The cutting room floor during the final edit is what we’re inspecting here. Impressive talent, very good performances, just not quite in that upper group for one reason or another and because of that these players will have to claim their spot another year.
We’ve now given the names of six players who fell into the “close, but no cigar” range for the PFF Top 101 in 2011: Mathis and Evans, Romo and Jenkins, Stewart and Peterson. There were plenty more to join them in that bubble beyond the winning 101, but not all had the fervent backing of at least one of our analysts like they did.
One more pair did, however, enjoy some solid support while hoping to wedge in ahead of the cut. In this final offering before we begin to reveal the Top 101 tomorrow, Ben Stockwell makes known his belief that Jaguars tackle Eugene Monroe and Broncos running back Willis McGahee should have been in.
The Case for Eugene Monroe
In a down season for offensive tackles, Eugene Monroe was a true gem: a left tackle who graded well as both a run blocker and a pass blocker. In fact, only Jason Peters can boast earning a grade of above +5.0 in both areas along with Monroe. Now while Monroe may not have been a dominant pass protector–and his nine sacks allowed are somewhat alarming–he was blocking for the quarterback with the worst pocket presence in the league, evidenced by him only surrendering four hits beyond those sacks. It’s often said that it’s tough to pass block for mobile quarterbacks, it’s even tougher to pass block for a headless chicken in the pocket.
A good run-blocking tackle was a unique find in 2011 and the Jaguars put Monroe to good use as Maurice Jones-Drew picked up 5.7 yards per carry off of his outside shoulder compared to just 2.2 yards per carry of right tackle. This balance is becoming an increasing rarity as teams strive for the ultimate pass-protecting left tackle and aren’t often coming up with it. Monroe may not be (and may never be) Joe Thomas in pass protection, but he provided solid work there in 2011 to combine with his standing as one of the best run blocking tackles in the league. That balance, to me, makes him a better player than others who excelled in one aspect of their game but couldn’t put it all together for a full season like Monroe.
In response …
Neil Hornsby: Monroe is a consistent tackle, but not a great one. He played well and is definitely a player on the rise, but I still can’t find justification for a player giving up nine sacks as a left tackle and making our Top 101.
Sam Monson: This was far from a vintage season for offensive tackle play in the NFL, and one of the main beneficiaries of that was Eugene Monroe, who enjoyed an excellent season by his standards, but in truth only a pretty good one by league-standards. His +12.1 put him seventh in our tackle rankings this season, but in every previous season we’ve been grading, that mark would have landed him outside the Top 10, and as low as 18th in 2008. Monroe took a big step forward and if he takes another he may be among the best tackles in the NFL next season, but that doesn’t mean he catapults himself onto the Top 101 players list because 2011 was a weak year for tackle play.
Khaled Elsayed: I did like Monroe and even had him rated higher than some of the tackles that ended up on the list, so I don’t think this is the worst call in the world. That said, it wasn’t a particularly great year for tackles and yet you had seven offensive tackles rated higher than him. I think if you really wanted Monroe in, you would have gone to bat for him above those other guys.
The Case for Willis McGahee
Lost in the hysteria of Tebowmania at the end of the 2011 regular season was that for the course of a 60-minute game, Tim Tebow was not the driving force of the Denver Broncos’ offense. He might have come up with the miracle plays in the crunch, but the engine room of the Bronco offense was the man next to him in the backfield, Willis McGahee. Behind a rather poor run-blocking offensive line McGahee rediscovered some of the best form of his career; amassing 1,203 yards during the regular season and a further 137 in the playoffs. The whole world knew that the running game was coming but McGahee still picked up close to 5 yards per carry behind that line. It was McGahee doing the leg work as he broke 31 tackles in the regular season, good for 10th in the league and gathered nearly 700 yards after first contact. Only 25 backs gained more yards than that total, let alone after meeting defenders.
He may have been a letdown for much of his professional career in Buffalo and Baltimore, only ever being a solid pro, but McGahee showed this season that he still has plenty in the tank and can be one of the most dominant power backs in the league. Among runners with over 200 carries, his average of 4.8 yards per was topped only by Reggie Bush, Matt Forte, Ryan Mathews and LeSean McCoy. That’s good going for a workhorse back in a very run-first, run-only offense.
In response …
Neil Hornsby: I think Ben’s right. He had a better season than we are giving him credit for (although the fumbles are hard to completely overlook). He was the Broncos’ offense and the main reason they were still able to run so well in such a one-dimensional attack. In the end, if he’s not in our Top 101 he should be No. 102.
Sam Monson: I thought McGahee was just a complement back at this point in his career; a guy capable of spelling another runner and doing a pretty good job all around when needed, but he did so much more than that last season. He ended up shouldering the load in Denver and put together a really quite impressive season–at times carrying that offense and making things happen when he had no right to. The problem is, he didn’t do it quite consistently enough and there were poor games along with the excellent ones. He also had the benefit of the Denver read-option offense working for him, something no other back can claim. Tebow may be mocked for his passing, but he was undeniably a focal point as a runner, and often took the attention away from McGahee with his threat to keep the ball. As much as McGahee boosted that offense, he benefitted from its change in scheme.
Khaled Elsayed: Let’s be honest, teams were scared to death by Tebow. They overcompensated for his presence and it made life a lot easier for McGahee. He fumbled three times, only got into the end zone on four occasions, and isn’t the most versatile of backs. Oh, and those two fumbles in the post season, yuck.