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 eighth and final division: the NFC West.
– At this stage in his career, we felt that “High Quality” was being a touch generous to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Yes, he was our 11th-highest-graded receiver last year, but when you break down his grade you’ll see that a large portion of that game from his work as a blocker. When looking purely at his grade as a receiver he was tied for 25th, so the drop to “Good Starter” seems fair.
– It looks like Bobbie Massie is winning the battle to be the team’s starting right tackle, a move we are big fans of. Massie struggled heavily in the first half of his rookie season in 2012, but in the second half of the year only two offensive tackles had better Pass Blocking Efficiency Ratings.
– With a -4.6 grade last year, and negative grades as a pass rusher and against the run, we opted to drop Darnell Dockett down to “Below Average”. 2011 was the last time he finished a season with a positive grade and, with the exception of a few big performances in the past two seasons, he’s been really poor.
See the updated depth chart: Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
– He hasn’t seen a huge snap count in his three seasons in the league, but running back Kendall Hunter has yet to finish a season with a grade below -0.9. That wasn’t low enough to justify a “Below Average” grade, so we moved him up.
– A big debate from the 49ers’ depth chart was whether or not to move defensive end Justin Smith up to “High Quality”. Sure, he wasn’t as impressive in 2013, but he did still produce a grade of +16.3 as a pass rusher and has a fantastic career to back that up. With that in mind, we opted to move him up.
– One of the debates to come from the comments section was how we could have Clay Matthews as “Elite” but not Aldon Smith. The difficult thing here was how much stock to put in the concerns that Smith could miss significant time again but, in the end, we decided to move him to “Elite” based on his high level of work on the field — a pass rushing grade of +21.4 or better every season he has been in the league.
See the updated depth chart: San Francisco 49ers
– The Seahawks were the one team in the series that we actually didn’t disagree with any of our original assessments, with the only change being adding Ricardo Lockette to the depth chart.
See the updated depth chart: Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams
– With a grade of –1.3 in five games last year, we felt that “Below Average” was too harsh to backup center Tim Barnes. That’s the most we’ve seen of him in his three-year career and he certainly didn’t look anything worse than “Average”.
– Similarly, we didn’t think Rodney McLeod was poor enough to be lower than “Below Average” after originally having him down as a “Poor Starter”. A grade of -3.1 in coverage isn’t terrible, and -2.6 of that came in his first two starts.
See the updated depth chart: St Louis Rams
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon