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 NFC East.
– The first thing we asked ourselves was if we had really seen enough of both Joseph Randle and Gavin Escobar to truly judge them. With 121 and 207 snaps, respectively, we decided that we hadn’t yet, so opted to move both to the “Not Enough Information” category.
– We did initially have fullback Tyler Clutts as someone we didn’t have enough information on, but when you look back to 2011 you find a player who graded at -19.8 on just 312 snaps. That would be low enough for us to have him rated as a “Poor Starter”, but his play in limited work in the past two seasons was enough for us to give him the slight bump up to “Below Average”.
– One player we added to the roster was new interior lineman Uche Nwaneri. This was a good pick-up as started every game in Jacksonville a year ago and should at least provide some solid depth if not push for playing time in Dallas in 2014. Better as a pass blocker (+6.6) than a run blocker (-7.9) last year, he balances out as an average player.
See the updated depth chart: Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
– On offense we were a little generous to full back John Conner initially. That’s not to say his play wasn’t impressive last year, but looking at his career body of work we found a player whose grade has alternated between having a positive and a negative every season since he’s been in the league. Though it’s not the most exciting battle for many, it will be interesting to see who claims the starting job in New York this year, with Henry Hynoski just as capable as Conner.
– We were impressed by Rashad Jennings’ work in Oakland in 2013, but to call him Above Average would have been ignoring a poor 2012 season. Three fumbles from 101 carries is concerning enough and even when you look at his 2013 there are questions to be asked about him ability as a three-down back, as he allowed 12 total pressures in Oakland last year, all in the second half of the season.
– A player we perhaps gave too much consideration to based his previous work was defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. His grade as a pass rusher has deteriorated in recent years, falling to +3.0 in 2013, and he hasn’t graded positively against the run since 2008. For now we have him as “Average”, but a further slip in play this season would only see him fall further.
– We discussed whether or not Antrel Rolle was deserving of being a “High Quality Starter”, and it’s something that would have been warranted if his first half to 2013 had matched his superior second. However, last season was the first since 2007 to see him finish the year with a positive grade in coverage, so let’s wait to see how he starts this season.
See the updated depth chart: New York Giants
– On offense the biggest changes we made were at receiver, responding to reports of Brad Smith having the early lead to be the team’s slot receiver out of OTA’s. We also opted to drop Riley Cooper down to “Average” which fits better with how he graded last year (+0.6). He had a strong middle of the season but a poor start and a slow finish which kept him from being any higher at this stage.
– After moving New England’s Ryan Allen up to average yesterday, we decided to do the exact same with Donnie Jones today. He had a similar year to Allen and there was just +0.1 of a difference in how they graded so it was the sensible thing to do.
– In the secondary we moved Cary Williams up to “Average” which is probably a fair move considering his up and down play. He finished last season with a grade of -4.1, but had five games with a grade of +1.8 or higher, and seven games with a grade of -1.8 or lower.
– Another mover in the secondary was new signing Malcolm Jenkins, who we dropped down to below average. The debate here was if his job will be any easier in Philadelphia than it was in New Orleans, but the fact that he hasn’t finished a season with a positive grade in coverage since 2010 made this a relatively easy decision for us.
– The final change for the Eagles came in the form of dropping Fletcher Cox down to “Good Starter”. This was due to a disappointing second half to 2013 for the defensive lineman. Through the first nine weeks of the season he had a grade of +14.4, but from Week 10 onwards that fell to -8.8. Can he sustain the high level of play we saw early last year over a full season in 2014?
See the updated depth chart: Philadelphia Eagles
– After the feedback we received in the comment section, we did indeed switch the positions for safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo.
– Another change we made in the secondary was upping safety Ryan Clark to light green. His grade dropped to -1.3 in 2013, but the former Pittsburgh Steeler has shown himself to be good against the run throughout his career so far and almost always does well in coverage..
– We did debate dropping Ryan Kerrigan down to “Average”, with a negative grade against the run every year since he’s been in the league driving the debate. Ultimately, though, we decided that he has been a consistently good pass rusher and that was enough to keep him where he is.
See the updated depth chart: Washington Redskins
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon