Reason for hope for all 32 NFL teams
The Cardinals have PFF’s highest rated player at two of football’s most important positions: Quarterback (Carson Palmer +32.4) and cornerback (Tyrann Mathieu +18.7).
Palmer has an astounding 136.1 passer rating when throwing towards Larry Fitzgerald (+13.8), which is the highest rating for any QB/WR combination. With veterans Palmer and Fitzgerald having some of the best years of their career and Mathieu and DE Calais Campbell (+19.8) leading a top-10 defense, the Cardinals have got to be taken seriously as Super Bowl contenders.
Through nine weeks of the 2014 season Jake Matthews was a horrid -30.6 — good for dead last among tackles. Through nine weeks of the 2015 season Jake Matthews is a very respectable +9.1 — eighth among tackles.
While Julio Jones is still a monster and Matty Ice has mostly lived up to his nickname, Jake Matthews has been a major reason why the Falcons have gone from a middle of the road offense in 2014 to PFF’s highest rated through nine weeks. The Falcons ownership has got to be thrilled with Matthew’s development after selecting him with the sixth-overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Third-year defensive lineman Brandon Williams is the highest-rated defender against the run in the NFL (+23.3) and the sixth-rated DL overall.
As a third-rounder still on his rookie deal, Williams has to be considered one of the most valuable players in the league. Under their current contracts, Williams (+22.7 overall) makes $18.5 million a year less than Ndamukong Suh (+23.9).
In his 2015 return to the NFL, Richie Incognito has yet to record a negative grade and is PFF’s second-ranked guard (+22.3).
A potential candidate for comeback player of the year, Incognito has yet to yield a sack in pass pro and has been by far the best Bills run blocker (+13.2 run block). Incognito is aging at 32 years old, but the Bills have him under contract in 2015 for a ridiculously cheap $1.1M cap hit.
Kawann Short is the third-ranked DL overall (+26.2) and joins elite company Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins as the only three players that are top-10 defensive linemen against both the pass and run.
For perspective, +26.2 is +8.2 better than tackling beast Luke Kuechly. There is a lot to like about the way the undefeated Panthers are playing on both sides of the ball right now, but Kawann Short may just be their most valuable asset.
Among 3-4 OLB, Pernell McPhee has the most assists, third-highest overall grade (+27.2) and is top-six in QB hurries, QB hits, sacks, and stops.
While not a lot has gone right for the Bears defense in the last few years, it seems they hit the jackpot with the free agent signing of Pernell McPhee. Signed through the 2019 season, McPhee has been an absolute menace in both rushing the passer (+17.2) and defending the run (+10.0), and comes at a reasonable price ($6.7M cap hit) at just 26 years old.
For the first time in his career, Andy Dalton has a positive grade (+4.8) when throwing under pressure.
Dalton (+17.2 overall) is having a career year in just about every metric, but passing under pressure could be the most telling of them all. Critics have always abused Dalton’s ability to throw under distress in the pocket, but Andy has silenced the haters this year with zero interceptions under pressure or when blitzed.
As a receiver, rookie third-rounder Duke Johnson has caught 89.7 percent of targets, forced 10 missed tackles and has 287 YAC. He is PFF’s second-ranked receiving running back in the NFL.
Unfortunately for Browns fans there aren’t a whole lot of stats that shed positive light on 2015 or the near future. Johnson’s receiving skills are certainly a bright spot however, and should be a staple of the offense for years to come.
Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zach Martin are PFF’s No.1 tackle, No.1 center and No.3 guard with a collective grade of an absurd +60.1.
I tried to avoid an offensive linemen stat for the Cowboys, but the grades of this threesome are just too hard to ignore. While the rest of the team has struggled mightily, the OL continues their dominance as the top-ranked pass blocking unit and second ranked run blocking unit in the NFL. The 2015 season is probably lost for the Cowboys, but this unit should make Dallas fans eager for 2016.
Von Miller (+25.3) and Demarcus Ware (+13.6), PFF’s No. 1 and No. 4 pass rushing 3-4 OLB, have combined for 11 sacks, 19 QB hits, 44 QB hurries, 30 tackles and 25 stops.
The Broncos top-ranked defense is an incredible +95.0 overall, and top-three in every category (run defense, pass rush, pass coverage). Between Miller, Chris Harris, Shaquil Barrett and a host of other young players, this should be an elite D for years to come. Hopefully, the veteran Ware is not sidelined long from a back injury he sustained against the Colts.
Rookie fifth-rounder Michael Burton is the second-highest graded fullback (+4.9) in the NFL.
Granted, FB snaps seem to be dwindling around the NFL, but at least in Burton the Lions know they hit on a late-round pick that can aid in the development of their young RB corps. Quite honestly, there hasn’t been a whole lot else that has gone right this year for the Lions.
Green Bay Packers
Damarious Randall is the second-ranked rookie CB (+2.9) with two interceptions and six passes defended.
Mike Daniels (+19.1) has been the MVP of the Defense for the Packers thus far, but Randall looks like he has the chance to become a star. Evidenced by his late INT against the Panthers, Randall has big play ability and could develop into a lock down corner.
Jadeveon Clowney is the second-ranked 3-4 OLB against the run, and the 12th-ranked 3-4 OLB overall in just 297 snaps.
J.J. Watt continues his insane production with the highest grade in the NFL (+42.1) including a ridiculous +30.3 pass rush grade, but Jadeveon Clowney joins him as being incredibly important to the Texans’ future. Clowney needs to keep from committing penalties and add some moves to his pass rush repertoire, but with the way he is trending Texans fans have got to be awfully excited.
Henry Anderson has the second-highest grade of all rookies (+12.6) and is the seventh-best 4-3 DE against the run (+10.2)
Yes, Anderson left Sunday’s game with what is believed to be a torn ACL, but there is still plenty of reason for optimism in Indy. As a late third-rounder Anderson is shaping up as a colossal draft steal, and the Colts should have him healthy for at least the majority of the 2016 season. For some perspective on just how good +12.6 is as a rookie, see the Jets stat below.
For the 2014 season, Blake Bortles was the lowest-graded player on the Jags offense (-35.7). Through nine weeks of the 2015 season, Blake Bortles is the highest-graded player on the Jags offense (+9.8).
Bortles has been especially impressive throwing the deep ball as he ranks as the No. 4 passer in PFF’s deep passing accuracy statistic. Finally, Jags fan can be optimistic that they have found a legitimate franchise QB.
Kansas City Chiefs
In 2014, Justin Houston had the second highest grade of anyone in the NFL (+57.0). After eight games this season, Houston is on pace to best his grade from 2014.
While Houston “only” has six sacks so far this year, he has constantly been disruptive in the backfield and has also been extremely strong against the run (+9.4). Despite a cap hit of around $19M per year, Houston is well worth the money.
Not only is Jarvis Landry (+12.4) our seventh-ranked WR, he is also our highest rated punt and kick returner.
Landry is even ahead of the other top LSU WR chosen in the 2014 NFL draft — Odell Beckham Jr. Sure, most people would still rather build a team around Beckham than Landry, but the Dolphins WR is in the conversation for one of the two or three best wide receivers from the loaded 2014 WR class.
Linval Joseph posted a monstrous +11.4 grade against the Rams on Sunday, and is now the N0. 2 graded DT in football (+31.4).
At his current rate of production, the five-year 31.25 million deal the Vikings signed Joseph to prior to 2014 is shaping up as incredibly smart move. Joseph is a gigantic reason why the Vikings sit atop the NFC North through nine weeks of the season.
New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski is a top-six TE in every signature stat we have for TE’s: drop rate, deep passing, slot performance, yards/pass route run, and pass-blocking efficiency.
Anyone with a fantasy team knows that Gronk puts up massive numbers year in and year out, but in 2015 Gronk is doing even more. He is having an excellent year as a blocker and has dropped just one pass despite more targets (65) than any other TE. Gronk is still just 26 years old and signed through the 2019 season.
New Orleans Saints
Saints 2013 third-rounder Terron Armstead (+21.4 overall) has allowed just six hurries, three hits, and one sack on 310 pass block snaps, and is PFF’s No. 5 tackle in terms of pass blocking efficiency.
Armstead is even better in run blocking, ranking as the second-best tackle in football with a +11.8 run block grade. Just 24 years old, Armstead is on his rookie deal until the end of 2016 with a cap hit under $1M.
New York Giants
Following a negative grade in 2014, Justin Pugh is on his way to a career year at +14.7 overall and is PFF’s No. 6 guard through nine weeks.
Pugh has shown improvement in both pass and run blocking, and has been the most consistent performer for the Giants offense in 2015. With the rest of the OL struggling to protect the QB, Pugh most continue his progress if the Giants hope to win the NFC East.
New York Jets
2015 sixth-overall pick Leonard Williams is not only our No. 9 overall 3-4 DE (+14.0), he is on pace to receive the fifth-highest cumulative season grade PFF has ever recorded for a rookie defender.
His current pace would put him behind only Von Miller, Aldon Smith, Khalil Mack, and Aaron Donald. Pretty good company. Williams is seventh in pass rush productivity this season, as he has created pressure on 28 of 255 passing snaps, and has graded positively against the run in all but one game. Even at sixth overall and through just eight games, Williams is shaping up to be one of the best picks in Jets history.
Among players in their second year, the Raiders have the No. 1 QB (Carr +17.8), No. 1 defender (Mack +38.9) and No. 2 OL (Jackson +17.4).
The Raiders absolutely nailed the 2014 draft based on the play of Carr, Mack, Jackson and even fourth-rounder Justin Ellis (+1.2) so far in their careers. Already the No. 1 3-4 OLB in the league, Mack will likely be the best of the bunch, but “silver and black” fans are probably more excited that they have likely found their franchise QB in Derek Carr.
Bennie Logan is the fourth-best DT in the NFL against the run (+12.5 run grade) and leads the league in PFF stop percentage with 25 stops in 163 snaps.
The Eagles are currently a top-five defense and have some budding young players like Logan and Jordan Hicks (+3.5) that should have Eagles fans excited for the future. They have arguably the best Safety combo in the league (Jenkins ranked second, Thurmond eighth), while the tandem of Logan and the consistently dominant Fletcher Cox should torment opposing O Lines for years to come in the NFC East.
Cameron Heyward is the No. 1 3-4 DE against the run, and the third-ranked 3-4 DE overall (+24.6).
This offseason Heyward signed a massive six-year, $59 million deal, and so far has been worth every penny. In addition to dominating against the run, Heyward is also top-12 in pass rush productivity. The Steelers have some of the best offensive players in the league, but with Roethlisberger out for at least one more game, Heyward and the rest of the defense will need to step up.
St. Louis Rams
24-year-old Aaron Donald (+33.3) is PFF’s highest rated DL, and is in the top four in both pass rush productivity and run stop percentage.
Donald and Robert Quinn lead the Rams No. 1-ranked run defense and No. 2 defense overall. Throw in dynamite rookie Todd Gurley (No. 7-graded HB) and you have one of the best young cores in the NFL.
San Diego Chargers
In 129 run snaps, Jerry Attaochu has 15 tackles, 5 assists, 10 stops and just one missed tackle. He is the seventh-best 3-4 OLB in run stop percentage.
The Chargers have been miserable on the defensive side of the ball this season, ranking as the worst defense in the league. However, Attaochu has shown glimpses of becoming a valuable building block for the future, and is already an above average LB. At just 22-years-old, Attaochu has a lot of room for growth.
San Francisco 49ers
In his sophomore season, Aaron Lynch is the 11th rated 3-4 OLB overall (+10.0) and top-sixth in every pass rush category (QB sacks, hits, and hurries).
It’s really impressive that the 49ers aren’t at the bottom of the league defensively after all the losses they’ve had over the last year or two. While the defense is slightly below average right now (-5.7), Aaron Lynch and rookie Arik Armstead (+5.0) provide a solid foundation to bring this defense back to what it once was.
Marshawn Lynch (+9.4 overall) is still a top-five RB in both overall grade and elusive rating, while incumbent Thomas Rawls (+5.4) has the second-highest run grade among rookies.
Russell Wilson has been under pressure more than any other QB this season (45.6 percent of snaps), so the Seahawks may have to rely on the run more than ever if they want to make a serious push for the playoffs. There’s little doubt Marshawn Lynch will continue to pick up large chunks of yardage for the 2015 season, but if he ends up hanging up the cleats in the short term Rawls appears ready to step up.
Tampa Bay Bucs
On pace for a career year, Doug Martin is our No. 2-graded HB. He leads all HB in pass blocking efficiency, is sixth in breakaway percentage and second in elusive rating.
Martin has allowed zero QB hits, hurries or sacks in pass protection and gained 643 yards on 143 carries with three TDS on the ground. Bucs fans should be hopeful that Martin’s presence as both a premier pass blocker and reliable runner will maximize the growth of Jameis Winston this season.
Despite having the sixth-worst graded defense in 2014, the Titans are in the top 12 in every defensive category this year (run defense, pass rush, pass coverage) and eighth-highest graded defense overall.
In just his fifth NFL season Jurrell Casey (+26.9) is in the running for his second All-Pro Selection, but it’s the Titans depth that has led to such a huge improvement from last year. There are 14 Titans defenders graded +1.2 or better, with the top two (Casey and Brian Orakpo) signed through 2018.
Chris Baker is PFF’s fifth-best 3-4 DE against the run (+11.8), while sidekick Jason Hatcher is PFF’s third-ranked 3-4 DE rushing the passer (+14.3).
The Redskins had the NFL’s worst defense in 2014, but are much improved in 2015 thanks to Baker and Hatcher. Baker (+17.4 overall) is already 28-years-old, but is under contract through the end of next season at a reasonable price.