Daily Focus: Three questions entering NFL training camps
This week at PFF, we are finalizing our preparations for training camp, with an aim to cover every team at their home location, as well as taking in a number of preseason games.
It’s obviously an exciting time for anyone that loves football, and while we’ll provide more details on our training camp tour soon, for now, let’s look at three of the key things I’m most looking forward to as we journey around the country over the next month.
Can Cowboys QB Tony Romo return to his 2014-level?: During our stop in Oxnard, Calif., we’ll look to get a glimpse of what we may see out of the Cowboys this season.
I vividly remember the first Dallas game of 2014—at home against San Francisco—when Tony Romo dropped back to pass on 63 percent of his snaps, in no small part because his three first-half interceptions (all terrible decisions) had put them in a 25-point hole.
There was no such reckless extravagance the following week, as they leaned on their RBs for 43 carries to put away the Titans.
Romo has never shown that he’s capable of passing a team to the playoffs (in 2010, a Week 7 injury ended his chances of proving that), but he’s more than capable enough to take a good offense and make it better. Among overall QB grades, Romo’s average ranking among his peers since 2007 has been 12th, and over the last five years (when playing more than 250 snaps), he’s never been below 15th.
Can Romo allow the Dallas O-line to be the star of the show in 2016? The media likely won’t let that happen in training camp, but the balance of plays may give some glimpse into the Cowboys’ plan.
How will the Giants’ defense knit together? In early August, our tour will land us in East Rutherford; here, we’ll be looking to understand how the Giants’ offseason spending spree on defense is panning out.
Although many Giants’ fans prefer to look at Eli Manning’s box-score stats and ignore his 2015 failings—while simultaneously pointing at the defense as the cause of all their woes—as obfuscation goes, that’s not a bad strategy. In fact, the Giants owned our 28th-ranked defense overall last season.
To top it off, the Giants lost their best player from 2015, Robert Ayers, to the Buccaneers in free agency, but a massive financial splurge could see them rapidly improve on those rankings.
Whether their investments pan out, however, remains to be seen.
On the positive side, New York acquired the best run defender in the game last year—former Jets nose tackle Damon Harrison. Harrison topped every other interior defender with a run-defense grade of 97.3, and had the best run-stop percentage at his position (tackles that constitute a loss for the offense), registering one stop on 18 percent of his run-defense snaps. As good as Harrison is, though, it was a mildly-surprising use of cash, considering that the Giants already had a pretty good 1-technique in Johnathan Hankins.
Another understandable choice was bringing in ex-Dolphins edge rusher Olivier Vernon, who ranked second as a pass-rusher in 2015, with a 90.7 overall grade (behind only Von Miller).
That’s were the good news ends, though. The Giants also brought in Janoris Jenkins (Rams), who isn’t a bad player (our 26th ranked corner in 2015), but had to make him the seventh-most expensive CB in football to do it. And, for reasons nobody watching him last year can understand, New York signed Keenan Robinson; $2.6 million isn’t a king’s ransom, but after being benched following an awful display against the Patriots, it does seem like a significant overreach.
How the new players blend—and in particular, who plays slot corner in the revamped defense—will be intriguing.
How does Josh Doctson fit into the Redskins’ already well-stocked WR corp? A few days after our stop at the Giants’ camp, our bus is scheduled to roll into Richmond, Va., and I for one will be excited to see one of my favorite players from the NCAA last year. Josh Doctson is a receiver who makes any QB throwing him the ball look good (or at least better than they are). His body control and leaping ability on contested catches made Trevone Boykin’s margin for error much bigger than when throwing to other receivers; in fact, TCU quarterbacks had a passer rating of 149.2 when targeting Doctson last season.
Josh Doctson by route in 2015
In short, this is a fine addition to the Redskins’ receiving corps, but the Washington cupboard certainly wasn’t bare at the position to begin with.
Pierre Garçon, DeSean Jackson, and Jamison Crowder all graded very well for us last year, and when you throw in Jordan Reed at tight end, it’s a burgeoning group.
Who will be the receivers in regular and two tight-end packages? The Redskins were in three-WR sets on 68 percent of snaps in 2015 (well in excess of the NFL average of 57 percent), so opportunities are there, but to what degree?
Pure four-WR sets didn’t get much traction in 2015, and with Reed, it may not happen this year, either.
Barring injury, how many snaps will one of the best college players of last season see in 2016? Some clues may be available in camp.