Neil's NFL Daily: June 20, 2013
I’m going to be addressing a couple of things today. Firstly, after some good feedback following the preview of the Cardinals camp battle between corners Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers, I’m looking at another potential contest — this time on the Bengals’ offensive line. After that I’ll answer an interesting Twitter question, which asked the likely outcome if Larry Fitzgerald is given a similar makeover to the one Bruce Arians gave Reggie Wayne last year.
Thursday, June 20th
Bengals LG: Clint Boling vs. Travelle Wharton
After three disappointing, but not disastrous, rookie starts at right guard it looked like Clint Boling may spend his career as a backup when Cincinnati first signed Travelle Wharton to a $10m, three-year contract and then drafted Kevin Zeitler in the first round. Given his strong finish to the 2011 season it was mildly surprising the Panthers had let Wharton go, but their need for cap room outweighed their paucity of options at guard.
However, when Wharton tore his ACL in the preseason opener last year he effectively handed the job to 2011 draftee Boling. With Wharton now on the road to recovery and expected back for training camp next month, who will be the starter Week 1? Will Wharton be able to win back the job he lost because of injury, or will Boling hang on? Let’s consider the key areas of consideration.
Although predominantly a guard, Wharton has the ability to slide outside to left tackle and has been perfectly serviceable, if hardly dominant, when called upon to do so. However, it’s his ability as a guard that interests us here and in that regard he’s been remarkably consistent. Since 2008 he’s graded +6.5 in pass protection and allowed over two QB disruptions on only five occasions, and never more than five in one game (only once). Given his skill as a tackle this is probably not surprising.
Considering last season only for Boling, you would have to contend it was a season of two distinct parts. Up to and including Week 11 he allowed only one sack, one hit and three hurries — even given QB Andy Dalton’s penchant for quick passes a still remarkable record — but then things degenerated. In the last seven games (including the playoff loss at Houston) he gave up five sacks, a hit and 11 hurries. Although his overall record remained positive, the luster was gone and he ended the season on a comparative low.
Similar to his work in the passing game, Wharton has been a consistently decent, if not great, run blocker. Apart from getting killed by Justin Smith playing the 49ers in Week 7 of 2010, he’s never graded lower than -2.4 as a run blocker. He is the epitome of consistency, never being dominant but also rarely dominated. In Carolina he was used more as a pull blocker than someone who could get to the second level, but was usually OK when asked to take on linebackers in space.
Last year Boling was on a par with Wharton when it came to blocking on the run but had far more issues at the point of attack — he was regularly stood up or plain beaten at the line of scrimmage, overall grading slightly negative with -1.4.
Last year Boling was called for only a single false start, but in his four seasons since 2008 Wharton has given up only 12 penalties total (the same amount Willie Colon was flagged for last year alone).
So, on the basis of historical production Wharton is a clear winner, right? Unfortunately for his supporters there’s a lot more involved than that. Obviously it’s in the Bengals’ best interest to see the younger guy with two years left on a cheap contract come through — if all else is equal (and even if it isn’t quite) expect Boling to be their guy. Additionally, although Wharton played well in 2011 his production track was generally down, with his best season by far being 2008. Coming back from an ACL after eight years in the league may just be too much for him.
It’s certainly one to watch on Hard Knocks, but if the incumbent can up his game expect it to be over early.
Advantage: Boling, but watch this space
The following question came up on Twitter yesterday and made me have a quick look back at the Colts receiving numbers.
@PFF_Neil Would love to see your thoughts on Arians’ comments yesterday about using Fitz like he did Reggie Wayne last year, moving him outside for “home runs” on 1st down & into slot on 3rd. Davidde Corran
Last year, as Davidde mentions, Reggie Wayne spent a significant amount of time in the slot — 54% of his snaps compared to 11% in 2011. However, the view that this was mainly on third downs is wrong. While the percentages on third and fourth down were higher (61% of snaps) he also played 49% of first downs in the slot and 56% of second downs there as well.
However, not only did he play there a lot, he played very well too and his talent, as possibly the best route runner in the NFL, allowed him to be the fourth-highest graded slot receiver after Michael Crabtree, Calvin Johnson and Sidney Rice.
As for Larry Fitzgerald? It may make sense too, although last year’s numbers are skewed by the awful standard of quarterback play. He did grade higher in the slot (+2.7 versus -1.7) but he ran only 127 routes there. Extrapolating based on Wayne’s numbers would see that jump to around 400 in 2013.
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