Every year the PFF Analysis staff gets together and assembles our combined Top 101 list for the prior season. Believe it or not we’re not all robots and we don’t come with exactly the same lists in exactly the same order. It often turns into an intense debate, particularly toward the beginning points of the list and for the players making the final 10, which almost always takes more discussion than the order for those at the top.
Nobody gets all of their players on the list and everyone has at least one or two players that they were “banging the table for” (to steal a draft term) but just can’t convince enough of the rest of the staff to include them. Last season guys like Tony Romo, Jonathan Stewart, and Eugene Monroe were on the just-missed lists that we posted before the Top 101 was revealed.
This year we’re going in reverse and you already know who made the list, so now find out who I wanted in the final cut but couldn’t convince the rest of the guys on their merits.
There were only two centers that made our Top 101 list, John Sullivan and Max Unger. There were plenty of others who had strong seasons, but the fact that so many were so close together made it difficult to pick any particular one — in fact, Ben included three in his Two Who Missed the List article yesterday (yeah, do the math on that one). There was another, however, that stood out in my opinion, and that was the Patriots’ Ryan Wendell.
The argument for him seemed simple enough: he was our highest-rated center in terms of run blocking in the regular season and the Patriots averaged 4.8 yards per carry when running up the middle, significantly higher than the league average of 4.0. Extremely consistent all year, Wendell posted just one game with a run block grade below -0.6, and that was against the Houston Texans where he was mostly invisible outside of allowing J.J. Watt to make a tackle for no gain.
He saved the best for last with his top effort against the Ravens, where he showed that he could get the second level to block Baltimore’s inside linebackers beyond getting the best of Haloti Ngata. Not bad for a player who was in his first year as a starter.
By far the biggest problem with him was his pass protection. His 97.1 Pass Blocking Efficiency was fourth-lowest among centers. The difference between him and the league’s best center was roughly one pressure per game — which really isn’t much when weighed against his impact in the run game — and he never gave up more than three pressures in a game, so his pass blocking was never a huge problem. I’m also willing to look past his pass blocking due to his improvement. In his first 469 pass blocks he allowed six sacks, a QB hit and 12 hurries. In his last 483 he got that down to zero sacks, one hit and eight hurries.
When it comes to centers, by far the most important factor in their play is their run blocking — and in 2012 none were better than Wendell. That should have been enough for a Top 101 appearance.
Playing as poorly as they did in 2012, it’s easy to forget how many star players the Chiefs have on the roster. Included on that list is Brandon Flowers, one of very few cornerbacks who have consistently played at a high level the past few years. What he’s done over multiple seasons wouldn’t factor in as our 101 was just looking back at last season, but Flowers’ 2012 speaks for itself.
There are very few cornerbacks who allow only half the passes thrown their way to be caught, and Flowers was one of those players. Typically, we see players who allow a low catch rate also give up a high yards per catch, but Flowers allowed just 12.0 yards per completion, which was the lowest for all cornerbacks who played the whole year and allowed 50% of passes to be caught. Of the 40 passes that Flowers did allow, on 18 of them the receiver was stopped before getting a first down.
His three interceptions and seven passes defended are probably the biggest case against him, as other corners that made the list logged more big plays. However, because there were so many more weaknesses on the Chiefs’ defense, Flowers wasn’t targeted as much as other top corners — 38 saw more passes their way than Flowers did last season.
In over half of his games, he allowed less than 25 receiving yards, and never allowed 100 yards in a game. Outside of his coverage, he had only two penalties, and although he wasn’t much of an asset in the run game or as a blitzer, he certainly wasn’t a liability either. It is very difficult to find any sort of weakness in Flowers’ game in 2012, which isn’t true for some of the cornerbacks who did end up making the list. While it might be easy to forget about this solid cornerback, he could play on my team any day.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke