2 Who Missed the List: Reece & 3 Centers
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.
Nobody gets all of their players on the list and everyone has at least one or two players that they were “banging the table for” (to steal a draft term) but just can’t convince enough of the rest of the staff to include them. Last season guys like Tony Romo, Jonathan Stewart, and Eugene Monroe were on the just-missed lists that we posted before the Top 101 was revealed.
This year we’re going in reverse and you already know who made the list, so now find out who I wanted in the final cut but couldn’t convince the rest of the guys on their merits.
Without a doubt the one player who I was most disappointed about not being on our list for this season was Reece. I felt he was the most versatile player in the league this past season, on offense or defense, league-wide. We have seen players in the past show versatility for the sake of versatility on one side of the ball (Adalius Thomas) or both sides of the ball (Julian Edelman) but they haven’t excelled at everything they have been asked to do in that season. There is a difference between being able to do multiple jobs and being able to do multiple jobs extremely well and actually helping your team in every aspect. The latter is exactly what Marcel Reece did for the Raiders in 2012.
Reece is the only fullback in the past five years to grade as well as he has in every facet of the game, and that is what, in my opinion, sets this apart as a special season by him. Others have had seasons with a similar lead blocking grade to Vonta Leach, and others have had a similar receiving grade to James Casey. However, they have never combined those aspects with being a primary tailback when called upon, and the ability to line up and be a threat as a receiver split out in the slot and wide as well. The biggest criticism that you can level at Reece is that he doesn’t have the sample size in any one category to show that he truly excelled in it. Yet, when you do such a varied job as Reece did this season (fullback, halfback, tight end, slot, receiver) it is difficult to build up sufficient snaps in one area of the game to build that sample size. This despite the fact that his 676 total snaps was more than all but 12 running backs managed during the regular season.
As a lead blocker (the primary role for a fullback), Reece graded positively almost three times as often as he was downgraded. In pass protection he surrendered only four hurries all season long. As a receiver he caught passes on almost the entire route tree (both wide and from the backfield) and as a primary ballcarrier he showed that Darren McFadden’s problems were are not entirely rooted in the offensive line’s inability to pick up the new zone blocking scheme. McFadden’s hesitance and poor discipline in the backfield led to a -11.6 season rushing grade and a 3.3 yards per carry average. By comparison, Reece’s decisiveness and ability to make players miss without looking to make big plays led to a +3.9 rushing grade and a 4.8 yards per carry average in his three-week spell at tailback. Reece forced nine missed tackles in that time frame, while McFadden only had that many in eight games before he missed the middle of the season due to injury.
There is no greater description of Reece’s versatility than in consecutive plays against Carolina where he sealed Luke Kuechly on a lead block on the first play to set McFadden up for a 13-yard gain on 2nd-and-10, before beating a corner on the subsequent play to pick up another first down on a 19-yard gain on a post route. It is an isolated example, but no other player in the league brought this type of versatility to the field, outside of Percy Harvin.
A Trio of Centers – Chris Myers, Brian De La Puente, Will Montgomery
I was told that this should be just one player, but this trio of centers could all be confused for one and the same such was their almost identical performance level in 2012. All were reasonably solid in pass protection with all three surrendering between 12 and 16 total pressures over the course of the year. All three excelled in the running game, earning at least a +12.0 run blocking grade as well. This was a fine season for centers and even the likes of Mike Pouncey and Nick Mangold missed out on consideration only due to slow finishes or starts to the season, while John Sullivan and Max Unger excelled essentially all year long.
This trio were all key internal cogs in some of the league’s better rushing attacks. While Myers and the Texans may not have reached the heights of 2011, this was still a strong and consistent (only four negatively-graded games all season) effort from a player now firmly established as one of the league’s best centers, in one of the league’s few remaining run-oriented offenses.
In New Orleans, De La Puente is the oft-forgotten center playing between two of the league’s most highly-regarded guards, in the shape of Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans. However, De La Puente still has to make his blocks to earn the sort of overall grade that he accrued this season (+23.0). The only blots on his copybook as a run blocker this season came in back-to-back weeks against Green Bay and San Diego early on in the season. Once the Saints got (to an extent) back on the level after their 0-4 start, so did De La Puente, whose run blocking was one of the consistent factors in that recovery with only two (marginally) negatively-graded games the rest of the way.
The final member of this triumvirate is Will Montgomery who is one of the key reminders that the Redskins’ running game was far more than the read option this season. The Redskins ran many of the zone concepts that you would expect from a Shanahan offense. Montgomery was a strong run blocker at both the line of scrimmage and in particular when working up to the second level to neutralize and dominate linebackers. From Week 9 onward he graded negatively as a run blocker only twice, and graded +1.0 or above six times in that spell as the Redskins powered through the second half of their schedule to make the playoffs.
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