Neil’s NFL Daily: May 14, 2013

Neil Hornsby pulls back the PFF curtain to reveal what our unique data says about the best, and worst, run blockers at guard - and what this means for the ...

| 4 years ago

Neil’s NFL Daily: May 14, 2013

Similarly to yesterday, there were a few things to comment on regarding Monday’s transactions, but while I’m pretty sure I could write 800 words about Antonio Johnson signing with Tennessee I’m not convinced even the most hardcore Titans fan would read them. I’ll give you a few less than that later, as well as covering off some other topics, but as the penalties drawn stats I produced yesterday went down so well I thought I’d give you a taster of a few more of our unique stats that usually only come out in the reports we produce for NFL agents.

Today I thought we’d have a change of pace and look at how guards perform in the running game, which will give you some clues as to why we feel the position is probably overvalued in NFL terms.


Tuesday, May 14th

Grading the Guards

For those of you who are unaware of what we do, a quick recap. On every play we grade every player on a scale between +2.0 and -2.0 in 0.5 increments. The “average” grade is zero and this means for any particular play, if a player does more-or-less what would be expected they draw a zero grade. It’s normally at this stage you get someone asking “how can you grade the player if you don’t know what their assignment is?”, to which I normally have three responses:

– Other NFL teams don’t know what the assignment is either, but do you expect their player personnel guys to throw up their hands and say “can’t be done” when they are asked to evaluate someone?

– Every running play in the game is meant to be a carefully choreographed vignette of players working together. If after watching thousands of hours of tape if you still can’t figure out what was meant to happen, what was intended and what went wrong, you should probably give up. Sure there’s the odd play where a screw up could be one of two people, but these are rare and on these occasions we give both players the benefit of doubt and grade them zero. We have a no guessing rule and enforce it rigorously.

– If we really are not sure about something important we have a whole host of NFL resources we can call on. Players, scouts and coaches that we know are usually extremely helpful in giving us the benefit of their experience.

So, without further ado, here are our grades for guards in the running game broken down simply into percentages of positive and negative grades and ranked accordingly. Let’s start with the Top 10 for percentage of positive blocks, using a qualifier of 150 run blocks graded.


Top 10 Guards (2012) Ranked by % of Positive Blocks

RankPlayerTeamTotal Blocks% Positive
1Evan MathisPHI40916.10%
2Donald ThomasNE28716.00%
3Kevin BootheNYG41515.20%
4Stephen PetermanDET41514.90%
5John GrecoCLV31314.40%
6Mike IupatiSF47614.30%
7Logan MankinsNE30314.20%
8Jon AsamoahKC49014.10%
9Wade SmithHST53413.90%
10Marshal YandaBLT39013.60%

And here is the Bottom 10:

Bottom 10 Guards (2012) Ranked by % of Positive Blocks

RankPlayerTeamTotal Blocks% Positive
66Clint BolingCIN4477.80%
67Lance LouisCHI3207.80%
68John JerryMIA4647.80%
69Adam SnyderARZ2587.40%
70Robert TurnerSL1917.30%
71J.R. SweezySEA1647.30%
72Antoine CaldwellHST1797.30%
73Louis VasquezSD4426.80%
74T.J. LangGB2766.20%
75Mike BrisielOAK3596.10%

In many ways this is the more interesting list and, putting aside that this is only in terms of run blocking, there are at least a couple of guys on here who are not “bad” run blockers at all. Both Clint Boling and Louis Vasquez are much better protecting the QB than moving forward, but neither are close to the bottom of our overall run blocking grades, so why are they on this list? Simply put, while they don’t do a lot in terms of creating holes, they don’t make that many huge errors either.

Let’s therefore look at the least errors, or negatively graded plays.


Top 10 Guards (2012) Ranked by % of Negative Blocks

RankPlayerTeamTotal% Negative
1Evan MathisPHI4094.40%
2Alex BooneSF4924.70%
3Nate LivingsDAL3935.30%
4Chris SpencerCHI1645.50%
5Mike IupatiSF4766.10%
6Louis VasquezSD4426.80%
7Leroy HarrisTEN1567.10%
8Chris SneeNYG3847.30%
9Uche NwaneriJAX3347.50%
10Jake ScottPHI1607.50%

Two key points to note here. Firstly, Evan Mathis is ranked first in both the largest percentage of positive blocks and lowest percentage of negative blocks. This is exactly what one might expect from the player we positioned at six in our Top 101 of 2012 and goes to why we rate him so highly.

Secondly, Vasquez is on this list too. This is part of the reason Denver went after him so aggressively even though he’s not a dominating blocker. The bottom line is he doesn’t make mistakes — combine this with our ninth-best pass blocking grade and zero penalties (yes zero!) and you begin to understand his value.

Finally, let’s look at the guys making the most errors blocking for the run.


Bottom 10 Guards (2012) Ranked by % of Negative Blocks

RankPlayerTeamTotal% Negative
66Cooper CarlisleOAK40311.70%
67Bobbie WilliamsBLT16211.70%
68James CarpenterSEA16111.80%
69Jeremy ZuttahTB23312.00%
70Mike BrisielOAK35912.30%
71Jeff AllenKC39013.10%
72John MoffittSEA22513.30%
73Robert TurnerSL19113.60%
74Kory LichtensteigerWAS50414.10%
75Mike BrewsterJAX18915.30%

The really interesting player here falls just off the list — for those Lions fans looking at the very first list and wondering why Stephen Peterman is no longer with the team, he was actually 63rd on this list. In essense that’s what the Jets have picked up as their potential new right guard — a very boom or bust player and very different from the excellent Brandon Moore.

Lastly, I hinted at our view on guard value. As the more astute will have noticed, in an average season of say 400 run blocks the difference between the best and worst player is about 10% of blocks or about 40 plays a year. Given that for most running plays to function efficiently everyone must do their job and one standout player, no matter how truly excellent (as the Eagles found to their cost last year) achieves very little.


Other Points of Interest

In an offseason of strange moves by the Titans, signing Antonio Johnson yesterday appears one of the more unusual. Since he was drafted in 2007, Johnson has been symptomatic of the problems with the Colts’ run defense — a surfeit of players who are purportedly run stuffers who clearly don’t fit that mold. Now, it’s not as if Johnson is a pass rusher either, but that’s not what surprises me the most. The oddity here is when you already have five players in the defensive tackle rotation who are clearly better than him, why taken a known quantity for depth? Isn’t it better to take a shot at an unknown younger guy with potential upside as camp fodder?


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.

  • Dan

    Is the complete list available anywhere? Could you make this a Signature Stat?