10 big-name players that failed to deliver in 2016
More than a decade ago, PFF was founded on proving or disproving general perceptions of players through an unmatched level of detail—unbiased grading of every player on every play of every game. Does the guard who’s made the Pro Bowl five straight seasons still deserve the honor? Did the league’s sack leader generate a lot of pressures quickly, or were some sacks simply cleanups or unblocked?
The truth is, box-score statistics and previous biases can have an immense impact on our notions of how productive a player was. For the defensive side of the ball (or offensive line), this point is emphasized further, since tackles and sacks are commonly used to judge performance. It’s important to go well beyond these simple numbers and actually watch the tape to evaluate.
Here are 10 big-name players from this past season that earned grades far below what their reputation may suggest.
1. Clay Matthews, Edge, Green Bay Packers
2016 overall grade: 43.6 (96th among edge defenders)
After being moved to an off-the-ball linebacker role for the last two seasons, Clay Matthews was primarily back at his normal position on the ball as a stand-up edge rusher. His pass rushing, which used to be his trademark, was relegated to average in 2016. Matthews collected just 28 total QB pressures on 255 pass-rushing snaps, giving him an 8.6 pass-rush productivity mark—36th among 3-4 outside linebackers.
2. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets
2016 overall grade: 72.1. (66th among cornerbacks)
Before 2016, the highest passer rating Darrelle Revis allowed in primary coverage throughout his career was 87.5 (his rookie year). This past season, he allowed a 104.2 rating and a career-high 66.7 completion rate, along with 664 yards. Often asked to follow a team’s top receiver, opponents no longer feared “Revis Island.” In no game was this more evident than Week 8 against Cleveland when he was targeted 17 times—the second-most for any player in a single game this past season.
3. Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
2016 overall grade: 68.8 (33rd among running backs)
In the 2015 season, Todd Gurley broke onto the scene, forcing 47 combined missed tackles and averaging 2.87 yards after contact per attempt, despite playing behind a porous run-blocking offensive line. Gurley forced just 41 combined misses in 2016 on 71 more touches, and ranked 46th of 53 RBs at 2.18 yards after contact per attempt. In a more expanded role this past season, he was also asked to pass protect more often, which left him merely around the middle of the pack; as seen below, it was not his strong suit.
4. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
2016 overall grade: 53.0 (27th among quarterbacks)
The Giants’ defense was the cornerstone for their return to the postseason in 2016, while the offense struggled to score for much of the time. Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning was part of that struggling offense, throwing 16 interceptions—not all of which were his fault. However, he had 15 more attempts that should have been picks, but were dropped, committing 34 turnover-worthy plays in all. Seeing pressure on just 29.5 percent of his dropbacks within the quick-hitting Giants offense, Manning’s accuracy under pressure was particularly poor, at just 60.6 percent.
5. Dontari Poe, DI, Kansas City Chiefs
2016 overall grade: 55.8 (59th among interior defenders)
The Kansas City nose tackle dealt with a recurring back injury this past season, but the misconception of Poe’s play is still stunning. Simply put, his recent production has never matched the level of 2013 (86.4 grade). Naturally, as a nose tackle, you’ll see your fair share of double-teams over the course of the season. However, Poe was not able to consistently disengage with defenders as he had in the past. He wasn’t beaten badly out of his gap, but he also didn’t finish on plays, ending the year with a run-stop percentage of 4.0, good for 70th of 75 defensive tackles.
6. Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns
2016 overall grade: 56.3 (87th among cornerbacks)
Once a truly dominant cover corner, Joe Haden’s play has declined since 2014, while injuries have nagged him from any sort of consistency. He allowed six touchdowns and a 97.7 QB rating in coverage. Struggling heavily on go routes, most of his big plays occurred when playing press on a receiver and not having the speed to recover once beaten. Something that used to be a strength earlier in his career, his tackling also was subpar; he missed nine tackles and ranked 103rd among CBs in tackling efficiency.
7. Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
2016 overall grade: 73.9 (55th among wide receivers)
Robinson is another young player who seemingly came out of nowhere a year ago, earning an 86.2 grade in 2015. Much of the former Nittany Lion’s work came after the catch (4.4 yards after catch per reception) that season. In 2016, he saw virtually the same number of targets and catchable targets (six less), but his YAC was not duplicated, with just 2.7 yards per reception coming after the catch. He also forced six fewer missed tackles.
8. Robert Quinn, Edge, Los Angeles Rams
2016 overall grade: 60.6 (68th among edge defenders)
In 2013, Robert Quinn (98.8 grade that season) was one of the most dominant defensive lineman in the NFL. From concussions to mysterious illnesses and shoulder injuries, Quinn’s 2016 did not go as planned, and he managed to record just 19 QB pressures on 201 pass-rushing snaps; in fact, 36 4-3 defensive ends recorded a better pass-rushing productivity mark. Quinn also often lost his gap by pursuing too far up field on run plays, leaving gaping holes for rushers.
9. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
2016 overall grade: 71.4 (25th among quarterbacks)
Much like Eli Manning, Joe Flacco showcased one of the greatest runs of QB play in recent memory in route to his 2012 season Super Bowl MVP honor. Since then, however (with the exception of his 2014 season), Flacco has been merely average at best, committing far too many turnover-worthy plays and inaccurate passes that he’d previously make up for down the field.
Colleague Harley Sherman had this to say about Flacco’s 2016 campaign: “His deep ball just wasn’t there, ranking 31st of 34 QBs in deep-ball accuracy, at 30.3 percent. He also had some head-scratching interceptions, and others while throwing off balance or off of his back foot that led to many under-throws.”
10. Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota Vikings
2016 overall grade: 43.1 (79th among linebackers)
Entering the 2016 NFL season, Anthony Barr ranked 34th in Senior Analyst Sam Monson’s Top 101 players, impacting the game as a run defender, pass-rusher, and in coverage. However, in 2016, his work in coverage dropped significantly, as he missed eight tackles in the passing game alone. Barr also allowed four touchdowns and a 135.0 passer rating, struggling with the task of covering running backs coming out of the backfield. Numerous injuries were certainly prevalent throughout the season, but Barr was also repeatedly blocked at the second level of the defense, creating wide holes for opposing running backs.