Four Downs

Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: AFC East

by Rivers McCown

Buffalo Bills

Biggest need: Wide receiver

Let’s go into this with the idea that Josh Allen is a stab at solving the quarterback problem. Hey, stop laughing! We know it’s an absurd premise. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt on that pick. Buffalo’s highest-regarded receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, spent last year dealing with a torn meniscus and caught 16 balls in six starts last year. The only other returning wideout in the top four in targets for Buffalo last year is Zay Jones, who had the worst catch rate in the NFL and was involved in a bizarre nude vandalism incident. By trading up for Allen and Tremaine Edwards, the Bills ran themselves out of picks they could use to fix wideout. They were only able to throw late-round stabs on Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl. The good news is that Allen has a track record of overcoming a bad supporting cast at Wyom-- oh wait.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Crimson Tide corner Levi Wallace was rated just outside of NFL Draft Scout's top 100, and fought his way into being a starter on a national championship team as a walk-on. Wallace doesn't have impressive timed speed or measured size, but he was extremely effective in a good system, and any defensive back with Nick Saban polish is a little ahead of the game in adjusting to the NFL. DB is pretty stacked for the Bills, but he could make the end of the roster.

A couple of UDFAs could easily enter the reciever battle in Alabama's Robert (not Reuben) Foster and Virginia Tech's Cam Phillips. Foster is a premium athlete who was invalidated in Alabama's run-first attack and was beset by injuries over the course of his college career. Phillips was a high-volume option for Tech, going for 900 yards in his last two college seasons and adding a dangerous element as a returner. Phillips will need to be schemed into catches away from tough coverage but he has a chance to stick.

Miami Dolphins

Biggest need: Offensive line

The Dolphins made some great picks as far as filling needs, but the interior of the line is still underwhelming and this team badly needs a better season from first-round tackle Laremy Tunsil. Daniel Kilgore, who the team is relying on to replace Mike Pouncey, was brutal in 2017 and had never started 16 games in a season before that. Josh Sitton sliding in for Pouncey should be a lateral move overall, assuming the 32-year-old doesn’t lose anything to age. But outside of Sitton, there aren’t any real strengths on this line. Ted Larsen is the best this line can do at the other guard spot, assuming he can beat out (Phinsider trolling hype!) Jesse Davis, who was a UDFA practice-squadder for two years before starting the last 10 games for the Dolphins.

Notable undrafted free agents: The Dolphins spent a seventh-round pick on New Mexico kicker Jason Sanders, however they also brought on UDFA Greg Joseph from Florida Atlantic. With no veteran kickers around, this is the camp battle that will either make the Dolphins seem smart or make them sign someone else during last cuts.

Utah State's Jason Davis got some love as one of Chad Reuter's "7 most underappreciated prospects," as a potential starting nickelback in the NFL. Obviously, he's physically underwhelming at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, but he did finish in the top 10 in FBS interceptions, and returned three of them for scores. Michigan's Mike McCray is a two-down thumper looking at an underwhelming depth chart in front of him, though he has his own injury concerns as his shoulder took a lot of punishment in college.

New England Patriots

Biggest need: Edge rusher

Always hard to do these with the Patriots because they’ve got a deep roster, but the place they’re relying the most on improvement this year is the edge spot outside of Trey Flowers. Adrian Clayborn’s big 2017 statline came courtesy Jason Garrett and the Chaz Green at Left Tackle Experiment. Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers also deserve real cracks at the slot, and Rivers was highly touted coming out of college before missing all of the 2017 season. It’s likely that the Patriots will get something out of this spot. But with Flowers being more suited as a second banana rusher and the Pats uncertainty at this slot, pass rush could again be an issue.

Notable undrafted free agents: New England found some intriguing rotation competitors on defense. Maryland corner J.C. Jackson is a physical-first corner who has good press skills but is vulnerable when beaten. If the Pats can engineer better recovery technique into him, they might have a starter.

They also reeled in Georgia defensive tackle John Atkins, a big-body nose who could get some rotational snaps if he makes the roster. Or, at the very least, be the alternative for a Danny Shelton injury. Atkins' agility was questioned by most draftniks, but two-down run stuffers can last quite a bit in the NFL.

New York Jets

Biggest need: Offensive line

At least we get to stop talking about the quarterback! Progress! The only move the Jets found on the offensive line all offseason was Spencer Long for Wesley Johnson, which didn’t really move the needle. Brian Winters struggled last year and has not lived up to his extension. Brandon Shell at right tackle combines the size of Art Shell with the football acumen of Art Alexakis. The only player on the line that played well last year was Kelvin Beachum, and he’s always one snap away from the training table. Worst of all, there’s no youth. The picks that could have been used to give this group an injection of talent were all made by the Colts. It was probably still the right move for the Jets, but this is going to be an ugly unit this season.

Notable undrafted free agents: One of the more interesting players in this draft class was Dimitri Flowers, a 6-foot-2, 248-pound H-Back with receiving ability who also showed some rushing ability. He was a huge difference maker for OU as sort of a positionless player who provided a numerical advantage either as a blocker, receiver, or rusher. Flowers will be best-utilized in a hybrid role rather than as a strict fullback, but it remains to be seen if Jeremy Bates is the coordinator to best utilize that.

They also brought on Middle Tennessee State kicker Canon Rooker -- the Jets currently have three kickers rostered already, so this could be a huge battle. And in a huge battle, you always root for the guy named Canon Rooker because, c'mon.


76 comments, Last at 01 Jun 2018, 3:33pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by johonny // May 17, 2018 - 12:26pm

The AFC east race should be really exciting this season. I can't wait to see which team of the Jets, Bills, or Dolphins get to pick first in the 2019 draft.

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6 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by mehllageman56 // May 17, 2018 - 1:33pm

It's doubtful that any team in the AFC East gets the first pick. First off, they all play each other. Two, they have an easier schedule than last year, going from AFC West and NFC South to NFC North and AFC South. That's why the Patriots should be listed as the number one contender this year; they have the easiest schedule in the NFL this year.

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52 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by t.d. // May 22, 2018 - 7:09am

The AFC South is two teams that won playoff games, plus Houston getting Watson and Watt back, and Indy getting Luck back. The NFC North is the Packers getting Rodgers back,so three possible playoff contenders. Sure, more guys will get hurt, so we don't know what "easy" will be, but, on paper, that isn't it (my bet would be the AFC East and North will be the trash divisions)

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13 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by sbond101 // May 17, 2018 - 9:45pm

I have to think MIA is the odds on favorite to lose the division. I can't think of anything on that team to feel good about.

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14 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Bright Blue Shorts // May 18, 2018 - 5:03am

I agree that there are more positives in the Pats, Jets, Bills.

That said I can see the Bills getting tired of McDonuts hard guy coaching - have seen quite a few teams regress in the 2nd year of a HC - last year Miami included.

Miami, just don't know what to make of last year. The most notable positive is that they handed the Pats their most convincing loss of last year.

They also have the excuse of having to play Cutler instead of Tannehill but to be honest, if your coaching is that QB dependent then is it coaching for the long term? You take someone like Bruce Arians who was often missing Carson Palmer and you still felt the Cards were a competitive team.

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15 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // May 18, 2018 - 8:07am

if your coaching is that QB dependent then is it coaching for the long term

Doesn't Belichick have a <.500 record without Brady?

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16 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Bright Blue Shorts // May 18, 2018 - 9:14am

Not since 2001 ... 14-6 is about .700

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19 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // May 18, 2018 - 10:32am

He started coaching in 2001, huh?

11-18 with Kosar
16-15 with Testaverde
2-1 with Rypien
5-13 with Bledsoe

So even discounting some of the crap he got stuck with in Cleveland and 2nd-stringers on the Patriots, he's 34-47 with QBs who are only SB MVPs or Hall of Very Good guys.

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20 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Hoodie_Sleeves // May 18, 2018 - 11:12am

I like how by 'discounting some of the crap' you removed a 14-6 chunk of games. That's some A1 cherry picking.

He's 48-53 with non-Brady quarterbacks, and the vast majority of the losses have come right after taking over absolutely terrible teams. When he took over the Browns, he improved their point differential by more than 200 points in the first year.

The Browns STILL haven't had an 11 win season since BB left, and haven't come within 100 points of the point differential they put up that year.

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22 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // May 18, 2018 - 12:13pm

I also removed the Zeier, Tomczak (who wasn't actually terrible), and Philcox games.

What do you mean? The post-Belichick Browns have had 5 11+ win seasons.

If we're going to credit Belichick's recovery from the 1994 Browns crater season, you need to include the comp to the 1999 Patriots, where Belichick was net -3 wins and -70 PD versus Carroll.

This is all losing the gist.

Even Belichick arguably has dependence on the HoF QB he's had for most of his career. I don't think you can ding a coach for a bad QB season without other justification. The game has been way too QB-centric for that.

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28 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by theslothook // May 18, 2018 - 3:20pm

There are layers to it though. Some coaches are able to be successful without consistent qb play. Belichick has demonstrated that. Coaches like Mike Zimmer, Andy Reid, Joe Gibbs, Marty Schottenheimer are some others.

I think Bills time in Cleveland is further evidence supporting his coaching prowess, not against it. The Browns were cratering and it took a Herculean effort to achieve the results they did. That the browns have been in eternal misery since then(we are talking about a 20 plus year span) is further vindication.

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30 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Dave Bernreuther // May 18, 2018 - 5:54pm

Is it, though? Because the team Belichick coached in Cleveland has won two Super Bowls since he was fired.

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47 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Hoodie_Sleeves // May 21, 2018 - 11:31am

That's a silly argument. The browns have been hapless because their ownership is a mess. That ownership is in Cleveland, not Baltimore.

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49 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by jtr // May 21, 2018 - 12:17pm

Art Modell owned the Browns from the end of Paul Brown's tenure through relocation to Baltimore and the Super Bowl XXXV victory. That was the ownership that Belichick coached under in Cleveland. The hapless Browns we've known for the past almost two decades was an entirely new franchise created in 1999.

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53 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by t.d. // May 22, 2018 - 7:15am

...and without even a 'Hall of very good' quarterback

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74 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by RobotBoy // Jun 01, 2018 - 5:24am

How is that in any way relevant to Belichick? The Brow...sorry, Ravens had records of 4-12, 6-9-1, 6-10 and 8-8 in the four years after stabbing Cleveland in the back (A Ravens specialty, you might say).

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65 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by eagle97a // May 22, 2018 - 9:00pm

The 90's Browns weren't exactly terrible, Kosar led those teams to 3 AFCCG just a scant 2 years before BB took over. And after BB left those Browns became the 2x SB winning Ravens. We can say BB is also dependent on his HOF qb for a lot of his success. A better look should be on Gibbs who won 3 SB's with 3 different non-HOF qbs.

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40 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by MJK // May 20, 2018 - 12:15am

Since it's a coach's job to, you know, coach, I thought it might be interesting to look at how Belichick has done with QB's that have been coached by him for at least a year. So throw out any player's first year with Belichick and see what his record is with guys that he has had a chance to mold and design an offense for. This also conveniently knocks out any QB that he was stuck with when he took over a team (Kosar, Bledsoe), along with any QB that was an emergency fill in signing after an injury.

Overall, by this definition, Belichick is 229-86, or 0.727. (regular season only, 'cuz I"m too lazy to go through all the postseason appearance and figure this stuff out). Pretty good. If your question is how he does with QB's other than his longtime starter Brady (that he has had at least a year to coach up), we take away the 195-55 record with Brady and Belichick's record is 34-31, or 0.523. Not nearly as rosy, but still better than 0.500.

Of course, the problem with this is the problem with any argument that goes "if you take away [a big set of data that reflects success], [so and so] hasn't done anything!". Of course any data set that you selectively remove data on the criteria that the data is "good" will look a lot worse. I would be willing to bet that almost any coach, if you remove the performance of his best QB, would look much less good.

So I decided to test it. I took the active coach with the most wins other than Belichick, who is noted for succeeding in two different places with several different QB's, and did the same analysis: Andy Reid.

By this methodology, Mr. Reid is 157-91, or 0.633. Not quite as good as Belichick, but pretty darned good. That's based on a 90-45 record with McNabb (0.667), a 39-22 record with Alex Smith (0.639), and a 28-24 record with everyone else (0.538).

If the question we're asking is "how good is a coach without his best QB", then we take out McNabb (most wins of Reids QB, and best percentage) then we get 67-46, or 0.593. A bit better than Belichick but obviously much less amazing than his overall record. But Reid was "luckier" (for the purpose of this analysis) than Belichick in that he had the opportunity to play with two different starting caliber QB's. So alternately, if you instead define "Belichick without Brady" as being "coach without any of his long term starters", and apply the same logic to Reid and take out both McNabb and Smith, you're back to the 28-24 record, or 0.538. Pretty comparable to Belichick's 34-31.

So, I guess this is what I would summarize all this as:

* Belichick is pretty darned good, overall (duh).
* Without Brady/without a long term starting QB, when he's had a chance to coach a QB, he's still above 0.500, but not amazing.
* One of the next best coaches known for succeeding with different QB's also takes a big hit when you use the same methodology and when you throw out his best QB. He's a bit better than Belichick if you only throw out his best QB, but he has had the opportunity to coach two different long term starting-caliber QB's, whereas Belichick has only had the opportunity to coach one of them.
* If you throw out both of Reid's long term starters, he looks comparable to Belichick.

Based on all of this, I think the bottom line is three points:
1). If you throw out any coach's best player(s), they look a lot worse (duh)
2). Belichick and Reid are probably both in camp of coaches that can coach up a non-star QB and get above 0.500 play out of them (eventually)
3). Andy Reid is way better a coach than most people give him credit for.

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41 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Noah Arkadia // May 20, 2018 - 11:28am

#2 hints at the question that'll drive you nuts: not only how good is a coach without his best player, but how good is a player without the coach that developed him. A coach can keep you on the field when you're injured until you are never able to play again at the same level (Griffin) or until you are so shell-shocked you are never the same again (Carr) or simply put you in the wrong scheme and leave everyone to wonder what could've been (Elway). The negative impacts are somewhat easier to assess. But how much coaching helped players like, say, Alex Smith or Gannon/Testaverde types is a much harder question.

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66 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by eagle97a // May 22, 2018 - 9:03pm

As I mentioned above you can add Gibbs who won 3 SBs with 3 different non-HOF qbs. Parcells also won 2 with 2 non-HOF qbs but he did have BB by his side then.

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18 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by johonny // May 18, 2018 - 10:02am

I agree. If Miami has the same camp injury luck as last year then look out. 16 games of red hot Brock Osweiler action is certainly good enough for top pick. The post season wrap up is that this division still appears like exactly what we expected it would be. It's still a dull division where one team feels like it has a 95% chance of winning it and basically at this point in the off season no one cares much about the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets moves because they won't matter come December unless something amazing happens. Typically in the NFL something amazing doesn't happen. At least Bills and Jets fans have the feel good willies watching their future QB in year one. Miami fans get...IDK, the thrill of watching the mortal remains of Frank Gore churn out 3 ypc behind an iffy line.

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21 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Noah Arkadia // May 18, 2018 - 11:33am

Well, they have about a 40 million payroll at DE, so they should have a decent passrush. Seriously, though, the Bills are going with Josh Allen at QB. How can they not be the favorites to lose the division?

About what the other posters mention, Gase is certainly a tough one to figure out. The team was playing like the Browns had nothing on them early on... and winning. Then they improved a lot and stopped winning. But this business about letting valuable vets go on year 3 because they don't fit the culture/system or whatever, that's bush league stuff. If you're doing that, it's got to be on year one, not when you should be producing results or packing your bags.

Bottom line, I see the Dolphins winning 6-7 games and staying out of the basement.

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33 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Mountain Time ---- formerly Ninjalectual // May 18, 2018 - 9:54pm

The Bills have a lot of positives outside of the QB position, notably their defense and Shady McCoy. And they're set at uh, fullback… They were good enough to squeak into the playoffs even with their head coach working against them. Even though old Coacheyface (I can never remember that guy's name!) will probably be more efficient at being awful in his second year, I wouldn't be surprised to see 4-7 wins from them.

Miami has… What exactly does Miami have going for them again? Your 6 win "floor" seems comically optimistic. That's about where I'd put their ceiling!

Does anybody feel like Gase is doing a good job with the offense, at least?

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34 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by theslothook // May 19, 2018 - 12:32pm

I feel like Gase has overachieved personally. You could argue a greater coach would find a way to create talent from nothing, but I'm inclined to say he's been given an awful situation and done admirably. If he gets fired after this year(likely) it will probably be a scapegoat situation.

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35 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Noah Arkadia // May 19, 2018 - 2:22pm

They won 6 last year with the corpse of Jay Cutler, I think even without Suh and Landry, they can win 6 with Tannehill. The thing about Miami right now is they're not really good at anything, but they have a chance to be solid at many things. It's how they're constantly in the 6-9 win range year in and year out.

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36 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by sbond101 // May 19, 2018 - 6:18pm

you win 6-9 games not by being solid at several things, but rather not being bad at anything in particular (closely related, but not the same thing). That LB/CB/Saftey group is really awful. Being bad at LB/Saftey is a spot almost any team is equipped to exploit - I would be shocked if they win 6 this year.

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37 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Noah Arkadia // May 19, 2018 - 7:41pm

The secondary I don't believe is awful at all. Rashad Jones might be the team's best player and CB Howard is making a move for second best. T.J. McDonald gives them redundancy at SS and potential on nickel D, if used creatively. CB Lippet was solid two years ago and is coming back after missing last year with an injury. 2nd year CB Tankersly has potential. Slot CB McCain is decent and Minkah has a chance to be an impact rookie. LB should be their weakest point and what drags them down the most. But LB was also awful last year, along with QB, so I don't expect worse results at all. Criticism of Tannehill is fair, but he's still worlds better than Cutler was last year.

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68 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by nat // May 23, 2018 - 8:12pm

You should really say 6-10. If you do a whole decade it's 6-11. There's no justification for that 9. Although your main point is right. You just don't properly appreciate how hard it is to avoid bad seasons in the NFL.

Miami is actually quite remarkable. They've gone a full decade without being worse than 6-10. Just four other teams have done that this past ten years: New England, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Green Bay. That's damned good company. And unlike the other four, they've done it without what fans would consider a top tier QB.

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69 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by ssereb // May 24, 2018 - 3:22am

That's true, and it's impressive, but then you end up circling back to the eternal debate about the Patriots' win-loss records: how much of it do you attribute to the Bills and the Jets also being bad? I think all those teams have some degree of this quality of the Dolphins that you've identified: being consistently mediocre with occasional highs without ever truly hitting Clevelandesque, Matt-Millen-drafting-Lions rock bottom (at least, since Miami's 1-15 season). Miami hasn't been quite as bad as Buffalo but they also haven't reached the Jets' AFCCG peak.

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70 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by nat // May 24, 2018 - 8:02am

That "eternal debate" was closed so hard that people asked me to permalink the discussion. Can't be easily done, and I'm a bit bored of dredging up the link. In short summary, once you eliminate divisional games, the non-Patriot AFC East teams compare favorably to almost all divisions in relevant periods.

Going 2-8 or worse outside your division is bad, but pretty common. Over the past decade every division has had at least three such seasons... Except the AFC East. For the past decade, every AFC East team has managed to win at least three non-divisional games each season. If you set the cutoff at 3-7, only the NFC North looks better, and only by one season.

So the idea that NE and MIA get their records by beating up unusually weak divisional opponents just does not stand up. They are what their records say they are: the best team of the decade and a team of remarkable (not bad, but still disappointing) consistency.

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71 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Noah Arkadia // May 24, 2018 - 12:26pm

Wow, very interesting, thanks for posting that.

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73 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by nat // May 31, 2018 - 9:57am

I came across the article and discussion looking up something else:

If you want to see the analysis, a good place to start is comment #19. We bat around a few ideas about divisional degree of difficult in general and the AFC East and South in particular.

You can see a little extra nuance in (start with comment #18)

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45 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Mike B. In Va // May 21, 2018 - 10:06am

If you believe the organization, Josh Allen will not see a snap at QB in the regular season.

More to the point, the Bills had utter crap QB play last year (by both standard and advanced metrics, and I *am* a fan of Tyrod), and were still a decent team.

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46 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by jtr // May 21, 2018 - 11:29am

We see this every year, where an organization promises to be patient with their first round rookie. They rarely follow through all the way. The Bills started Nathan freaking Peterman last year; I really doubt they'll be more patient with a top pick than a fifth rounder. It'll only take one or two bad AJ McCarron games to get Allen out on the field, and the Bills face the tough Ravens and Vikings defenses in their first three games. I bet we see Allen quite early in the season.

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2 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by MilkmanDanimal // May 17, 2018 - 1:10pm

"Zay Jones, who had the worst catch rate in the NFL and was involved in a bizarre nude vandalism incident."

As opposed to all those non-bizarre and completely normal nude vandalism incidents.

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3 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // May 17, 2018 - 1:21pm

It's like cleaning a shower.

Why get your clothes dirty, too?

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4 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by mehllageman56 // May 17, 2018 - 1:22pm

'any defensive back with Nick Saban polish is a little ahead of the game in adjusting to the NFL'

Not sure the record of Alabama defensive backs in the NFL agrees with that statement. If anything, Saban gets the most out of his players, and since the college rules are different (only a 15 yard penalty for pass interference), Saban lets his defensive backs hold a lot more than the NFL wants. Doesn't mean the db in question won't work out well for the Bills.

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12 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by ssereb // May 17, 2018 - 4:05pm

Here's the list of Nick Saban DBs drafted from Alabama

There's some definite duds in this list (Dee Milliner, Javier Arenas) but at least anecdotally, he's coached some excellent defensive backs. A couple Pro Bowlers in Clinton-Dix and Collins, up and comers in Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson, productive starters in Barron, Kirkpatrick, and Kareem Jackson, and some late-round picks I have no memory of.

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25 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by mehllageman56 // May 18, 2018 - 2:49pm

Perhaps Mark Barron is a productive starter, but he now plays linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams. He was a first round pick who got traded for a 4th and a 6th. Not exactly what you want when you draft a safety in the first round. Clinton-Dix, Collins and Kareem Jackson have been solid for their teams (it took Jackson a year to become good, but whatever). Humphrey was excellent last year, but Kirkpatrick didn't win a starting job for a couple years. He was the 4th corner in Cincinnati in 2014. He's been solid since then though, so your point is arguable. I didn't realize Eddie Jackson was that good for Chicago last year, apparently Saban's defensive backs had a good year in the NFL last year. I expect Minkah Fitzpatrick to do well in Miami, after all if Brady falls apart he'll have lots of interceptions and fumbles to return in the coming years.

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27 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by ssereb // May 18, 2018 - 3:08pm

I may well be overrating Eddie Jackson because I only watched him in two games, and in one of them he took a fumble and an interception to the house. As far as Barron, looking at that list, I think there's definitely a case to be made that NFL front offices are overvaluing Alabama DBs: more than half the guys on that list went in the first two rounds, and they weren't all drafted by Ozzie Newsome. It's hard to evaluate whether Saban's reputation as a DB whisperer is warranted without establishing a baseline for how we view coaches with similar reputations. What's the hit rate on Kirk Ferentz offensive linemen or Joe Paterno linebackers?

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29 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by mehllageman56 // May 18, 2018 - 4:00pm

A lot of players coached by Saban end up drafted early, not just defensive backs. It just seems like the defensive backs from Alabama have a higher disappointment rate (I won't say bust, because even Barron isn't really a bust) than the front seven or wide receivers. The only position that doesn't get drafted early if you play in Alabama is quarterback. I'm partially biased because as a Jets fan I remember the Milliner fiasco, but that isn't fair (Milliner failed because of injuries). That said I think the real great players coming out from Alabama have been the front seven and wide receiver (Dareus, Hightower, Julio Jones, Amari Cooper).

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31 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by justanothersteve // May 18, 2018 - 6:05pm

I did a quick breakdown of Alabama players drafted between 2009-2015 in the first three rounds. (Saban started at Alabama in 2007.) There were 29 players taken overall. There are three All-Pros (Julio Jones-2 times, Landon Collins, Marcell Dareus) and nine Pro-Bowlers (Jones-5 times, Collins-2, Dareus-2, CJ Mosley-3, Amari Cooper-2, Mark Ingram-2 [really], Dont'e Hightower, Eddie Lacy, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix).

15 players started at least 85% of their games where they were on the roster. The 2016 class has one player (Ryan Kelly) who has reached that mark. There are several contributors who didn't make the arbitrary 85% cutoff, including Ingram, TJ Yeldon, and Dre Kirkpatrick. I'd say that's a fairly good success rate, though I have no idea how that compares to the average.

Considering most likely starters come from the first three rounds and there's probably about a 50% bust rate, I'd say Alabama players have done about average and probably a bit better than average for stars.

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5 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by mehllageman56 // May 17, 2018 - 1:30pm

Also, New England's defense ranked 31st in DVOA last year, and 22nd in weighted DVOA, not counting the playoffs or the Super Bowl, where they got torched without their 2nd best corner who's now on another team. While they added a good corner in the second round and added a bunch of guys in free agency- ok, I'm wrong I started writing this before checking out what the Pats actually did. Their defense should be better than last year. So their biggest need should be backup quarterback. If Brady goes down the rest of the team isn't enough to rise above mediocrity. The defense won't be strong enough to carry the team.

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11 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by SandyRiver // May 17, 2018 - 4:00pm

Without disputing the Pats' need for a better QB backup, I think they can win the division with Hoyer (hey, they might win it with you under center!), though their PS might be short.

And I'm not sure I buy into that "weakest schedule in the league" - would like to see the numbers. Though the AFC South has lots of ifs - Luck's/Watson's health, better coaching at Tenn, probable Jags' regression - there's a significant chance they'll be stronger in '18 than the AFC West was last year, when it had one good, one middling, and two bad teams. The NFC division switch does look easier this year.

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24 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by mehllageman56 // May 18, 2018 - 2:38pm

No, they wouldn't win the AFC East with me starting at quarterback. 2-14 won't win you anything but the first pick in the draft. Honestly, I'm in my late forties and just started wearing glasses. Josh Allen would have a better completion percentage. I also think you are overrating Hoyer (not better than 2008 Cassel) and underrating the chances of another team lucking into 9-7. Seriously, everyone mentions 2008 as the year Belichick went 11-5 without Brady, but no one realizes that the Pats lost 5 more games than the year before. Patriots lose 5 more games than last year, they're going 8-8. lt's possible they win the division or make the playoffs with a full year of Hoyer, but not probable.

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75 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by RobotBoy // Jun 01, 2018 - 5:36am

Last year the Patriots went 3-1 without Brady, including a shutout win over Houston in which the Pats started a rookie.

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76 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by SandyRiver // Jun 01, 2018 - 3:33pm

Games 1 and 2 featured a possible "coming of age" QB, though we should learn more about that in the upcoming season. Also, weren't those the Osweiler Texans that failed to score? Then the next week the Brady-less Pats got shut out at home by the awesome Bills.

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54 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by t.d. // May 22, 2018 - 7:36am

The Jags were comparatively bad in close games (they went 2-3 in 'less than a touchdown' games, and had an expected point differential of a 12-win team). Unless there's way more injuries, they're due for positive regression

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7 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by ChrisS // May 17, 2018 - 1:44pm

Austin Proehl (Buf) is the son of Ricky, that is all I know about Austin. Refreshing my memory I see that Ricky somehow managed to turn seasons of 50 receptions for 600 yards into a 17 year career.

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8 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Led // May 17, 2018 - 1:57pm

The Jets biggest need is an edge pass rusher as they have no one on the roster that can win one on one against any decent tackle. Amazingly, the Jets have not had a decent edge rusher since they traded John Abraham 100 years ago.

The OL is likely to be "meh" but not terrible. They weren't even terrible last year with a seriously sub-par center. The upgrade from Wesley Johnson to Spencer Long is considerable even though nobody expects Long to be Nick Mangold in his prime. Johnson was just really bad. Putting some basic NFL competence in the middle will help Winters regain his form. Carpenter is more of a mauler and isn't a great fit in a zone scheme, but he's a decent athlete and should be ok. This isn't the 2009 Jets line by any means, but it won't be bad enough to hamstring the team.

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10 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by mehllageman56 // May 17, 2018 - 2:20pm

Generally agree with that the edge rusher is a huge lack (more than the Patriots lack of one), but the offensive line is a bigger issue when you draft a quarterback that early. The Jets can get an edge rusher next year and the guys in the secondary will be happy. The Jets can get offensive tackles next year but Darnold could already be beaten down if the line fails this year.

One undrafted free agent the article did not mention was Austin Golson from Auburn. He played guard, center and left tackle there. The Auburn coach claimed he'd have gone higher in the draft if the Tigers had just left him at one position, but they needed him to fill in all over. Golson may end being a good back-up in the interior line. Also, the Jets just claimed Antonio Garcia, left tackle, on waivers from New England. If Garcia can recover from his medical issues (blood clots in the lungs), he could end up a starter at one of the tackle positions. Starting is probably too much to ask from either of them right now though. That's why I'm hoping Bridgewater is healthy, so Darnold doesn't get thrown in too early to a meat grinder.

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72 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by t.d. // May 29, 2018 - 3:53pm

With Bridgewater and McCown, it'd be organizational malpractice to rush Darnold, especially since nobody is expecting playoffs this year anyway (having said that, I'm not saying they should sit him , just that they should sit him if the line turns out to be a major problem)

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9 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Shylo // May 17, 2018 - 2:13pm

I had to look up who Art Alexakis is. Is Rivers just that big of an Everclear fanboy he had to put a reference in this article?

Also, Middle Tennessee State!

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32 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Mountain Time ---- formerly Ninjalectual // May 18, 2018 - 9:42pm

The real question is why he passed on the only famous non-Shell Art: Garfunkel. Everclear, to me, represents how shitty my taste in music was when I was in high school. But nobody doesn't like Art Garfunkel! The sentence even reads better, it's basically getting a free laugh because it's a funny sounding name!

Brandon Shell at right tackle combines the size of Art Shell with the football acumen of Art Garfunkel.


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42 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Led // May 20, 2018 - 11:59am

You talk s**t about Art Garfunkel's football acumen at your peril, ninja-boy.

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43 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Bright Blue Shorts // May 20, 2018 - 3:17pm

"the only famous non-Shell Art: Garfunkel"

Showing your youth ... you never heard of Art Donovan or Art Schlichter? One's in the Hall of Fame and the other in the Hall of Infamy.

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44 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by justanothersteve // May 20, 2018 - 6:07pm

Not to mention late Steelers owner Art Rooney.

Some other famous Arts for those of us older than 50 include Art Fleming, Art Carney, and Art Linkletter.

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51 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Mountain Time ---- formerly Ninjalectual // May 21, 2018 - 10:45pm

And "Art" Blank, while we're talking about franchise owners, sheesh.

Led is right, the Curse of Garfunkle, or the "Garfunk," is serious business. Who knows how many more Arts I've forgotten about? All of them, practically.

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17 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by jtr // May 18, 2018 - 9:18am

Between Derek Rivers and Trey Flowers, the Patriots are really relying on bastards to bolster their pass rush this year. Leave it to Belichick to find little inefficiencies like that; other teams want trueborn pass rushers, so naturally Bill snaps up the baseborn ones on the cheap.

[obscure GoT joke]

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23 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by JimZipCode // May 18, 2018 - 2:13pm

You know nothing, Jon Snow.

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38 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Independent George // May 19, 2018 - 10:34pm


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26 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by theslothook // May 18, 2018 - 2:58pm

I wonder if Patriots fans have any seller's remorse for trading away Chandler Jones. Were they really so capped out that they couldn't extend him? He's a damn good player

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39 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by MJK // May 19, 2018 - 11:29pm

If I recall correctly, they traded away Jones so they could extend Hightower and have a shot at extending Jamie Collins. That clearly didn't quite work out, as Collins was later traded for disciplinary reasons, and Hightower, while excellent (and critical to at least one SB win), has been rather injury prone since then. Perhaps they made the wrong choice there...

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48 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Hoodie_Sleeves // May 21, 2018 - 11:40am

I think that it would be impossible for a defensive end to be worth $17/yr within the confines of BB's defensive philosophy. With his emphasis on contain, read-and-react, etc, any elite pass rusher is going to be significantly more expensive than he is valuable.

I wish Hightower was healthier, and wish Collins wasn't an idiot, but I think trading Jones was the right decision.

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50 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by theslothook // May 21, 2018 - 5:33pm

That seems like an odd logic considering there was no one even close to Chandler's quality behind on the depth chart. Pass rusher is also the second most important position in football so I'm a bit puzzled.

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55 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by jtr // May 22, 2018 - 8:53am

Hoodie's logic makes sense to me. Edge rush is one of the most expensive positions in football, and the Pats don't rely on those guys to provide disruption to the same extent as most other defenses. It doesn't make sense for them to pay a guy top dollar only to tell him to play QB contain half the time. Ultimately, the cap forces every NFL team to pick some positions of lower priority, and Belichick's defensive philosophy means that it makes sense for him to deprioritize edge rush.

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56 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Hoodie_Sleeves // May 22, 2018 - 9:37am

In the Patriots defense - on most plays - the Defensive End's primary responsibility is to set the edge, and prevent the running back or qb from getting outside him (This changes sometimes depending on what the linebacker on that side is doing). An individual defender putting pressure on the QB is a secondary responsibility.

Pressure is usually generated by sending a linebacker, or a cornerback.

(They're more traditional on 3rd and long, etc)

Spending a ton of money on an elite pass rusher, and not letting him pass rush is just a poor use of resources.

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57 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by theslothook // May 22, 2018 - 12:25pm

I agree that Bill requires complete defensive ends(ie - he probably wouldn't tolerate a Dwight freeny on his team), but I'm still confused how a lack of pass rush is somehow acceptance for Ne but a major hindrance for the other 31 other teams. And it's not as if NE has a LOB level secondary.

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58 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by theslothook // May 22, 2018 - 12:29pm

Actually I am going to contradict my own point slightly by saying pass defense is less about pressure than people think, so maybe BB sees it that way too. But I'm skeptical of that reasoning as well because BB was the one who drafted Jones in the first place. Why do that if it's a deprioritized position. In fact, wouldn't people have said the same about BB and running backs until this year?

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59 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by sbond101 // May 22, 2018 - 1:50pm

This is a really interesting point, because it hints at the different levels of analysis that are required to build a roster with constrained resources in a competitive system. To begin with, lets consider the history of BB and RB's;

Until the 2018 draft NE had consistently split the role of RB into a sure-handed short yardage back and a quick scat back that was also supposed to be able to block. By the same token BB has consistently applied a great deal of defensive attention to players like Marshal Falk, Jamal Charles, LeSean McCoy etc... that were three down backs implying that the choice not to acquire a top tier RB wasn't about viewing them as not valuable. It looks to me from observing the way NE has played defense that BB has until recently viewed the RB position as one-dimensional as a result of down and distance regardless of the RB on the field; The deployment of a high draft pick to the spot indicates to me that BB perceives the marginal utility of a RB that is a threat to run, catch or block on any play has expanded as YPP has grown and reduced the impact of down/distance on play calling.

This is an interesting example of the meta-game of WAR/resources (ex of the rookie scale it could be simplified to WAR/cap hit). BB philosophically doesn't have a single approach to team building - but rather accumulates assets he views as underpriced relative to their potential marginal value. That approach first led him to accumulate a shit-ton of late round draft picks by constantly trading down - more recently it's led to a huge number of veteran minimum deals for older players. The choice not to chase the DE market as it's price has exploded since the Broncos run to the superbowl is not surprising from this viewpoint - it's not that high-end DE's (or Jones specifically) aren't valuable, it's that BB views them as over-priced relative to the alternative possible uses of resources for playing defense. It looks to me like the current team building strategy for the Pats is score 40+ on offense and have a defense capable of playing coverage (including QB-contain) in pass-only situations on the supposition that the set of players required to play that way are the best value for resources. Not sure I agree with the approach, but it's really interesting to observe - especially compare with observing a team like the Bills whose operating philosophy for the last decade seems to have been "if we can just draft the next Jim Kelly then we'll be able to beat the Pats".

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60 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by jtr // May 22, 2018 - 2:12pm

I think the important point is that positional priority is never all-or-nothing. I think most posters on this site agree that guard is one of the least important positions on the field, but also acknowledge that two really shitty guards can sink your offense. Likewise, Belichick can consider that the current market has top DE's priced more than they are worth to him, but still feel that a particular DE is worth the 21st overall pick in draft. Ultimately, every position is important to at least some extent; position value is all about the fit between positional priority, resources, and available talent. I think sometimes posters on this site get a little too hung up on QB/DE=valuable and RB/OG=useless.

It should also be noted that Jones was shipped out of town after a bizarre incident where he showed up high and half-naked at a police station, and Belichick has a history of dumping players for disciplinary reasons.

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61 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by theslothook // May 22, 2018 - 2:47pm

I'll agree with both of you above and say the points are pretty spot on.

In thinking about it(and I have spent an eternity thinking about New England) - Bill's positional philosophy and team building views are to me not spectacular at all. I agree he thinks like the ultimate game theorist when it comes to payroll and players, but I'm not sure this talent is what has made the Patriots successful.

The pats are partly successful because they have some advantages that almost no team has. For example - they seem to always field capable offensive lines without necessarily huge investments at the position. The colts draft Quentin Nelson - the patriots plug in mid round picks. This strategy should eventually lead to a Denver/Seattle level offensive line over time, but Ne not only avoids this catastrophe, but manages to have a line versatile enough to block for power backs and scat backs alike. I think they are also very solid in pass pro. Tom Brady surely makes the line look better, but its not like they are a bunch of stiffs out there.

The second fact - NE constantly fields great special teams. Considering that special teams are one of the most random year to year groupings, its really unusual that they are able to do this.

ON defense - there's a lot of back and forth about how well BB is able to have his defenses stiffen in the red zone. I'm not sure i fully buy into it - there is a lot of year to year variation in the numbers, but its worth mentioning.

These three advantages(if you believe the last one is an advantage) are the kinds of margins that allow the Patriots to thrive without needing overwhelming talent. That and having a sixth round qb turn into one of the best players of all time helps a lot. But all of that strikes me as more valuable than BB's team building philosophies.

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62 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by sbond101 // May 22, 2018 - 3:14pm

Interesting - Because attribution of wins in football is so difficult it is hard to conclude whether the advantages you discuss are more or less significant than the overall approach to team building applied in New England, but I wanted to offer my perspective on the items you've laid out because they are interesting.

The OL performance/investment gap in NE in particular is profound, and as far as I can see not replicated elsewhere in football - though the reason it exists is not at all obvious. If it was Just about Scar being a great coach you would have expected to see the Pats advantage in this area decline with the new practice rules - however if anything the reverse seems true as their OL seems to have been among the least impaired by the changes. It appears to me that at least some of the Pats continuing advantage per invested resources along the OL is a result of consistent better selection of talent - I would make a similar argument with respect to low-end DT/DL talent.

I would however posit that at least the consistent success on special teams is a straightforward result of BB's consistent application of resources to acquire good players in this area (especially kicking & coverage). It can be argued that at least this advantage can be subsumed in the broader narrative of BB's approach to team building.

I think the last point is less germane to the argument. I'm a firm believer that "bend but don't break" is a real thing for the Pats, but I simply think it's a failure of statistical systems of evaluation to give appropriate credit to the Pats defense (e.g. I generally believe DVOA has understated the quality of the Pats defense at several junctures). If this phenomena is real, then it's very unclear where the additional quality attributable to defense should accredited - it may well be a consequence of BB's player-selection approach.

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63 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Bright Blue Shorts // May 22, 2018 - 4:59pm

Re: the bend-don't-break thing. Belichick makes it a priority not to give up big plays. He wants the opposition to play the long field and have to string together lots of plays. That puts pressure on them to execute perfectly time and time again and opponents know they have to make every catch, bit of YAC and block repeatedly. For teams that don't practice that it adds a level of mental pressure.

I believe people misconceive the idea of BnB as meaning that the defense does something special to hold the opponent to field goals rather than touchdowns. What they don't do is gamble on trying to get sacks or interceptions. Bill Walsh once highlighted that the field shrinks in the last few yards making it naturally easier to defend and therefore he wanted his offense to look to strike from about 25-yds out. If the Pats can't stop you he wants you to get inside the 25, the 15, the 10 so that you keep having to execute. If there is a natural opportunity to get a sack, fumble or interception then the defense takes it but not at the expense of giving up a big play.

I suspect if the offense were less effective Belichick might rethink this philosophy. But generally he can rely on the offense to score whether it's early on or late. He only gambles with high-risk, high reward plays when they're struggling.

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64 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by theslothook // May 22, 2018 - 6:08pm

There are also major downsides from conceding yardage only to stiffen in the red zone. It means you are eternally losing the field position and time of possession battle. The latter may not mean much, but field position affects your offense and your defense. Maybe its made up for with better special teams, but its still a downside.

The other issue I have is - does going for sacks somehow willing concede extra yardage? And gambling for turnovers seems much more a habit of individual cornerbacks than it does a specific scheme.

Finally - just a superficial overlooking of the Pats shows a wide variation in their red zone defense, suggesting that it may just be noise.

I'm also a bit curious to see if the Patriots would really thumb their nose at a dynamite pass rusher. Sure, they haven't had a chance to draft one high and they certainly haven't broken the bang for one in free agency -but that doesn't mean they wouldn't necessarily try if that person were to become available.

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67 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

by Hoodie_Sleeves // May 22, 2018 - 11:20pm

"I'm still confused how a lack of pass rush is somehow acceptance for Ne but a major hindrance for the other 31 other teams."

Is anyone actually arguing that?

Its possible for New England to both have a problem with pass rush, and to have letting Chandler Jones walk be a good decision.

They've got one good end in Flowers - and a bunch of questionmarks (like Rivers).

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