing deep.

His throwing motion led to him throwing outside of his frame, which is not ideal and “stresses the shoulder” as quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. says, and his footwork also suffered as he was not able to get proper timing nor transfer weight with any consistency. Rodgers explained this in an interview with ESPN last year:

“When I first got into the league, I held the ball really high. That was the standard in college, and it messed up my timing a bit — the draw, bringing it back, then the release… You’re taught to get back as deep as you can, but you can never throw the ball out on time when you do that.”

Mechanical Changes Click For Rodgers

Under the tutelage of head coach McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, Rodgers pre-pass triangle set came down to between his numbers, consequently his motion became quicker, his power increased (also because of his cleaner footwork) and his timing improved. Now, Rodgers puts up video game numbers as he knifes through the heart of defenses with otherworldly throws.

“In Aaron Rodgers’ particular situation, he had a very high ball carriage which I felt there was a stiffness to the way he carried the ball,” McCarthy told our Adam Caplan during the 2010 NFL Scouting combine, “it wasn’t as natural because he is a very good athlete and it’s something you didn’t see in my opinion in his earlier days, how good of an athlete he was and I think it’s something we’ve adjusted and he’s very natural with it. Every quarterback that I’ve ever coached, you’re always looking to improve their mechanics.”

Furthermore, as Risdon noted, mechanics may be able to be fixed or altered but it takes “time,” which is exactly what Rodgers had as he honed his skills for three seasons while legend Brett Favre played.

In contrast, my colleague Lance Zierlein noted in a recent conversation that former Houston Texans quarterback David Carr didn’t have the same success when offensive coordinator Chris Palmerattempted to alter his release point. Carr played during this time, which was his only choice for the expansion Houston Texans, and his career ultimately ended in disaster as he ended up being a bust after taking a significant amount of beating behind a porous offensive line and never improving his mechanics.

Rodgers and Carr’s situations were entirely different, but they also help paint the picture of the possibility of altering mechanics. Mechanics can be altered by raising the elbow above the shoulder, making sure there is full extension and follow through after the release and then correcting footwork by stepping through the throw, bending at the knee of the lead foot and rotating the hips, so power is generated from the lower body opposed to the upper body as seen with Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

There are many avenues which coaches can take to improve a quarterback’s mechanics, which takes time and repetitions, but the biggest issue that they run into is one they can’t control: their quarterback’s reaction when the bullets are flying.

In most cases, quarterbacks will revert to their natural form when they are in pressure-filled situations, which is why the debate over mechanics will forever live despite the success of the Packers’ Rodgers. For every Aaron Rodgers, there is a Tim Tebow: a passer whose mechanics were altered temporarily opposed to permanently, resulting in a reversion to their natural and improper form once defenders invaded the quarterbacks comfort area.

Texans Tuesday Morning Camp

Hopkins Looks The Part Early On

The Texans have been in desperate need of a WR2 who could threaten defenses down the field and who could be relied on to rack up catches when Andre Johnson was facing a touch matchup.  Kevin Walter was workmanlike (sorry, Kevin… I know it sounds so stereotypical), Jacoby Jones was inconsistent and had too many drops, Andre Davis was a mistake as a free agent signing and DeVier Posey got injured last season before he could show the Texans what he had.  Finally, it looks like the Texans have it right.

DeAndre Hopkins came into the draft as the WR whom I believed was the most NFL-ready of the early round players.  “Nuk” has solid hands, has enough game speed to get behind defenses and he’s showing that his ability to get out of his breaks is creating separation that the Texans didn’t usually see with Kevin Walter.  While it is very early into camp and the pressure will ratchet up, the thing that has impressed me most with Hopkins is that he looks very comfortable on the field and he doesn’t appear to be pressing much at all.

In one-on-one drills against the CBs, Hopkins made an difficult grab in the corner of the endzone with Roc Carmichael hanging all over him.  In the team portion down during redzone scrimmage against the defensive starters, Hopkins ran an out that shook Johnathan Joseph and created enough space for Matt Schaub to make a comfortable throw before Hopkins went out near the goal line.  Hopkins ability to threaten defenses down the field, with quick-release fades near the end zone and over the middle should give the Texans as potent a passing attack as we have seen over the last 2 or 3 season.

For fantasy football owners out there who are devouring everything they can in preparation for their drafts/auctions, anything less than 50 catches for Hopkins would seem disappointing to me at this early stage.  In reality, I think 52-60 catches is a very reasonable goal for Hopkins and I could see him with even more if Schaub continues to develop confidence in the young wideout throughout camp and in the pre-season.

Old Dog With New Tricks

Veteran NT Daniel Muir (#91), a six year veteran who has logged 24 starts with the Indianapolis Colts over four season with them, had a terrific practice.  Granted, much of Muir did was against the Texans #2 and #3 offensive lines, but he showed terrific power and penetration in the team scrimmage portion.  Muir isn’t known as much of a pass rusher, but did have a terrific spin move win in one of his reps.  Muir is bigger and stronger than the 1-gap NTs we usually see with the Texans and his power and experience will give him a shot to make the team.

Clash Of The Titans

There isn’t a defensive lineman in the game who is better than J.J. Watt so I was expecting G Brandon Brooks (#79) to get schooled in one-on-one pass protection drills thanks to Watt’s quickness, but that wasn’t the case.  Brooks had four reps against Watt over two sessions and he did a great job against Watt.  During the first session, Watt tried to make an outside move to set Brooks up with an inside spin, but Brooks timed his punch perfectly and jolted Watt outside of the pocket.  During the second session, Brooks used pure power to drive Watt to the ground on one of the reps.  It is worth noting that fellow TSV writer, John Harris, told me that Watt has been getting the better of those reps up to this point in camp.

Other Notes

  • I had a great football chat with former Patriots LB turned sports talk host Ted Johnson about the changing landscape of pro football.  He and I both agree that Chip Kelly’s tempo, much more than his offense, could change the way that NFL offenses operate in the future.
  • Rookie T/G David Quessenberry looks so smooth and fluid during running plays.  Quessenberry gets to the spot and gets guys walled off on the backside as well as any tackle the Texans have in camp and when he was at guard, he showed a seamlessness with getting up the 2nd level and getting his blocks on LBs.  Quessenberry did struggle to stay engaged at times on the 2nd level on a couple of snaps.  The one area that worried me during the draft and worried me today is that he has a tendency to get bull-rushed at times.  It will happen to every lineman from time to time, but Quessenberry doesn’t have as much core-strength as he needs and he really has to play with great technique and determination to battle stronger players.
  • Former Oregon State ILB Cameron Collins (#90) stepped up and made me notice him on a couple of snaps where he stuck his nose in the hole and snuffed out running plays.
  • During the run game portion of the practice, Case Keenum read the defense moving to a single-high safety look and audibled to an outside zone play that broke it open with undrafted free agent RB Dennis Johnson (#28) doing the legwork.
  • I thought potential starting RT Ryan Harris (#68) really struggled at times in the run game portion of practice and with some of his pass protection.  Harris has a tendency to bend and lean too much which causes him to get off balance.  Backup tackle Andrew Gardner (#66) put together a solid practice.
  • Rookie OLB Trevardo Williams continues to struggle in practice.  Williams looked out of place in one-on-one pass protection drills today and didn’t utilize his natural strength which is his quickness.  Williams has been getting swallowed up against the run and if he needs to show much more as a pass rusher.
  • Even if Jeff Maehl (#15) doesn’t make it with the Texans due to getting caught up in a numbers game, I definitely think he has the talent to catch on with another team. as a WR5.
  • RT Derek Newton (#75) had a nice practice today and was getting some reps with the starters today as well.  If I had a gun to my head, my guess would be that Newton would open week 1 as the starting RT, but there is still plenty of camp to go.
  • G Cody White had a completely forgettable practice today.  He ended up on the ground too often, was beaten on more than one occasion by Daniel Muir during team scrimmage and got pushed all over the field during one-on-ones against the likes of Earl Mitchell.
  • Former Texans DT Travis Johnson was in attendance and watching practice as a guest.  At one point during defensive line drills when practice slowed down, Johnson and Bill Kollar had a friendly conversation going on from about 50 feet away with Kollar telling him to “get out here on the field” and Johnson imploring Kollar to “tell them to get me some pads”.  Thanks, but no thanks, Travis.  I did, however, enjoy listening to him talk about pass rushing during pass protection drills.

Four things to know headed into the Texans’ season

1. Look for a greater number of “gap” plays in the run game

The Texans zone scheme didn’t flow quite as expected last year thanks to numerous breakdowns along the offensive line. The Texans have always prided themselves on being able to run their offense based off of a successful outsize zone rushing attack, but teams have become much more aggressive against it and I’m not sure the Texans are positioned to be much better at it this year than they were last year.

Look for the Texans to add more gap plays in their rushing attack where they rely more heavily on lead plays behind the power of RG Brandon Brooks and the hammer-head stylings of FB Greg Jones.  The zone scheme needs a more fluid, consistent approach from the offensive line and if they don’t get it, I think they will change things up somewhat this season.

2. Johnathan Joseph is not feared by opposing quarterbacks

I was speaking to a former NFL man this weekend who keeps up with the Texans, and we got on the subject of the secondary. One of the first topics we both agreed upon was that somewhere along the line, teams stopped fearing Johnathan Joseph. Joseph may have been playing hurt at times last year, but a CBs biggest asset is a QBs fear of testing him. Even if you’ve lost a step, it won’t be discovered if your reputation scares teams and QBs away.

Nnamdi Asomugha had his reputation tarnished in Philadelphia, and it was open season on him after that. I don’t care how good you are, a CB is going to give up some big plays if teams keep looking his way. Joseph’s technique got very loose at times this preseason and he paid for it. If JJo doesn’t make some plays early in the season to back teams off and regain that respect, teams are going to continue to attack him.

3. Ben Tate will have lots of work

Arian Foster has been worked hard as a Houston Texan RB, and no matter how productive he is or how young he is on that birth certificate, the wear and tear of being an NFL RB will start to take its toll sooner rather than later. The Texans understand just how talented Foster is and I’m sure they are going to take greater care of keeping him from as many touches as he has last year.

Ben Tate got off to a solid start last season before getting hurt and then landing in Gary Kubiak’s doghouse, but he’s a free agent after this year and there is no reason for the Texans not to lean on Tate to take some of the pounding away from Foster.  Tate doesn’t have Foster’s vision and he isn’t as complete a back as Arian, but he does have the ability to hit a big play as defenses begin to wear down and the Texans need to use him to save Foster.

4. This very well could be the last hurrah for some good starters

Brian Cushing just got paid and J.J. Watt is closing in on being the highest paid defensive player in the league so there will have to be some re-allocating of salary.  LG Wade Smith’s contract is up after this year and there is no way the Texans bring him back considering the cheap labor (David Quessenberry or Ben Jones) they have waiting in the wings.

Antonio Smith probably won’t be back after his deal runs out since the Texans can go with Jared Crick, but the Texans have to find more pass rush from their OLBs since Crick isn’t the pass rusher that Antonio is.

Unfortunately, I think Owen Daniels may be a cap casualty after this year with Garrett Graham coming along and with rookie Ryan Griffin looking like a good selection by the Texans.  Every little bit will count as the Texans look to get their finances in order before giving Watt an extension and the Texans have to be able replace veterans with good, cheap talent.

A Metrics Breakdown of Top Pass Rushers: Tier 1

The post I wrote on Second Round Stats (read the original post for refrence) analyzing each top pass rushers’ sacks was met with a chorus of people telling me that sacks are limited in nature and thus not telling of much.

In response to that, I’ve analyzed hurries, knockdowns, and sacks. This time though, the data comes from Stats ICE, which has every game involving a BCS team charted for more factors than imaginable.  Thus, you can be completely confident that the data you’re looking at is full and not just a sample.

Working with the data and at The Sideline View gives me more time to analyze the data and less time charting. Without further delay, here’s my breakdown of the top 5 pass rushers in this class.

How Often Did They Get to the QB?

A little explanation here.

Pressures are considered hurries + knockdowns  to give the total effect on the QB. The first stat in the chart is labeled “SPP” and that stands for Snaps Per Pressure. What that tells us is how many snaps it takes for each player to get to the QB. That is, a lower number means that the pass rusher affects the QB more often and is more efficient.  SPP combines sacks and pressures, but isn’t weighted towards one or the other.

Editor’s Note: Updated March 28 to reflect correct acronym.

Mingo Werner Jordan Carradine Okafor
SPP 9.63 8.50 10.64 7.31 6.49
Pressures 28 31 17 31 29
Sacks 4.5 13 5 11 13.5
Snaps 313 374 234 307 276
  • One of the most notable things is Alex Okafor’s extremely efficient SPP. That means, on average he affects the quarterback every 6.5 snaps. The average for the entire class, including tier 2, is a PPS of 10. Many scouting reports and pundits have remarked on Okafor’s lack of explosiveness, that may be true, but clearly he’s doing something to get to the QB more often than any other pass rusher.
  • Although many have commented on it, the statistics show that Tank Carradine may have been the most complete pass rusher had he not been injured during the season. His efficiency at getting to the QB was very close to Okafor’s and is extremely impressive given the attention he received. Many may argue he was more efficient due to the presence of Bjorn Werner on the other side, but we’ll get to that a little bit later.
  • Dion Jordan clearly took the fewest snaps rushing the passer, but his lack of pressures is noticeable when compared to Barkevious Mingo. Both have roughly 5 sacks this year, but Mingo managed 28 pressures for a PPS of 9.63.
  •  You do have to wonder why Mingo wasn’t able to convert more of his pressures into sacks. He was clearly getting to the quarterback, but wasn’t able to bring him down. It’s not as if the majority of his opponents were slippery dual-threat types, so why was this a problem for him?

How Much Help Did They Get?

The stat below, EPG stands for Extra Pressures Per Game. It incorporates how often each pass rushers’ teammate’s affected the QB, the number of average rushers on their pressures, and a few other minor factors. The goal is to describe how much help each player got from their teammates. A lower number means their teammate’s provided less pressure and that the pass rusher did more on their own.  Avg Rush is the number of rushers each team brought on each play. The number in the bottom row “%Blitz” tells how many of each rusher’s pressures came when their team blitzed.

Mingo Werner Jordan Carradine Okafor
EPG 4.41 3.22 2.93 2.99 2.37
Avg Rush 4.08 4.07 3.91 4.28 4.28
% Blitz 25.00% 6.50% 35.00% 22.60% 34.50%
  • Once again Okafor comes out on top. On average he received 2.37 extra pressures per game from his teammates, which means he did more of his work with less help. This is partly due to the fact that Jackson Jeffcoat went down with an injury in the middle of the season and that Texas’ DTs and LBs didn’t provide much push on the QB.
  • Werner, Jordan and Carradine are all hovering in the 2.9-3.2 range, which is just about negligible in comparison. In all 11 pass rushers I analyzed, Carradine’s EPG was ranked 6th. Thus, he received help from an excellent FSU defense but no more or less than any other pass rusher. The reason Werner and Carradine’s EPGs are different is because it takes the other player into account. The fact that Werner got 93.5% of his pressures on four man rushes is interesting to be sure.
  • The amount of help Mingo received was the second most out the entire class. Between Sam Montgomery, Kevin Minter, and LSU’s excellent defense, he received a good amount of help. He obviously has the athletic ability for the NFL, but given his size and abilities, is he going to need to be on a strong defense to truly capitalize on his gifts?

How Good Were Their Opponents?

Listening to pundits and perusing blogs, you always hear that this guy went up against the best competition or that guy had an easy time. I’ve created a strength of schedule that combines Sagarin ratings and sacks allowed by opposing offensive lines to quantify this.  A higher number means they gained their pressures against stronger competition.

Mingo Werner Jordan Carradine Okafor
SOS 47.95 38.28 37.94 42.62 55.58

 

  • Okafor’s strength of schedule was not only at the top of tier 1, but of all 11 pass rushers I looked at. This may seem counter-intuitive because people would expect SEC pass rushers to have the highest SOS, but many of their pressures came from cupcake FCS schools. The majority of Okafor’s pressures and sacks came against legitimate Big 12 competition.
  • Both Werner and Jordan’s SOS are extremely weak. Jordan’s works out like this due to garnering pressures against bad Washington State and Tennessee Tech teams.
  • While Werner had some quality opposition in Miami, Florida and UNC, games against Boston College, Murray State, and Savannah State really inflated some of his pressure numbers. In total 25% of his total pressures and sacks came against those three teams.
  • Mingo’s SEC credentials garners him the 5th highest strength of schedule among all pass rushers, and the second highest of the 1st tier. Notable offensive lineman he beat for pressures include DJ Fluker of Alabama and Jake Matthews of Texas A&M.

When Did They Get Their Pressures?

I tried to develop a “clutch” stat to find out which player was a better rusher in important moments in the game.  I tried using scoring margins, quarters, and downs, but every combination came out to be relatively similar for every player. So I’m just going to put this chart down that shows what percentage of pressures and sacks came on 3rd and 4th down without comment.  You can form your own opinion and if it means anything to you.

Percentage of sacks on 3rd and 4th downs

Mingo Werner Jordan Carradine Okafor
% Pressures 32.31% 52.27% 68.18% 50.00% 40.00%