Neil's NFL Daily: July 23, 2013
Yesterday I published my “final” list of the 50 players I consider Blue-Chip (or elite) heading into the 2013 season. However, in the charts for each team which I’ve published over the past three weeks (links below), I also had another 119 players categorized as “high quality” — there was something that had stopped me going the whole hog and putting them in the top group. Whether that be lack of experience (some were rookies), a deficiency in one area of their play, or some other factor I’d stopped short of the top bracket.
Today I’m going to name four players who I fully expect will be moving up during the course of this year. It’s not that I think they are the only ones by any means (or indeed the most likely), but I’ve chosen a few players who maybe are flying under some people’s radar and I, for one, will be taking particular note of how they get on.
You can find the charts for each team here:
Tuesday, July 23rd
Four “Blue-Chippers” for Next Year
Sean Lee (ILB, Cowboys)
Frankly, barring the severe turf toe injury, Lee would already be in this category. He started the 2012 season grading +12.1 in the six games he played and that level of performance, extrapolated out over the season, would have seen him rank above even Patrick Willis. Almost as impressively, he’s doing it in the facets of play that matter most to inside linebackers — a +8.8 in run defense and +3.3 in pass coverage. To be fair, he’s looked a fine player every year since he was drafted in 2010 and only health issues and the Cowboys bringing him along slowly in his rookie year have held him back.
Nick Fairley (DT, Lions)
He may have been drafted 11 spots below his infamous colleague, Ndamukong Suh, but when all is said and done it’s possible he may turn out to be the better player. Last year Suh went on a five-game tear as a pass rusher (Weeks 12 to 16) few could match, but his play versus the run remains very suspect. Fairley has no such concerns, grading red only once as a run defender and ending the year with a +9.4 mark in that regard. However, he’s no slouch as a pass rusher either and indeed ranked slightly above Suh in Pass Rush Productivity and below only Geno Atkins. So what’s holding him back? Only his ability to stay on the field (a shoulder injury ended his year) and a mini glut of penalties (11 in 511 snaps is ridiculous). If he sorts both those things out he’s good for blue in 2013.
Jared Veldheer (LT, Raiders)
Season 2013 is a contract year for Veldheer, so as long as he continues as he did last year, he’ll get paid a lot more than he did as a third-round draftee. Whether that’s because he’s franchised (Oakland will probably choose between him and Lamarr Houston) or as a free agent is open to debate, but if last season is any indication, his status as one of the game’s premier left tackles isn’t.
There’s a lot working in his favor — he’s a superb pass blocker (without being any sort of mug in the running game) and has improved year on year since his awkward start in 2010 when he played his first game as a center. His grade track has been -18.5 as a rookie, +16.5 in 2011 and +22.2 last year so a continuation of that trend will see him on the cusp of an elite rating. Will he make it? I think so and will be watching with interest.
Justin Houston (OLB, Chiefs)
I know what you are thinking. If I didn’t even name him “high quality” (I had him labeled as above average) why on earth do I think he can become a blue-chip player? Well, in a league where top quality 3-4 outside linebackers who can do everything (defend the run, rush the passer and drop in coverage) are becoming incredibly rare, Houston has shown the ability to do all of these things at a very high level. The problem has been consistency, or rather lack of it. After starting 2011 grading -10.6, he rated +14.1 from Week 10 onward. Last year he began as he had left off with a brilliant +20.3 grade up until Week 10, only to close out the year’s last five games -4.3. It’s this maddening fluctuation that left me rating him much lower than expected.
I’m saying this year, with a new group in charge, he puts both those part years together and leapfrogs high quality and becomes an elite player.
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