Forget sacks, concentrate on tackles for a loss
A lot of attention is paid to sacks, but is it the best way to determine how productive a defensive lineman really is? As this article from Second Round Stats argues, ‘strength of sacks’ can be influenced by a number of factors. Unblocked plays, strength of opponent, quality of team mates. It all has an impact.
The two Florida State pass rushers for example (Bjoern Werner & Tank Carradine) not only help each other, but according to the article they also weaken the strength of their production. You can’t double team both players.
Strength of opponent also needs to be taken into account. Of Werner’s 13 sacks in 2012, five came against Murray State and Savannah State. Three more came in blow out victories over Wake Forest and Maryland. He had eight games without even recording a sack, but still ended the year with perceived fantastic production. How dominant was he in reality?
Carradine’s production was more spread out — he had just three sack-less games with only one of his eleven sacks coming against Murray or Savannah State.
The best way to judge will always come through watching tape, but another way of projecting overall dominance is to look at tackles for a loss. I think it’s a too-often ignored statistic. Generally if a player is constantly in the backfield, he’ll make plays.
This graph shows the leading players for TFL during 2012. Unsurprisingly, Jarvis Jones is well clear in first place with 24.5 TFL last season. Will Sutton (DT, Arizona State) and Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina) closely follow with 23.5 tackles for a loss. Again, further confirmation of what we already knew. Both players had fantastic seasons and will be coveted players in the 2014 draft.
Datone Jones had only 6.5 sacks in 2012 — which is good, but not amazing production. Yet he ranked in the top ten for TFL with 19. That statistic should be getting more publicity. It validates Jones as a prospect, showing he has the production to go with the athletic skills. Had he recorded 10-12 sacks, everyone would be talking about it. Instead, it’s only 6.5 sacks and very few people mention his production. In reality, he was one of the most productive defensive linemen in college football last season.
In comparison, he had six more TFL than Tank Carradine, Sharrif Floyd and Ziggy Ansah. For what it’s worth, Khaseem Greene had 12 TFL — only one fewer than the three vaunted pass rushers.
Another interesting statistic — J.J. Watt had only seven sacks in his final year at Wisconsin but he had 21 TFL. That’s eerily similar to Jones’ production in 2012.
While the question marks remain over how he fits in the NFL, don’t be surprised if he goes much earlier than people expect. He showed at the Senior Bowl and combine what a fantastic athlete he is. Teams will be aware of his production. If the Seahawks get a chance to draft the guy, I suspect they should probably take it. Seattle needs a defensive lineman not named Chris Clemons who is capable of getting 19 TFL in a season.
If you want a counter argument, remember Jones will have benefited from the presence of Anthony Barr — among the leaders for both sacks and TFL in 2012. He will be a high pick in the 2014 draft too. That undoubtedly helped Jones with the pair often acting as a partnership. The thing is, there’s no reason why Jones can’t strike up a similar partnership with Clemons, Bruce Irvin or any other pass rusher added during the off-season. Essentially, that’s what the Seahawks really need.
Impressive interviews will help defensive duo
You can usually find interviews with high profile college players online. It’s no exact science, but it does give you an insight into a players confidence and technical knowledge. Cordarrelle Patterson for example never looked comfortable being interviewed at Tennessee. On the other hand, DeAndre Hopkins would refer to specific routes and play calls. It’s no surprise that one is an inexperienced spark plug while the other is a polished, consistent hands catcher.
I really wanted to get to know Sheldon Richardson and Sylvester Williams during the season, but no interviews were available. Both players went the JUCO route but for different reasons. Richardson had academic issues which forced him to California before returning to Missouri. Williams struggled to motivate himself in High School, dropped out to work in a car parts workshop before eventually having an epiphany moment and returning to football.
In both cases, you want to hear these guys talk. You want to learn about their personalities. And having finally had the opportunity to listen to both players speak, I couldn’t have been any more impressed.
At the combine Richardson spoke with confidence and humour, which was reassuring given not only his academic problems in college but also his suspension during 2012 for issues relating to missed classes. I also liked the way he talked about sacking Robert Griffin III in this ‘first draft’ feature.
“Against Baylor I had the game of my life. Had two tackles for a loss, made RGIII fumble. I promise you he remembers that game. All you got to do is ask him about his last game against Mizzou. I was in his face a lot.”
I love that quote. I love his attitude and his personality. It’s confident without being cocky. He’s edgy. He’s the type of guy you want playing the three technique.
Williams also appeared in the NFL Network studios this week and has a very different personality. He wore a shirt and tie, seeming humble and modest. More importantly, he had a complete grasp of his position. Williams comes across as a student of the game. While we’re on the subject, he had 13.5 TFL in 2012. Richardson had 10.5. Age is the big issue with Williams (he’ll be a 25-year-old rookie) but don’t rule him out as an option for Seattle in the first two rounds. You won’t see a sweeter swim move, he’s perfected it.
Greg Cosell has a well earned reputation as the senior producer at NFL Films. Admittedly, he’s adept at watching tape and explaining clearly and concisely why something has happened.
However, it’s considered sacrilege by some to contradict anything he says — especially when it comes to the draft. And that’s what I’m going to do today.
“Number one, he has average arm strength by NFL standards. Number two, his feet are not particularly quick, he has slower feet. And three, he’s a little shorter. So then I go beyond that and think, ‘OK, how can he be successful in the NFL when you got certain limitations?’ And I think those limitations are the things I notice immediately and it’s very difficult for me to look at him as a first- or second-round pick given those limitations and given what I know works effectively in the NFL.”
Cosell isn’t the first person to offer a low opinion of Barkley, but I took particular issue with the reasoning for such a mediocre grade.
Let’s run through each of Cosell’s points individually:
“Number one, he has average arm strength by NFL standards”
Average isn’t ‘bad’. There are several productive quarterbacks in the NFL with only average arm strength. Matt Schaub, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees. You wouldn’t say any of these guys have a ‘big arm’. Others like Matt Hasselbeck have been able to forge successful careers without needing a cannon, while the two most productive quarterbacks over the last decade — Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — would not list arm strength among their key attributes.
While there’s some truth that arm strength can be a defining characteristic to own, it’s won’t necessarily make or break a career. Barkley is never going to be Joe Flacco or Cam Newton. He won’t be Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers. But it doesn’t mean he can’t be Matt Schaub. And there are plenty of teams out there who would take a 22-year-old version of Schaub given the opportunity.
“Number two, his feet are not particularly quick, he has slower feet”
Presumably this refers to footwork in the pocket and not the ability to be a threat running with the ball. When watching Barkley in 2011, I thought his footwork was at an elite level. His ability to avoid sacks despite lacking great athleticism was among his best qualities. Even more vital was his ability to keep his eyes down field, make reads on the move and still throw an accurate football. One play still stands out from USC’s victory in Oregon (click here and fast forward to 2:07). Barkley takes the snap under center, drops back and eyes up a receiver on the left hand side. He faces three rushers, one of which penetrates up the middle. Barkley feels the pressure without distraction, side steps to avoid it and keeps his eyes on the desired target. He then slides back to the right and just as he’s about to get hit, delivers one of the best passes you’ll see at any level. Accuracy, poise, footwork and yes — arm strength — all present on that play. It’s only example, but there are others.
In 2012 he lost his left tackle to the NFL, his center got injured and the Trojans were nearly always coming from behind due to a rank bad defense. Barkley was under almost constant duress as a consequence and I’ve no doubt that had an impact on his poise and footwork. He threw a lot off his back foot — something he’d rarely done in three previous years as a starter. He forced passes in a way we’d not seen between 2009-11. He picked up bad habits and his game suffered as a result. However, we’ve also seen how surgical he can be when sufficiently protected. We’ve seen him beat Oregon in their own backyard, handle Notre Dame for three years and destroy other PAC-12 rivals. Ask Chip Kelly what he thinks of Barkley.
A little perspective on the footwork or ‘slow feet’ is probably needed here. I think it’d be a palatable criticism if we’d seen it was a big issue when Barkely was a freshman, a sophomore and a junior. But in fairness, we didn’t.
“And three, he’s a little shorter”
Barkley was measured at 6-2 and a half at the combine. When we’re talking about a 5-10 quarterback like Russell Wilson, I can see the complaint. To suggest a quarterback who is a solid 6-2 going on 6-3 is a little short, for me, is extremely harsh.
And I have to say, are we really still having this debate? Have we not learnt anything from Wilson’s success? That’s not to say every 5-10 or shorter-than-average quarterback will make their height a non-issue. There’s a reason so few short quarterbacks succeed. But Barkley isn’t even short. He’s taller than Geno Smith.
Perhaps Cosell’s fourth round grade will prove to be accurate when the time comes for Matt Barkley to take a NFL field? At worst, I think he deserves a grade in the range where Dalton was drafted (35th overall in 2o11). I still believe Barkley should and will be a first round pick, yet I can see why he might fall into the second round. The fourth round just seems a little extreme, though.
ESPN’s Merril Hodge gave the same judgement today based on a five-game study. That’s the issue though — it’s five games. Had Hodge watched five games from 2011, he’d probably offer a first round grade. It’s one of the reasons they tell talented underclassmen quarterbacks to declare when they get the chance — to avoid this kind of last minute analysis. Hodge calls Barkley a project. He may have limited upside — enough to make his NFL career a short one. But how many four-year starters with this level of technical quality get listed as projects?
Seahawks make call to Woodson & Abraham
Josina Anderson is reporting that the Seahawks are among the teams to express early interest in Charles Woodson.
NFL sources tell me that the Seahawks, the Dolphins, the Jets and the Giants are among teams that have called to discuss Charles Woodson.
— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 7, 2013
John Schneider and Pete Carroll continue to leave no leaf unturned. The Seahawks have done their homework on virtually every veteran hitting the market in the last three years. Woodson is no different.
Whether he’s the right fit for this team remains to be seen. He could offer some veteran guidance to a young secondary, particularly if Marcus Trufant moves on this off-season. He might receive stronger offers from other teams promising more time on the field.
Discussions like this will probably set the tone for free agency next week. The Seahawks probably aren’t going to throw big money at anyone, but they’re hunting for value, experience and production. If Woodson or recent visitor Cullen Jenkins don’t get big, attractive offers elsewhere, they could end up playing a role in the Pacific North West.
Doug Baldwin is a fan anyway:
“@chrisburke_si: Woodson on the Seahawks continues to intrigue me.”Brings established leadership to the defense and depth.
— Dbfresh (@DougBaldwinJr) March 7, 2013
Meanwhile Kimberly Jones is also reporting that former Falcons pass rusher John Abraham will visit the Seahawks:
Am told free agent DE John Abraham is on his way to visit the Seahawks.
— Kimberly Jones (@KimJonesSports) March 7, 2013
Again, no stone unturned.