The first month of the 2013 NFL season is in the books and it’s time to break out a new feature. In addition to our usual Midseason All-Pro team that we’ll announce around Week 9, we’ll be posting the PFF ‘Team of the Month’ at each quarter pole to honor those players who have performed well in that last month rather than looking at the season to date at each turn.
For the season’s first quarter we’re looking at the fast starters, those that have hit the ground running and quickly helped themselves to the top of our positional rankings — looking beyond the box score and beyond the highlight reels to give the best players from the first month their dues.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning, DEN (+18.8)
What more can you say about the month Manning has had in Denver? He matched an NFL single game record on opening night and that wasn’t even his best performance this month. In spite of the fact that his receivers have dropped 9.0% of his targeted passes (third-highest in the league) he’s still completing 75% of his throws and has an Accuracy Percentage of 85.1%. Brutal efficiency from Manning who has made full use of the Broncos’ loaded offense this month.
Honorable Mention: Philip Rivers (SD)
Running Back: LeSean McCoy, PHI (+10.9)
Off to a fast start against Washington in Week 1, McCoy forced 14 missed tackles as a runner in the first two weeks, quickly getting into a rhythm with Chip Kelly’s offense that affords him the space that makes him so dangerous. Just to add to his fine start as a runner he put up a 100-yard receiving game (including three more missed tackles) against the Chargers in Week 2.
Honorable Mention: Reggie Bush (DET)
Full Back: Anthony Sherman, KC (+6.8)
Only three fullbacks have played more snaps than Sherman and none have been more efficient as a lead blocker. On top of his work leading for Jamaal Charles he’s also added 60 yards as a receiver forcing three missed tackles on six receptions, comparable to Marcel Reece.
Honorable Mention: Colin Mooney (TEN)
Tight End: Jordan Cameron, CLV (+8.1)
The start to the season has been dominated by receiving tight ends rather than blocking tight ends and Cameron has been one of the early season’s breakout performers. Cameron’s blocking has been improved this season and he has proved to be both a reliable (one drop with 30 receptions) and explosive (20-yard gain in three of four games) receiving option for the Browns this month.
Honorable Mention: Antonio Gates (SD), Jimmy Graham (NO)
Wide Receivers: Antonio Brown, PIT (+9.1) and Andre Johnson, HST (+7.0)
There are so many receivers off to fast starts this season, there isn’t space to give them all their credit, so not making the team this month is by no means a sleight. The two that make the final cut have combined to drop no passes and have thrived on consistency with Johnson in particular metronomic on intermediate targets for Matt Schaub. Meanwhile, Brown has come up with a number of big plays including one of the best catches we’re likely to see against Bears in Week 3.
Slot Receiver: Wes Welker (DEN)
Honorable Mention: DeSean Jackson (PHI) and Jordy Nelson (GB)
Tackles: Nate Solder, NE (+13.2) and Doug Free, DAL (+13.7)
Redemption for Doug Free who has built on a strong finish to last season (+8.3 Week 15 to 17), accepted a pay cut in the offseason and responded with some of the best form of his entire career. Free has graded positively as a pass blocker and run blocker in every game this season. Solder wins out a tight race at left tackle with improvement every week in pass protection surrendering only one hurry on 74 pass blocks in the last two games.
Honorable Mention: Cordy Glenn (BUF), Michael Roos (TEN) and Sebastian Vollmer (NE)
Guards: Evan Mathis, PHI (+14.5) and Louis Vasquez, DEN (+8.7)
The Eagles’ new offense hasn’t affected Mathis who continues to be the league’s best and most consistent run-blocking guard. His work in combination with Jason Kelce has been a big reason for McCoy’s fast start to the season — he’s averaging 8.2 yards per carry either side of Mathis thus far. Taking the other spot is new Bronco Vasquez who has been nearly flawless in pass protection for Manning and has been an excellent contributor as a mobile blocker for the running game in the last two weeks.
Honorable Mention: Kory Lichtensteiger (WAS) and Kevin Zeitler (CIN)
Center: Jason Kelce, PHI (+8.1)
While Myers has been the better pass protector in the first month of the season, Kelce’s superior run blocking over the first four weeks sees him get the nod for the team of the month. Five pressures allowed and three penalties isn’t great, but his run blocking has been matching up well against speed and power at the line of scrimmage as well as working through to linebackers at the second level.
Honorable Mention: Chris Myers (HST)
We’re using the same defensive format as our Teams of the Week. For those unfamiliar with that we put forward a hybrid defense that features two edge rushers (4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers), three players on the “interior” of the defensive line (defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends) and two linebackers (all inside linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers).
Defensive Interior – Ends: J.J. Watt, HST (+28.9) and Ndamukong Suh, DET (+17.8)
It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to question whether J.J. Watt could repeat the frankly unbelievable form that he showed last season. Well, the first month suggests that he absolutely can, will and is, netting almost exactly the same grade as his first month last season. Next to him is Suh whose form is being hidden somewhat by persistent questions over his discipline. His 26 total pressures is second among all defenders and he hasn’t shown any weakness against this season.
Honorable Mention: Gerald McCoy (TB) and Cameron Jordan (NO)
Defensive Interior – Nose: Brandon Mebane (+11.1)
The proliferation of the passing game might be marginalizing big bodies but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still big defensive linemen playing extremely well specializing as run defenders. Mebane does just that for the Seahawks and provides just that little bit more as a pass rusher to edge out Harrison who has quickly replaced Sione Pouha for the Jets.
Honorable Mention: Damon Harrison (NYJ) and Jurrell Casey (TEN)
Edge Rushers: Robert Quinn, SL (+16.2) and Justin Houston, KC (+13.7)
Has Quinn profited from favorable matchups early in the season? Certainly. But he took full and brutal advantage of those matchups with two of our highest single game grades for a 4-3 defensive end. This is a team for the first month and Quinn fully deserves his spot but will have to do more against better tackles to make it back onto the team as we go forward. Joining him is Houston who has flourished in a more aggressive role in the Chiefs’ new defense showing consistently the destructive ability as a pass rusher that has only been glimpsed in fits and starts over the last two seasons.
Honorable Mention: Michael Johnson (CIN) and Jabaal Sheard (CLV)
Linebackers: David Harris, NYJ (+6.8) and Derrick Johnson, KC (+5.2)
Far from a vintage month for linebacker play, but Harris is off to a solid start at the heart of the Jets’ defense registering 19 stops in his first four games, a mark it took him seven games to reach a year ago, getting downhill to runners far more than he has in years past. Next to him, Johnson has just continued in a similar vein that we have seen from him in the last couple of years with improved pass coverage to add to his all-around package.
Honorable Mention: Kiko Alonso (BUF) and James Anderson (CHI)
Cornerbacks: Alterraun Verner, TEN (+9.2) and Aqib Talib, NE (+6.3)
Teams have not been shy of targeting these two in the first month of the season with 23 targets for Verner and Talib being thrown at 20 times, and things have not gone well for offenses on those 43 attempts. Verner and Talib have intercepted four passes each while letting up eight and six passes, respectively, to go with four pass defenses for Verner and three for Talib. The two lead the league in passer rating on targeted passes; Verner is allowing a passer rating of 12.9 on passes targeted to his coverage with Talib not far behind at a still-miniscule 24.8 passer rating.
Slot Corner: Leon Hall (CIN)
Honorable Mention: Darrelle Revis (TB) and Brent Grimes (MIA)
Safeties: Devin McCourty, NE (+7.1) and James Ihedigbo, BLT (+9.9)
There wasn’t a more consistent defender last season than Devin McCourty and he has started this season in the same vein with not a single negative game grade in run defense or coverage in the first month of the season. Joining him is a name few would have predicted before the season with the assumption that Ihedigbo would be pushed aside for Matt Elam in short course, but he is now starting with him and flourishing with some instinctive and decisive play in run defense and pass coverage. Ihedigbo leads all safeties with 12 stops, seven of them in run defense a mark only bettered by Bernard Pollard (9).
Honorable Mention: Barry Church (DAL) and Louis Delmas (DET)
Kicker: Caleb Sturgis, MIA (+12.1) What is it with rookie kickers? Sturgis has started well going 7/7 in the first month including two from beyond 50.
Punter: Johnny Hekker, SL (+12.4) Hekker is booming out some massive kicks this season with five or more seconds of hang-time on 13 of his 25 punts.
Returner: Trindon Holliday, DEN (+2.9) One of only two kick returners with a touchdown this year (on three returns) Holliday has also added a score on a punt return and averages 14.7 yards per.
Special Teamer: David Bruton, DEN (+5.5) A blocked punt in the opener (and kept from another by a hold) Bruton has made big plays to go with consistency on coverage and return units.
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