Neil’s NFL Daily: July 12, 2013

Neil Hornsby today dissects the expected line-ups for two intriguing teams - the Patriots and Saints.

| 4 years ago

Neil’s NFL Daily: July 12, 2013

This time next week, if I continue on my current two-a-day schedule, we’ll have only the Tennessee and Washington starting line-ups left to grade, so I think we’ll push ahead and do both the New York teams over this coming weekend. That will leave the following weekend free to make any changes required (remove any other Patriot players doing ridiculous things etc.) and consult with the rest of the PFF team to make sure we have everything in order.

Then, on Monday 22nd, I’ll publish a summary and we can have a bit of fun on Twitter by voting for the best line-up, worst snub etc. and give out a couple of free subscriptions as prizes. Don’t let that stop you buying one of these treasured possessions by the way, as we’ll simply extend what you have for another year if you are already a proud owner.

Anyway, having already insulted New England fans I face their wrath again by covering off their team, together with the Saints, in today’s edition.

For those new to the series and wanting to catch up, you can find the other teams covered to date with this handy set of links.

Charts by team:



Friday, July 12th

New England Patriots (Click to enlarge)


— Once you take his work as a receiver in to account, it’s possible to look at Ridley and say he’s only above average. That said, if you run only 206 pass routes and are targeted just 13 times maybe it’s not all you. As a pure runner he’s high quality, and that’s how I’ve gone.

— Jenkins is still running with the ones and that’s not good news for Tom Brady. One of the rookies needs to come through, because at the moment Amendola (who would be high quality but for constant injuries) is their only legitimate threat.

— Some may scoff at the McCourty grade, but this is a player who was legitimately All-Pro at two positions as he switched all year between corner and safety. His lowest grade last season on his way to a +22.7? A -0.1, in among 10 green games.

— I fully expect Chandler Jones and Donta Hightower to improve in 2013, but Jones ran out of steam last year (before his injury) and Hightower took a while to find his feet. Let’s not over-grade based on potential.


New Orleans Saints (Click to enlarge)



— No team has a bigger dichotomy between offense and defense, and Rob Ryan needs to work wonders to make his group competitive. The issue in New Orleans is that they have a history of staying loyal to players on the downside of their careers for too long. How long did Scott Shanle hang around before he was replaced? Will Smith was once a fine player, but with his pass rush skills in deep decline they want to make him a stand-up OLB. Vilma was run out of New York because he was bullied by linemen in the 3-4, but with Hawthorne available he’s still a starter. As for the two safeties, they combined to miss a higher percentage of tackles than every starting combination other than the Titans, and allowed over 1,000 yards into their coverage.

— The positive news is that both Lewis, at corner, and Jordan (who looks well suited to his new role) have the potential to improve significantly. Also, with Kenny Vaccaro, Junior Gallete and the aforementioned Hawthorne, the Saints do have players who could make immediate upgrades.

— On offense the biggest question mark is at left tackle. Brown has had opportunities to succeed in the past but this will be his last. Can he take it?


Other editions of Neil’s NFL Daily can be found HERE


Follow Neil on Twitter: @PFF_Neil


| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • JaTerrance Dwayne Young

    Mankins not an Elite guard??

    • PFF_Neil

      Here’s the deal. In the last three years this is what he’s done:

      2010 – Played at an elite level but for only half a season

      2011 – Played all year but only at a slightly above average level.

      2012 – Was poor for the first quarter of the year, got injured, came back and played the last third of the season at an elite level.

      That’s why I only put high quality.

      • JaTerrance Dwayne Young

        Okay I see your logic now

  • CountMahdrof

    Graham only high quality (never misses games) while Gronkowski is blue-chip (injury prone)?

    • DKC

      I think they both should be elite. But Gronk isn’t injury prone. Yet, anyways.

      13 more TDs in 3 years, 2 yards more per catch and the best blocking TE in the game may be the differences.

      • Jacob McAllister

        Now hang on there partner, you see, Gronk is MILES more injury prone than Graham. Gronk has had injury problems with his back, forearm, dating back to his days playing in high school. Now his previous injuries are catching up with him. Also, in the stats department Drew Brees I believe spreads the ball around more than Tom Brady. Brady would focus on his two tight ends (the other tight end which is now incarcerated) and Wes Welker, leading to them having the good lookin stats. Drew Brees spreads the ball to halfbacks like Sproles and Thomas, to Graham, Colston, Moore, Morgan, the now departed second tight end David Thomas (being replaced by the better Benjamin Watson) and even the fullback Collins. In the Saints offense, the rock is thrown all over the place, while they Patriots mainly focus on key players in their system.

        • Abouthat

          That is entirely false (about spreading the ball). Career numbers: 328 targets for JG, 263 for Gronk, yet in catches JG only leads 215 to 187, yards are almost identical, Gronk leads TDs 38 to 25, and Gronk has over 200 yards more YAC

    • TheVolcanoKid

      Most likely due to his lack of blocking ability. He’s great in the passing game, no question about that.

    • Richard Light

      Unlike TV commentators and casual fans, PFF cares about blocking when evaluating tight ends. Graham has a long way to go in that department, while Gronk is arguably one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL.

      • CountMahdrof

        Of course blocking is important, and I’m not arguing that Gronk isn’t blue-chip – when playing. However one-dimensional Graham is infinitely more valuable than the better rounded Gronk on the sidelines. And Gronk has spent a LOT of time on the sidelines throughout his football career (including HS and college).

  • yy212

    …still can’t quite see the elite quality for McCourty. If he played HQ at 2 positions, how does that make him elite at one of them?

    give him a HQ grade, a pat on the back, and have done with it!

  • Josh Coryell

    Neil, I’m loving these articles. They are thought provoking and very entertaining. I definitely agree with McCourty being a blue chipper.

    • Jacob McAllister

      I definitely don’t agree with it, I’m not an avid Patriot follower but if I haven’t heard vast amounts of high praise for a player I don’t consider them elite. McCourty was moved to safety for a reason, he wasn’t that effective at corner

      • Josh Coryell

        Finishing second in the voting for Defensive Rookie of the Year is pretty high praise. Yes, his sophomore year was down, but as we found out this year, he had zero safety help over the top.

      • WitnessKipnis

        “if I haven’t heard vast amounts of high praise for a player I don’t consider them elite. ”

        So you’re admitting that you base your opinion of a player based solely off of the media’s(often wrong) opinion of them? That’s an odd strategy my friend. McCourty was very good at corner and was moved because NE had more effective corners than they did safeties. He was rookie of the year at CB. Who do you consider to be better than McCourty at safety?

  • JaTerrance Dwayne Young

    what would have been Spikes and Hernandez grades Neil??

    • PFF_Neil

      Good question,

      I’m a huge Spikes fan but he is very one dimensional due to his issues in coverage (he also had problems with penalties LY) so probably A.Avg.

      As for Hernandez, not a blocker and his receiving didn’t fully compensate so the same as Spikes I think.

  • Tom Kislingbury

    Are the level/ratings normalised with this Neil? Seems we’re seeing loads of above averages and not that many below unless all of the teams coming are rubbish. This could just be my impression of course…

    • PFF_Neil

      Don’t forget these are the starting line-ups so you aren’t seeing many of the lower graded players on the rosters.

  • JaTerrance Dwayne Young

    What about Dennard??

  • joof

    Is jake Ballard their 2nd TE? It seems like they have some depth issues at TE for the first time in a long time.

    How close is tavon Wilson to cracking the lineup? Im thinking he may be their dime back?

    PS These articles are awesome. I love the site and am glad I got the subscription last year. I cant post under my username for some reason.

  • emerald city blues

    I love the format, but the Saints formation is hard to accept without Sproles in there.

    • Jacob McAllister

      Sproles is an awesome back for pass plays, but run plays Thomas is a beast. Thomas is very good at screen plays as well. As for Ingram, I hope he starts looking like the first round pick he is some day.

  • Frazier

    I would place Will Smith, Vilma, and Jenkins at below average or average. Vilma was productive, Jenkins is very talented coming into his third year (just hasn’t shown production), and Smith can still gap stop and pull a double team on the pass rush.

    • WitnessKipnis

      Jenkins is entering year 4, how long must one wait for production? Vilma is merely an average 4-3 MLB and in a 3-4 is going to be a disaster, as shown before when he was still in his prime and was traded because he was so out of place in a 3-4. Smith? Ehhhh, same thing. He was already declining and now is going to be an old and slow linebacker for the first time in his life. An old 280 lb OLB dropping into coverage? Yikes,

  • Abouthat

    Numbers problem again. There are six high-quality Patriots and five above-average, not the other way around.

    • PFF_Neil

      I’ve made the amendments on the spreadsheet and it’ll be rectified on Monday

  • Abouthat

    And Tommy Kelly is only average? I thought he would be Above Average. Can you explain?

    • PFF_Neil

      His play has declined year on year to the point that in 2012 we actually graded him below average. However, much of that was due to the ridiculous amount of penalties he gives up. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and said playing for the Patriots this would probably be sorted out.

    • WitnessKipnis

      Because it’s not 2005 anymore?

      • Abouthat

        This site is the one that showed me Kelly’s play, and since it started in 08, obviously 05 was not the last time he played well. Plus, some people use the site’s comments section for thoughtful analysis and questions; can’t you let us and be civil?

  • tallman

    How is gronk elite, and graham is not? That is stupid

  • diamond

    Can you tell me Why Wilfork is just HQ, he is considered to be the best DT in the game by the players and by the analysts.

    • pbskids4000

      No he’s not. He used to be considered the best.

  • Jack Casey

    Are you not pegging Dennard as a starter because of his recent arrest? What grade would he have received? And is Arrington being graded on his overall performance last year, or as just as when he was a nickel back (His projected role)?

    • PFF_Neil

      Correct, I’m making the assumption (although maybe it’s premature) Dennard won’t see a lot of the field. He’s be above average if graded.

      RE: Arrington, I think I’d grade him the same way under both definitions. Just discussing him with resident PFF secondary expert Sam Monson for this article be both saw him as the archetypal average CB.

      • Jack Casey

        Thank you for taking the time to respond. Really enjoying this series.

        • PFF_Neil

          You’re very welcome. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Jacob McAllister

    Alright I have 3 grievances with the Saints listings. 1. Jimmy Graham is as much of an elite player as Gronkowski if not more. 2. Give Curtis Lofton some love, he and Cameron Jordan were the lone bright sides of the Saints defense last year. 3. This isn’t a problem with your list, I’m just saying by god ROB RYAN if you ever read this, TAKE WILL SMITH OFF OF OLB. He is a 280 pound, 6’3 defensive end! YOu think he can move around to cover the outside or a tight end standing up at LB? My god! Put in Hawthorne or find someone in Free Agency who is better suited for the position for gawd’s sake.

    • Jacob McAllister

      It would be really awesome to hear from you Neil, I like what your doing grading the starters this way. It would be cool to have a professional comment on my opinion

      • PFF_Neil

        1) The real difference between Gronkowski and Graham is the blocking element. Graham is an adequate blocker but Gronkowski is among the leagues best and one of the few who can still do the in-line stuff properly. This isn’t just an esoteric thing either; because of this factor he can be on the field in every package the Patriots run whereas Graham would be a liability (or a clear tip-off) in run heavy sets. [Gronk is a 90%+ snap player, JG is at 70%]

        2) Lofton disappointed me last year. He’s always had issues in coverage (which is why the Falcons with no options to replace him allowed him to leave) but coming forward he usually made a mark. In 2012 even that initially deserted him and although he made a load of tackles not enough were of the variety that mattered. The good news is that in the last quarter of the year he was beginning to get his mojo back and I am expecting a better season this year.

        • Jacob McAllister

          1) I think Graham is a serviceable blocker, that coupled with what I believe to be superior receiving skills makes him more of an asset than Gronk. Yes, Graham is coming off a down season, but he played through the season with wrist injuries which have now been surgically repaired, which could be a reason for his percent of plays that you mentioned, and on the other side Gronk’s injury history is resurfacing, he had back and shoulder problems while he was at Arizona. You’re right that Gronk is a better run blocker, but overall I like Graham better right now which I think warrants elite status.
          2) I’ll admit that Lofton is a let down when it comes to coverage, but Safeties can sometiems compensate if a linebacker is inept at coverage, Harper is not capable of that, making Lofton’s coverage problems stick out more. I’m excited about Lofton this year just like you, which is why I think he should be listed above average at least. That dismal defense made him look alot worse than he is, he’s a good middle backer.

          • Abouthat

            Superior receiving skills? At best it’s a draw. When they both had their best seasons, Gronk had 9 less catches on 25 fewer targets, a handful more yards, 17 touchdowns to Jimmy’s 11, and did significantly more after the catch. Numbers don’t tell the whole story and that’s the point of PFF, but I can’t find any evidence to support Graham being a superior receiver.

          • LightsOut85

            Agreed, they may affect the passing game in different ways, but Gronkowski ends up giving equal or better production. He’s also been superior in DYAR/DVOA & WPA

          • Jacob McAllister

            You have some good points, but keep in mind the Patriots passing attack was built around the 2 tight ends and playing to their strengths The Saints offense spreads the ball around more. Graham I believe is the better athlete as well, the ex-basketball player moves pretty well, and he still has good size. Im looking for Graham to have another great season this year since he is almost fully recovered from surgery on his wrists, which plagued him last season and was why he had so many drops. Also, when we are talking about how good these tight ends are we need to think about when they will be on the field. Graham is going to be back to 100%, while Gronk will be lucky to play sparingly this season.

          • Abouthat

            Did you not see the part about targets? The Patriots player did not have the advantage of more targets. When grading two players, I don’t see the point of which offense spreads the ball around more in a general sense. I can only see the amount of targets for the individual players as relevant. I think saying “lucky to play sparingly” is a little exaggerated, but yes that is a valid point. One more season with lots of time missed due to injury would necesitate a downgrade (IMO), but I wouldn’t say it’s necesary at this point. While the numbers point to Gronkowski as superior, that wasn’t my point because numbers lie, hence this website. I only meant that they were very equal. Even if Graham is a better receiver (I personally don’t think so, but the case could be made), he is not better by so great of a margin as to make up for the cavernous separation between the two in run-blocking.

  • Derrick

    If I remember, you defined a blue-chipper as “one of top three or four players at their position”. Are there three or four TEs in the NFL that are better than Jimmy Graham?

  • Yurf

    Jimmy Graham is Elite, Curtis Lofton is High Quality, Jonathan Vilma is Average, Malcolm Jenkins is Average. Those are your problems

    • WitnessKipnis

      Why not show some effort and explain why you disagree? List some facts to back up your opinions.

  • LightsOut85

    I’m surprised NE was that high in 3WR%. I would have guessed, even with Gronk & Hernandez both being injured at different times, they used a lot of 2TE. (in 2011 I’d have to imagine that was the case).

  • NOLA_Wayne

    good assessment, but as your Saints example points out they have other options so why not grade the best players? Did not read all the teams but it seems a bit silly to grade the poorest choices and force them into the starting line-up. What’s the rationale? Going by OTA’s line-ups rather than game film? Wouldn’t a rational coach start his best players?