Greatness Qualified

| November 15, 2009

It’s long been our contention that many great players on poor teams are unfairly penalized when it comes to postseason recognition and, indeed, denied due credit for their performances at any time.

As a glut of mid-season All-Pro teams hits the internet with somewhat unsightly haste (and we’re no less culpable in that regard, at least) the vast majority of players included will be from teams at or above .500. On balance, the logic of this is reasonable to some degree but there also seems to be some conventional wisdom applied that tars every player on a bad team with the same brush. That means even for truly remarkable players (Nnamdi Asomugha, for example) the bar is raised to levels beyond what is expected of others playing on “better” teams.

  • How much appreciation will Albert Haynesworth get for confounding the critics who said that once the money was in the bank we’d see a return to mediocrity?
  • Would Kevin Boss get more respect if his team hadn’t dumped its last four games, or is this more a function of only a tiny minority factoring blocking into the equation when rating a tight end?
  • Would people see the quality inherent in the Miami defensive line if the play behind it hadn’t been so inconsistent and the Dolphins had a passing game to go with their running attack?

With this in mind, perhaps the biggest train-wreck of a season belongs to the Browns. Currently ranked 31st in offense and dead last in defense, there are surely no players worthy of acknowledgment, right? We beg to disagree and would suggest if they continue at their current levels of play, at least two players will be worthy of postseason honors:

Joe Thomas (left tackle)

Thomas is our unanimous mid-season All-Pro LT. Despite getting almost no help from tight ends on his side, he’s once again put in a high-quality, well-balanced and extremely consistent performance. For left tackles, perhaps the primary consideration is pass protection so let’s state his case here first.

Based on pressure per pass play, he ranks fifth among left tackles, giving up pressure (sacks, hits or hurries) on only 4.17 percent of snaps. The top six are as follows:

Rank Name Pass
snaps
Pen. Sacks Hits Hurries Total
pressure
Pressure/
pass
1 Jason Peters 219 3 3 1 3 7 3.20%
2 Andrew Whitworth 297 8 3 3 4 10 3.37%
3 Jake Long 237 2 3 2 4 9 3.80%
4 Jared Gaither 207 5 3 2 2 9 4.35%
5 Joe Thomas 264 3 3 4 4 11 4.17%
6 Ryan Clady 262 1 2 2 7 11 4.20%

In our grading system we also factor in time taken to give up the pressure, and here Thomas is third behind Whitworth and Clady, but by a very small margin. The bottom line: Looking purely at pass protection, there’s hardly anything to choose between the top six guys.

The differentiation then is run blocking, and it’s in this facet of the game that Thomas really excels.

Looking at the run-blocking efficiency (the percentage of positive blocks out of their total graded blocks) of the same six tackles, we see that the Cleveland player is head and shoulders above the other, still extremely creditable, performances:

Rank Name Run snaps Blocking efficiency
1 Joe Thomas 220 78.9%
2 Ryan Clady 214 70.0%
3 Jason Peters 156 68.8%
4 Jake Long 249 66.7%
5 Jared Gaither 164 60.0%
6 Andrew Whitworth 260 57.1%

Thomas may still make the Pro Bowl because he’s “a name” and his demolition of Jared Allen in Week 1 was well documented, but the odds are that playing on a better team will make Clady a certainty and almost guarantee him the starting berth. Let’s see how the season pans out.

Alex Mack (center)

When it comes to Offensive Rookie of the Year, the gaudy performances of Percy Harvin or perhaps more-publicized accomplishments of Michael Oher will be the topics of debate. However, if he continues as he’s begun (and he’s gotten better as the season has progressed), Mack may well be a more worthy candidate.

At this stage of the season it’s difficult to measure a center’s blocking performance because the margins for error are so small. Centers shouldn’t give up much at all because they are rarely one-on-one with an elite defender and, to his credit, Mack hasn’t. One sack, 1 hit and 3 pressures is better than average, and superb for a rookie.

Like Thomas, it’s in the running game that he’s really gleamed. After two rough days to start the season (against Minnesota and at Denver), he’s been extremely competent and dominated against the Bengals.

Another thing that should factor in his favor is who he’s had to play alongside. At left guard, Eric Steinbach’s $9 million cap hit makes him among the worst value on the planet. It’s spending on players of this ilk that has exacerbated the situation in Cleveland, but drafting potential stars like Mack can only help. In addition, on his right side, although neither player has come close to plumbing Steinbach’s depths, there is a constantly revolving door as Floyd Womack, Hank Fraley and Rex Hadnot have all shared time. Trying to make this entire thing hang together has surely diminished his grade by a point or two.

If I’m honest, I can’t see Mack getting even a mention when it comes to ORY. But my guess is if he was the center for the Vikings he and Harvin might be fighting it out, with the wide receiver and his more easily recognized attributes winning out.

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