Stats & Info: NFL

Gruden's QB camp: Blake Bortles

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22

After leading UCF to a 12-1 record and an impressive Tostitos Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor, Blake Bortles has become one of the hottest names in the 2014 NFL draft.

Scouts Inc. lists him as the top quarterback prospect available, but is Bortles worthy of the hype? ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden will meet with Bortles in Gruden’s "QB Camp" show (airing Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) to try to find out. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of what makes Bortles such an interesting prospect to evaluate.

Physical Attributes
At 6-foot-5, 232 pounds, Bortles has prototypical size for the position. Since 2006, the average first-round quarterback has measured 6-4, 232 pounds. His top-end size has helped him remain durable throughout his career (never missing a start).

For a large quarterback, he has shown mobility throughout his career. At the Fiesta Bowl, he ran for a career-high 93 yards on eight rushes.

That combination of size and mobility also makes him a difficult matchup in the red zone. Bortles rushed for 13 red zone touchdowns the past two seasons.

Greatest Strength -- Handling Pressure
Bortles’ physical attributes help him handle the opposing pass rush effectively. He has the frame to absorb hits and the athleticism to scramble away from pressure. But perhaps most importantly, he maintains his composure to make accurate passes under pressure.

No BCS automatic qualifying quarterback threw for more yards when being hurried or knocked down last season, and he ranked near the top in completion percentage and yards per attempt.

He is especially good when able to keep his feet planted under pressure, completing 57.9 percent of those attempts, a 16 percent increase over when his feet are moving.

Another area he excels at when under pressure is keeping his eyes downfield. He was 13 of 22 (59.1 percent) on passes traveling at least 15 yards downfield when under pressure, the most completions by any AQ quarterback.

Needs Improvement -- Consistency
Although Bortles often looks the part of a franchise quarterback, he isn’t always consistent. On short passes (within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage), he completed just 62.2 percent of his attempts. The only quarterback in the Scouts Inc. top 10 with a lower percentage was Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech.

From game to game, Bortles was also more inconsistent than most other draft hopefuls. On the bright side, he posted four games with a QBR of 94 or higher last season, tied for most among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts.

However, he also had two games with a QBR below 30, which came against teams that went a combined 5-19 last season (Memphis and South Florida).

By comparison, fellow highly rated quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron did not have any games with a QBR below 30.

Bortles also didn’t play the highest-caliber schedule in college, with just five games against teams that ranked in the top 30 in opponents’ QBR the past two seasons, including only one in conference play (Louisville).

On Tuesday night, watch Gruden break down the tape with Bortles, examining these areas and more.

Gruden's QB camp: Tajh Boyd

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22

Robert Mayer/USA Today SportsTajh Boyd brings multiple skills to the quarterback position.

Tajh Boyd entered last season as a Heisman contender, but his stock took a hit following Clemson's 37-point loss to Florida State in October, and his poor showing in the Senior Bowl (7 for 61, 31 yards, interception) didn’t help.

He bounced back with a strong pro day in early March and, though he is not ranked in the top 10 QB prospects according to Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay, he has impressed NFL scouts and could be a late-round pick in the draft.

In preparation for Jon Gruden’s QB Camp show with Boyd, below is an in-depth breakdown of Boyd’s greatest strength, his main area of improvement in 2013 and a cause for concern.

Greatest strength: Arm strength
Over the last two seasons, no other quarterback from a BCS-AQ school has more 30-yard completions than Boyd. And it's not just the high volume of long passes that Boyd throws; he is also the most accurate passer on deep balls of any BCS-AQ quarterback since 2012.

His accuracy might even be understated by those numbers in the chart to the right. Of his 29 incompletions on throws of 20 or more yards downfield last season, three were dropped by the receiver and six in total were deemed "catchable passes" by STATS LLC.

Boyd is able to make these deep throws even when facing pressure. Over the last two seasons, his 24 completions of at least 30 yards when facing the blitz are six more than any other BCS-AQ quarterback.

Biggest improvement: Passing outside the pocket
Boyd is an above-average athlete who has shown the ability to escape the pocket and run since his first season as a starter in 2011. He averaged 12 rushes per game and ran for more than 1,110 yards during his sophomore, junior and senior campaigns combined.

Yet in 2012, he struggled when passing outside the pocket, completing 47 percent of his throws. Although he led a game-winning drive against LSU in the Chick-fil-a Bowl that season, he completed just 1 of 5 passes outside the pocket for seven yards in the game.

Last season he improved his completion percentage when passing outside the pocket to 55 percent, ranking among the top 10 BCS-AQ quarterbacks with at least 50 such throws. He was impressive in the Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, completing 3 of 6 passes outside the pocket, including two touchdowns.

Biggest concern: Not prototypical NFL QB
Although he was productive in college, Boyd's below-average height is one reason he is not ranked among the elite quarterbacks. Only five quarterbacks 6-foot-1 or shorter threw at least 100 passes in the NFL last season – though two of them were Drew Brees and Super Bowl champ Russell Wilson.

There is also concern about his ability to adapt to a pro-style offense after playing in a wide-open scheme at Clemson. Since 2011, no BCS-AQ quarterback threw more passes or had more completions from a shotgun or pistol formation than Boyd.

NFL, Tajh Boyd

Gruden's QB camp: Teddy Bridgewater

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22

Entering the 2013 college football season, Teddy Bridgewater was the consensus No. 1 quarterback prospect and a likely top-2 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

After Bridgewater's shaky pro day and below-average combine measurements, questions emerged about whether he should be the first quarterback taken off the board.

In preparation for ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden’s "QB Camp" show with Bridgewater (airing Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN), here is an in-depth breakdown of Bridgewater’s greatest strengths and causes for concern when evaluating him as a pro prospect.

Greatest strengths:

1. Accuracy:
Bridgewater completed 71 percent of his passes last season, the highest completion percentage of any qualified AQ quarterback. He was not just throwing short passes and screens; Bridgewater’s average pass traveled 9.5 yards past the line of scrimmage, which is a full yard and a half farther than the AQ average and longer than any qualified NFL quarterback last season.

Bridgewater was at his best on short-to-intermediate passes. On passes thrown between 5 and 15 yards downfield, Bridgewater completed 77.2 percent, best of any AQ player in a single season since 2011. Such accuracy allowed Louisville’s receivers to make plays after the catch. The Cardinals led the American Athletic Conference in yards gained after the catch on these intermediate passes.

As a result of his pinpoint accuracy, Bridgewater had just four interceptions in 427 passing attempts last season. Only four FBS players had a lower interception rate than Bridgewater’s.

2. Poise under pressure
Bridgewater’s completion percentage when under duress was 53.5 percent, third-best among AQ quarterbacks. To put that into perspective, the average completion percentage in such situations was 35 percent.

Sending extra pass-rushers did not faze Bridgewater. He ranked second among AQ quarterbacks in completion percentage when blitzed (70.1 percent) and threw 15 touchdowns and just one interception when facing five or more pass-rushers.

According to Todd McShay: “No QB in this draft shows on tape a better understanding of his offense and how to read defenses and blitzes than Bridgewater.”


1. Size/measurables:
Bridgewater measured in at 6-foot-2, 214 pounds at the NFL combine. At his pro day, he was six pounds lighter, at 208 pounds.

There are only five active NFL quarterbacks who are listed at 208 pounds or lighter. Of those five, only Seattle's Russell Wilson is a starter.

Bridgewater also has the smallest hands (9.25 inches) measured of any of the top QB prospects. There have been 39 quarterbacks since 2008 who have had a hand size of 9.25 inches or smaller at the NFL combine. Of those players, only 18 percent have started half of an NFL season (eight games) and none has made the Pro Bowl.

In comparison, of the 36 players with a hand size larger than or equal to Johnny Manziel’s (9.88 inches) since 2008, 31 percent started at least eight NFL games and four have already made the Pro Bowl.

Given Bridgewater’s below-average hand size and his lack of experience in cold temperatures (he did not start a single game in freezing temperatures while at Louisville), teams may question his ability to grip the football in cold weather.

2. Downfield passing
After Bridgewater’s pro day, questions emerged about his accuracy and velocity on downfield passes.

Bridgewater’s statistics in his final college season confirm the scouts' concerns. He completed 39.1 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or farther downfield, the second-lowest percentage of the top 10 QB prospects ranked by Scouts Inc.

The issue is arm strength. As noted above, Bridgewater is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the nation on intermediate passes, but when he has to throw it farther downfield, the ball tends to hang in the air.

Tune in Tuesday night at 9 as Gruden takes a closer look at Bridgewater’s downfield accuracy and pro potential.

Free agency after one month

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11

Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers will all be in new cities come the fall.
It has been one month since the beginning of NFL free agency and there has been no shortage of excitement.

Some of the game’s top defensive players have packed their bags, while the Denver Broncos have looked to bolster a defense that was exposed in the Super Bowl.

Here is a look at some of the major free agency headlines so far:

Broncos back at it
The Broncos were among the most active teams in the first few days of free agency.

DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders, T.J. Ward and Will Montgomery will all wear orange and blue in the fall. Denver is trying to become the third team in NFL history to lose the Super Bowl and then win the game in the following season (Cowboys in Super Bowl VI and Dolphins in Super Bowl VII).

But that effort has not been cheap.

The Broncos have spent more than $65 million in guaranteed money this offseason – second only to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Denver seems to be following a similar script to its 2013 offseason, when the team signed five players in the first month of free agency, including Wes Welker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

While the Broncos have added some notable players, they have also lost some big names. On the offensive side of the ball, Denver will have to replace Zane Beadles, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno. On defense, the Broncos will look to make up for the loss of Champ Bailey and Rodgers-Cromartie, among others.

Bucs spend big
The Buccaneers have added 15 free agents – the most of any team – so it is no surprise that the effort has been costly.

They’ve spent more than $70 million in guaranteed money in the first month of free agency, including re-signings.

Unfortunately for the Bucs, spending money early in free agency does not necessarily mean the future is bright. Four teams spent at least $50 million in the first month of free agency last season (Lions, Dolphins, Colts, Cowboys) and the Colts were the only one of those teams to make the playoffs in 2013.

Show them the money
In terms of contracts that have been reported, five of the six players to get at least $20 million in guaranteed money were defensive players.

The Saints gave safety Jarius Byrd $26.3 million – the most guaranteed money during the first month of free agency among reported contracts. The next highest was Branden Albert, Aqib Talib, Michael Johnson, DeMarcus Ware and then Vontae Davis (re-signed with team).

Pass rushers swap teams
Since the start of the 2010 season, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers have the first and third-most sacks among NFL North players.

Those two defensive ends changed teams within the division in the first month of free agency. Allen went from the Vikings to the Bears, while Peppers signed with the Packers after being released by Chicago.

Allen and Peppers rank in the top three in sacks among active players and Allen has 10 more sacks in his career, despite playing two fewer seasons.

Top stats to know: Jackson to Redskins

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2

Late Tuesday, the Washington Redskins agreed to a three-year deal with wide receiver DeSean Jackson, bolstering themselves in an area at which they were lacking depth heading into the 2014 season.

Jackson had career-highs with 82 catches, 1,332 receiving yards and tied a career-high with nine touchdown receptions for the Philadelphia Eagles last season. He's one of three receivers to average at least 17 yards per catch over the last six seasons, along with Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd.

It's part of a Redskins retooling under new head coach Jay Gruden.

How he fits
The Redskins appear set to replace Santana Moss and Josh Morgan with Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson for next season, offering Robert Griffin III (and Pierre Garcon) a little more help.

Griffin completed 63 percent of passes targeting Garcon last season, but only 56 percent targeting all other wide receivers.

Jackson has thrived against the NFC East throughout his career. His 17.7 yards per catch against the division rank fourth-most since his first season, 2008. He has 10 career touchdowns, five of which came against the Redskins.

Jackson and Roberts combined for 125 catches last season, more than twice as many as Moss and Morgan (62).

Best skill: Big yardage
The graphic atop this article illustrated where Jackson can be a difference maker.

Only the Rams (5) had fewer 40-yard pass plays than the Redskins (6). The Eagles led the league with 18, eight of which were recorded by Jackson.

Jackson should help a struggling Griffin with his deep ball. Jackson had two more touchdown receptions (7) on passes at least 15 yards downfield than Griffin had touchdown passes (5) on such throws last season.

Nick Foles connected on 71 percent of his throws to Jackson, the second-highest completion percentage among the NFL's quarterback-receiver duos (Aaron Rodgers had a 75 percent completion percentage to Jordy Nelson).

There are 31 receivers or tight ends who have at least 300 catches from 2008 to 2013. Jackson's 5.5 yards after catch per reception average is the best of those 31.

Clowney brings a prolific pass rush

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1

Photo illustration by Trevor EbaughTeams actually had more success running at Jadeveon Clowney than running away from him.
South Carolina's pro day is Wednesday, which means that the top defensive prospect in this year’s NFL Draft will have a chance to show what he can do best.

Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney ranks third in South Carolina history with 24 career sacks and second with 47 tackles for loss. He holds the school record with nine forced fumbles.

Clowney played in 11 of South Carolina’s 13 games this past season, lining up mostly as right defensive end. When lining up as the right defensive end, opponents ran to his side on 28 percent of their rushing plays. However, teams were successful when running toward him because of the double teams often thrown Clowney's way in those situations, as noted in the chart on the right.

Although Clowney’s sack total decreased by 10, he had 14 hurries last season, second among SEC defenders and tied for 11th among defenders from automatic-qualifying conferences.

Biggest strength: Speed
The 266-pound Clowney ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Clowney’s time is the fastest at the NFL Combine by any player measured at least 260 pounds since 2006.

Clowney’s 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was the fifth fastest of any defensive lineman since 2006 and 0.08 seconds faster than an average running back’s 40-time.

Among quarterbacks who have entered the league since 2006, Robert Griffin III was the only NFL starter in the 2013 season who ran a faster time in the 40-yard dash than Clowney at the NFL Combine. Colin Kaepernick matched Clowney's time.

Draft Outlook
Each of the past six SEC Defensive Player of the Year winners before Clowney (and co-winner, Michael Sam) has been selected in the top-11 in the NFL Draft.

South Carolina’s only player drafted No. 1 overall was George Rogers in 1981 by the New Orleans Saints. The school's most successful defensive alumnus is John Abraham, who has made five Pro Bowls in 14 seasons. His 133.5 sacks rank ninth all-time.

Abraham was selected 13th overall by the New York Jets in 2000.

Gruden QB camp: Johnny Manziel

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26

ESPN Stats & Info
There is no denying that Johnny Manziel was among the nation’s elite college quarterbacks over the past two seasons.

Yet many experts are torn over his pro potential; depending upon the analyst, opinions range from Manziel being a top-five pick to not being worthy of a pick on the first two days.

In preparation for Jon Gruden’s QB Camp show with Manziel (airing Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN) and his pro day Thursday, below is an in-depth breakdown of Manziel’s greatest strength, his main area of improvement in 2013 and a cause for concern.

Greatest strength: improvisation
Manziel’s highlight reel is filled with plays in which he is forced to improvise. Whether he is scrambling for a first down on third-and-long or running around the backfield before completing a deep pass, Manziel has a knack for making plays when things break down.

In fact, over the past two seasons, Texas A&M gained 2,546 yards as a result of Manziel's scrambling. If you subtracted those yards from Texas A&M’s total, the Aggies would have gone from the third-most yards in the nation to 26th.

On third down specifically, Manziel scrambled for 30 first downs over the past two seasons, 14 more than any other AQ player. He also converted 55 percent of his third-down passing plays when forced out of the pocket, which is more than twice the rate of the AQ average (25 percent).

As a result, Manziel led the Football Bowl Subdivision with a 97.0 third-down Total QBR since the start of last season.

Biggest improvement: pocket passing
Entering the 2013 season, Todd McShay broke down Manziel’s film and noted that he needed to “upgrade his accuracy” and “become more disciplined as a pocket passer."

In 2013, Manziel increased his completion percentage by almost 2 full percentage points (to 69.9 percent) despite increasing his average pass distance from 8.4 yards per attempt to 9.1 yards per attempt. Only three FBS quarterbacks had a higher completion percentage than Manziel's last season.

Looking just at passes from inside the pocket, Manziel led all AQ quarterbacks with a 73.5 percent completion percentage. While his interceptions were up last season, so too were his passing touchdowns and 20-yard completions from inside the pocket.

Largest concern: handling pressure
Some analysts have stated that drafting Manziel is a risk because many of the habits that he formed in college will not translate to the NFL.

Manziel has a unique ability to escape pressure with his legs, but at times he was too quick to run when he saw pressure in his face (see Merril Hoge’s breakdown).

Manziel left the pocket on 76 percent of the plays in which he was under pressure last season, by far the highest percentage of any AQ quarterback and more than twice the rate of the AQ average (36 percent). Further, when under duress, Manziel completed just 44 percent of his passes, which is almost 10 percentage points lower than fellow draft prospect Teddy Bridgewater.

When opponents sent extra pass-rushers, Manziel had a hard time identifying and adapting to the blitz; he completed 60 percent of his passes when opponents blitzed, which was 14 percentage points lower than when they dropped seven or more players into coverage. To put that in perspective, every FBS quarterback rated in the top 150 by Scouts Inc. had a higher completion percentage against the blitz than Manziel last season.

On Thursday night, keep an eye out for these areas as Gruden breaks down the tape with Manziel.

Top stats to know: Jets QB moves

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21

Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe Jets released Mark Sanchez (right) and signed Michael Vick (left) today.

The New York Jets released Mark Sanchez and signed Michael Vick today. Here are the top stats to know on the Jets quarterback position shake-up.

1. Since he entered the NFL in 2009, no qualified quarterback has posted a worse Total QBR than Mark Sanchez’s 36.1. His 43 fumbles in that span are the second-most in the NFL behind Joe Flacco’s 45, but Flacco logged 1,251 more snaps during that time.

2. For all of Sanchez's struggles, he was effective in the postseason. Sanchez went 4-2 as a postseason starter, beating teams led by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer. All six of his postseason games were played on the road.

3. Michael Vick completed a career-high 62.6 percent of his passes in his first season back as a full-time starter in 2010. Since then, his completion percentage has declined every year (54.6 percent last season).

In his first two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick went 15-9 as a starter and had a plus-19 touchdown-interception differential. In his last two seasons in Philadelphia, Vick went 5-11 with a plus-4 touchdown-interception differential.

Health has also been an issue with Vick throughout his career, as he has played the full 16 games just once in his 11 seasons.

4. Here’s the good news about Michael Vick: despite missing time in each of the past four seasons, he has gained the second-most rushing yards among quarterbacks, trailing only Cam Newton. Vick is also the all-time rushing leader among quarterbacks with 5,857 rushing yards.

Should the Jets opt to run more zone-read plays, Vick would fit that scheme well. The Eagles averaged 6.1 yards per rush on zone reads last season with Vick at quarterback. Vick averaged 14.0 yards per rush the nine times he kept the ball on those plays.

5. Pressure affects Vick more than most quarterbacks. Since Vick first became the Eagles starter in 2010, only Carson Palmer and Eli Manning have thrown more than Vick’s 15 interceptions when under pressure.

However, if he’s not pressured, Vick might be a better option than current Jets starting quarterback Geno Smith. Smith turned the ball over more than three times as often against standard pressure as Michael Vick did in his seven games played last year.

Other fun facts on Jets
The Jets have a history of making moves for a quarterback on March 21. Two years ago today, the Jets acquired Tim Tebow from the Denver Broncos.

The Jets are expected to save $8.3 million in cap dollars by cutting Mark Sanchez. Even after signing Michael Vick to a one-year, $5 million deal, the Jets have the third-most salary cap space in the league at approximately $27.5 million.

UCF Pro Day player to watch: Blake Bortles

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19

AP Photo/John RaouxBlake Bortles looks to help his draft stock during his pro day.
NFL scouts will turn their attention to Blake Bortles as Central Florida holds its pro day today. Bortles rates among the top quarterbacks in this year’s NFL Draft.

What does he do best?

Bortles led UCF on six second-half comebacks in 2013, tied for the most in the FBS. When trailing in the second half, Bortles had a 89.6 Total QBR, which ranked second in the FBS behind Teddy Bridgewater (92.3) and just ahead of Johnny Manziel (88.8)

Overall, Bortles was more effective after halftime than in the first half of games, posting an 82.4 Total QBR in the second half, a 74.0 in the first half last season.

Bortles also had a nice touch on his deep throws. He completed 50 percent of his throws that traveled 20 or more yards downfield, tied with Oregon's Marcus Mariota for the second-highest percentage among quarterbacks from automatic-qualifying conferences last season. Only Tajh Boyd of Clemson fared better (54.7 percent).

Bortles joined Daunte Culpepper as the only two UCF quarterbacks to have two seasons of at least 3,000 yards passing. Bortles’ numbers in his final year at UCF are comparable to those of Culpepper’s, with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions, compared to 28 and 7 for Culpepper.

While Bortles’ numbers fall short of Bridgewater and Manziel’s, his Knights finished 10th in the final AP Poll, ahead of both Louisville (15th) and Texas A&M (18th).

Bridgewater not Louisville's only prospect

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
Both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. have Teddy Bridgewater slated to go in the top five picks in this year’s NFL Draft.

Bridgewater will be among those showing off his talents on Louisville’s pro day today. Here are a few storylines of note for that event.

Bridgewater ultra-accurate
Bridgewater had the third-highest Total QBR last season, trailing only Jameis Winston of Florida State and Marcus Mariota of Oregon. However, once his Total QBR was adjusted for his opponent, he dropped to 14th. This was impacted by Louisville’s strength of schedule, which was ranked 107th by the NCAA.

Nonetheless, Bridgewater is lauded for his accuracy and has steadily improved his completion percentage in each of his three years as a starting QB. In 2013, he was the only QB from a BCS-Automatic Qualifying conference completing at least 70 percent of his passes.

The blitz doesn’t bother Bridgewater. He had the second-highest completion percentage (70.1 percent) versus added pressure among AQ quarterbacks, with 15 touchdown passes and only one interception.

He was also effective moving the chains, throwing for 14 touchdowns and just one pick on third down, with nearly 53 percent of his attempts gaining a first down.

Bridgewater left his mark on the Cardinals' record books during his three seasons at the school. He set the single-season record for touchdown passes with 31 last season.

He also became the third Louisville quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons, along with Chris Redman (1997-1999) and Brian Brohm (2006-2007).

Bridgewater is expected to become the first Louisville QB to be selected in the first round in the Common Draft Era (since 1967). Two Cardinals were second-round picks, Browning Nagle by the New York Jets in 1991 and Brohm by the Green Bay Packers in 2008.

Defensive Players to Watch: Safety, Calvin Pryor and Defensive End, Marcus Smith
Pryor, a first-team all AAC selection in 2013, is ranked among the top 15 players in this year’s draft.

He ranked second on the team in tackles, tied for third in interceptions and fourth in forced fumbles for a defense that allowed that second-fewest yards per game in FBS last season (trailing only Michigan State).

Louisville has never had two players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and has only had one top-10 pick (Amobi Okoye, 10th in 2007).

Smith, the AAC Defensive Player of the Year and a third-team AP All-American, finished with 14.5 sacks in 2013. He led the FBS in sacks per game.

Top stats to know: NFL Free Agency (Day 5)

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
What were the top statistical storylines from Day 5 of NFL Free Agency?

Edelman stays in New England

Unrestricted free agent Julian Edelman agreed to terms to remain with the New England Patriots. Edelman developed a great rapport with Tom Brady last season, becoming his favorite target. No Patriots receiver had more receptions, yards, touchdowns or targets than Edelman last season. In fact, Edelman caught 70.5 percent of his targets from Tom Brady last season, the highest completion percentage by a QB-WR duo with at least 75 attempts.

Edelman ranked fourth with a career-high 105 catches last season, a huge leap from his previous career high of 37 in 2009. He was one of five players to catch 100 or more passes in 2013. Among 60 wide receivers with at least 75 targets last season, Edelman’s 70.5 catch percentage was best in the league.

He also thrived in the slot position, recording over half of his receptions from there last season. Edeleman’s 53 slot receptions ranked third in the NFL, behind only Kendall Wright and Wes Welker.

Peppers picks the Packers

Julius Peppers could help bring some pass rush help back to the Green Bay Packers. The Packers sacked or put opposing quarterbacks under duress on 22.5 percent of dropbacks last season, tied for third worst in the NFL. However, the Packers tied with Peppers' former team, the Chicago Bears.

There are some questions on how effective Peppers can be at this point, especially as games progress. Peppers posted 7.0 sacks last season, tied for the second-lowest total of his career. He posted a sack for every 118.6 defensive snaps he was on the field last season, his worst rate in the last six seasons.

As a member of the Bears, Peppers was very disruptive in the first halves of games, recording 26.0 sacks. As the game wore on, however, Peppers' sack totals declined. All 7.0 of his sacks last season were in the first half.

Peppers has primarily played defensive end in a 4-3 scheme throughout his career. The Packers base defense is a 3-4. If the Packers have Peppers move to linebacker, it will be a relatively new experience for him. Since 2010, Peppers has logged a total of 19 snaps as a linebacker. He has played 3,328 total snaps over that time.

Top stats to know: NFL Free Agency (Day 3)

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
What were the top statistical storylines from Day 3 of NFL Free Agency?

McCoy gets a running (and receiving) mate
The Philadelphia Eagles acquired running back Darren Sproles in a trade with the Saints. Sproles had only 53 rushes last season, but his impact as a receiver could make an offense that already scored the fourth-most points last season even more potent in 2014.
Miguel Cabrera
Sproles has the most receiving yards and touchdown catches of any running back over the last nine seasons.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles averaged 8.6 yards per attempt when targeting running backs last season, the best average in the NFL.

LeSean McCoy will still do the bulk of the rushing for the Eagles, but Sproles can give him a break when needed. McCoy’s 366 touches last season were most in the NFL.

Will Chip Kelly let the two play at the same time?

Last season Kelly paired McCoy and another halfback (Bryce Brown or Chris Polk) together only seven times. The Eagles gained 79 yards on those plays.

However, Sproles has 89 receptions when lining up outside of the backfield the past three seasons, more than double the running back who ranked second (Marcel Reese, 44).

Potentially big loss for Patriots
The New England Patriots added cornerback Darrelle Revis to their defense, but defensive lineman Vince Wilfork requested a trade.

Wilfork missed most of the 2013 season, and his absence hurt the Patriots run defense. Over the last two seasons, when Wilfork was on the field, opponents averaged 3.7 yards per rush. With Wilfork off the field, opponents averaged a yard more, 4.7 yards per rush.

If the Patriots grant Wilfork’s request, his loss could offset the potential improvement to the pass defense.

The Patriots have allowed the most passing yards per game (268.1) and rank 24th in opponents’ Total QBR (57.2) over the last three seasons.

Revis will be needed. The Patriots have several prominent receivers among their opponents in 2014, including Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Demaryius Thomas.

Panthers running out of wide receivers
The Carolina Panthers officially released Steve Smith, Ted Ginn signed with the Cardinals and Domenik Hixon signed with the Bears. Brandon LaFell remains a free agent.

That leaves Marvin McNutt as the only Panthers wide receiver currently under contract that Cam Newton targeted last season. Newton targeted him once (an incomplete pass).

Smith was not only Newton’s favorite target, he was every Panthers quarterback’s favorite target. Smith has 140 more receptions and 2,942 more yards than the next highest Panthers receiver in franchise history.

Top stats to know: NFL free agency (Day 2)

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
What were the top statistical storylines from Day 2 of NFL Free Agency?

Broncos bolster their defense
The Denver Broncos have now signed defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward already this offseason. The attempt to improve the defense should come as no surprise as the Broncos’ pass defense let them down the past two postseasons, especially when bringing standard pressure.

Ware should pair nicely with Von Miller. Miller has recorded the sixth-most most sacks since entering the NFL in 2011. Ware has recorded the third-most in that time.

The duo shouldn’t have to worry about getting in each other’s way. Miller has recorded 83 percent of his sacks when lining up as a left-side linebacker or defensive end. In the last six seasons, Ware has recorded 72 percent of his sacks when lining up on the right side.

The Broncos ranked 19th in sack percentage last season, a year removed from leading the NFL.

Darrelle Revis to the Patriots
As expected, the Buccaneers cut cornerback Darrelle Revis, who didn’t have the same impact with the Buccaneers that he did with the Jets. Within hours, he agreed to a deal with the New England Patriots, who needed a cornerback after losing Talib to the Broncos.

But how effective will Revis be?

From 2008 to 2012, when Revis was on the field, opposing quarterbacks completed only 56 percent of their passes and had a Total QBR of 38.9.

When Revis played in 2013, Buccaneers opponents completed 65 percent of their throws and had a Total QBR of 67.1.

Player to Watch: Josh McCown
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed quarterback Josh McCown, and new head coach Lovie Smith immediately announced he’d be the starting quarterback heading into training camp.
Josh McCown
McCown led the NFL in Total QBR last season, posting an 85.1 in eight games (encompassing 269 action plays), largely because of his 13 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. The Buccaneers ranked 24th with a 41.3 Total QBR last season.

Aided by the presence of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, McCown was 17 for 36 with four touchdown passes on throws at least 16 yards downfield Tthe league average completion percentage on such throws was around 40 percent). He also was solid on short throws, completing 72 percent of passes thrown fewer than 10 yards downfield (league average: 68 percent)

Seahawks lose a key offensive piece
Former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate signed with the Detroit Lions. Tate was targeted 183 times by Russell Wilson last season (including playoffs), 44 times more than the next highest Seahawk.

Tate also led all wide receivers (minimum 50 receptions) with an average of 7.8 yards after the catch.

On defense, the Seahawks released Chris Clemons. He’s the third defensive linemen who ranked among their top seven in snaps played last season to be cut by Seattle.

Browns prepping to draft a quarterback
The Browns released Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden, who combined to start 13 games last season. That leaves Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney as the only quarterbacks left on their roster.

The Browns pick fourth and 26th overall this year, and if they take a quarterback with either pick, it’ll be the third time since 2007 they’d have taken a quarterback in the first round. The Browns are the only team to take multiple quarterbacks in the first round since 2007.

How bad have the Browns been at drafting?

In 2012 the Browns used two first-round picks to select running back Trent Richardson (third overall) and quarterback Brandon Weeden (22nd overall). Both players are no longer with the Browns.

A.J. Jenkins is the only other first-rounder from 2012 who is no longer with the team that drafted him.

Alabama looks to add to first-round legacy

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
Alabama leads all schools in total players selected in the NFL draft since 2010 and its 13 1st-round picks over that span are seven more than any other school. The Crimson Tide, who host their Pro Day today, will likely add to that total this season.

What key players will look to show off their skills?

Quarterback, AJ McCarron
McCarron is Alabama’s all-time leader in career completions, passing yards, touchdown passes, and wins as a starting quarterback. His 36 wins trail only David Greene (42) and Peyton Manning (39) for the most in SEC history.

McCarron was 36-4 as a starter at Alabama with all four of his losses coming against opponents ranked in the top 15 of the BCS standings, including two opponents in the top four.

He posted an above-average Total QBR in 37 of 40 career starts, including all 17 of his starts against top-25 opponents.

McCarron will likely show off his nice touch on the deep ball.

Over the last two seasons, McCarron completed 55 percent of his passes thrown 25 yards or longer, the highest completion percentage among quarterbacks from automatic-qualifying conferences. His 53 attempts resulted in 17 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Linebacker, C.J. Mosley
Mosley became the third Alabama player to win the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. Each of the previous Tide players to win the award (Derrick Thomas and Rolando McClain) would become first-round NFL draft picks.

Mosley led Alabama in tackles each of the last two seasons. Since 2008, each of the three previous players to lead the Tide in tackles (McClain, Mark Barron and Dont'a Hightower) went on to become first-round NFL draft picks.

Mosley recorded at least 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons, leading the Crimson Tide in tackles in eight of 13 games.

Left Tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio
Kouandjio started all 27 games at left tackle for Alabama the last two seasons. He is the sixth offensive lineman under Nick Saban to be named at least a consensus All-American at Alabama. Each of the five previous players were drafted including first-round picks Andre Smith (Bengals in 2009) and Chance Warmack (Titans in 2013).

The Crimson averaged 6.8 yards per rush when running left last season, including 4.6 yards before contact (they averaged 3.4 yards before contact when running up the middle and 4.0 yards before contact when running right).

Free Safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Clinton-Dix was a consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC for Alabama in 2013.

He looks to become the fifth Alabama defensive back selected in the first round under Nick Saban and the second safety, joining Barron who was taken seventh overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012.

According to Stats Ice, Alabama’s opponents completed 6-of-23 passes (26 percent) when targeting Clinton–Dix this season, the lowest completion percentage against any AQ player with at least 20 targets.

Did You Know?
Alabama has had 3 players selected in the first round in three straight drafts (only USC 1980-83 and Miami 2001-04 have done that).

Top stats to know: NFL free agency (Day 1)

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
What were the top statistical storylines from Day 1 of NFL free agency?

Most prominent signing: Saints nab Byrd; Broncos net Talib
The New Orleans Saints made the biggest acquisition of the day, agreeing to terms with three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd.
Jairus Byrd

Byrd has intercepted 22 passes since he entered the NFL in 2009. Only Asante Samuel (25) has more interceptions over that time.

Late Monday, the Denver Broncos agreed to a deal with former New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib.

Talib's 23 interceptions are the sixth-most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2008.

Talib will look to support a secondary that has defended deep passes well in the regular season the last two years, but has struggled mightily in the postseason.

Joe Flacco went 6 of 11 with 3 touchdowns when passing 15 or more yards downfield to eliminate the Broncos in 2012, and Russell Wilson went 3 of 3 for 80 yards in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Browns and Buccaneers spend on defense
The Cleveland Browns positioned themselves to be aggressive in free agency, entering the day $50 million under the NFL Salary Cap (third-most under the cap in the league) and they made an immediate impact by agreeing to deals with ex-San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner and former Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Karlos Dansby.

Whitner was a two-time Pro Bowler and a key part of a defense that allowed the third-fewest points in the NFL last season. Opposing quarterbacks had a 39.9 Total QBR against the 49ers last season, sixth-lowest in the NFL.

Dansby was one of two players with 4.0 sacks and four interceptions last season (Lavonte David).

He led all linebackers last season with 17 total passes intercepted or defended and was one of nine players with multiple defensive touchdowns last season.
Alterraun Verner

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also made a pair of prominent defensive acquisitions, signing Michael Johnson and Alterraun Verner.

The Buccaneers recorded only 6.5 sacks last season by players lining up as a traditional defensive end (end of line, hand in dirt). That was worst among any 4-3 defense and second worst overall. Johnson has recorded 25.0 of his 26.5 career sacks when lining up as a defensive end.

Verner could be a key replacement for Darrelle Revis. Verner is one of 12 cornerbacks in the NFL to start every game in the last two seasons and has never missed a game in four seasons. His 17 pass breakups last season tied for second-most in the NFL.

Position of Note: Offensive Tackle
There was a major first-day run on offensive tackles with Jared Veldheer (Cardinals), Branden Albert (Miami Dolphins), Rodger Saffold (Oakland Raiders) and Eugene Monroe (Baltimore Ravens) all inking huge deals to join new teams.

Albert’s signing may be the most prominent. He played 72 percent of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive snaps last season. When he was on the field, the Chiefs averaged 5.7 yards per run to the left side. When he was off the field, that dropped to 4.1.

The Dolphins averaged 4.4 yards on runs to the left last season, a hair below the league average of 4.5.

The Raiders were also in need of an offensive line upgrade. Oakland quarterbacks were under duress on 32 percent of dropbacks last season, the fourth-highest rate in the league.

The Cuts
Costly contracts resulted in some notable names being cut loose, adding to the free agent pool.

The most notable among them were DeMarcus Ware and Julius Peppers.

Ware leads all players with 57.5 sacks as a stand-up linebacker over the last six seasons.He has also gotten to the passer as a defensive end, recording 26.0 sacks with his hand in the dirt. Only three other players have 20 sacks when lining up as a linebacker and defensive end over that time- John Abraham, Tamba Hali and Shaun Phillips.

Peppers ranks third among active players with 119 career sacks, trailing only Abraham (133.5) and Jared Allen (128.5). Ware’s 117 rank fourth. Those 117 trail only Reggie White’s 137 for most by a player in his first nine seasons.