(Editor’s note: sixth in an eight-part series on each team’s trending players from 2010).
When a division has three of the four championship game spots in two years — representing three different teams — that’s a good thing.
This year the division became more well-known for their defensive lines with the addition of Julius Peppers, Ndamukong Suh, and the emergence of some players you will soon learn more about. There were also some very well-known players that have gotten up there in age and saw a decline.
Here’s our look at which players were significantly better in 2010 than 2009, which were better in 2009 than 2010, and who we want to see more of in 2011.
Moving On Up: HB Matt Forte (-14.6 to +18.7)
In his rookie year, Matt Forte impressed. It was followed by a sophomore slump as he struggled to overcome some injuries, and a healthy Forte figured to bounce back. He responded with a year that showcased him as one of the more complete backs in the league. He ran for 4.4 yards per carry,better than his 3.6 in 2009 and 3.9 in 2010. In his rookie year he stood out for his ability to catch out of the back field as he was our top rated receiving halfback. This year he returned to that form as he was ranked fourth.
Had a Bad Year: C Olin Kreutz (+8.9 to -18.8)
The Bears’ offensive line was a mess for most of 2010, which included Kreutz not living up to his reputation. He is a good pass blocker for a center but that doesn’t make up for his regression to one of the worst run-blockers in the league. A better offensive line could make the Bears offense very scary, but Kreutz who will be turning 34 prior to next season, might not be a part of that for much longer.
Give This Guy More Snaps: LB Brian Iwuh (+6.3 in 94 snaps)
This may be putting too much emphasis on two games, but we really liked what we saw from Iwuh midseason. In on just 43 plays in Week 6 against the Seahawks, Iwuh was able to accumulate five stops. In 2009, he also only saw two starts, and in one of those games had a rating of +5.8. It’s a very small sample size, but perhaps it’s time to give him more time on the field.
Moving On Up: DT Sammie Lee Hill (-18.1 to +11.5)
In 2009 he was a starter during the second half of the season, and went through typical rookie struggles as the majority of the games only had one stop. With the additions of Suh and Corey Williams, Hill became a backup and thrived in this situation. He was a non-factor the first half of the season, but from Week 10 on he emerged as a difference maker in the run with more stops on less plays. In the last five games of the season he was unstoppable rushing the passer, where he created pressure on one in every four pass plays.
Had a Bad Year: C Dominic Raiola (+9.4 to -15.2)
After the 2008 efforts on the O-line, many thought the Lions would be one of the best in the leagues, but instead this year it was a weakness. Some of the regression can be blamed on Raiola, who was a very good run blocker and pretty good pass blocker in 2009, but in 2010 was equally poor at both. He gave up more pressure as the year went on, and had a number of games where he had very low run block ratings. The Lions have concerns about keeping Matthew Stafford healthy, but having an offensive line that can protect him will help ease that concern.
Give This Guy More Snaps: DE Lawrence Jackson (+14.9 in 337 snaps)
A free agent who was a blue-chip bust with the Seahawks, Jackson barely played the first half of the season as he adjusted to his new team. But then, like Hill, Jackson began to get things going in Week 10 where he had a five-stop game against the Bills. Since then he has gotten pressure for one in every ten pass rushes, and has continued to be a solid run stopper. He should continue to be in the Lions’ defensive rotation in 2011 in what could be one of the best defensive lines in football.
Moving On Up: NT B.J. Raji (-4.1 to +15.7)
An interception returned for a touchdown in the NFC Championship game put the “Freezer” in the national spotlight, but he had been playing well long before that play. The sophomore nose tackle wasn’t much of a factor at all in his rookie year, with only seven pressures on 215 pass rushes and nothing special in the run game. But come 2010 the Packers still trusted him enough to have him be an every-down player. While he isn’t the finished article in his run defense, he got better and better as a pass rusher as the year went on. How much so? He managed as much pressure in the Super Bowl as he did all year as a rookie. That’s a heck of a step forward.
Had a Bad Year: CB Charles Woodson (+31.4 to -1.2)
After winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009, there was only one way this season was going to go for Woodson. The former Raider went from being the best cornerback vs. the run to just above average. In coverage he allowed a higher percentage of balls thrown his way to get caught, more yards, touchdowns, and had fewer interceptions. He was still good, but led all cornerbacks with 12 penalties allowed and wasn’t near the impact player he was the year prior.
Give This Guy More Snaps: DE Mike Neal (+4.6 in 83 snaps)
While there are a number of Packers players who got injured and we assume will see more snaps in 2011, Neal is one where it’s questionable if he will get the snaps he deserves. He was injured to begin the season saw playing time Week 4 against the Lions and Week 5 against the Redskins, and then got another injury which landed him on injured reserve. On six of his 25 plays in stopping the run Neal received a positive rating. He also had three combined pressures, but in a crowded defensive line Neal will have to fight to get his snaps.
Moving On Up: DE Ray Edwards (+13.6 to +31.2)
Edwards was good in 2009, but became elite in 2010. He climbed to seventh in our 4-3 defensive end rankings, and passed Jared Allen as the best defensive end on the Vikings.
Had a Bad Year: QB Brett Favre (+59.0 to +2.3)
Despite their fall in the standings, the ratings of the Vikings players were more consistent from 2009 to 2010 compared to most teams … but one very clear and obvious difference was the play of #4. He saw his completion percentage decrease by 8%, his touchdowns cut by a third, and his interceptions nearly triple. What made the 2009 Vikings one of the best teams in the NFL was Favre, and what brought them down to the worst team in the NFC North was Favre. Not a fitting end to a great career.
Give This Guy More Snaps: DT Letroy Guion (+4.5 in 268 snaps)
The Vikings don’t substitute their defensive linemen out as much as other teams, but when they did we got a glimpse of what Letroy Guion is capable of. He showed he is more than capable of handling passing downs with 15 overall pressures on his few passing snaps. In the run game he had a respectable 10 stops, and with Pat Williams being 38, Guion’s time may come in 2011.