Our next award is for the NFL’s most improved player. Our most improved player list features a pretty even mix of second-year “making the leap” players and a few veterans who have managed to reinvent themselves. We factored in overall production grades, as well as improvement in relevant signatures stats.
David Amerson, CB, Oakland Raiders
Amerson was the Redskins’ second-round pick in 2013, and saw the field in every game during his rookie season. He struggled with consistency throughout the year, and finished with a relatively low coverage grade, which placed him 92nd out of 110 cornerbacks. Last season his coverage grade dropped even further, and he slid all the way down to 106th at his position. Amerson was released after Week 1 this season, and was subsequently picked up by the Raiders, where he’s been a completely different player ever since.
The former NC State standout posted a positive production grade in 2015, despite being targeted 104 times (sixth-most among NFL CBs). On those targets, he allowed just 58 completions and one touchdown. He tied for fifth overall with 13 passes defensed, and also picked off four passes. Last season, he allowed more completions (61) on fewer targets (91), and an NFL-high 10 touchdowns when targeted. Quarterbacks had a 140.2 rating when targeting Amerson in 2014; this season, that number has dropped to 62.7. His improvements have brought him up to an 83.4 overall grade, good for 15th out of all cornerbacks this season.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bortles finished with our lowest overall quarterback grade in his rookie season. This year, he managed to jump up to 24th among QBs, with a 69.7 overall grade. Bortles’ biggest improvement has come with improved confidence and effectiveness in attacking downfield. Last season, he completed just 13 deep passes in 50 attempts, with three touchdowns and five interceptions. This season, he’s connected on 40-of-97 deep passes for 10 touchdowns and five picks.
Jake Matthews, LT, Atlanta Falcons
Matthews finished with the lowest production grade out of any tackle last season. He struggled both in pass blocking and run blocking. This season, though, he’s moved up to 19th overall at the position, with a season grade of 79.5 (scale of 1–100). Matthews’ pass blocking efficiency jumped to a very respectable 95.7 this season. In 2014, his 51 total pressures allowed were the fourth-most of any tackle. He was able to cut that number down to 38 total pressures this season.
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders
Carr finished with our second-worst overall production grade last season. He’s jumped all the way up to 10th this season, with an 81.6 overall grade. Carr has made improvements across the board, but the most obvious improvement was his higher efficiency when throwing the ball downfield. On 71 deep passes last season, Carr managed just 15 completions and two touchdowns. This season—on four fewer deep passes (67)—he has 25 completions and an astounding 12 touchdowns.
Jerrell Freeman, LB, Indianapolis Colts
Freeman showed the ability to excel in coverage last season, as well as the ability to be a solid blitzer in 2013. His struggles have always been against the run, culminating in a career-worst run grade in 2014. This season, he finally put it all together. His 90.6 overall grade (1–100 scale) this year ranked sixth out of all NFL linebackers, and his 97.9 grade in run defense trailed only Carolina’s Luke Kuechly.
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