Stock Report: NFC, Season Opener
Welcome to the first installment of the Stock Report. This is a new feature on Pro Football Focus that will shine a light on how players’ form fluctuates and highlight players who are gaining form as the season progresses or falling away from fast starts. We’ll be taking a look at this on a monthly basis, allowing players a series of weeks before we look back in on them so that we have a good group of performance data to examine for those trending both up and down.
One of the big things we have discovered at PFF is the ability to quantify just how much form and performance fluctuates through the course of an NFL season. It has always been assumed, and sometimes underplayed, but by looking at a player’s grade progression through the season it quantifies that performance rather than qualifying it. Seeing a graph such as that for Dez Bryant from last year’s regular season, it becomes clear just how performance can fluctuate across the season:
By way of introducing this feature we’re going to take a look primarily at how players finished the 2012 season, focusing on those who were hitting their best form as the season was drawing to a close, as well as those who finished slowly and will be looking to rebound as the 2013 season gets underway. We’ll also give a nod to some players who shone in preseason and have teased of promising things to come.
Clearly we can’t mention every player who is trending up and down, so we’re going to go by conference shining a spotlight on one player per team whose stock is on the rise (hitting good form or improving on prior performances) and one player per team whose stock is on the slide. If you want to check in on how every player in the league is playing game-by-game and month-by-month, you’ll have to come aboard and get yourself a PFF Premium subscription.
We started with the AFC article which you can read here, but now let’s turn our attention to the NFC.
Stock Up: Calais Campbell (+15.3 – Week 14-17)
The entire 2012 regular season was a continuation of Campbell’s upward trajectory toward being one of the league’s elite defenders, but the way he closed out the regular season was eye-popping. Having missed every game from Week 10 to Week 13, Campbell returned with a staggering close that, in grading terms, almost matched his entire first half of the season. In four games he registered 17 stops and 13 pressures (3 Sk, 2 Ht, 8 Hu), which would have put him just outside the Top 20 3-4 DEs in the league for a full season’s work.
Stock Down: Rob Housler (-12.4 – Week 10-17)
Taking over as the starting tight end early on, Housler was solid through the first half of the season (+0.8) but fell away in the second half. Unable to make a consistent impact in an anemic passing attack, his run blocking was never of a standard to make up for that shortfall. Housler also struggled in the preseason, dropping two passes on three targets.
Stock Up: Akeem Dent (+3.1 – Week 10-17)
Entering the starting line-up in Week 3, Dent struggled to find his feet in both pass coverage and run defense over the first half of the season. He missed four tackles in five games to close the first half of the season, but didn’t miss any from Week 11 onward and had a trio of strong run defense games to end the season. Dent will be looking to build upon this, and a solid preseason, to provide more impact as a second-year starter.
Stock Down: Kroy Biermann (-3.2 – Week 10-17)
Struggling as a pass rusher all season, Biermann didn’t provide much impact as a run defender over the second half of 2012 which saw his overall grade and impact for the Falcons’ defense fall away. Missed tackles also became a problem for Biermann over the second half with a dozen misses from Week 10 onward. Biermann put in a solid preseason at DLE to offer hope that he will turn around his late 2012 form.
Stock Up: Cam Newton (+15.9 – Week 10-17)
The slow start for Newton and the Panthers led to the common opinion of second-season struggles for the Carolina signal-caller. However, over the second half of the season only four quarterbacks had a higher overall grade than Newton, and his passing grade topped +1.0 in six straight games from Week 11. If the Panthers are to be a threat in the NFC South this year they need Newton to hit the ground running with this kind of form.
Stock Down: Frank Alexander (-8.1 – Week 10-17)
The Panthers were so strong over the second half of 2012 that they’re short on candidates for someone whose stock went down. Alexander, however, fell away from a solid first half of the season and struggled to match impact he made as a pass rusher in the first half of the season. To add to his fall off in pass rush he recorded only two defensive stops in the second half of the season.
Stock Up: Matt Slauson (+7.8 – Week 10-17)
Good news all around for Bears fans at guard right now, a pleasant change. Not only did Kyle Long whet their appetite with a stellar preseason (+7.9 overall), but their new starting left guard finished the season strong in New York before moving to the Windy City. After an inconsistent first half of the season Slauson put together a series of strong games from midseason, only letting himself down with a disappointing game of pass protection (-2.0) against the Chargers. Could the Bears’ offensive line to be the most improved unit in the league in 2013?
Stock Down: Corey Wootton (-7.8 – Week 10-17)
While it’s all good news at guard, there’s mixed news at defensive end for Chicago. While Julius Peppers put in a stellar second half of the season (+13.5 improvement, second-most improved 4-3 defensive end), opposite him Wootton struggled as he moved into the starting line-up. Coming in off the bench Wootton earned a +6.4 overall grade, but as a starter in the second half his -7.8 overall grade was among the 10 worst among 4-3 defensive ends.
Stock Up: Dez Bryant (+10.0 – Week 10-17)
We’re often accused of not taking notice of, or giving enough credit to, Dez Bryant — but be assured, we noticed. As a full season’s body of work, Bryant’s performance may not have matched the elite in our view, but his second half, and the improvement over his first half, was right up there. Add to that a stellar preseason (+4.1) and Bryant is definitively a receiver on the rise.
Stock Down: No-one
The closest the Cowboys had to players with a significant downturn in the second half of last season were DeMarcus Ware and Morris Claiborne. Both fared better in the first half of the season but Ware’s grading downturn was on the back of some poor run defense, his pass rush was still excellent. Meanwhile, Claiborne’s grading downturn was almost entirely based on a five-penalty display against the Eagles in Week 10.
Stock Up: Ndamukong Suh (+20.2 – Week 10-17)
Perhaps the biggest no brainer in this article. Suh lit it up in the second half of last season and finally showed the all-around performances that the hype machine had bestowed upon him since he entered the league. Factor in his 20 pressures in two weeks against the Texans and Colts, and you have the most destructive defensive tackle in the second half of last season not called Geno Atkins.
Stock Down: Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola
Both players suffered letdowns in the second half of last season. At midseason Sims sported a +14.1 overall grade, while Raiola had a +9.7 grade, both inside the Top 10 for their position. Over the second half both were merely average and will be looking to rebound with a strong first half of the 2013 season.
Green Bay Packers
Stock Up: Brad Jones (+7.2 – Week 14-17)
When Jones took over from D.J. Smith next to A.J. Hawk things picked up for the Packers at linebacker. He impressed from the outset as a starter (+5.6 Weeks 5-9) and after a lull in midseason finished the regular season strong in run defense and coverage. Only two inside linebackers (Bobby Wagner and Lawrence Timmons) graded higher than Jones in the last month of the season.
Stock Down: Marshall Newhouse (-7.2 – Week 10-17)
Thankfully for Packer fans this one looks like being an irrelevance for them, at least at the outset of the season, with Don Barclay slated to start at right tackle. Newhouse promised much in the first half of 2012 with some strong displays in pass protection, but things fell apart in the second half. From Weeks 12 to 15 he earned a -8.5 pass protection grade, letting up 23 pressures in those four games. Packer fans will hope Barclay and David Bakhtiari hold down the tackle spots.
Stock Up: Everson Griffen (+9.6 – Week 14-17)
While the man ahead of him on the depth chart (Brian Robison) struggled to match his first half of the season, Griffen finished strong in 2012 with by far his best two performances in two must-win games against Houston and Green Bay. Griffen notched up 14 pressures (3 Sk, 3 Ht, 8 Hu) in those two games, and Vikings will hope his good form can be paired with a customary strong start from Robison, who has notched a +9.8 and a +6.2 grade in the last two season openers.
Stock Down: Charlie Johnson (-10.1 – Week 10-17)
The move inside to guard started well for Johnson in the first half of the season with consistently good pass protection and some good run blocking as well. However, things headed south in the second half with some poor run blocking games (three of -2.0 or worse) and an absence of any perfect pass protection games after three in the first half of the year.
Click over to Page 2 for the rest of the NFC teams…
New Orleans Saints
Stock Up: Mark Ingram (+3.4 – Week 14-17)
Entering his third season, Ingram finally started seeing more carries in the second half of last year, and he put them to good use by forcing 10 missed tackles in the last month of the regular season. Ingram has seen his game time limited by his struggles in pass protection, and the Saints worked around that by keeping him in to pass protect on only five snaps in the last month of last season. Ingram will need to prove he can carry a protection workload if he is to maintain any upward momentum.
Stock Down: Zach Strief (-5.9 – Week 10-17)
One of the league’s most consistent right tackles in previous years, Strief had a tough 2012 season. He rebounded with some solid outings after a slow start, but after returning from injury things fell away — he allowed 13 pressures (3 Sk, 3 Ht, 7 Hu) in four games and his run blocking was particularly poor against the Cowboys. The Saints have been focused on replacing Jermon Bushrod at LT, but they may need to turn their attention to RT before too much longer.
New York Giants
Stock Up: Justin Tuck (+4.1 – Week 13-17)
Though his close to the season didn’t match the likes of Julius Peppers (+14.1) or Lamarr Houston (+13.9), Tuck’s last month was a step back in the right direction. In spite of missing one game in the season’s final stretch, Tuck had two of his best pass rushing performances of the campaign and was consistent defending the run. After a strong game against the Jets in preseason, could Tuck be ready to rediscover his best form in a rejuvenated Giants’ defense?
Stock Down: Antrel Rolle (-6.1 – Week 10-17)
On the whole 2012 was a big step forward for Rolle, but some old frailties re-emerged in the second half of the season — particularly in coverage against the Falcons and Ravens as the Giants drifted out of playoff contention. In those two games combined Rolle let up 10 completions on 10 targets and had only one pass defense, with this coming after his two-pick performance in San Francisco.
Stock Up: Mychal Kendricks (+3.5 – Week 14-17)
The Eagles have lots of players to fit into new holes as they switch defensive fronts, and Kendricks has claimed the starting spot next at DeMeco Ryans at inside linebacker. Last season was a struggle through the middle of the year for Kendricks (-20.2 Weeks 5-13) but he started and finished strongly, with 11 of his 38 stops in the final month.
Stock Down: DeMeco Ryans (-7.6 – Week 14-17)
While Kendricks finished strong, Ryans fell away after a strong start. That was especially so in run defense where Ryans missed tackles and struggled to work off blocks. In the final month Ryans earned a -7.5 run defense grade, a finish to the season that won’t have helped those questioning how well he can perform in a 3-4 defense.
St Louis Rams
Stock Up: Rodger Saffold (+9.9 – Week 10-17)
One of the league’s most improved players last season, Saffold now has to switch sides to right tackle to make way for Jake Long. After some disastrous starts in the first half of 2011, Saffold turned things around in the second half of 2012 and allowed more than two pressures only twice in his final eight starts.
Stock Down: Cortland Finnegan (-12.0 – Week 10-17)
While his fellow starting corner Janoris Jenkins was one of the more improved corners in the league by grade over the second half of the season, no corner fell away more than Finnegan. He got off to a fine start in St. Louis with a +5.8 grade through three weeks, but graded positively in coverage only three times thereafter, and only once in the final half of the season. Rebound required for Finnegan in 2013.
San Francisco 49ers
Stock Up: Colin Kaepernick (+11.4 – Week 10-17)
There are a number of candidates for the 49ers’ player on the rise, but it all stems from Kaepernick’s insertion as the starting quarterback around midseason. His perfect fit for the 49ers dominant run oriented offense, and his precision on the deep ball, set off the likes of Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree around him. Maintain this kind of form for a full season and Kaepernick will be racing into the discussion of the league’s best quarterbacks.
Stock Down: Jonathan Goodwin (-2.9 – Week 10-17)
There are shades of grey in terms of how far stock is dropping, and for Goodwin he’s really a victim of his own success in the first half of the season. After posting a +14.8 grade at midseason, second to only John Sullivan league-wide, Goodwin struggled to have the same impact in the second half as a run blocker and let up pressure in every regular season game bar one after the 49ers’ Week 9 bye.
Stock Up: Russell Okung, Breno Giacomini and Max Unger
The second half of the season saw a surge from the Seahawks and as a unit their offensive line made big strides. At center, Max Unger was the third-highest graded center in the second half of the season (+13.7), while at tackle Okung (+14.9) was inside the Top 10 in the same spell. On the right side, Giacomini’s +3.1 might not be quite so impressive, but that was a massive improvement on his first half grade of -14.7. In fact, he was one of the most improved tackles in the second half of last season.
Stock Down: Brandon Mebane (-5.6 – Week 10-17)
After a tremendous start to the season things fell away for Mebane in 2012 in both the run and pass game. Whatever you get from Mebane is a bonus, but his second half production (three hurries) was well down on the 12 pressures (3 Sk, 3 Ht, 6 Hu) he got in the first half. Most concerning was the erosion of his presence in the run game, where he graded above +1.0 only twice in the second half after doing so in five of the first six games of the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stock Up: Gerald McCoy (+10.8 – Week 14-17)
Finally healthy for a full season, McCoy showed what he was capable of in 2012 and finished stronger than any other DT not called Geno Atkins. Aided by a +7.3 game against Philadelphia in Week 14 (8 pressures, 4 stops) McCoy closed out the season in fine form, especially as a pass rusher with 18 pressures (2 Sk, 5 Ht, 11 Hu).
Stock Down: Josh Freeman (-8.2 – Week 14-17)
Even though Mike Glennon hasn’t capitalized on the opportunity in preseason, it is Freeman’s form in the second half of last year that has contributed to the talk of a potential quarterback controversy in Tampa Bay. Even with a strong one-two punch at receiver, Freeman struggled for much of last season, and fell away badly in the last month in particular. In that span Freeman completed 55% of his passes and tossed nine interceptions. A slow start will only heighten the pressure on Freeman.
Stock Up: Ryan Kerrigan (+7.4 – Week 14-17)
After Washington lost Brian Orakpo to injury the pressure was on Kerrigan to carry the load, and he was a workhorse for their defense last season logging 1,177 snaps. His midseason lull raised questions over whether he can be a front-line pass rusher, but his strong start, and more especially his strong finish (wildcard loss aside), raised hopes of him being a big-game player to go with his workhorse nature. In the final month of the season Kerrigan notched 22 pressures (2 Sk, 3 Ht, 17 Hu) and 12 stops, as he helped the Redskins’ surge to the division title.
Stock Down: Stephen Bowen (-8.8 – Week 14-17)
A solid first season in the nation’s capital fell away for Bowen in the final month, as he registered only three pressures and two stops in the final four games. Prior to that Bowen had shown strongly (and he rebounded with a solid display in Washington’s playoff loss) and consistently in run defense to pair with the occasional big game as a pass rusher.
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