Trending in the AFC West

| February 8, 2012

It’s AFC West time in our Trending series which can only mean one thing: it most definitely isn’t Tebow time.

Instead it’s time to look at some of the players who stood out with good and bad turnarounds and to speculate on which others are deserving of more playing time. That means digging into the Denver Broncos and letting you know what unsung heroes pushed them to the playoffs and finding out which player the Kansas City Chiefs might feel most disappointed by after struggling so much. It will also see us sort out which Oakland Raider needs more playing time, and it will also give us a chance to say which San Diego Charger can be happy with his change in form.

Without further ado, the AFC West:

 

 

Denver Broncos

Most Improved

Willis McGahee: From -1.0 (2010) to +8.1 (2011)

It wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world when the Ravens opted to move on from McGahee, with the former Bill picking up less than four yards per carry in his final year. So when he landed in Denver you kind of expected more of the same; not embarrassing himself, but not really challenging Knowshon Moreno for a lions’ share of the snaps. Instead, with Moreno suffering from form and injuries, McGahee rolled back the years to put in a season that earned him our ninth-highest rushing grade of the year.

Biggest Drop Off

Ryan Clady: From +13.8 to -23.6

We’ve always had something of a different take on Clady from watching every one of his snaps since entering the NFL. He made his name by not giving up a sack as a rookie, though that stat really hid the total amount of pressure he gave up. Still, he got better and better, and put forth a fine 2010 … so what happened this year? The 12 penalties certainly hurt, and he wasn’t terrible with his pass blocking, but Clady continues to struggle to do much of anything in the run game. The option and Tebow caught teams off guard and bought the Denver line more credit than it warranted, so with a full season to figure it out, opponents are likely to make Clady’s struggles all the more evident if he doesn’t improve.

More Snaps Needed

Mario Haggan: +6.0 from 183 snaps

“Needed” may be a stretch, but Haggan does one thing exceptionally well, and that’s something it wouldn’t hurt the Broncos to take more advantage of: play the run. That said, how do you find room for him? Joe Mays excelled in a two-down role, Von Miller looked like one of the best players (at any position) in the NFL before getting injured, and D.J. Williams is the kind of three-down player who doesn’t always impress, but is almost a stabilizing figure. Even if free agent Mays goes, there are players waiting (such as Nate Irving). So, while Haggan has proven capable, he may just be in the right place at the wrong time.

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Kansas City Chiefs

Most Improved

Branden Albert: From -10.8 Pass Blocking, to +8.9 Pass Blocking

In some respects, Albert looked like a guard playing tackle his first three years in the league. You can’t say that anymore after a drastic turnaround in performance that saw the Chiefs’ left tackle finish the year in fifth position in our Offensive Tackle Pass Blocking Efficiency ranking, giving up just 24 combined sacks, hits, and hurries. A year earlier, that number was 40 (on 59 fewer pass blocks) – an indication of how far he has come.

Biggest Drop Off

Wallace Gilberry: From +16.4 Pass Rushing, to +2.0 Pass Rushing

We were big fans of the year Gilberry had in 2010, where he was a menace in the Chiefs’ nickel and dime packages. His 40 combined QB disruptions were bettered only by Justin Smith as he made his presence in the league felt. This season, that number fell to just 18, aided by a reduction in opportunities, but also a down turn in production. Gilberry is such a one-dimensional player that, while he still earned a positive grade, it’s not enough that you can walk away happy with the drop off in his play.

More Snaps Needed

Allen Bailey: +5.1 from 294 snaps

It may be tough for Bailey to find more playing time in base formations with both Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson excelling against the run to such a degree that you’re loathe to remove them when there’s a possibility the opposition may run. But Bailey flashed some talent (particularly against the Steelers) when rushing the passer, and could do with a chance to show his wares in a sustained run in sub-package defenses.

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Oakland Raiders

Most Improved

Jared Veldheer: From -27.2 to +5.9

It wasn’t a perfect 2011 for Veldheer who mixed near shutting out Jared Allen, with some poor displays against Jason Taylor and Julius Peppers. There’s no shame in that however, and Veldheer did exactly what you’d want out of a franchise left tackle–keep your QB upright. Four perfect games in pass protection represent an excellent return for a player who struggled in his rookie season. Will want to bring down the penalty count (11), but Veldheer is a player on the rise.

Biggest Drop Off

Michael Huff: From +13.9 to -3.2

It wasn’t exactly a terrible year for Huff, but after a 2010 where he finally played like a Top 10 pick, it was something of a disappointment that went a long way to vindicating the decision of many NFL teams not to overpay for the cover safety. Huff has elite talent, but is he the type of player who can cash it on it on a regular basis? This year went some way to answering that question in the negative.

More Snaps Needed

Marcel Reece: +5.4 from 341 snaps

Reece isn’t your traditional fullback. In fact, he might not even be a fullback given that his lead blocking can best be described as poor. But he is a weapon, especially in the passing game where his tool set causes all sorts of mismatches. The Raiders took advantage of this at numerous points, but you can’t help but feel 341 snaps isn’t enough for a player who could prove a difference-maker.

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San Diego Chargers

Most Improved

Ryan Mathews: From -1.3 to +10.5

The fumbling isn’t ideal, but a year after failing to adequately replace Ladainain Tomlinson, Mathews started to show why the Chargers traded up for him. An effortless runner at times, Mathews forced 30 missed tackles and picked up a healthy 3.2 yards after contact per rush on his way to his first 1000-yard season. There’s room for improvement, and that should excite Chargers fans about what their feature back is capable of.

Biggest Drop Off

Quentin Jammer: From +0.2 to -13.7

Jammer has long been thought of as one of the better corners in the NFL, but this was a year where he looked every one of his 32 years. He struggled when asked to track top receivers and failed to put forth any performances that made you think of him as a No. 1 corner. Worrying that he gave up more yards and doubled the number of touchdowns conceded. Will the Chargers give him more help, or will we continue to see Jammer struggle in 2012?

More Snaps Needed 

Antwan Barnes: +17.9 from 484 snaps

484 snaps isn’t a small amount, but what would those numbers have been but for injuries to Shaun Phillips, Larry English and Travis LaBoy? Barnes held up in run defense, but his work rushing the passer went beyond his sacks numbers as he picked up 45 combined QB disruptions. Barnes needs to be more than just a situational player given the Chargers’ inability to get pressure from their other defenders on a consistent basis.

 

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  • tunesmith

    The Denver Broncos’ offensive line scores look so bad across the board, especially in run-blocking. Is it possible that they are being graded too hard given what kind of running scheme they were running? The key point there is that unlike a normal running scheme, the offensive linemen don’t know who has the ball behind them when it’s a zone-read or option. What might look like missed directional blocks in a normal scheme might be judging it too harshly in this scheme.

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Sam Monson

    We’ve actually got a piece on this particular topic in the works, but the short answer is no.

    Essentially the scheme that was run is a way of minimizing the effect of the blocking of the linemen to an extent. The idea being that the point of attack doesn’t rely on blockers opening a hole by moving defenders, but rather by deliberately leaving one unblocked and ‘optioning’ him, making him wrong whatever he does. Even with that in mind, the blockers then are responsible for the blocks to the perimeters and the Denver blockers just rarely did a good job of getting their man. They began as poor blockers and didn’t improve when the running game did, it’s just other factors took over and became bigger reasons for the success.

    Make no mistake, OL is an area of major concern in Denver.

  • drgarnett

    My question was similar but with a different emphasis. How much of the OL problems are the result of having Tebow back there doing Bad Quarterback-like things? If you have a QB doing fairly unpredictable things behind you the OL is going to suffer.