Stock Report: On the Rise
Award season rightly focuses on the league’s elite; it’s the time of year to recognize and reward excellence. However, that doesn’t paint the full picture of the season — there are plenty more stories to tell of those players who sit behind the league’s top shelf performers or who didn’t quite hit those heights for the entire year.
One of those stories to be told is of the players who got better as the season wore on. Metronomic, consistent performance is an extreme rarity, form fluctuates as the season goes and if you can’t start as you mean to go on then you want to progress towards that point.
Here we’ll tip our cap to those players who made the biggest strides from the first half of the season (Week 1 to Week 9) into the second half. These might be full-time starters who were slow out of the gate only to finish strong or they might be rookies taking time to adjust to the speed of the NFL and improving as they got more comfortable.
Whatever the circumstances and whether from mediocre to strong or from poor to solid, we present here in team form the league’s most improved players at each position– those on the rise from the first half to the second of the 2013 NFL season.
Quarterback: Alex Smith, KC (+5.5 Weeks 10-17; -6.1 Weeks 1-9)
A successful first season for Smith in Kansas City but one which ran against the Chiefs’ team successes. Very much a baby sitter during their nine-game winning streak to start the season, Smith didn’t get (or take) the opportunities to offset poor throws early in the season, earning negative passing grades in seven of his first nine starts. In six starts after the bye week he earned four positive passing grades and threw five more touchdowns on 121 fewer pass attempts compared to before.
Honorable Mention: Colin Kaepernick (SF)
Running Back: Chris Ivory, NYJ (+7.1 rushing; -2.9)
Finally in a situation where he got to see more of the ball, Ivory was a more consistent part of the Jets’ ground game down the stretch and topped 5 yards per carry four times in seven games during the second half of the season. Courtesy of one heavy workload in the first half (34 carries against the Patriots) Ivory actually had two fewer carries in the second half of the season, but came up with 95 more yards (94 extra after contact) and broke seven more tackles. Ivory’s yards per carry rose from 4.0 to 5.2 in the second half, in line with increasing his yards after contact per carry from 2.5 to 3.6 in the same period.
Honorable Mention: LeGarrette Blount (NE)
Fullback: Jerome Felton, MIN (+10.9; -3.5)
His improvement was in no small part thanks to his spectacular stretch during the third quarter of the season when he earned a spot in our Team of the Month for his work leading the way for Adrian Peterson’s spectacular production in that spell. After sitting out the start of the year, Felton took some time to find his best form but certainly hit his straps after he got a few weeks under his belt.
Honorable Mention: Marcel Reece (OAK)
Tight End: Charles Clay, MIA (+6.3; -7.0)
Making strides both as a run blocker (+6.2 improvement) and as a receiver (+7.0 improvement) Clay stepped up his all-around game in a second half of the season that promised so much for the Dolphins until the final seven days. Only putting two balls on the ground in the second half (five in the first eight weeks), Clay was also more elusive with ball in hand as the season turned for home. After breaking only three tackles in the first half, Clay bested that in single games twice later in the season (four vs San Diego, six at Pittsburgh) on his way to breaking 13 in the second half.
Honorable Mention: Jason Witten (DAL)
Wide Receivers: Josh Gordon, CLV (+13.9; +1.2) and Eric Decker, DEN (+16.3; +0.6)
Two receivers who were the stuff fantasy football dreams are made of over the course of the second half of the season. Riding out a drop-ridden start, Decker was a force in the final five weeks, topping 100 yards three times and snagging eight of his 11 touchdowns while putting only one pass on the ground in that spell. Gordon was a revelation after he returned from a two-game suspension to start 2013, setting records on a bad team to turn in big play after big play as the Browns came out of their Week 10 bye.
Slot Receiver: Julian Edelman (NE)
Honorable Mention: Anquan Boldin (SF) and Michael Floyd (ARZ)
Tackles: Jason Peters, PHI (+23.8; +6.2) and Tyson Clabo, MIA (+9.8; -10.6)
Returning from a twice ruptured Achilles tendon that cost him his 2012 season, Peters made an inconsistent start to 2013, but really hit his stride down the stretch, surrendering 17 fewer pressures in the second half of the season. That is without even mentioning his improved run blocking that helped LeSean McCoy tear opposing defenses to shreds at the end of the year. On the opposite side, Clabo took time settling into Miami and his new scheme but responded positively to being sent to the bench, returning to the starting lineup more like the player we knew from his time in Atlanta. After letting up eight sacks and seven hits in the season’s first half, Clabo let up only three sacks and three hits on the run to the end of the year.
Honorable Mention: Tyron Smith (DAL) and Donald Stephenson (KC)
Guards: Josh Sitton, GB (+23.4; +9.7) and Jahri Evans, NO (+12.9; -2.4)
Like Peters this wasn’t about a turnaround for Sitton but an ever-developing dominance as the season progressed. His pass protection was one of those rare metronomic consistencies (positive grade every week, only eight pressures let up all season) but his run blocking got better as the season went on and the ground game became a more important part of the Packers’ offense. A similar story for Evans at right guard, though his struggles in run blocking lasted longer than Sitton’s. After five negative grades and a -8.3 run block grade at midseason, Evans emphasized his stature as one of the league’s most highly regarded guards with more consistent work and a +2.8 run block grade in the second half of the season.
Honorable Mention: Todd Herremans (PHI) and Mackenzy Bernadeau (DAL)
Center: Jonathan Goodwin, SF (+8.2; -3.4)
Much like the rest of the team, Goodwin took time to find his form this season but a strong showing against the Jaguars in London to end the first half of the season was a sign of better things to come after the 49ers’ bye. Goodwin earned a positive grade as a run blocker five straight weeks from Week 12 onward, though he hasn’t carried that form into the postseason with a poor display (-2.1 run block) in the opener against Green Bay.
Honorable Mention: Nick Mangold (NYJ)
Click to Page 2 for the Defense and Special Teams…
Defensive Interior – Ends: Calais Campbell, ARZ (+30.3; +11.4) and Kawann Short, CAR (+12.9; +3.5)
After a somewhat slow start, Campbell took off after the bye week, notching positive grades every single week from there on. But for big games against Carolina and Atlanta he was quiet in both the run and pass games before the bye, but a 10-pressure day (2 Ht, 8 Hu) against the Texans sparked a very loud second half. Joining him in the middle of this improving defense is Short; part of a Carolina defense that shares the credit for their improvement this season. The rookie started well with some production as a pass rusher in the first six weeks but then cooled (two pressures in four games) for the next month. To end the season Short notched multiple pressures from his interior spot in seven straight games.
Honorable Mention: Nick Fairley (DET) and Kendall Langford (SL)
Defensive Interior – Nose: Terrance Knighton, DEN (+18.8; +5.3)
With all the focus on Peyton Manning and his record-breaking season it’s easy to forget that the Broncos do have some talented defenders on their sideline too. Knighton flourished as his first season in Denver culminated with a dominant final month — showing the sort of form we haven’t seen from him since 2010 and the sort of consistency that he never showed in his time in Jacksonville. Knighton was one of only four defensive tackles (Randy Starks, Marcell Dareus, and Brandon Mebane) to finish the season with a +10.0 grade in both run defense and as a pass rusher.
Honorable Mention: Cam Thomas (SD)
Edge Rushers: Jason Worlids, PIT (+13.6; -4.1) and Jason Babin, JAX (+3.7; -9.0)
The struggles of first round pick Jarvis Jones (and the Steelers’ philosophy on first rounders) offered Worlids plenty of chances to breakout this season and in the second half he did just that. Even though he missed Week 17, Worlids still notched a scarcely believable 20 hits after the mid-way point, only JJ Watt (21) topped that mark. Across from him, Babin notched 14 more pressures in the second half of the season including an extra four sacks after only notching two prior to the Jaguars’ mid-season bye. Babin got five pressures or more five times in the second half.
Honorable Mention: Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (TB) and Quinton Coples (NYJ)
Linebackers: Mychal Kendricks, PHI (+8.1; -18.1) and Karlos Dansby, ARZ (+15.0; -1.7)
It was all about recovering from a shocking start to the season for Kendricks who solidified with six straight games between -1.0 and +1.0 after earning a -17.6 in the first month. An extremely active player all over the field, if Kendricks could cut down on the missed tackles (23 for the season and they tended to come in bunches) he has the potential to earn a much, much higher grade next season. The second Cardinal in this most-improved defense, Dansby became a playmaker in the passing game for the Cardinals upon his return to the desert only earning one negative game grade after notching four in the first five weeks of the season.
Honorable Mention: Dont’a Hightower (NE) and Vincent Rey (CIN)
Cornerbacks: Lardarius Webb, BAL (+10.6; -3.3) and Dee Milliner, NYJ (+4.0; -6.6)
Coming back from injury is a tough ask and Webb had a string of rough outings in the opening half of the season, but a five-disruption day (1 Int, 4 PD) against the Bengals in Week 10 was an emphatic start to an improved, solid second half. In that late span, Webb showed glimpses of the form that made him one of our highest graded corners in 2011 before his most recent knee injury. Across from him, Milliner had a rough start to his rookie season, benched twice as he struggled to adapt to the NFL. At the third time of asking, though, Milliner showed real strides in facing up to a barrage from the Browns (18 targets) and Giants (13 targets) in the final two weeks to get his hands to seven passes (3 Int, 4 PD) and surrendering completions on less than 50% of 31 targets.
Slot Corner: Brandon Boykin (PHI)
Honorable Mention: Logan Ryan (NE) and Byron Maxwell (SEA)
Safeties: Johnathan Cyprien, JAX (+1.9; -19.4) and Reshad Jones, MIA (+3.0; -9.9)
Making the leap from the Sun Belt to the NFL is a big one to make in a year and Cyprien certainly struggled with that giant step up in competition. The Jags stayed with Cyprien through his learning phase and were rewarded after the bye week with solid displays thereafter and flashes of the potential in both coverage and run support that many observers saw in him during the draft process. Opposite Cyprien in this lineup, Jones was rewarded for his stellar 2012 season (+22.1 overall) with a new contract before the start of the season but then struggled to re-discover that form early in the year, particularly in coverage. Earning positive grades in the final five games, Jones didn’t undo all the poor displays from early on, but gave himself a launch pad to get back to his 2012 best in 2014.
Honorable Mention: Kenny Vaccaro (NO) and Antrel Rolle (NYG)
Kicker: Phil Dawson, SF (+7.7; +0.9)
Only one miss (admittedly a bad one) in the second half of the season for Dawson who went 11-of-11 from beyond 40 yards in the final eight weeks (2-of-5 before the bye).
Honorable Mention: Rob Bironas (TEN)
Punter: Chris Jones, DAL (+10.9; +4.3)
After a shaky start to the season Jones started a strong closing run against the Redskins in Week 6 (+2.2) carrying that through with only one negative grade to end the season.
Honorable Mention: Shane Lechler (HST)
Returner: Keshawn Martin, HST (+7.3; -3.5)
Devoid of opportunities to return kicks late in the season (12 fewer returns in the second half) Martin upped his game as a punt returner gaining an extra 183 yards on only seven more returns which included two 50+ yard runbacks.
Honorable Mention: Jacoby Jones (BLT)
Special Teamer: Johnson Bademosi, CLE (+5.5; -5.0)
A standout last season, Bademosi got off to a rough start this year on punts but found his best form again in the second half of the season. He didn’t miss a tackle after Week 8.
Honorable Mention: Akeem Jordan (KC)
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