Neil’s NFL Daily: June 26, 2013

Neil Hornsby believes the Detroit Lions have continued a recent league-wide run of positive free agent and franchise matchups by picking up former Bear Israel Idonije.

| 4 years ago

Neil’s NFL Daily: June 26, 2013

If, as expected, Vonta Leach goes ahead and signs with the Dolphins sometime in the next few days, it will make three out of three in terms of positive free agent pick-ups this week. As I explained in Tuesday’s NFL Daily, the Vikings did well by snapping up Desmond Bishop and yesterday their division rivals made, perhaps, an even better acquisition when sense, as we shall see, finally prevailed.


Wednesday, June 26th

Detroit Sign Free Agent Israel Idonije

These days we know when teams are assessing players that last year’s performance matters a lot less than age. As far as numbers are concerned, it’s clear that Idonije’s year of birth being 1980 was far more important to every front office than his 51 QB disruptions (just three less than Jason Pierre-Paul, on 56 less pass rush attempts).

A few months ago we were criticised by Bill Polian because a few of our “top-rated” free agents were still available (including Idonije), but this assumes we were trying to guess exactly what would happen when we put together our list. To clarify, unlike most pundits who work the phones, the internet, and their NFL connections to “handicap” free agency, we rely on having more performance data about those players than every team, other than those who are our customers, and in full knowledge that G.M.s will shy away from older players. We could easily take these players off our board but we feel that teams have taken the “youth is all” policy a stage too far and are missing out on players, like Idonije among others.

Now, it’s possible that Idonije’s production may fall off a cliff, but if it doesn’t he’s probably a better option than the DLE of half those teams running a 4-3 scheme.

As for the Lions, it’s a slam dunk win. Their current options at left defensive end are Jason Jones and Willie Young. Jones is a decent enough player but far better suited as a pass rusher inside on sub-packages (the role he played to good effect in Seattle last year). The last time someone tried to make a full-time end out of him the results were disastrous. After an excellent 2010 (playing DLT) the titans moved him to end in 2011 and his Pass Rush Productivity of 4.6 saw him rank 39th out of 41 eligible players at the position.

Young looked like he may have the ability to progress after a superb 274 snap vignette a couple of years ago, but 2012 brought only 63 more plays and significantly reduced production. For Detroit to trust the position to those two players, particularly given an untried rookie (Ziggy Ansah) possibly bookending them, was incredibly risky.

On the balance of five years of tape review Idonije is a far better option. He’s not without risk as a player, having his most productive season in a contract year always raises a few flags, but his overall body of work since 2008 has been impressive. He played very poorly in one patch across that period, from Week 14 in 2010 through Week 12 of 2011, however the nature of the performance during that time is so marked and out of character, it does appear very much as an extended “blip”. In that period his overall grade was an abysmal -31.9, but outside that his +49.0 rating would mark him as one of the most underrated players in the league.

Although not particularly useful to the Lions, Idonije also comes with the benefit of being flexible enough to play both DE and DT (having played 35% of his snaps from an interior position last year). That said, while he’s a good pass rusher from both positions and a fine run defender as an end, he isn’t really stout enough against the run to be much more than a stop-gap at tackle.

The bottom line here is that three years removed from having one of the best defensive lines in the game, the Lions might now have one to top it.


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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.

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