Daily Focus: What to expect from Washington rookie Su’a Cravens

Neil Hornsby takes a look at the latest NFL news through the lens of PFF grades. It starts with Washington imitating an Arizona success story.

| 4 months ago
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Daily Focus: What to expect from Washington rookie Su’a Cravens


Editor’s note: For this debut edition of “Daily Focus,” PFF founder Neil Hornsby took the latest NFL news and translated what it really means for each team involved. Like what you see or have suggestions for improvements? Let us know in the comments.

Washington draftee Su’a Cravens to play inside linebacker: The success of 211-pound Deone Bucannon in Arizona playing inside linebacker hasn’t spawned many imitators yet, but perhaps the first will be Washington with its use of Cravens, the team’s 215-pound second-round selection. At mini-camp he has been used at the position, and it seems logical that this will translate to the 2016 season.

Even on base downs, Bucannon lines up as a traditional linebacker and uses his speed to attack the line of scrimmage. There are times when it can look ugly for him in run defense — when a guard lines him up directly, as an example — but these instances have been far less prevalent than may have been expected. Looking at the two charts below, you can see Cravens played a similar if not equivalent position at USC.

Focus 1

Focus 2

At USC, Cravens played more on the edge of the line (at LOLB and ROLB) and on the slot than Bucannon, who is predominantly within five yards of the line of scrimmage and between the tackles for the Cardinals (the two ILB positions). However, one defining similarity is the lack of snaps both play at safety. Don’t expect to see Cravens lining up very often more than five or six yards away from the action for the Washington defense.

Dolphins sign DE Jason Jones: When last week I wrote about Miami extending the contract of edge rusher Cameron Wake, I showed how dependent they might be on him if Mario Williams’ poor 2015 season in Buffalo (he earned the worst pass-rush grade in the league among edge defenders) was a trend and not a blip. A week later, the Dolphins added Jones to their list of aging ends.

It’s a good, pragmatic move, as the veteran had a slightly better-than-average performance for the Lions last year both as a pass-rusher and run defender, and, if effort is anything to go by, he shows little by way of slowing.

I’ve added him to last week’s table to show how valuable an addition he may be to a potentially boom-or-bust group.

Focus 3

One other thing to mention about Jones: He has the ability to slide inside on pass-rush downs (28 percent of snaps inside the tackles) and be productive. If Williams can recover some of his previous form, a third-down crew of Wake, Ndamukong Suh (who quietly had his best year as a pro in 2015), Jones and Williams has the potential to be one of the league’s best pass-rushing groups.

Ravens sign CB Jerraud Powers: The fact that Powers might end up getting significant playing time for Baltimore is an indication of the condition of the current secondary. It’s not that anybody on the Ravens was downright awful at corner last year, but when players of the caliber of Jimmy Smith are allowing six touchdowns and a passer rating of 94.0, it’s not a great season all the way around.

With Lardarius Webb likely to play at safety in 2016, it will likely be Smith and one of Powers, Shareece Wright, Will Davis and Kyle Arrington starting opposite him. This is assuming on passing downs they bring in another safety and move Webb over the slot. Here’s how they line up in terms of 2015 and career grades:

Focus 4

So who gets the nod? The incumbent is Wright, who, after several terrible seasons in San Diego, actually had an overall positive grade for Baltimore last year. If he had been consistently average, that might have been good enough, but his boom-or-bust year together with his previous poor form means we might see the job go elsewhere. They may well go with experience, and if that’s the case, Powers is probably their man.

If it were me, I’d try Arrington first. His last two seasons have not been his best, but during his time in New England, he proved he can both cover and be helpful in run support (+7.2 career grade).

Best free agents available: The following is a list of the highest-graded players from last year who are still on the open market:

  1. Greg Hardy, ED, Cowboys (PFF grade: 81.9): He’d likely play better than that grade, too, but his off-field issues have to be concerning to teams.
  2. Dominique Easley, DI, Patriots (81.5): Even if it weren’t for the injury concerns, it’s hard to get a gig when the Patriots bail on you.
  3. Will Hill, S, Ravens (81.4): He is suspended (for the fourth time) for the first 10 games of 2016.
  4. Anquan Boldin, WR, 49ers (79.6): He’d clearly make some teams better. The Chiefs and Falcons would both be good fits.
  5. Donte Whitner, S, Browns (79.5): He is a 10-year veteran, but still playing well. The Bears or Rams should definitely consider him.
  6. Walter Thurmond, S, Eagles (79.3): It looks like he’s retiring, but watch the offers flood in if he decides to play after an impressive 2015 season with the Eagles.
  7. Leon Hall, CB, Bengals (78.4): Only offseason back surgery has stopped his signing. Expect the Giants to be in play for this slot specialist.
  8. Amini Silatolu, G, Panthers (78.3): Injury is a concern with him, which will limit team interest.
  9. Kevin Williams, DI, Saints (77.7): He was one of the best players in the NFL during his prime, and he is still doing a decent job. He is considering retirement after 13 years in the NFL.
  10. Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Panthers (77.1): Always an underrated player, he might get a late chance if injury forces a team to look for depth at wide receiver.

Given a clean bill of health upon his return from injury, expect Hall to be the first player taken from this group.

| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

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