Neil’s NFL Daily: July 2, 2013

Neil Hornsby steps up with the next installment of his analysis of each team's starting 22, with a look at the Ravens and Bills.

| 4 years ago

Neil’s NFL Daily: July 2, 2013

While the overall response to my latest series  —  “Strength of Starting Units” — was very good, we had a few excellent pieces of feedback which I’ve taken on board in today’s edition (for those who are interested in a copy, paste, and keep deal, I’ve also had yesterday’s Cardinals and Falcons charts reconfigured to match — thanks to resident graphics guru Rick Drummond for his help in all this).

One of the key changes was the definition of the top rated players — I’ve now changed these to read “Elite (Blue Chip)” as the purpose was to highlight the best three to four players at each position, not to say guys rated “High Quality” couldn’t be “Difference Makers”.

Also (although embarrassingly Khaled did warn me in advance), I previously provided a default grade for a rookie which is clearly wrong. I spend enough time berating others for guessing about players so I have to wear the hypocrite t-shirt today. This has now been amended to simply show them as rookies and leave them unrated.

Anyway, enough preambles and on with the next two teams.


Tuesday, July 2nd

Baltimore Ravens (Click to enlarge)


— What to do with Joe Flacco? A player who was so average in the regular season he rated below Carson Palmer and Matthew Stafford, but was brilliant when it mattered. In the end I said, “he turns a corner”, and went “High Quality”.

— Dennis Pitta’s sub-optimal blocking, and hence reduced versatility, kept him to “Above Average”.

— Dumervil hasn’t played really well for a few years now and could go either way. If he exceeds this level we are looking at a very good defensive line.


Buffalo Bills (Click to enlarge)


— I could have gone blue for Spiller but I’d like to see him running more often out of a conventional offense first.

— I was tempted to consider Kolb as average after a good cameo performance in the face of real adversity last year. However, his track record really doesn’t warrant that just yet.

— Mario Williams was given a bit of a mulligan here as (unlike Kolb) his non-2012 form was good.


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.

  • Ed

    Oher is at worst an average RT. He graded out poorly at LT last year, which he has done consistently since being drafted, but at RT he typically grades better than average.

    McKinnie is an above average LT. Look at what his presence did for our OL against elite DLs throughout last years playoffs. Sustainment of that play is his only problem.

    Gradkowski is basically a rookie at C, after never really seeing much of the field last year. I don’t see how you can reliably rate him out at all. And the fellow he’s battling for the starting job, Shipley, whom we traded for from Indy, graded out as elite last season in his limited time.

    I’d say Doss is poor, and Jones is average on offense.

    And how is Rice not elite? He’s only been a top 5 yards from scrimmage guy for the last 5 years running.

    On defense my only qualm would be Smith. He hasn’t shown a lot, but he also hasn’t been healthy either. I am good with the grade, but I think he certainly has the ability to rate out higher.

    Aside from that, I think Suggs could be elite. He’s two years removed from DPOY honors, and played with 2/4 appendages last season. I think he should get a mulligan for last year.

  • Max

    I think you could see many changes to this lineup. particularly in the “poor” categories with rookies. EJ Manuel may even start of Kolb. Its also interesting to see Chris Hairston as Above Average and Wood as Average. As a Bills fan i would have switched the ratings for Wood and Hairston, however i know these are grade based.

    • Neil Hornsby

      Wood is an interesting one – He’s never once played a full season and has only really done well when pass protecting for Fitzpatrick (hardly the most difficult job in the world). His run-blocking was consistently poor last year and honestly I think his reputation (like many OL first rounders) is inflated. That said, in hindsight, I think I was probably wrong to give Hairston more than a “yellow” – the evidence was flimsy and I’ll redress that soon.

  • Anthony

    Ray Rice & maybe Suggs not elite? Child please!

  • knightindentedarmor

    Neil: I know you chose to go with your projection of the Bills’ nickel defense, but there are a couple of things that I think that you missed.

    First, the Bills will be employing a base 3-4 defense where Kyle Williams will be a DE, not a DT, and Mario Williams will be be “Jack” LB. That means that Mario Williams could be lined up anywhere across the front rather than in a static DE position, even in the nickel lineup.

    Bradham will be the “Will” LB, but will play inside, as opposed to in the traditional WLB spot in a 4-3. Depending on how Bradham and Alonso play in coverage in training camp and the preseason, one or both could be replaced in nickel packages by either Bryan Scott, a hybrid LB/SS, who played a lot in nickel packages last season, or Marcus Dowtin, a LB who played briefly for the Jets last season, who Mike Pettine has said can play “inside, outside or safety”. While Alonso is supposed to be good in coverage and will see a lot of playing time, probably even in some nickel situations, he is still a rookie and, with more experienced options available, Pettine may opt to use Scott or Dowtin ahead of him in the nickel package…at least initially, if not in all situations.

    Given that Mark Anderson is coming off of an injury and missed time in the OTAs and minicamp, he is by no means a lock for a starting job. Indeed, Manny Lawson is likely to start at the “Sam” position in the base defense and Jerry Hughes was acquired to compete with Anderson as the pass rushing “Sam”. With Alex Carrington coming on strong at the end of last season and having a strong showing in OTAs and minicamp, the front line in nickel situations could well end up being Carrington-Dareus-Kyle Williams, with Mario Williams lining up at the “Jack” (but placed anywhere across the front–similar to how the NY Giants use Justin Tuck). Rather than being a regular in the nickel package, Anderson could end up being a back-up to Mario Williams and Hughes.

    Finally, Justin Rogers could well have a hard time finding the field, let alone being a regular in the nickel package. Mike Pettine often used 3 safeties while with the Jets. With Aaron Williams moving from corner to safety and rookie Duke Williams working at both corner and safety in OTAs and minicamp, Pettine could opt to use three safeties instead of a nickel corner in some nickel situations. Additionally, Ron Brooks came on strong at the end of his rookie season last year and looks likely to replace Rogers as the # 3 CB, with the bigger Crezdon Butler backing up GIlmour and McKelvin on the outside. Besides which, rookie Nickel Robey made a huge impression in OTAs and minicamp playing in the slot, seeing some reps with the first team in nickel situations. Rogers will have to play better than he has thus far in his Bills career to hold off Brooks and Robey once the pads come on. Odds are that Rogers will likely end up being the “dime” CB rather than being a regular in the nickel package, with Brooks being the “nickel” CB and Robey pressing him hard for playing time (if not consigning him to the bench or unemployment).

    Given Mike Pettine’s penchant for using flexible players and packages, at this point, you might have been better served trying to predict the Bills starting base defense going into the regular season than who will line up in their nickel package.

    • PFF_Neil

      Thanks for all that. Truthfully I have no idea what the Bills will do and in part . In hindsight you could be right on the “just stick with base” view.

      The way the Jets chose to play D was in large part predicated by the talent at their disposal and although the areas of strength aren’t diametrically opposed to Buffalo there are real differences. Revis/Cromartie and the lack of any single individual pass rusher forced the Jets hands. The Bills may not have that type of ability at corner but they do have players who can get to the QB.

      I’m in Pittsford at the end of the month and it will be intriguing to see how they line up in 11 on 11. They have a lot of pieces to the jigsaw currently and we need to see at least a few in place to get any clear idea of the picture they want to create.

    • Bilal

      When Rex or pettine play nickel the defense switches to your standard 4 down lineman nickel defense. I wouldn’t expect to see Mario playing any other position besides rush lb (the term used in pettine’s scheme 34 scheme) and de in the four man fronts. He may occasionally rush the passer from a tackle spot but they are rarely going to have him dropping back in coverage.

      Technically, this nickel defense is probably the base defense especially when the bills play a passing team. The jets rarely ran their base 34 defense against the pats.

  • keithsmustache

    Neil, did you just call out Eric Wood as “average?” Granted, he gets hurt, but when healthy, he’s a beast. You have to give him an above-average rating at a minimum.

    • PFF_Neil

      I’m really not sure where that view of Wood comes from other than the fact he was a first rounder (who for some reason are always over-hyped if they start).

      He’s done a decent job in pass pro but given that was for Fitzpatrick and his quick release times it doesn’t say much.

      So let’s examine his work in the running game. Over the 47 games he’s played we graded him green in that regard 10 times (high of +3.1) and red 13 times (low of -2.9 twice).

      That’s not “beast” material in my book.

      • keithsmustache

        Neil, I watch every Bills game. The Bills have statistically one of the best running games (yards per carry) in the league especially when they run to the left side. But when Woods is in the line-up, it is noticeably better. I’m not discounting the stats, but I don’t see many defensive tackles winning their battles over Woods. Just don’t see it.

  • Stephen

    The Ravens had a serious case of the injury bug in the 2012-2013 season, finishing 10-6. Because of injury, the Ravens were carried by merely role players within their squad through countless close games. Additionally, they had a constant change in combinations of starting offensive lines throughout the season. Only when the playoffs came around did the Ravens’ true greatness show as their players slowly recovered from injury at the right time. Only excellent coaching by John Harbaugh, not to mention legendary leadership and motivation from Ray Lewis, could have lead such a dilapidated unit to win Super Bowl XLVII.

    I will make my own projected starting lineup, and rate the players on how I believe they will perform in the 2013-2014 season. I will use evidence from players careers and the 2012-2013 season to make these projections.

    2013-2014 Season Projections:
    QB Joe Flacco: Elite. His 6’6 frame, elite throwing power/accuracy, and his incredibly cool/clutch demeanor- not to mention his 2012-13 playoff performance of 11 TDs, 0 int, and a Super Bowl MVP- certainly peg him as a top 5 QB. Only Rodgers, Brees, Brady, and Peyton rate above him.

    RB Ray Rice: High Quality. The once elite RB shows signs of decline as defenses make him a priority. With the average lifespan of RBs working against the 6th year RB, the 2nd year backup Bernard Pierce’s above average ability will take plenty of carries away from Rice. However, an elite 2 headed monster this RB unit will be.

    FB Kyle Juszczyk: Above Average. Look for this rookie to not only block well but use his good hands to play somewhat of an H-back role. The fact that HOF GM Ozzie Newsome released All-Pro FB Vonta Leach shows quite the confidence in “Juice”.

    WR1 Torrey Smith: High Quality. Not necessarily a top 10 receiver after only 2 years in the league, but very close to it. Along with Flacco, this guy is the complete package at his position, and clutch. Elite deep ball threat and elite speed.

    WR2 Jacoby Jones: Above Average. Elite speed and elite returning ability. Deep ball playmaking threat.

    WR3 Deonte Thompson: Average. Great speed and strength. With lack of depth on the Ravens receiving core, the young Thompson has a chance to make some plays with Tandon Doss falling on the depth chart.

    TE1 Dennis Pitta: High Quality. Excellent hands, fluid route running, and has great chemistry with Flacco. With Boldin gone, Pitta will excel and take over the reliable possession receiver role.

    TE2 Ed Dickson: Above Average. Great run blocker. Can release and become a large target for Flacco in play action.

    LT Bryant McKinnie: Above Average. The 6’8 360lbs All-Pro LT has excellently protected Flacco by neutralizing some of the leagues best pass rushers for the past 2 years. In the Super Bowl winning 2012-13 season he did not start until the playoffs. During the regular season, the team went 10-6, Flacco was sacked 2.2 times per game, threw 10 int and fumbled 9 times. In the playoffs with McKinnie inserted into the starting lineup, the team went 4-0, Flacco was sacked 1.5 times per game, threw 0 int and fumbled once. McKinnie has reportedly lost well over 50 lbs since he was released by the Vikings in 2010.

    LG Kelechi Osemele: Above Average. The 6’5 330lbs 2nd rd pick, sophomore G mulls over defenders when run blocking and is a brick wall when pass blocking.

    C Gino Gradkowski: Average. Trained by the brilliant Harvard grad Matt Birk, The smart young player should step in seamlessly to snap to Flacco.

    RG Marshal Yanda: Elite. 2x All-Pro blue collar, gritty G has established himself as one of the best in the NFL.

    RT Michael Oher: Above Average. Not the nimblest T out there, but an excellent downhill run blocker

    FS Michael Huff: Above Average. The former Raider was the 7th pick in the 2006 draft. The veteran is fast, great in coverage, and is a great tackler. With the aging Ed Reed gone, Huff will be just as good in coverage and will be an upgrade in tackling from what Reed produced in 2012-13.

    SS Matt Elam: Above Average. This exciting rookie’s pursuit to the ball and tackling ability models after Ravens’ rival Troy Polamalu. The 1st rd pick’s young motor will be great in run support, and apparently he can cover the slot fine as well.

    CB1 Lardarius Webb: Elite. This speedy shutdown corner is coming back from an ACL tear but is quite the elite talent.

    CB2 Jimmy Smith: Above Average. An injury plagued first 2 seasons has made him inconsistent, leaving him well behind on the NFL learning curve for a 1st rd pick. However, he has shown playmaking ability in clutch situations, including during a goaline stand to win the game in Super Bowl XLVII. His excellent size and strength should compliment well opposite Webb.

    SCB Corey Graham: Above Average. Graham stepped in brilliantly for the injured Webb and Smith in 2012-13 season. He should expect plenty of reps with his excellent coverage and playmaking ability.

    ILB1 Jameel McClain: Average. McClain has played in every game in Baltimore since 2008 besides 3. He has started beside Ray Lewis for the past 3 years. In 2011, he stepped in as play caller for Ray Lewis for 4 games and in 2012 he did the same for 7 games. There is no question that McClain will call the plays now that Ray Lewis has retired. However, he suffered a serious spinal cord injury in week 14 of 2012-13 that ended his season. Speedy rookie Arthur Brown could get plenty of reps to ensure McClain’s durability which would complement Daryl Smith well.

    ILB2 Daryl Smith: Above Average. The Jaguars’ all time leading tackler brings great experience to an inside linebacking core that just recently retired Ray Lewis. He is a tackling machine and good in coverage. If either McClain or Smith are not ready to go, speedy rookie Arthur Brown will get the nod. Even still, Brown will get plenty of reps.

    OLB1 Terrell Suggs: Elite. The former DPOY and heir to the Ray Lewis throne is back in top shape from his achilles tear in 2012. Rumor has it he looks leaner, stronger, and faster than ever.

    OLB2 Elvis Dumervil: High Quality. This sacking machine had 17 sacks in 2009. He averages over 10 sacks and almost 3 forced fumbles per season in his 6 year career. Dumervil came back strong from injury in 2012, is in the middle of his prime, and a dominant, reinforced Ravens’ D-line should take a lot of attention away from him.

    NT Haloti Ngata: Elite. This freak of an athlete at 340lbs abuses Offensive lineman with size and elite quickness; a very rare combination. He has led the dominant Ravens’ D-line for 7 years now. Ngata had a slow 2012-13 season with a nagging MCL sprain, but should be 100% by training camp. He may be the best at his position in the NFL.

    DE Chris Canty: High Quality. A versatile veteran with great length and athleticism that is known for pass rushing. ‘Wow-ed’ the team in minicamp. Remember Trevor Price?

    DT Marcus Spears: Above Average. A veteran with excellent run stuffing ability.

    Please email me if you have questions/suggestions. [email protected]

  • C.

    Yanda, Suggs, Ngata, Rice are elite.
    Dumervil and McKinnie are above average.
    Oher and Jimmy Smith are average.
    Daryl Smith will start at MLB with Brown come Week 1.

    As for wide recievers…
    #1 Torrey Smith
    #2 Deonte Thompson
    #3 Jacoby Jones
    #4 Tandon Doss

    …you got it all wrong Neil

  • joof

    Alan Branch is not starting at DT for the Bills?