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30 Dec 2010

Walkthrough's All-Rookie Team 2010

by Mike Tanier

This year's All-Rookie Team includes no Chiefs or Eagles.

That's amazing. The Chiefs had an excellent rookie class. Eric Berry has All-Pro potential at safety. Tony Moeaki held his own as the second option in the passing game and is an effective wall-off blocker at tight end. Dexter McCluster is versatile and exciting. Javier Arenas is a solid nickel defender, a good return man, and a useful special-teamer. None of them earned All-Rookie Team starting spots.

As for the Eagles, Nate Allen had a spot wrapped up before getting hurt, and linebacker Jamar Chaney would have made the team if he started a few more games. Brandon Graham wasn't great, but he filled in all along the defensive line before getting hurt. Riley Cooper was a decent fourth wideout and an important member of the hands team. Kurt Coleman has starting potential at safety. Chad Hall can run ill-conceived Wildcat plays and fly the team plane. The Eagles' rookies weren't as impressive as the Chiefs' rookies, but there were a lot of them who made contributions. Still, none earned more than an Honorable Mention.

As the Chiefs and Eagles illustrate, this was an outstanding year for rookie "classes," even though it was an ordinary year for actual rookies. The Chiefs and Eagles had great rookie classes, but the Buccaneers and Patriots had even better hauls, especially after the Bucs picked through the early September waivers for two very good players. The Cowboys aren't happy with their season, but they can at least point to some promising prospects, and the Rams found a franchise quarterback and a left tackle, which could make them the team to beat in two years (just ask the Falcons).

If our All-Rookie team took the field this year, it could easily finish .500, and it would probably win the NFC West. The offensive line is solid, the running game powerful, and the receiving crew capable of scoring from anywhere. Defensively, the line can bring a lot of pressure up the middle, and there are plenty of ball-hawks in the secondary. The running backs cannot catch and the kicker cannot kick, but otherwise, this is an All-Rookie team with few weaknesses.

As always, the Walkthrough All-Rookie Team reflects my opinions, not those of Football Outsiders. It was assembled without looking at other All-Rookie teams, which usually means that I forget someone really important, but this crew looks solid nonetheless. Dozens of players deserve some sort of mention, so just because I don't give Colt McCoy or Rolando McClain a shout-out doesn't mean I think they stink.

As for those Chiefs and Eagles: If we load them all onto the bench, we can have one heck of a team!

Quarterback: Sam Bradford, Rams. The Walkthrough Offensive Rookie of the Year. I have seen quarterbacks like Matt Ryan have better rookie seasons, but I cannot remember a rookie quarterback who was able to do more with less. None of the Rams receivers can stretch a defense or demand double coverage, so when Bradford drops to pass, he must search for Danny Amendola or Laurent Robinson in zones choked with defenders, knowing that the deep safeties are not too deep to jump a route. Throwing for 3,500 yards and 18 touchdowns under these circumstances would be difficult for a 10-year veteran, let alone a kid who missed his final college season. Bradford picks away at zones, distributes the ball, and most importantly, takes the rare shots downfield that present themselves.

Running Back: LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers

Running Back: Chris Ivory, Saints. Both of this year's All-Rookie runners are power backs with limited finishing speed. Both had checkered college careers, which limited their draft desirability. Ivory leads the NFL in Success Rate entering Week 17 (59%), but the Saints offense has something to do with that. With 445 yards in the last four games, Blount has been a major part of the Buccaneers' desperate playoff push. Neither is an outstanding long-range prospect -- neither can catch the ball, and one-cut backs with limited peripheral skills are easy to find in the draft pool. This year, though, both made major contributions to winning teams, and their tackle-breaking, defender-leaping exploits are fun to watch.

Fullback: Chris Gronkowski, Cowboys. An H-back type who blocks pretty well and can leak into the flats. I wouldn't be surprised if he shows up next season with a uniform number in the 80s and spends most of the rest of his career blocking in-line.

Wide Receiver: Mike Williams, Buccaneers. Williams can make all the tough catches and does a great job snatching the ball from the air. He has a knack for getting open on deep post routes, and he is tough to single-cover on long passes because he can leap in front of defenders. He has a lot of room to grow, and I am reluctant to praise him too lavishly because of Post-Michael Clayton Stress Disorder, but Williams has the makings of another Roddy White.

Wide Receiver: Jacoby Ford, Raiders. The Raiders always have a few of these track-style receivers around, but few of them are as fun to watch as Ford. Most of them just run fly patterns and fail to get open. Ford runs reverses, weaves through traffic on kickoff returns, and catches enough passes to remind you that he is not Darrius Heyward-Bey. He's a great system fit who could grow into a poor man's DeSean Jackson. Honorable mention: Dez Bryant.

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots. I think Aaron Hernandez is the better of the two Patriots tight ends. Gronkowski makes the team because a) his DVOA and DYAR are both higher, and b) I wanted both Gronkowskis on the team. Is that so wrong? Honorable mentions to Hernandez, Tony Moeaki, and Jermaine Gresham, whose DVOA was terrible but who had the thankless task of picking up all the scraps in the Bengals offense.

Tackle: Bryan Bulaga, Packers. The Packers finally found a tackle who could put Mark Tauscher out to pasture. Their next job is to find someone who can replace Chad Clifton.

Guard: Mike Iupati, 49ers. A big pile-driver with a mean streak. The next coach is going to love this kid as much as Mike Singletary did.

Center: Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers. An active center who gets out quickly on screens and can make blocks on the second level. Pouncey only drew one penalty all season.

Guard: Ted Larsen, Buccaneers. The Bucs are just dripping with solid young players, but then so are the Patriots, who drafted Larsen in the sixth round but released him at the end of camp. Larsen is more penalty-prone than the other linemen on this team (seven flags, three of them holds), but he's growing into his role, and he can slide over to center in a pinch.

Tackle: Rodger Saffold, Rams. The tackle Bill Polian should have drafted! Sam Bradford's travel roommate has played through injuries, kept mistakes to a minimum, and outclassed runners-up like Russell Okung and Trent Williams for All-Rookie honors.

Defensive End: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants. The Jevon Kearse comparisons are accurate. Like Kearse, Pierre-Paul is destined to dominate about three games per year, bat down a lot of passes, and occasionally do something athletically freakish. He will also probably disappear from some games and get out-leveraged a lot, but the Giants can live with that as long as they have guys like Justin Tuck around to pick up the slack.

Defensive Tackle: Ndamukong Suh, Lions. The Walkthrough Defensive Rookie of the Year. Suh drew 11 penalties this season, seven of them for some form of "roughness." Some were the result of over-aggressiveness or inexperience, but some were just a result of Suh's unusualness. The guy is so strong and agile that when he does something normal, like push a quarterback to the turf, it looks like an act of violence. Once Suh learns his limits and referees stop interpreting every rough tackle as a penalty, Suh could become the best defender in the NFL.

Defensive Tackle: Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers. McCoy impressed as a run defender before getting hurt, with 17 Stops and eight Defeats on running plays.

Defensive End: Carlos Dunlap, Bengals. Seven of his eight sacks came in the last three games. Dunlap, like Pierre-Paul, invited a lot of suspicion coming out of college. Both looked like great athletes with unrefined moves who would have a hard time getting off blocks in the NFL. Pierre-Paul has more potential as an all-around end, Dunlap as a sack specialist, but both are better than I thought they would be.

Linebacker: Brandon Spikes, Patriots. Had 34 Rushing Stops entering Week 16. Spikes isn't much of a pass defender but is a good system fit in New England.

Linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys. He solidified this spot by intercepting Peyton Manning twice. There are other linebackers who made more tackles, but none of them intercepted Peyton Manning twice, which is a pretty impressive feat for a rookie defender.

Linebacker: Pat Angerer, Colts. An active, Cover-2 style defender who makes a lot of plays in space. Angerer makes a lot of clean-up tackles -- of his 30 pass tackles entering Week 16, only eight were Stops -- but that's a mixture of inexperience and scheme. None of our All-Rookie linebackers are good pass rushers, so let's give honorable mention to Frank Zombo so we can rush him off the edge in nickel situations.

Cornerback: Devin McCourty, Patriots. Jersey boy makes good!

Cornerback: Joe Haden, Browns. Florida boy intercepts Jersey boy! Haden picked off Joe Flacco for his sixth interception on Sunday, but the most impressive plays are the ones a rookie cornerback doesn't make. Haden has recorded just 50 tackles, and a quick look through the Football Outsiders database suggests that opponents are starting to throw away from him.

Safety: T.J. Ward, Browns. Ward is a clean-up specialist who made his average play 8.5 yards downfield, but with 98 combined tackles, at least he has been doing a lot of cleaning. Nate Allen and Eric Berry merit Honorable Mentions. In dime packages, Ward will play close to the line of scrimmage, while Allen and Berry take care of deep zones.

Safety: Earl Thomas, Seahawks. Like Ward, Thomas is a clean-up artist on a weak defense. Unlike Ward, Thomas has five interceptions. Ward and Thomas shouldn't get undue credit for their high tackle totals, but those tackles should not be held against them, either. They are safeties, and tackles after 15-yard gains are part of the job, even if you have to make a half-dozen of them every Sunday.

Kicker: Clint Stitser, Bengals. This kid is bad, but no one else deserves the award. In fairness, he has been perfect on field goals, but he has missed two extra points (a Bengals tradition) and is lousy on kickoffs. Our All-Rookie Team will go for two a lot.

Punter: Zoltan Mesko, Patriots. What, you were expecting Matt Dodge? Dodge actually leads all rookies in gross punting average, and I have a feeling he will shake off his rookie mistakes and have a fine career if the New York media doesn't draw and quarter him. Robert Malone (Buccaneers) also had a fine rookie season.

Return Specialist: Marc Mariani, Titans. Mariani has both a punt and kickoff return touchdown, and he has an economical return style that gets the most from each special teams play. Ford is also available to return some punts.

Gunner: Navorro Bowman, 49ers. Eighteen special teams tackles. Ward and Lee are also very good special teamers.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 30 Dec 2010

81 comments, Last at 07 Jan 2011, 3:41pm by Vic Vega

Comments

1
by The Most Interesting Coach in the World (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 12:29pm

I don't punt often, but when I do, I prefer Zoltan Mesko.

2
by Boots Day :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 12:35pm

Pat Angerer is my Rookie of the Year, just because I love to hear the announcers say, "Brackett makes the tackle, with Angerer."

4
by TomC :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:09pm

If only his parents had named him Ed.

61
by Bobman :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 5:33pm

Good lord, Tom, thanks for bringing back sophomore year in college, when I subscribed to Weekly World News.

10
by SMK (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:36pm

His highlight reel can be called 'Look Back At Angerer'.

PS. Captcha phrase was 'spelho', right next to the ad with the spread-legged girl. Is there another ad you can put there?

57
by Theo :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 8:21am

If you can, you could use ad blocker plus for firefox browser.

68
by andrew :: Tue, 01/04/2011 - 12:20pm

But that might deprive FO of ad revenue. I use adblocker (on chrome) but whitelist certain sites I wish to support.

Besides, some of those ads (like catholic match girl) have become part of FO lore...

3
by TomC :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:07pm

That really is an impressive team. I can't remember the last time so many rookies stepped right into starting lineups on non-horrible teams and did so well. The LB corps is weak, and I don't like the run-stopping potential of your DEs, but with three legit pass rushers on the line and that secondary I don't imagine there'd be many deep balls completed against that D.

5
by DavidL :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:11pm

The linebacking duo of Pat Angerer and Frank Zombo by far leads all rookie tandems in names.

6
by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:15pm

Wasn't Chris Gronkowski the guy who got Romo decapitated?

7
by JIPanick :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:19pm

Yes.

14
by Independent George :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 2:00pm

Tanier's an Iggles fan; that just sealed it for him.

19
by Staubach12 :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 3:21pm

Yes, and he gets beat regularly by blitzing Linebackers. For a good example, look at the Haggans sack on Christmas day:

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nxce8pZRO0
  • 73
    by Derek (not verified) :: Tue, 01/04/2011 - 6:51pm

    Does one play make up the whole year? Obviously not you ignorant, senseless clown.

    8
    by Shake (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:27pm

    There are probably better candidates out there, but Baby J (Javarris James) would make for a passable 3rd down back on the all-rookie team. He can block and catch.

    62
    by Bobman :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 5:34pm

    Plus the leading rookie RB in rushing TDs (at least up to last weekend), so he has the fantasy vote locked up, FWIW.

    9
    by nat :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:30pm

    Not a bad team, altogether.

    Now, given that team, what would be the best way to fill up my cap space?

    11
    by DavidL :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:40pm

    Haynesworth?

    12
    by Anonymus (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:42pm

    How about a 53-man rookie roster?

    13
    by Anonymus (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 1:43pm

    Just kidding!

    15
    by Staubach12 :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 2:05pm

    Now how do you put Jacoby Ford in there ahead of Dez Bryant? Bryant is better than Ford in DYAR, DVOA, touchdowns, caught passes, receiving yards, and catch rate. Heck, Ford only catches 42% of his passes. That's bad for any receiver.

    Player D.Bryant J.Ford
    DYAR.....105...........30
    DVOA.....5.8%.........-5.1%
    Passes....73.............52
    Yards.....561...........435
    EYds.......617...........360
    TD..........6...............2
    Catch Rt..62%.........46%

    18
    by roguerouge :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 3:20pm

    One is currently seriously injured, so you take the currently healthy one.

    20
    by Staubach12 :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 3:24pm

    For an honorary team? Since when? Even if the guy played most of the season?

    23
    by DavidL :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 3:58pm

    It's the same reasoning used for why Nate Allen isn't the starting free safety, so yes.

    40
    by Key19 :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 11:18pm

    The problem lies in the fact that Tanier completely went against that reasoning by honoring Sean Lee. The guy has been fantastic when on the field, but his problem is that he's always hurt. Overall, Dez Bryant has been the better Cowboy rookie, and both have missed comparable amounts of time. Snubbing Dez for "injury" and then honoring Lee is just ridiculous.

    I also agree with Staubach12's point that injuries shouldn't really matter in an honorary awards list. So if Suh or Bradford missed 4 games due to injury this season, you'd just leave them off the list completely when they otherwise would've been your ORotY and DRotY respectively? That's really dumb. If you can clearly see that a player is great, missing some time shouldn't automatically stricken them from the ballot. I'll put it to you like this: If Suh missed 6 games this season and Gerald McCoy didn't miss a snap, but Suh still finished better than McCoy in sacks, hurries, TFL, etc by a considerable margin, who would you give the award to? Suh is the obvious choice to me, but apparently Tanier doesn't agree.

    42
    by BigCheese :: Fri, 12/31/2010 - 3:18am

    Well, all that and the fact that McCoy is on IR...

    - Alvaro

    45
    by Staubach12 :: Fri, 12/31/2010 - 2:08pm

    Well, there you have it. Tanier is not disqualifying everybody who is injured. Therefore, his omission of Bryant is ridiculous.

    50
    by JonFrum :: Sat, 01/01/2011 - 6:50pm

    Take the guy's season output, and divide it by sixteen. If Suh misses two games, he's still the best rookie per game. If he misses ten games, and plays as well? Not so much. There has to be a point where a guy just isn't on the field enough to win a season's award. No different from Logan Mankins. I dont' care how good he's been - he missed half the year, and he shouldn't be on the All-Pro team. Two-three games, maybe.

    55
    by Staubach12 :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 12:47am

    Bryant missed four games this year and played in twelve. Not exactly missing half of the season.

    Moreover, he still put up better season numbers than his competition in those twelve games.

    60
    by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 4:49pm

    On the contrary, the ommision of Dez Bryant had its desired effect - a Cowboy fan ranting about an award that has no prize gives the Eagles fans on FO a nice chuckle.

    63
    by Bobman :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 5:38pm

    Well, isn't one of the LBs (Spikes) currenlty serving a PED suspension? I think that should count for something as well. (I thought it should have counted against Peppers 8 years ago too for the DROY voting--look at the small minority I am in! Marrian! Matthews! Coincidence? Arrrrgh.). I know all these guys claim it was supplements, or prescription meds they failed to check, etc, but that's a bit of a stretch.

    44
    by Mr Shush :: Fri, 12/31/2010 - 8:01am

    I would also take Bryant, but there does have to be some adjustment for context. Bryant is the WR2/3 on a team with a great receiving tight end, and got to play nearly half his games with a pro bowl quarterback. Jacoby Ford is the clear WR1 for a team with mediocre-at-best quarterbacking whose only other NFL calibre receiving options are a running back and a tight end who is good, not great, and has been injured. It's not surprising Bryant has much better DVOA, DYAR and catch percentage.

    16
    by Staubach12 :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 2:44pm

    Oh, and Chris Gronkowski should not be on the all-rookie team. He's only getting significant playing time because the Cowboys 3rd TE, John Phillips, tore his ACL in the preseason (Phillips would have been used as an H-back). Gronkowski's a liability, and there is no way the Cowboys move him to TE with three better options ahead of him. If you can't find a better fullback for the team, then just go with both of the Patriots TEs and make one an H-back.

    33
    by ZZZ (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 7:10pm

    Agreed, Chris Gronkowski is simply not that good. Nobody who actually watches him play can think that.

    AND he's the guy who got Romo's collar bone broken by completely wiffing on a blitz pickup.

    17
    by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 2:57pm

    No J'Marcus Webb??? Why do you hate the Bears? Why?

    21
    by JonFrum :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 3:25pm

    Because every article must provoke a 'you hate my team' comment.

    22
    by Eddo :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 3:49pm

    I'm fairly certain Charles Jake was joking. Webb has been a disaster.

    25
    by TomC :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 4:31pm

    I'm so angry I forgot to DVR the Bears/Jets game, because I really want to know how the OL looked so good against a supposedly decent pass rush. I was especially impressed by the disappearance of the Webb/Omiyale/Williams-forgot-to-block-someone play, which was a regular two- or three-times-a-game occurrence most of the year.

    30
    by tuluse :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 6:12pm

    From what I remember they looked really good from about the 2nd quarter on.

    Send me an email at tuluse at yahoo dot com and I can get you a copy of the game. I apologize in advance if this breaks site rules.

    29
    by tuluse :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 6:09pm

    He should get a mention just for that sweet "box out" block he had earlier this year.

    64
    by Bobman :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 5:41pm

    Is his name really J'Marcus?

    Okay, new rule: you are a college freshman with unbelievable talent, but if your name sounds significantly like Jamarcus, you HAVE TO change it! There can be no flexibility on this, folks. You will get drafted about 100 slots higher, make millions more, and end up in the HOF with a new name. If you keep the Jamarcus-type name, you might as well start practicing busing tables without fumbling the plates.

    24
    by BigDerf :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 4:03pm

    As a Giants fan I'd like to mention that I'd kill for a return man like Mariani.

    That dude is going to have a long career if all he does is return kicks. He never gets stopped for no gain.

    27
    by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 5:52pm

    He got stopped for no gain a few times in the KC game this week. As a matter of fact, he got flat out leveled a few times as well.

    That said, he's still a pretty damn good returner.

    65
    by Bobman :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 5:45pm

    This Colts fan would not kick him off the roster, either. Trouble is, toomany excellent returners see themselves as position players (or the team's makeup forces them to be the #4 WR or dime DB). They don't usually ask the long snapper to be the dime pass rusher, why not value these guys as specialists, celebrate their abilities, and pay them accordingly....? When semi-retired Dom Rhodes trebles your return production, and your team is always burned by big returns from the other guys, you start to fantasize about a guy who is a good returner, dedicates his life to it, and is compensated accordingly.

    26
    by RichC (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 5:43pm

    " I think Aaron Hernandez is the better of the two Patriots tight ends. "

    He's not. Gronkowski is playing about 75% of the snaps, while Hernanded is playing 25% or so, and there's a very good reason for that: Gronkowski is good at everything, and very good as a blocker.

    Hernandez is a better receiver than Gronkowski, but he's nowhere near Gronkowski as a blocker.

    Also, I wish the Patriots hadn't basically run out of spots and had to try to sneak Larsen onto the practice squad. They really could use a good Guard with Neal falling apart physically, Kaczur needing a new spine, and Mankins an FA. I think Connely is a decent starter, but it would be nice to not be forced into giving Mankins 7M a year.

    28
    by Sander :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 6:02pm

    Larsen really isn't all that good. He's not terrible either but he's the weakest point of a mediocre line. He's starting because of numerous injuries along the offensive line. That said, he's serviceable enough and won't destroy a functional O-line by himself. But he's hardly an upgrade over anyone, and isn't even remotely close to Mankins' quality. He could improve over the years but wishing you had Larsen at this point is really not a very smart thing to do.

    Also, 'giving into' Mankins isn't a crime here. Mankins is consistently one of the if not the best guard in the NFL.

    31
    by RichC (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 6:28pm

    I don't disagree about Mankins. I'm just not real keen on paying a guard $7M+ a year for 7 years, especially when said contract runs through the player's year 36 season.

    The thing about Larsen is hes serviceable as a late round rookie who has little idea what hes doing. He'll probably turn out pretty good after a year of strenght and conditioning training, and another camp. And Frankly, hes got a better chance of turning into a good player than Rich Ohrenbergr or Quinn Ojinakka.

    34
    by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 8:07pm

    Both Ohrnberger and Ojinnaka looked significantly better in the preseason than Larsen, so I'm not sure how you can make that claim. Especially considering Ohrnberger has just as much youth and potential on his side.

    80
    by 123456789 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 12:13am

    I guess you haven't been wathcing the games because Larsen has been pretty good all year long and he joined the starting line-up because they cut the other guy cause he wasn't doing good and was old. His joining the starting line-up had nothing to do with injuries they coaches picked him over Zuttah when the spot became open. As for the weakest point that would definitely be RT unless Joseph is out then its RG

    39
    by Nathan :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 11:14pm

    Agreed. I was thrilled about Hernandez falling to the Pats on draft day and a total homer from the long catch in game 1 but as the season has progressed I've come to see him as a luxury. Gronkowski pays dividends on every snap. It is so reassuring being able to pick up yards on the ground not running draws to Faulk out of the gun. I had almost forgotten after the pyrotechnics of 2007 how much fun it is to see a balanced offense drive the length of the field. Its like watching someone run the table hitting every kind of shot in the book.

    59
    by dryheat :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 9:42am

    It's not an apples-to-apples comparison. It's entirely game-plan driven. Against teams that can't cover TEs, Hernandez gets a lot of snaps. In games that call for a heavy 2-TE gameplan, Gronkowski and Crumpler play close to 100% of the snaps. On top of that, for all the injury concerns Gronkowski had at draft time, he's been far healthier than Hernandez this season.

    Which is to say that saying that Gronkowski is better than Hernandez is akin to saying that Welker was better than Moss ... they each play different roles on the team, and they play them very well.

    69
    by Charthespell (not verified) :: Tue, 01/04/2011 - 2:50pm

    You're absolutely right, here.

    This team went from a very mediocre running team to the 2nd best by DVOA this season. How did that happen? Obviously it was a combination of things - better passing production leads to opening up the run game and the backs are better this year (although who would have thunk it with two UDFAs).

    But you know what the real difference is? The two TE set.

    They run it more than anyone, and more than any other formation. And who makes that set go? Rob Gronkowski.

    Alge Crumpler is an outstanding blocker and helps them immensely in that regard. Aaron Hernandez is an outstanding receiver and helps them immensely in that regard. Gronkowski's versatility allows him to stay on the field in both situations, and he presents both threats every down. We've all seen his TD pass highlights, but look closely at his blocking. Woodhead's TD run against the Bills in Week 16 was sprung by a phenomenal wham block from Gronk.

    Players that can do one thing well (Hernandez) can be very good players. They can even be special players if they do it well enough. Guys like Gronkowski, who can do multiple things very, very well can become superstars. Not to say Gronk is there, or will ever get there, but I think he's a better player now, and has a higher ceiling than Hernandez.

    70
    by dryheat :: Tue, 01/04/2011 - 3:11pm

    I don't think anybody out there doesn't think Dallas Clark is an elite player because he doesn't have great blocking skills. Or for that matter, Tom Brady.

    Blocking skills are only more than minimally important if your job is to block. Hernandez's isn't any more than Wes Welker's is. Downfield blocking is great, sure, but there's not too many Hines Ward's running around in the short and medium zones. And I wouldn't say Hines Ward is better than Andre Johnson because he can block as well as catch.

    Hernandez and Gronkowski could both end up being special, much like Dallas Clark and Jason Witten are both special, yet dissimilar, players.

    71
    by Charthespell (not verified) :: Tue, 01/04/2011 - 5:00pm

    These kind of point "refinements" are why I generally stay away from internet commenting.

    The point I was making (and it's one we obviously agree on) was about the flexibility a player affords his team when he is on the field. Hernandez comes out for the majority of runs, and Crumpler comes out for the majority of passes.

    It's the same at every position. RBs who can run but have stone hands out of the backfield and can't pick up a blitz, WRs who can go deep but can't run a slant route, DEs who pin their ears back and rush the passer but get run over, CBs who can't tackle worth a lick, etc.

    Superstars tend to be complete players, or have a number of skills that outweigh their deficiencies. Gronkowski, while not possessing a singular skill like Dallas Clark, is above average at everything a TE does right now. That gives him a leg up over someone like Hernandez who has to be used situationally, and gives him a higher ceiling if he can continue to improve in all aspects.

    76
    by dryheat :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 9:06am

    That's fine. We don't need to argue about it. Apparently what you call "higher ceiling" is what I would call "more versatile"...Michael Vick has a "higher ceiling" than Tom Brady because he can run. Devin McCourty has a "higher ceiling" than Deion Sanders because he can tackle....I understand your point, I just don't think I've heard anybody make it before.

    72
    by Mr Shush :: Tue, 01/04/2011 - 5:54pm

    I know it's not really germane to the very sound point you're making, but Andre Johnson is a very good blocker as far as wide receivers go. Not as good as Ward, maybe, but Randy Moss he ain't.

    32
    by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 6:33pm

    J. Ford beast

    35
    by JonFrum :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 8:36pm

    Hernandez seems more of the H-back - he's a receiver in a big body. Gronkowski is a tight end. In basketball, Hernandez would be called a 'tweener.' Most importantly, there's room for both of them in the NE offense.

    56
    by peachy :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 1:54am

    Hernandez was actually an H-back in college rather than a conventional TE.

    36
    by Arkaein :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 8:41pm

    One suggestion for future All-Whatever teams: can we just add a 4th LB spot, while keeping 4 D-Line spots? That would balance out the fact that about an even number of teams run 3-4 and 4-3, and would also balance the fact that offenses get an extra player (a 2nd RB, in addition to a FB).

    I'm hoping that someday the Pro Bowl uses this model. I do appreciate the fact that Mike at least seemed to pick players based on the side they line up on (at least as far as I could tell), rather than taking e.g., only left tackles.

    46
    by Athelas :: Fri, 12/31/2010 - 3:20pm

    Great idea--I do hope the NFL goes to this.

    47
    by Dean :: Fri, 12/31/2010 - 4:08pm

    Aren't both tackles LTs? I know Saffold was drafted to play the right side, but slid over to the blindside in camp when Jason Smith was injured and played so well they kept him there and moved Smith to the right.

    51
    by rk (not verified) :: Sat, 01/01/2011 - 11:58pm

    Bulaga plays right tackle.

    48
    by Mr Shush :: Fri, 12/31/2010 - 4:13pm

    Can't agree about the tackles: the best left tackles are just better players than the best right tackles, and still would be if they played on the right. The best tackles are elite in both pass protection and run-blocking. If a player was elite in pass protection, his team would not leave him on the right. Therefore the very best tackles all play on the left.

    49
    by tuluse :: Fri, 12/31/2010 - 5:41pm

    That's assuming that the best tackles are all on different teams, which isn't always true.

    52
    by Mr Shush :: Sun, 01/02/2011 - 9:50am

    I overstated my case, but I still think it's very rare that there aren't three left tackles in a conference better than the best right tackle.

    53
    by DavidL :: Sun, 01/02/2011 - 10:42am

    It's also complicated by the fact that this is an all-rookie team; I would not be at all surprised to find that the best rookie right tackle is not better than his team's best left tackle.

    54
    by Mr Shush :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 12:46am

    A fair point.

    58
    by dryheat :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 9:37am

    I expect it would also depend on which hand the QB throws with. It stands to reason that on teams with southpaw QBs, the right OT would be the better one.

    67
    by Mr Shush :: Tue, 01/04/2011 - 3:59am

    Probably, assuming the team had been expecting to start a left handed quarterback (I don't think the Eagles flipped their tackles this year, did they?). There aren't many starting left-handed quarterbacks out there, though - Vick's the only one that springs to mind.

    37
    by VarlosZ :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 8:42pm

    Here's what happens: Jason Pierr-Paul goes most of the season without producing anything tangible (or intangible). Then he has a really cheap "two sack game" in Week 12. The first sack is the product of a QB being forced by pressure to hold on to the ball and step up right into JPP's grasp. The second sack comes when he's well-blocked, but the QB drifts a little too close to the edge of the pocket and JPP is able to stick his hand out and poke the ball away. In both cases it's good that he was able to make these plays as opposed to not making them, but they were very much about his just waking up in the right spot to collect a sack.

    So the buzz necessarily starts among pundits who weren't paying close attention to what actually happened that JPP is "coming on." Then the next week, he actually has a good game (his first) and collects two more sacks. Since the official story on him was already that he was breaking out, his good game was perfectly timed, and from that point on, no matter what he actually did on the field the rest of the year (and no matter that he did absolutely nothing on the field before all this), he is officially considered to have had a good (or at least promising) rookie campaign. Any evidence that supports this theory (i.e. the occasional batted ball) gets woven into the narrative, while any evidence that runs contrary to it (i.e. the absence any contribution besides those batted balls, or the fact that he hasn't beaten a blocker 1-on-1 a single time in the NFL) is discarded.

    All that said, he's quite raw, and I wouldn't be totally shocked if he matured into a valuable player ... but he's had a poor rookie season.

    38
    by justanothersteve :: Thu, 12/30/2010 - 10:21pm

    Last I saw, Bulaga is still expected to slide over to LT when Clifton retires. TJ Lang, Newhouse, or someone not yet on the roster will then take over RT (and hopefully not be the sieve Barbre was).

    41
    by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 12/31/2010 - 1:38am

    This has been a ludicrously productive rookie class and I find it particularly cool that the 1-2-3 spots in the draft show up here, and they're all more or less "gimmes".

    43
    by Mr Shush :: Fri, 12/31/2010 - 7:53am

    And indeed the #1 and #2 overall picks are the no-brainer OROY and DROY.

    My Texans, meanwhile, have as their top two picks the man who should be KCWMVP and a guy who's been on IR all season and who no matter how good he is will never see meaningful playing time in Houston unless one of the team's best players gets injured. Sigh.

    66
    by Bobman :: Mon, 01/03/2011 - 5:50pm

    Just like the 1998 draft. (That's the Colts fan in me laughing)

    Or 1992 (Emtman/Coryatt--the Colts fan in me crying).

    74
    by Anonymous567 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/04/2011 - 9:59pm

    "I wanted both Gronkowskis on the team."

    Aren't there three Gronks in the NFL?

    75
    by dryheat :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 9:02am

    Yes, but Dan isn't a rookie.

    77
    by JasonDLT (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 1:55pm

    On the RB's, "Neither is an outstanding long-range prospect -- neither can catch the ball, and one-cut backs with limited peripheral skills are easy to find in the draft pool."

    You apparently didn't see much of LaGarrette Blount. With his ability to break through tackles, hurdle guys and bust out long runs on a weekly basis - sorry - you don't find guys like him every day.

    78
    by ChrisInCT (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 5:03pm

    Down goes SACK-SEER! Down goes SACK-SEER!

    79
    by Mr Shush :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 8:24pm

    Does a decent rookie season for Pierre-Paul outweigh the emergence of Jason Babin?

    81
    by Vic Vega (not verified) :: Fri, 01/07/2011 - 3:41pm

    I think Russell Okung, Trent Williams and Jared Veldheer have done better than Bulaga, plus those 3 play LT while Bulaga plays RT, and also have allowed less sacks than Bulaga in a more difficult position.

    Also Rolando McClain is the best MLB this year. Brandon Spikes is suspended and plays 3-4 ILB with Jerrod Mayo in NE, which is way easier than playing 4-3 MLB with Wimbley and Groves in OAK.

    Eric Berry has to be there too.