Stock Report: NFC, Fourth Quarter
Ben Stockwell's final look at a month's worth of risers and fallers highlights the players looking up and down for each team.
Stock Report: NFC, Fourth Quarter
The 2013 NFL season is in the books and didn’t it just fly by? It doesn’t seem so long ago that we were looking forward to the new season and wondering who would carry positive momentum from last season into the new year and who was looking to turn things around in the new year. Now the season is in the books and we’re looking at who finished the season in style and who, of those that earned the right to continue, will be carrying positive momentum into the post season.
Positive or negative, for better or worse, this is the form that you are carrying into the offseason so here is one final look at those who ratcheted up to close the season and those who saw their play decline in the final month.
*Check back as the final AFC Stock Report of the season will be posted later today.
Stock Up: Andre Ellington (+5.7, Q4 2013; +2.5, Q3 2013)
A strong rookie season for Ellington saw him grade positively and contribute for the Cardinals in every single month of the season. Earning a season high +5.7 overall grade this month Ellington gained 211 yards on the ground of which 144 (3.2 yards per carry) came after first contact. Adding an extra 124 yards through the air Ellington forced 13 of 31 missed tackles this month, a total which placed him inside the Top 25 running backs for the season.
Stock Down: Michael Floyd (+1.0, Q4 2013; +9.9, Q3 2013)
Floyd couldn’t back up his breakout month to finish the season but still made some solid contributions through the month. In four games this month and on 24 targets, Floyd failed to eclipse the yardage he accrued in one game against the Jaguars in Week 11. Floyd dropped three passes (only five drops total for the season) this month, catching only 11 of his 24 targets.
Stock Up: Corey Peters (+3.7, Q4 2013; -2.2, Q3 2013)
A cruel turn of events for Peters who suffered a serious injury against the 49ers just two games before he was due to hit free agency. Peters was a rare bright spot in a dour season for the Falcons consistently solid against the run, occasionally flashing as an interior pass rusher and a defensive tackle not averse to reading and running down a screen. Even though he only played just more than two games this month he still recorded 10 defensive stops.
Stock Down: Robert Alford (-5.7, Q4 2013; +0.6, Q3 2013)
A bit of a fact-finding mission for Alford and the Falcons as Atlanta’s second round pick stepped into the starting lineup and was found wanting somewhat towards the end of his rookie year. On 23 targets Alford surrendered 19 completions for 295 yards and four scores. Some promise was shown in the final game of the season at least, surrendering only 15 yards on three targets — though one of those completions was a touchdown.
Stock Up: Greg Hardy (+14.0, Q4 2013; +3.0, Q3 2013)
The Panthers really stepped it up all over the board in the final month of the season and there were almost endless options for where to go in this spot on both offense and defense. Though those behind him got more column inches, Hardy was arguably the Panthers best defensive player this month. He took comprehensive advantage of favorable matchups to show up with big performances in critical matchups. He led all 4-3 defensive ends with 28 total pressures and was no slouch in run defense either with a +4.1 run defense grade for the month.
Stock Down: No one
One of the many teams riding positive momentum into the post season, the Panthers’ only real concern will be not losing that momentum through wildcard weekend as they sit and wait for their next opponent.
Stock Up: Matt Slauson (+10.9, Q4 2013; -0.4, Q3 2013)
Only signing on a one-year deal, Slauson’s play this season made him an excellent value pick up and the Bears have acted quickly to give Slauson a four year deal locking up one of the best free agent guards well before he hit the open market. These final four weeks of the season were Slauson’s most consistent, surrendering only three pressures (1 Ht, 2 Hu) in the final four weeks while grading positively as a run blocker in the Bears last five outings.
Stock Down: Jon Bostic (-10.0, Q4 2013; -3.7, Q3 2013)
This isn’t singling out Bostic for the Bears’ defensive performances this season, no one player can be responsible for the complete failure of this defense against the run. However, his performances especially late in the season were symptomatic of Chicago’s failure to channel the strength of Bears defenses past. Bostic struggled getting off blocks and until he only played four snaps this week against Green Bay had earned a run defense grade of -1.2 or worse in six straight games dating back to Week 11.
Stock Up: Travis Frederick (+6.5, Q4 2013; +1.8, Q3 2013)
Some might still say that the Cowboys reached for Frederick in the first round of this year’s draft but what should not be questioned is that (at least on first impressions) the Cowboys evaluation of his talent was spot on. There is still some work to be done to improve his pass protection (10 pressures surrendered this month and 24 for the season is too much for a center) but as a run blocker he was consistent for most of the season and had two month-long spells (+10.5, league’s best this month) where he was playing as well as any center in the league.
Stock Down: DeVonte Holloman (-12.8, Q4 2013; DNP Q3 2013)
Cowboys fans might be asking what if when it comes to Sean Lee, he most likely would not have fixed all of the problems with this defense, but Dallas never had a remotely suitable back up option. The latest to give it a go inside was the sixth-rounder, Holloman, who struggled in run defense in all three of his starts this month and missed two tackles in the division decider against the Eagles on Sunday.
Stock Up: Rashean Mathis (+4.5, Q4 2013; +0.5, Q3 2013)
Stats don’t tell the whole story but when as a corner you’re only giving up 66 yards on 16 targets in a month and you break up three passes, there’s not much room to say you haven’t had a very good month. Those are the numbers Mathis put up in three weeks this season (absent for Week 16) which saw him earn a +5.1 coverage grade this month, among the top five corners in the league.
Stock Down: Matthew Stafford (-8.9, Q4 2013; +9.1, Q3 2013)
A real missed opportunity not just for the Lions this season but also for Stafford who had put himself in position to make a big stride as a quarterback with some big, game-winning performances early in the season. However, he regressed catastrophically in the final month of the season tossing five interceptions and gaining a mere 6.1 yards per attempt in his four starts this month. Until the end of the season Stafford avoided the dire performances that had dogged prior seasons, but they returned at the worst possible time for him and the Lions.
Green Bay Packers
Stock Up: Eddie Lacy (+6.6, Q4 2013; +3.4, Q3 2013) and James Starks (+3.3, Q4 2013; -1.1, Q3 2013)
The return of Aaron Rodgers will get plenty of column inches and broadcast mentions in the lead up to this weekend’s wildcard game against the 49ers but don’t sleep on how well Green Bay’s running backs are playing and how important they (along with the offensive line) will be to their potential success. Lacy has proven his doubters wrong in his rookie season and topped 350 yards with a dozen missed tackles forced on the ground this month. Rolling with him is Starks who gained in excess of three yards per carry after first contact this month ensuring the Packers never back off the physicality in the running game when Lacy takes a breather.
Stock Down: No one
The Packers were patient, held things together through key injuries and took advantage when the Lions and Bears failed to put them out of contention before they got Aaron Rodgers back. The Packers are who they are and largely held that form through this final month of the season, they will hope that with their leader back under center this team can take a step forward and be a dark horse in the postseason.
Stock Up: Cordarrelle Patterson (+7.0, Q4 2013; -1.8, Q3 2013)
A consistent contributor as a kick returner all season long, Patterson became more and more involved in the offense as the season went on and he flourished in the final month. Making his mark both as receiver and runner, Patterson crossed the goal line five times in the last month of the season adding 129 yards on the ground to his 215 yards on 15 receptions. Getting Patterson even more involved from the start of next season will be crucial if the Vikings are to step forward in the NFC North.
Stock Down: Brandon Fusco (+0.1, Q4 2013; +7.6, Q3 2013)
Minnesota showed their faith in Fusco last season choosing to keep playing him over Geoff Schwartz who was outperforming Fusco on fewer snaps in a rotation at right guard. Fusco repaid that faith this season and in spite of his drop in form this month (from excellent to solid) still earned a positive overall grade every month this season and finished the season among our Top-10 graded run blocking guards.
New Orleans Saints
Stock Up: Drew Brees (+11.0, Q4 2013; +4.5, Q3 2013)
When you have the kind of performance that Drew Brees and the Saints put in against the Panthers in Carolina it is easy to forget just how well the Saints started the month in their much more comprehensive home win against that same team. Even with a performance bad enough for a -4.2 grade in Carolina he was still a +11.0 for the month slicing and dicing the Panthers and Bucs to begin and finish the month. The conundrum for Brees and the Saints is that those performances came at home, Brees’ highest five game grades of the season come from home games while his lowest four (six of the bottom eight) come on the road where the Saints will have to work their way to the Super Bowl.
Stock Down: Charles Brown (-5.4, Q4 2013; +1.4, Q3 2013)
Playing badly enough in the first two weeks of the month to get benched for a rookie project (Terron Armstead), Brown had a disastrous outing against the Rams in St Louis as the straw that broke the camel’s back. Letting up 49 pressures this season, Brown earned a negative pass protection grade in nine of his 14 starts.
New York Giants
Stock Up: Trumaine McBride (+5.2, Q4 2013; +1.7, Q3 2013)
One of the league’s most targeted corners this month, McBride only let up 97 yards on 10 catches in spite of being targeted 29 times. One of only two corners to be targeted 20+ times and not surrender 100 yards (Leodis McKelvin) two of the 10 completions McBride surrendered did result in touchdowns. A poster boy for short term form 12 of McBride’s 29 targets this month came in the Giants’ regular season finale against Washington but he surrendered only two completions, intercepting as many himself and breaking up four more.
Stock Down: Eli Manning (-9.7, Q4 2013; +3.8, Q3 2013)
A rough season for Manning who will be looking forward to a reset in 2014 to get back to better form. Manning rounded out the season with a tough month throwing nine interceptions over the final four games picking up a negative passing grade in each outing. Only his opponent from this Sunday, Kirk Cousins, earned a lower overall grade among quarterbacks this month.
Stock Up: Jason Peters (+17.8, Q4 2013; +6.0, Q3 2013)
Last month their rookie right tackle was listed in this “Stock Up” spot, now the veteran left tackle returning from injury is up there after a dominant month on Nick Foles’ blindside. In truth, Peters is taking the credit for an entire offensive line that is setting the table for Foles and LeSean McCoy to put up the gaudy numbers and take all the credit. On form there isn’t a better line in the entire league right now and Peters is exemplifying that in both run and pass games.
Stock Down: No one
The offense is smoking hot and the defense is by and large doing a good job of hiding the holes that seemed very apparent earlier on in the season. If the Eagles can get a start and see off the Saints in their home game then suddenly this is a team that could start to look extremely dangerous.
St Louis Rams
Stock Up: Alec Ogletree (+4.1, Q4 2013; -3.9, Q3 2013)
Only the Tampa tackling machine Lavonte David registered more stops than Ogletree this month among 4-3 outside linebackers. Ogletree improved as the season went on cutting out a lot of the negative grades against the run that dogged the start of his rookie season. What didn’t improve was his propensity for missed tackles. He missed 19 for the season with seven of those coming in the final four games of the season.
Stock Down: James Laurinaitis (-4.8, Q4 2013; +2.9, Q3 2013)
Speaking of missed tackles, the Rams middle linebacker had more than his share this month as well missing half a dozen in his season total of 13 over the final four games of the season. Playing in the middle of an improving St. Louis defense it would be easy to get carried away with Laurinaitis being an excellent player at the center of that improvement. In reality, Laurinaitis is nothing more than an average starting MLB with improving talent around him.
San Francisco 49ers
Stock Up: Aldon Smith (+13.1, Q4 2013; +5.3, Q3 2013)
After a difficult start to the season off the field, Smith has returned to the fold with the 49ers re-discovering the form he was in when he took his enforced break. Smith earned a positive grade in six straight games to end the season and comfortably led all 3-4 OLBs with 25 total pressures (2 Sk, 4 Ht, 19 Hu) in the final month of the season.
Stock Down: Ahmad Brooks (-10.5, Q4 2013; +1.7, Q3 2013)
What is it with Ahmad Brooks and the final month of the regular season? In his three seasons as a starter, Brooks has consistently struggled (-8.4 in 2011, -6.6 in 2012, -10.5 in 2013) over the final four games of the regular season. In those three final months Brooks only has one sack and five quarterback hits after having consistently put together strong starts to each season. In the previous two seasons Brooks has rebounded with strong game to open the playoffs (+1.4 vs NO in 2011, +2.8 vs GB in 2012), can he repeat this trick on the road this season?
Stock Up: Brandon Mebane (+13.2, Q4 2013; +5.4, Q3 2013) and Clinton McDonald (+5.7, Q4 2013; -1.9, Q3 2013)
More than just a one-dimensional run-stuffer Mebane showed balance as both a pass rusher and run defender to earn the highest overall grade of any defensive tackle this month, notching 12 total pressures and seven defensive stops. Joining him in a strong month for the Seahawks tackle rotation was Clinton McDonald whose 11 total pressures (including two sacks) on 89 pass rushes placed him fifth among defensive tackles this month.
Stock Down: No one
A couple of defeats in the final month of the season don’t really seem to have derailed the Seahawks form and they were still able to wrap up the No. 1 overall seed in Week 17. The offense and defense look stacked with contributors and especially on defense the Seahawks can get game-changing contributions from seemingly any player who takes the field.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stock Up: William Gholston (+6.3, Q4 2013; -8.0, Q3 2013)
The Bucs have been a one-man gang on the defensive line all season long with the outstanding Gerald McCoy getting nothing by way of support from anyone else up front. That was until this month when Gholston put in a trio of excellent performances to open the month. His two-sack game against the Bills will have grabbed some people’s attention as an isolated performance, but he backed it up with four hurries against the 49ers and provided strong run defense (+4.8) in those three games as well. The Bucs need Gholston to carry this form in 2014 so McCoy isn’t going it alone again.
Stock Down: Bobby Rainey (-3.2, Q4 2013; +4.5, Q3 2013)
Strong displays against Miami and Atlanta ebbed away a little for Rainey this month. He got the month off to a solid start with his second 100-yard game against the Bills but gained less than 100 yards on 42 carries in the final three games of the season, picking up only 1.5 yards per carry after first contact.
Stock Up: Pierre Garcon (+2.9, Q4 2013; -2.5, Q3 2013)
A strong final month of the season saw Garcon come up just short of leading the league in yards after the catch as he collected 176 YAC this month (6 yards per reception). Most importantly for Garcon was that he cut out the drops, after 10 in the first 12 weeks (including three games with two drops), he only spilled one catch in the final four weeks.
Stock Down: Kirk Cousins (-10.3, Q4 2013; DNP, Q3 2013)
That audition process didn’t work out terribly well for Cousins and the Redskins, did it? There were about 100 different reasons proposed for Cousins starting in the final month as Washington’s season descended into farce, but if the real reason was to dangle Cousins as trade bait, it backfired. Opinion has been split on what the Redskins could get for Cousins in a potential trade but all those estimations will surely be down after two very ropey starts against the Cowboys and Giants (47.1% completion, 4.3 yards per attempt) to end the year.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.