Neil’s NFL Daily: July 17, 2013

Neil Hornsby today confronts two 2013 starting line-ups of very different projected talent levels - the Chargers and the 49ers.

| 4 years ago

Neil’s NFL Daily: July 17, 2013

This time next week I’ll be over the Atlantic on my way to Denver to begin my camp tour of 2013 (courtesy of the ever gracious Peter King). I’ll give you more details of that in next Wednesday’s edition of the NFL Daily, but for now let’s concentrate on the matter in hand — completing my series grading the NFL’s likely 2013 starting line-ups. Alphabetical order brings us today to one of the weaker groups we’ve graded to date (San Diego), and undoubtedly the strongest (San Francisco).

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:



Wednesday, July 17th

San Diego Chargers (Click to enlarge)


— For a team that struggled hugely with their offensive line last year, I’m not sure how much of an upgrade they’ve really made. Starks rated 45 out of 52 eligible tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency, Rinehart (although I like him more than most) is coming back off injury, and Clary, after failing as a tackle, is now moving to guard.

— Possibly the most important player on the Chargers’ offense isn’t even on this chart. The decline in performance by Rivers coincided exactly with the loss of Darren Sproles, who previously gave his QB a legitimate dump-off option he hasn’t had since. The pick-up of Danny Woodhead in free agency was a clear sign the coaches wanted Rivers to have that facility again so maybe, just maybe, this is the year the QB starts to turn a corner.

— Many of the PFF team like Vincent Brown and have a view he’ll be very good, but projecting things we haven’t seen isn’t what we do, so for now he’s ‘average’ with the potential for so much more.

— I’m hearing that Gilchrist will play strong safety in base but still play over the slot in nickel. It’s a peculiar role, the closest analogy of which came when Antrel Rolle did something similar for the Giants. That usually didn’t end well, but maybe the slot corner to safety as opposed to safety to slot corner will have better results.


San Francisco 49ers (Click to enlarge)



— Only two players marked as average (and both of those with the potential to play better), says a lot about the job the 49er front office has done. It will be interesting to compare this to the Seahawks’ roster, which I’ll be completing tomorrow.

— If I was enforcing a quota system on elite players (e.g. absolute Top 3 at each position) then Bowman can count himself unlucky he had his worst year in 2012. After Willis he may well still be the next best ILB, but the drop is significant and in the end I decided we’d stay with Willis as the only blue-chipper at that position for now.

— Justin Smith not elite? As one of his biggest advocates even I’m now starting to believe the great man is on the downside of his career. Last year his run defense remained strong, but his Pass Rushing Productivity almost halved (dropped from 9.1 to 5.0).


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

    What would have been Crabtree rating???…Boldin not HQ??

    • PFF_Neil

      Probably HQ but he was elite down the stretch for sure.

  • Robin

    Wasn’t Tolbert a “legitimate dump-off option” a couple of years ago?

    • PFF_Neil

      That’s not quite what I meant. It’s one thing to dump a ball off – it’s another to believe it will have a positive effect. With Sproles he could turn a -5 throw into a 70 yard TD and Woodhead has that uncanny knack of picking up a first down. He was number two in the NFL (after Joique Bell) in terms of the % of receptions he turned into first downs and number one on third/fourth down.

      • Jack Casey

        I agree 100% on Woodhead. I think he can be a weapon if used right. There were a bunch of times last year when Brady threw him the ball seemingly on a check down and Woody found a way to get to the sticks on third and long. He ran like a 4.33 coming out of school and he played WR for the Jets so he has great hands/route running ability for a HB.. He also very good as a rusher.. I remember games last year (vs SF comes to mind) where Ridley/Vereen weren’t getting much done so they turned to Woody and he started that 4 td comeback. He is so quick to the hole and so short he gets lost behind offensive lineman and defenders seemingly cant track him and he usually gets positive yards on every play. He could have a big impact in SD especially if R Matthews continues to be fragile.

  • Jesse

    A bunch of these breakdowns have included designations based on projection, so I have to call BS on this line:
    “but projecting things we haven’t seen isn’t what we do, so for now he’s ‘average’”
    Also, last year’s 3rd round pick is the favorite to start at SS once he’s healthy- which he ought to be. Gilchrist at safety in the base set is a contingency.

    • PFF_Neil

      The key words were “haven’t seen”. If you can find another projection I’ve made not based on previously seen NFL performance then I apologize but I think you’ll find every other “projection” is around say an injured player and how he’ll come back or a guy who had a blip etc.

      • Jesse

        Isn’t that exactly what you’ve done with every non-rookie who’s projected to start for the first time? But I didn’t mean that as an indictment. It’s fair to grade him average until he shows out- but it does seem to me that projection is, by necessity, an important part of this exercise. You guys do good work and it’s telling that you’re willing to converse with readers in the comments. I think the overall work here on the Chargers is pretty good, allowing that many of these players stand a realistic chance to outplay their grades.

        • PFF_Neil

          In part yes but I’m not doing a very good job of explaining the difference I’m afraid. :-(

          What I’m saying is that where we’ve made a projection in other cases they were based on a trend in the grades. For example a player may have started the season poorly but then come on so the projection is based on extrapolation of that trend. I can explain exactly why I feel that way and give play by play examples.

          With Brown, we just have a “gut feel” he’ll be better. He hasn’t graded that well and I simply couldn’t substantiate a higher grade if questioned. I have no real evidence and that’s not what we do at PFF.

          Does that make sense?

          • Jesse

            Yes it does. Thank you.
            If you have a moment, could you elaborate on the Cam Thomas grade? He seemed to take a small step backwards to me from 2011 to 2012, and I’m not too sure what to expect out of him as a starter.

          • PFF_Neil

            In 2011 he looked like a very balanced,consistent player; a guy would could hold up against the run but also get pressure. In 2012, playing a very similar number of snaps, his pass rush improved slightly but his run D declined (not exactly what we’d want to see from an NT/3-4 end).
            He’s graded slightly positively both years but not enough to be considered above average.

          • Jesse

            Appreciate the insight.

    • LightsOut85

      Where have you read this? (officially from a team source). Everything I’ve read said they like Gilchrist at SS, that it’s his natural position.

  • Joey Gardner

    I’m surprised about the Aldon Smith grade…not elite because he relies on Justin Smith and is a one-trick pony?

    • PFF_Neil

      He’s a great player and deserves recognition but his sack numbers have built up slightly too much hype unfortunately. Not as productive as he could have been down the stretch last year

      • Joey Gardner

        That’s what I thought. I’m a Broncos fan, so I get a little satisfaction out of hearing that. I think the 49ers are the quintessence of a good team defense stacked with good players who work together but only one true star.

  • dude carson

    I agree that Brown (SD) will be above average next year. If this comes true, the Bolts may have a good WR group. Gates age is a concern, but they have 3 good starters with no true #1; however, they can run and cut, should be fun to watch.

    • LightsOut85

      If he remains healthy & decreases his drop-% a little, Alexander can be a true #1.

  • Mister

    Did Liuget not prove to be High quality last year? He took a huge step, was constantly the first player off the ball and you guys have him rated as the 8th best 3-4 DE. Was this because he didn’t finish well?

    • PFF_Neil

      He’s a good, balanced (in that he plays both run and pass well) player who’s on the rise and I think he’ll achieve that level next year. However the gap between the 6th and 7th 3-4 DE was huge and I felt too big to bridge with a HQ rating without having seen anything better in other years.

  • lewk

    Looking at these charts, it seems to indicate that the 49ers are not just better, but way better than any other team graded so far. While I believe that they are the best team in the NFL, the disparity between them and other high quality teams seems too high.

    Do you think the 49ers are really in a league of their own? Or does having an elite QB like Brady, Manning, or Rodgers really allow for a glut of average or worse teammates that a quarterback that is merely above average couldn’t get away with?

    • PFF_Neil

      One of the problems with looking at quality of starting personnel is that it ignores other factors:

      1) You already mentioned the QB has a significantly disproportionate impact and I’d certainly rather have any of those guys mentioned the Kaepernick (and a few others as well).
      2) Quality of coaching. In both the last two Super Bowls I feel the team with the best personnel group lost. I felt the Patriots were out-coached by the Giants and the 49ers by the Ravens.
      3) Schedule. The Broncos went into the 2011 playoffs “hot” but because they’d played a lot of sub-optimal teams they looked underdone when they came up against somebody willing to give them a fight.

  • srcnsd

    Starks was blocking for Big Ben, who holds on to the ball for far too long (averaged a half second longer per time to sack than Rivers) And there is absolutely no way that he is not an upgrade over the UDFA that started at LT last year.

  • Barry Winter

    As a Raiders fan, I’m a little miffed that the 49ers got to have their fullback listed, but the Raiders didn’t. How would you guys have rated him?

    • Jack Casey

      That’s because Oakland played the majority of their snaps in 11 personnel (3wr-1te-1rb) Reece is a very good overall fullback who can lead block, run the ball well, catch out of the backfield (and even line up as WR) So I’m gonna guess he is probably above average. Just taking a guess.

    • PFF_Neil

      Yes Reece is certainly a versatile weapon but his greatest strength is also ironically somewhat of a weakness too. He’s good at virtually everything he does from lead blocking to running to receiving but it was Jimmy Johnson that once said “the enemy of great is good” (or words to that effect). The problem is that he’s not outstanding in any particular facet of play and while I like him a lot, I’d still have to say he’s “above average”.

  • Ian Douglas

    I’m curious to know what Crabtree would have been rated and what the rankings are for any of the other receivers such as Manningham and Williams with only Boldin listed.

    • Russ

      I think this is a good point, will the niners really only play one WR? or will VD really move out as a WR, and how would he rank as a WR?

  • Jack Casey

    Whats scary is that the 49ers only have two players rated less than above average, and I think C Rogers and D Whitner are both above average.. So that just shows how ridiculously talented this roster is when they are clearly ranked the best across the board as it is and I feel like some guys could be even higher…

    I love this series it’s such a great read.. I’m just a little curious on how players get the “elite” tag.. Is it for example top 5 or top ten at the position, or just “you know it when you see it?”. For example I think N Bowman was definitely a top 5 ILB at worst. So I would consider him elite. And I feel the top 5 interior lineman in the NFL are JJ Watt, H Ngata, V Wilfork, G Atkins and J Smith (In no particular order) So if it we were going by top 5 by position (Not saying that’s how you are doing it) Then I would say they both were elite. I could probably say the same about V. Davis.. Think with a full season with Kaep he will look even better… I am a Patriots fan but have to admit the 49ers are absolutely stacked.. And I think Nnamdi can still play press man coverage at a high level.

    Keep up the great work.

    • Jack Casey

      Sorry I just read your notes under the 49ers and saw much of what I just commented on already touched upon. I agree J Smith probably won’t play as well this upcoming season as he has at his optimum levels… I personally would put Bowman as elite among ILBS along with D Johnson, B Cushing, Sean Lee. Although technically J Mayo is listed as a 4-3 OLB I consider him an ILB as he can/will move inside when playing either 4-3 or 3-4. I understand what you are saying, though.. It’s pretty much Patrick Willis then everyone else.

  • Mark

    Justin Smith at just “High Quality”? Really? This is pretty stupid. Justin Smith is one of the best 15 players in the NFL. Aldon Smith is also another player that deserves to be on the blue chip level.

    • Mark

      The list is pretty good, just saying that Justin Smith is way underrated on this list. But nice list overall though, props to you and the rest of PFF for making suck great content. Didn’t really mean to insult you or anything.

  • NOLA_Wayne

    TB trades Eric Wright to SF for draft pick, You grade Wright as average, do you think this improves the 49ers secondary? Could Rogers be released?

  • matilack

    I’m sorry but to call Rivers “average” is stupid, even with the worst O-line in the league and no running game the guy is almost automatic for 28TDs and 4000 yards. He’s above average at WORST, and a legit blue chipper when he has time to throw.

  • matilack

    Chargers that need upgraded at least one color…
    Liuget (no question here, he’s boarder line blue chip)
    Starks (at least average)

    Mathews (average to below, although he does have 1 pro bowl to his name)