Stock Report: NFC, Season Opener
Ben Stockwell offers up the first installment of a new series tracking the form of the NFL's fastest rising, and hardest falling, players.
Stock Report: NFC, Season Opener
Welcome to the first installment of the Stock Report. This is a new feature on Pro Football Focus that will shine a light on how players’ form fluctuates and highlight players who are gaining form as the season progresses or falling away from fast starts. We’ll be taking a look at this on a monthly basis, allowing players a series of weeks before we look back in on them so that we have a good group of performance data to examine for those trending both up and down.
One of the big things we have discovered at PFF is the ability to quantify just how much form and performance fluctuates through the course of an NFL season. It has always been assumed, and sometimes underplayed, but by looking at a player’s grade progression through the season it quantifies that performance rather than qualifying it. Seeing a graph such as that for Dez Bryant from last year’s regular season, it becomes clear just how performance can fluctuate across the season:
By way of introducing this feature we’re going to take a look primarily at how players finished the 2012 season, focusing on those who were hitting their best form as the season was drawing to a close, as well as those who finished slowly and will be looking to rebound as the 2013 season gets underway. We’ll also give a nod to some players who shone in preseason and have teased of promising things to come.
Clearly we can’t mention every player who is trending up and down, so we’re going to go by conference shining a spotlight on one player per team whose stock is on the rise (hitting good form or improving on prior performances) and one player per team whose stock is on the slide. If you want to check in on how every player in the league is playing game-by-game and month-by-month, you’ll have to come aboard and get yourself a PFF Premium subscription.
We started with the AFC article which you can read here, but now let’s turn our attention to the NFC.
Stock Up: Calais Campbell (+15.3 – Week 14-17)
The entire 2012 regular season was a continuation of Campbell’s upward trajectory toward being one of the league’s elite defenders, but the way he closed out the regular season was eye-popping. Having missed every game from Week 10 to Week 13, Campbell returned with a staggering close that, in grading terms, almost matched his entire first half of the season. In four games he registered 17 stops and 13 pressures (3 Sk, 2 Ht, 8 Hu), which would have put him just outside the Top 20 3-4 DEs in the league for a full season’s work.
Stock Down: Rob Housler (-12.4 – Week 10-17)
Taking over as the starting tight end early on, Housler was solid through the first half of the season (+0.8) but fell away in the second half. Unable to make a consistent impact in an anemic passing attack, his run blocking was never of a standard to make up for that shortfall. Housler also struggled in the preseason, dropping two passes on three targets.
Stock Up: Akeem Dent (+3.1 – Week 10-17)
Entering the starting line-up in Week 3, Dent struggled to find his feet in both pass coverage and run defense over the first half of the season. He missed four tackles in five games to close the first half of the season, but didn’t miss any from Week 11 onward and had a trio of strong run defense games to end the season. Dent will be looking to build upon this, and a solid preseason, to provide more impact as a second-year starter.
Stock Down: Kroy Biermann (-3.2 – Week 10-17)
Struggling as a pass rusher all season, Biermann didn’t provide much impact as a run defender over the second half of 2012 which saw his overall grade and impact for the Falcons’ defense fall away. Missed tackles also became a problem for Biermann over the second half with a dozen misses from Week 10 onward. Biermann put in a solid preseason at DLE to offer hope that he will turn around his late 2012 form.
Stock Up: Cam Newton (+15.9 – Week 10-17)
The slow start for Newton and the Panthers led to the common opinion of second-season struggles for the Carolina signal-caller. However, over the second half of the season only four quarterbacks had a higher overall grade than Newton, and his passing grade topped +1.0 in six straight games from Week 11. If the Panthers are to be a threat in the NFC South this year they need Newton to hit the ground running with this kind of form.
Stock Down: Frank Alexander (-8.1 – Week 10-17)
The Panthers were so strong over the second half of 2012 that they’re short on candidates for someone whose stock went down. Alexander, however, fell away from a solid first half of the season and struggled to match impact he made as a pass rusher in the first half of the season. To add to his fall off in pass rush he recorded only two defensive stops in the second half of the season.
Stock Up: Matt Slauson (+7.8 – Week 10-17)
Good news all around for Bears fans at guard right now, a pleasant change. Not only did Kyle Long whet their appetite with a stellar preseason (+7.9 overall), but their new starting left guard finished the season strong in New York before moving to the Windy City. After an inconsistent first half of the season Slauson put together a series of strong games from midseason, only letting himself down with a disappointing game of pass protection (-2.0) against the Chargers. Could the Bears’ offensive line to be the most improved unit in the league in 2013?
Stock Down: Corey Wootton (-7.8 – Week 10-17)
While it’s all good news at guard, there’s mixed news at defensive end for Chicago. While Julius Peppers put in a stellar second half of the season (+13.5 improvement, second-most improved 4-3 defensive end), opposite him Wootton struggled as he moved into the starting line-up. Coming in off the bench Wootton earned a +6.4 overall grade, but as a starter in the second half his -7.8 overall grade was among the 10 worst among 4-3 defensive ends.
Stock Up: Dez Bryant (+10.0 – Week 10-17)
We’re often accused of not taking notice of, or giving enough credit to, Dez Bryant — but be assured, we noticed. As a full season’s body of work, Bryant’s performance may not have matched the elite in our view, but his second half, and the improvement over his first half, was right up there. Add to that a stellar preseason (+4.1) and Bryant is definitively a receiver on the rise.
Stock Down: No-one
The closest the Cowboys had to players with a significant downturn in the second half of last season were DeMarcus Ware and Morris Claiborne. Both fared better in the first half of the season but Ware’s grading downturn was on the back of some poor run defense, his pass rush was still excellent. Meanwhile, Claiborne’s grading downturn was almost entirely based on a five-penalty display against the Eagles in Week 10.
Stock Up: Ndamukong Suh (+20.2 – Week 10-17)
Perhaps the biggest no brainer in this article. Suh lit it up in the second half of last season and finally showed the all-around performances that the hype machine had bestowed upon him since he entered the league. Factor in his 20 pressures in two weeks against the Texans and Colts, and you have the most destructive defensive tackle in the second half of last season not called Geno Atkins.
Stock Down: Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola
Both players suffered letdowns in the second half of last season. At midseason Sims sported a +14.1 overall grade, while Raiola had a +9.7 grade, both inside the Top 10 for their position. Over the second half both were merely average and will be looking to rebound with a strong first half of the 2013 season.
Green Bay Packers
Stock Up: Brad Jones (+7.2 – Week 14-17)
When Jones took over from D.J. Smith next to A.J. Hawk things picked up for the Packers at linebacker. He impressed from the outset as a starter (+5.6 Weeks 5-9) and after a lull in midseason finished the regular season strong in run defense and coverage. Only two inside linebackers (Bobby Wagner and Lawrence Timmons) graded higher than Jones in the last month of the season.
Stock Down: Marshall Newhouse (-7.2 – Week 10-17)
Thankfully for Packer fans this one looks like being an irrelevance for them, at least at the outset of the season, with Don Barclay slated to start at right tackle. Newhouse promised much in the first half of 2012 with some strong displays in pass protection, but things fell apart in the second half. From Weeks 12 to 15 he earned a -8.5 pass protection grade, letting up 23 pressures in those four games. Packer fans will hope Barclay and David Bakhtiari hold down the tackle spots.
Stock Up: Everson Griffen (+9.6 – Week 14-17)
While the man ahead of him on the depth chart (Brian Robison) struggled to match his first half of the season, Griffen finished strong in 2012 with by far his best two performances in two must-win games against Houston and Green Bay. Griffen notched up 14 pressures (3 Sk, 3 Ht, 8 Hu) in those two games, and Vikings will hope his good form can be paired with a customary strong start from Robison, who has notched a +9.8 and a +6.2 grade in the last two season openers.
Stock Down: Charlie Johnson (-10.1 – Week 10-17)
The move inside to guard started well for Johnson in the first half of the season with consistently good pass protection and some good run blocking as well. However, things headed south in the second half with some poor run blocking games (three of -2.0 or worse) and an absence of any perfect pass protection games after three in the first half of the year.
Click over to Page 2 for the rest of the NFC teams…
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.