2 Who Missed the List: Jennings & Monroe
Every year the PFF Analysis staff gets together and assembles our combined Top 101 list for the prior season. Believe it or not we’re not all robots and we don’t come with exactly the same lists in exactly the same order. It often turns into an intense debate, particularly toward the beginning points of the list and for the players making the final 10, which almost always takes more discussion than the order for those at the top.
As much as you ever can be, I was happy with our Top 101 for 2012. All positions created equal is a novel concept, particularly coming from someone who doesn’t think you should pay any guard more than $5 million a year. Yet it gives us an opportunity to say, in our opinion at least, last year Evan Mathis played his position better than Aaron Rodgers played his.
So the two guys I’m going to talk about below I’m doing so in a context of players whose performance during 2012 put them in the same rarefied air as the guys we’ve already listed — I’m not saying they absolutely should have been in our 101, but they certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place in that company.
Pro Football Focus has been on the Jennings bandwagon for some time. In fact, ever since he was signed as a UFA from Indianapolis we felt he was a perfect fit for what the Bears do on defense. He’s a great scheme match as a player who in the Cover 2 will allow his share of completions, though not give up anything deep and bring the hammer in run defense. It’s a shame that on occasion the Bears have made him feel like a player on the bubble. For example, when he did allow a couple of long balls against Seattle in week 15 of 2011 he was prematurely yanked, with the coaching staff showing the zealousness more appropriate to an embattled rookie than a player not giving up a passer rating above 68.1 the previous three weeks and no touchdowns all year.
This year he took his displays to a level that ensured only injury would take him off the field (a dislocated shoulder saw him miss weeks 14 and 15), and luckily enough made such a volume of interceptions (nine) that even Pro Bowl voters had to take notice — he was selected as a starter to the NFC squad.
The quarterback rating allowed into his coverage (53.3) was second among full-time starters to only Richard Sherman (40.5), and that wasn’t some fluke brought on by those interceptions. The completion percentage of balls targeting him was only 52.9, 11th-best among starters and remarkable for a Cover 2 corner who usually concentrates on limiting YAC as opposed to receptions. Add to this his 12th-ranked Run Stop Percentage when asked to come up and play force and you have one of the premier all-around players at the position in the NFL for 2012.
I must have something about good players on bad teams because for this article last year I selected the Colts Robert Mathis. If ever there was a player fitting that category it would be Eugene Monroe — we graded only three starters on the team above +5.0 in 2012, and of those Monroe was by far the highest.
It’s incredibly difficult to play left tackle at the best of times, but when the guy next to you is arguably the worst at his position in the entire league it makes your job doubly hard. Across the season a combination of four left guards combined to register a mind-blowingly bad -39.8 rating. To put that into perspective, the worst full-time left guard, rookie Amini Silatolu of the Panthers, put up –16.8.
In a game where teams regularly slide left guards across to support the exposed left tackle, trying to survive with this level of incompetence on your inside would be hard, but to flourish and play well is the sign of a very high quality player.
Despite these issues, Monroe was still our 10th-ranked LT in the NFL last year and, unlike a number of the guys above him, played well as both a run and pass blocker without giving up an inordinate amount of penalties in doing so (six). When your worst game of the year (-3.2) comes against J.J. Watt as you try to take the pressure off your struggling colleague, that’s not quite the negative it may first appear. I also have a view that given even an average player next to him Monroe would have made the Top 101 with room to spare. It’s a shame the Jaguars did nothing to address the left guard position in the draft or free agency, but of the players they did use last year by far the best was the last, Austin Pasztor (-0.2 in 219 snaps), so perhaps they have a view that he will be able to give Monroe that chance to really show what he can do.
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