10 PFF stats to know for the Pro Bowl
Eric Eager looks at some of the top PFF numbers heading into Sunday's football All-Star game.
10 PFF stats to know for the Pro Bowl
While we still have more than a week to go before Super Bowl LI, we still have some semblance of football this weekend. As the Pro Bowl, in one sense, returns to its roots as an AFC-vs.-NFC matchup, the annual All Star game heads to central Florida for the next two years, bucking the traditional trip to Hawaii awarded to those sticking around to play in the game. Here, we offer up 10 stats you need to know before what is sure to be a high-scoring affair.
1. None of our top-six graded quarterbacks is playing in Sunday’s game.
With Tom Brady (99.5 – first) and Matt Ryan (93.3 – tied for second) set to play next Sunday in Houston, and Aaron Rodgers (93.3), Andrew Luck (92.4), Russell Wilson (89.8) and Derek Carr (87.0) either snubbed, injured and/or electing not to play, the game’s best signal-caller is the Saints’ Drew Brees, who, while seeing a decline in his play for the third consecutive year, was still second among all passers in adjusted completion percentage (79.8) and sixth in yards per attempt (7.74). When kept clean (75.6 percent of his dropbacks), Brees led the NFL with 34 touchdown passes.
2. While he may have needed LeSean McCoy to bow out before he earned a spot on the AFC roster, Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi was deserving all along.
After hardly seeing the field in the first quarter of the season, Ajayi emerged as the premiere reason Miami made its first playoff appearance since 2008, rushing for almost 1,300 yards (an even 900 of which came after contact) while breaking a whopping 58 tackles (11 more than any other running back). The back we’ve rated most elusive in the league was also a big-time breakaway threat – with his 15 runs of 15-plus yards after Week 6 tied for first in the league among all running backs.
3. The AFC fullback (Kyle Juszczyk) and the NFC fullback (Mike Tolbert) are the highest- and lowest-graded players at their position this year (min. 150 snaps).
With only 14 qualifying players at the position this year, fullback continues to be increasingly shunned in the modern offense. The two fullbacks playing Sunday’s game were heavily involved in their team’s offenses, with Juszczyk catching 37 of 42 targets (tops among fullbacks in both categories) and Tolbert breaking 10 tackles on 35 carries (both most among fullbacks). Tolbert dropped three of his 15 targets, however, and ranked dead-last in run blocking among qualifiers, contributing to a Carolina’s offense going from 4.3 yards per carry in 2015 to 4.0 in 2016.
4. Russell Wilson had a 119.7 passer rating when targeting Pro Bowl receiver Doug Baldwin this season, the fourth straight season he’s had a rating above 100 targeting the undrafted free agent from Stanford.
It’s about time Baldwin got his due. After Seahawks quarterbacks had a ridiculous 142.8 passer rating throwing in his direction in 2015 (best in the league), regression was understandably predicted for 2016. Baldwin defied the statistical odds, however, and stayed one of the best receivers in the league, catching 94 of 98 catchable targets (and all nine of his catchable deep targets), while generating 1.92 yards per route run playing with an offensive line that allowed the third-most pressures in the league.
5. The two Pro Bowl starting tight ends, Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen, were the only two tight ends with 1,000 yards receiving in 2016. They went about it in completely different ways, though.
While Kelce had a penchant for taking shorter throws (his average depth of target was 6.9 yards) and running after the catch (his 652 yards after the catch led all tight ends by 250 yards), Olsen led all tight ends with more than 40 targets in average depth of target with 11.8 yards. The end results were similar: 1,125 yards and four touchdowns for Kelce (and our highest PFF grade among TEs with more than 400 total snaps), and 1,073 yards and three touchdowns for Olsen (second-highest grade among qualifying TEs).
6. Ravens’ center Jeremy Zuttah, replacing Maurkice Pouncey, was only our 13th-highest graded center this season (Pouncey was 14th).
While Zuttah’s PFF grade (82.7) was decent this season, there were 14 other centers with higher run-blocking grades, and his 96.8 pass-blocking efficiency was just 22nd among 28 qualifying centers on the year. While Matt Paradis (our highest-graded center this season) recently underwent surgery on his right hip, one could make a compelling case for players like Jacksonville’s Brandon Linder (87.6) or Chicago rookie Cody Whitehair (87.2) in Zuttah’s stead.
7. Not only do we miss out on the league’s best defensive player and pass rusher (Aaron Donald) because of injury, but we also have miss out on the league’s best run defender (Damon Harrison) because he was snubbed.
While he may not rack up the sack numbers (he had two this season) that garner Pro Bowl recognition, Giants free agent acquisition Harrison is every bit deserving of a berth. His 15.8 run-stop percentage is four percentage points higher than any other player at his position, with his 49 total run stops outpacing everyone by 10 stops. He’s a big reason the Giants went from allowing 6.1 yards per play in 2015 (30th in the league) to 5.1 in 2016 (seventh).
8. Known as a premiere run defender, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner was second among inside linebackers in 2016 in pass-rush productivity.
After a down season (for him) in 2015, Wagner rebounded by posting the third-highest PFF grade among linebackers in 2016. One of the reasons Wagner played better in 2016 was that he was used a bit differently – blitzing on 13.9 percent of his snaps in pass defense (by far the highest of his career). He responded by generating four sacks, 14 quarterback hits and six hurries.
9. Of the eight Pro Bowl cornerbacks, only Casey Hayward was out of the top 10 among 78 qualifying cornerbacks in cover snaps per reception allowed. He was still really good.
Although he was outside of this exclusive group, Heyward was a revelation for the Chargers this season, allowing just a 53.4 passer rating into his coverage (third), intercepting seven of 93 said passes, and allowing just one touchdown. Arguably the best free agent signing this past offseason shed his label as an exclusively slot cornerback, playing less than 10 percent of his coverage snaps in the there, while shadowing some of the league’s best receivers in the process.
10. The Chiefs have three special teams players in the Pro Bowl, and for good reason.
Our third-highest-graded unit in the league is a balanced group, featuring strong players such as Eric Murray, Anthony Sherman, Demetrius Harris and Steven Nelson. However, the honors this season go to punter Dustin Colquitt, who was third in the league with 38 punts dropped inside the 20, ace D.J. Alexander, who has missed just three special teams tackles the last two years, and return man Tyreek Hill, who was by far our highest-graded return man this season, scoring three touchdowns for the AFC West champions.