In the process of whittling down the final list for the PFF Top 101 of 2011, there were a number of players who missed the cut despite being staunchly supported by one of our analysts or another. Though, to at least one person in the room, it made perfect sense to include these “missing players”, there simply wasn’t enough backing from the group as a whole for them to crack the list.
As we lead up to the initial segment of our Top 101 (to be revealed on Sunday), we’ve provided some space to sum the arguments for and against a particularly divisive handful of players–all finishing just outside of 2011′s 101 best. You’ll hear from each analyst as they prop up their favorite snubs and chime in with their thoughts as to why the other suggestions are not worthy of inclusion.
To begin, PFF Founder Neil Hornsby presents a pair he believes should have made the cut: the Saints’ Jahri Evans and Robert Mathis of the Colts.
The Case for Jahri Evans
Neil Hornsby: At PFF nothing ever stays static, we’re always looking to improve what we do and make it more accurate. One of the things you’ll see coming out of the ideas factory shortly is a revised look at the way we rank players; it won’t alter things dramatically but it will highlight certain areas we perhaps underrate.
One of those is the run blocking ability of a guard. At the end of the day, while it’s great if a player at that position is rock solid in pass protection, you’ll always get some help there but dominating one on one in the running game is fairly rare. Jahri Evans is one of the few players who stand out here; he’s our third-ranked run blocker and someone I thought we should have found a place for as a result. I accept he’s only an average pass protector but with new guys to bed in on either side of him (twice over) that’s still a good result.
While other players may be more consistent overall, if I had to pick up one yard behind any player, Evans would be my choice; he’s the guy most likely to get movement at the point of attack and that’s someone I’d want from one of my 101 best players.
In response …
Ben Stockwell: The two players that were bedded-in around Evans did so extremely quickly and very well, so I’m not inclined to give much wiggle room for his distinctly average pass protection on that account. While his run blocking was good again this season, it was not to the levels we have seen in the past; only one guard truly excelled as a run blocker in 2011. To put Evans on the Top 101 list in 2011 is asking me to endorse the selection of an average pass protector and a solid run blocker. That, to me, doesn’t sound like one of the league’s elite players from 2011.
Sam Monson: Neil might be inclined towards Jahri Evans because he was a pretty good run blocker, but right guards have to be able to pass protect, especially in the New Orleans offense, because they are the guard that is most often blocking one-on-one. Only eight guards allowed more total pressure than Evans did, and the list is not exactly a Who’s Who of All-Pro talent. At best, Evans was middle of the pack for his pass protection, in the same kind of ballpark as Davin Joseph, and no amount of run blocking is going to convince me that’s worthy of a spot on this list.
Khaled Elsayed: I know we think of right guards as needing to be maulers in the run game, and on his day, Evans is that. But they’re the guy on the line increasingly left one-on-one and so they need to be able to pass protect. Evans? He’s not so good at that and finished the year 33rd out of 55 qualifying guards when it came to our pass blocking efficiency rankings. I’d look past this if we was a dominant run blocker, but I’m just not buying it. Good player. Not good enough to be in this Top 101 of 2011.
The Case for Robert Mathis
Neil Hornsby: In the complete disarray that was served up as Colts football last year, one player stood above the rest. Its one thing to play well when you’re surrounded by other fantastic players, but to play brilliantly in the chaos of Indianapolis’s 2011 season is something else. Robert Mathis was without question the best player from that team and, despite all that went on around him, still one of the best defensive ends in the league. Among full-time players he was our tenth-ranked pass rushing 4-3 DE registering 10 sacks, eight hits, and 30 hurries while also holding his own against the run. Additionally, he only gave up a single penalty (no DE with more snaps gave up less) and showed tremendous leadership in the general confusion.
The Colts repaid his efforts with a new $9 million/year deal showing how they regarded his work last year.
In terms of pure numbers, his pass rushing was more productive than Jason Pierre-Paul and he did this without neglecting the run, the way players such as Chris Long and Dwight Freeney did. To put up this kind of effort in spite of the turmoil deserved a place in the PFF Top 101.
In response …
Ben Stockwell: In a season of great all-around performances, Mathis is simply the victim of a logjam where very few one-dimensional or rotational players could make this Top 101 list. Mathis is an exceptional pass rusher, but is nothing better than average as a run defender and simply isn’t good enough as a pass rusher to make the list on his pass rushing alone. In previous seasons, Mathis would have been, but this year 18 total QB knockdowns isn’t enough for someone who only provides pass rush to make this elite list.
Sam Monson: With the near total collapse of the Indianapolis Colts last season, Robert Mathis was one of the few players that could come out of it with his head raised high. I have always had a lot of time for Mathis–a talented pass rusher who has always played the run better than anybody gave him credit for (and better than his frame would suggest is possible from his defensive end spot), and he had a fine season last year. The trouble is that this is a list of the Top 101 players in a league of many more than that, and Mathis just didn’t make that grade in 2011. He was reasonably effective as a pass rusher and average against the run, but to make it on this list you need to have had an exceptional season, and he didn’t.
Khaled Elsayed: I’m calling shenanigans on saying Mathis stood out last year. The man had less total pressure than Dwight Freeney and, unlike his teammate, didn’t nearly single-handedly win the Colts a game like Freeney did against the Steelers! Mentioning his run defense is clutching, because that still ended up a negative grade. I don’t get this choice because, looking at defensive ends who didn’t make the list, there are at least three who deserve to be on over Mathis.