Bill Connelly looks at the college offenses, defenses, and overall teams that have improved (Air Force!) or regressed (North Texas!) the most in 2014. Year Zero is a real thing (sometimes).
10 Apr 2013
by Andy Benoit
The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that most units are listed with 12 defensive starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.
Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.
Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.
Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.
Bruce Arians has a sizeable rebuilding project ahead of him, and this time there’s no Andrew Luck to center everything around. Arians runs a fairly aggressive downfield passing game that features a heavy dose of pre-snap motion and condensed formations. The trade for tested veteran Carson Palmer will allow Arians to at least use most of his playbook, but a lack of talent in several key areas will still hinder this offense.
QB: Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley; Lost: Kevin Kolb, John Skelton
RB: Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Anthony Sherman (FB); Lost: Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling
Palmer was acquired because not one of the quarterbacks on Arizona’s roster could play. Simple as that. Stanton didn’t (and doesn’t) have the skill set; Skelton didn’t have the accuracy or decision-making; Lindley, when he played as a rookie, was overwhelmed to the point of irrelevant. Palmer can at least function. True, his own accuracy and decision-making have wavered in recent years, but those wavers at least come with a respectable helping of quality throws.
Palmer will often be best served handing off to Mendenhall. The ex-Steeler runs with a sturdy swivel that, even behind an offensive line as bad as Arizona’s, should lead to a 1,000-yard season (assuming he can stay on the field). Durability is a concern with Mendenhall, and it’s a major concern with Williams. The once-explosive second-round pick has played in just five games over his first two seasons.
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, LaRon Byrd; Lost: Early Doucet
TE: Jeff King, Rob Housler, Jim Dray
Fitzgerald is a saint for playing with so many bad quarterbacks and not erupting Titus Young-style. He’ll finally get a chance to catch contested passes again now that there’s a veteran under center. Floyd needs to accelerate his development. Too often last season he failed to make the tough play. Roberts is a quick, shifty darter who can excel in the slot. It’d help if there were a more respectable tight end lining up inside him. King is uninspiring downfield and a poor blocker near the line of scrimmage. Housler is even worse as a blocker but at least brings some athleticism to the passing game.
LT: Levi Brown LG: Daryn Colledge C: Lyle Sendlein RG: Adam Snyder RT: Bobby Massie
Backups: OT Nate Potter, G Senio Kelemete; Lost: OT D’Anthony Batiste
Brown, coming off a torn triceps, is a drastic upgrade over Batiste or Potter, but that doesn’t mean he’s an adequate left tackle. He has slow feet and not nearly enough strength given his size. On the other side, Massie may have been the worst player in football at the midway point of 2012. However, he pulled things together just enough in the second half to warrant another look in 2013. Inside, the Cardinals are resoundingly average. Better coaching this season should fix a lot of this line’s woes, particularly when it comes to blown assignments in pass protection.
The Cardinals quietly had one of the better defenses in football last season, thanks in large part to the creative aggression of then-coordinator Ray Horton. Now they’re hoping their 3-4 and hybrid sub-package scheme can continue on the upswing under the direction of Todd Bowels, who comes over after a disenchanting half-season stint as the defensive coordinator in Philadelphia.
DE: Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Matt Shaughnessy, Frostee Rucker; Lost: Nick Eason
DT: Dan Williams, David Carter
Campbell is a lanky athletic dynamo blessed with lateral strength that enables him to win against double-teams on the edge. Dockett is a fiery one-and two-gap player with some of the quickest hands in football. It’s hard to envision where Shaughnessy fits along a three-man line; most likely, it will be as a sub-package pass-rusher. But that’s really not his game. Plus, whose snaps will he take away? Campbell and Dockett almost never leave the field. Williams has come along okay as a nose tackle, but the previous regime was clearly hoping for more when it drafted him in the first round four years ago.
OLB: Sam Acho, O’Brien Schofield, Lorenzo Alexander, Tim Fugger; Lost: Quentin Groves
ILB: Daryl Washington, Jasper Brinkley, Reggie Walker; Lost: Paris Lenon
Few 3-4 schemes have any chance at succeeding with an outside pass-rush duo as banal as Acho and Schofield. Both have flashed but not shined. Alexander may push for a starting spot ahead of one of them, but he’s a utility man, not an edge rusher. It’s amazing Horton was able to conjure up as much pressure as he did last season. A lot of that pressure came with fire-X blitzes involving the explosive downhill attacks of Washington. He had great chemistry with Lenon (one of the smartest players in the league). The hope is he can replicate it with the slightly slower but stouter Brinkley.
CB: Patrick Peterson, Antoine Cason, Jerraud Powers, Jamell Fleming; Lost: Greg Toler
S: Yeremiah Bell, Rashad Johnson, Justin Bethel; Lost: Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes
Peterson’s sophomore season was a little more topsy-turvy than you’d prefer, but a simple eyeball test confirms that he’s still a rare talent. It’s rational to ask him to play No. 1 receivers man-to-man with no help. Cason must rediscover his confidence after gradually losing it over the past two years in San Diego. He’s long and agile, so there’s reason for hope. Powers is a sturdy, physical tackler. Arians must have really liked him in Indy because there wasn’t a screaming demand to replace last year’s third-round pick, Fleming, at nickelback. The Cards wanted to refresh things at safety; not sure signing the solid but unspectacular Bell and promoting Johnson will do the trick.
K: Jay Feely; P: Dave Zastudil
Archetypical specialists: Easily replaceable, but also not requiring replacement.
29 comments, Last at 15 Apr 2013, 7:02am by Mr Shush