One of the things we wanted to do with the 2014 depth chart series was keep them updated and in most respects this article is about that – reminding you that we’ll be keeping things relevant at least until the season starts.
However, as we published the series and listened to your comments, something else became apparent. Beyond the section of fans who think half their starters are “elite” and for whom there is very little hope of cure, there were other groups too.
Firstly, there are those who felt we see our own grades as absolutely definitive – that we believe they are carved on tablets of stone and the last word in player performance. Now while we are certainly proud of our work and think they are the most accurate view available (as the only people anywhere to watch and grade every player on every facet of play they really should be) they are far from perfect.
So on another level we wanted to let readers know that not only may you disagree with our ratings, but internally we have a lot of debates too. If there are 20 players in a particular category, by its very nature, some are at the top and some the bottom and as such are also often a hair away from being in the adjacent group/s. We wanted everyone to understand from the debate points below just how narrow some of these bands are.
Finally, these updates are also for another set of people; those who took the time to make well-argued points in the comments section for each team. I read every single one and found myself agreeing with many. This is also about addressing those concerns; those of the readers who like us have no vested interest other than in getting it “right”.
Our process now will be to take one division at a time and debate among our analysts where we need change. Below are the results for the first of them; the AFC East.
– After a bit of back and forth debate, we opted to go with “below average” for E.J. Manuel as opposed to red. The thinking here was that although he gave little cause for optimism (no particular stand-out games, for example) he did have to deal with injuries throughout his rookie year and he was never truly dreadful – just consistently poor.
– With C.J. Spiller, Neil and I felt like we may have been putting too much stock into his impressive 2012 season. A player who is at his best in space, Spiller forced 53 missed tackles from 207 carries in 2012, with that number dropping to 32 from 202 carries last year. He has showed he can be an exceptional runner, but in the end, one fantastic season was not enough to stick with “high quality”.
– Ben successfully argued that we had been too harsh on Scott Chandler initially. A solid receiver who is a decent outlet for Manuel, anything lower than “average” doesn’t seem right.
– Though we haven’t seen enough of him, we were impressed by Stefan Charles last season. He looked to be a sound run defender on just 55 snaps in that facet of play and should push Corbin Bryant for playing time in 2014.
See the updated depth chart: Buffalo Bills
– With the news coming out of OTA’s in Miami, we pushed Knowshon Moreno down the depth chart, with Lamar Miller jumping ahead of him. However, dropping Moreno down to “average” wasn’t based on this, just a view among us all this better reflects his career body of work.
– We debated if we were perhaps too generous to Charles Clay, but with 2013 being the first year where he was really used correctly, and him performing so well in that role, so we opted to keep him as a good starter.
– Comparing him with other left tackles in the league, we opted to drop Branden Albert from the “high quality” bracket. A very good pass blocker, his run blocking lets him down somewhat and keeps him from being a better player.
– We went back and forth on where to have Jimmy Wilson on the depth chart, with the belief that he is the top backup both at safety and in the slot. Based on what we have seen we think he’s a better player in the slot, but it remains to be seen if Miami will utilize him there in 2014.
– Both Ben and Neil made the case that Cameron Wake is still an elite player. While his 2013 season wasn’t as impressive as 2012, he was still our second-highest-graded 4-3 defensive end from a pass rushing stand point last year despite struggling with injuries throughout.
See the updated depth chart: Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
– Though he hasn’t played much so far in his career, we opted to up Sealver Siliga to “above average”. Getting his chance to play in the second half of 2013, he did very well indeed against the run and showed he is more than deserving of additional playing time.
– Similarly, we moved Ryan Allen up to “average” as a punter. Sure he hardly set the league on fire in 2013, but on looking at him in comparison to others, he was still good enough to have in the next bracket up.
– One player we did drop down, though, was James Anderson. He’s struggled in the past couple of seasons, with his last season in Chicago being really poor. His last good season came in 2011 and at this point it’s fair to question if he can ever get back to that level.
– During the debate we decided that Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson should be in the same bracket, so we discussed whether to move Dobson up or drop Thompkins down. On the balance of the full season we felt that below average was fair, though both definitely showed flashes in 2013 that indicated they can be better players. It wouldn’t surprise us at all if one or both make real strides this year.
See the updated depth chart: New England Patriots
New York Jets
– The decision was made to drop Michael Vick down to “below average” with his last good season coming in 2011. Since then there have been far too many poor performances to class him as “average” at this stage.
– A similar decision was made with regards to Bilal Powell, who has failed to do much beyond take whatever the offensive line has given him in his time in New York so far.
– One player we felt we were a little too harsh on initially was fullback Tommy Bohanon. A rookie in 2013, he had a few bad games as opposed to being consistently bad all year.
– We also bumped Nick Folk up to high quality, where he should have been all along, after a very good year as a kicker in 2013, missing just three field goals all season. Our apologies to him.
See the updated depth chart: New York Jets
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon