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» 2017 Offensive Personnel Analysis

It's a three-receiver league, but for the first time since 2010, the frequency of 11 personnel actually went down last year. Was it a blip, or sign of things to come?

09 May 2017

Four Downs: AFC North

by Rivers McCown

Baltimore Ravens

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Wide receiver

Ozzie Newsome drafted meat and potatoes. He solved a lot of potential problems in the defensive front seven and on the offensive line, as well as spending his first-round pick on corner Marlon Humphrey from Alabama. Baltimore's defense is now stacked pretty much everywhere but on the defensive line, and even that unit has the well-paid run-stopper Brandon Williams and a promising young player in Michael Pierce.

But Baltimore's biggest problem last year was on offense, and they watched Steve Smith retire and did absolutely nothing about it. Third-year man Breshad Perriman will be asked to shoulder a huge load, and Mike Wallace is their No. 1 receiver. You can ask the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins how that went for them. The nominal No. 3 receiver is slot man Michael Campanaro, (CAMPAN-AAAAARRRROOOO!!!) who is oft-injured ("unexplained fires are a matter for the courts") and has not showcased much of the skill needed for the necessary Wes Welker comparison at the NFL level. Perhaps Chris Moore or Keenan Reynolds will break in this offseason, but it would be asking a lot of the bottom of a depth chart.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Hey kids, remember Mitch Leidner? The Minnesota quarterback as a victim of projection by body, in so much as he was put in Todd McShay's way-too-early 2017 first-round mock because he was thought to have some projection, Leidner instead struggled and washed up in Baltimore as a tryout camp guy. Yes, that's right, he's no Zach Terrell.

Oh, and Bam Bradley is here. Don't you miss NFL players named Bam? It's been a while. Bradley played linebacker for Pat Narduzzi at Pittsburgh, and given the upheaval caused by Zach Orr's sudden retirement, he has a decent chance to stick.

Cincinnati Bengals

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Offensive line

Say what you will about Joe Mixon's character, but you can't dispute that the Bengals had a nice draft on raw talent. The skill-position deficit from free-agent defections and the decline of Jeremy Hill is replenished between Mixon and first-rounder John Ross, which in theory should help Andy Dalton re-establish the serial 10-or-11-wins-and-an-opening-round-playoff-loss brand of football we're all so familiar with.

But the Bengals let Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth, their two best offensive linemen, walk in free agency. Their replacement plan currently looks like this:

  • Step 1) Pray Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi are ready to take over at offensive tackle instead of being the guys who would never step on the field on pure merit the last two seasons.
  • Step 2) Guard Christian Westerman was a find, right? Please let that be the case. Please don't make us start Andre Smith inside.
  • Step 3) Can you win something when your best offensive lineman is Russell Bodine? We're asking for a friend's franchise.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Speaking of pointless '90s nostalgia, get ready for the Hardy Nickerson reboot you didn't know you needed. Junior is undersized and ran a slow 40-yard dash at the combine, which makes him just as qualified for the 53-man roster as Paul Dawson! (Ducks.) Hey, but seriously, someone has to win a middle linebacker job here, right? The plan isn't to roll out Rey Maulauga into the 2020s, is it?

Cleveland Browns

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: The Learning Curve

It's hard to not address most of your weaknesses when you start off the draft with a billion picks and receive more along the way via the exploit of trading down with teams that need a quarterback (or a spot to dump their quarterback). Indeed, the Browns took stabs at every hole on the team they could. DeShone Kizer is an honest-to-goodness quarterback prospect, and Myles Garrett is a sure-thing pass rusher. Over the years, this could be the beginning of a nucleus that helps Cleveland get somewhere.

But after the first full offseason from Cleveland's new analytics-oriented front office, expect some adjustment time. Mario Williams was a sure thing, and he had four sacks in his rookie season. Vic Beasley also started slow out of the gate. Kizer should not be rushed along , and Jabrill Peppers and David Njoku also could use some time to grow into their positions. None of these players is even 22 years old yet. The Browns are nearing the point of fixing most of the actual holes on their roster. But it may take some fits and starts before they become the champions of anything but the draft.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Perhaps the easiest spot for Cleveland to find some undrafted players that might make the team is at corner, where Briean Boddy-Calhoun got plenty of run last year. In that vein, Michigan's Channing Stribling might be a fit. He had very nice coverage numbers in a good defense, and is long at 6-foot-2. Former Ohio State transfer Najee Murray could make for an interesting slot corner as well after an impressive, All-MAC stint at Kent State last season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Cornerback

The Steelers got an amazing season from Ross Cockrell last year, and have been piecing together decent production from unheralded players for a while. But after addressing many of their real holes in the draft, this is what we're left with: nits to pick. (Well, this and Mike Tomlin having to shut his receivers up on Twitter.)

Artie Burns should eventually be a good starter somewhere among the top three corners for Pittsburgh. But between new third-rounder Cameron Sutton, William Gay, or perhaps someone like the oft-injured, oft-forgotten Senquez Golson, they're mostly aiming for competent. They don't have a real star cornerback, which is why the Steelers have increasingly begun to favor more and more Tampa-2 looks under Mike Tomlin's watch.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The biggest free-agent signing the Steelers made -- and we do mean the biggest -- was 322-pound Indiana (Pa.) behemoth Ethan Cooper, who earned first-team Division II All-American honors and has some intriguing agility for his size. The Steelers are set at guard for the moment between David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, but Cooper makes for an intriguing developmental prospect as he transitions up a few levels.

(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.)

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 09 May 2017

27 comments, Last at 19 May 2017, 11:34am by dryheat


by Theo :: Tue, 05/09/2017 - 6:12pm

It's a debate among many wether pass rush or coverage was the problem for Pittsburgh last season.
Eventually, against the Patriots it became clear what the biggest speed bump to the Super Bowl was: stubbornness and poor and idiotic game planning.

The Steelers deployed a "rush few, cover 4 deep" method against Brady which translated to "don't worry about the rush and rape us however you'd like".
With the nowadays obligatory apologies to the possibly offended people who experienced rape in their lifetime - it's a horrible thing. Please don't do it again.

The Steelers basically replaced James Harrison/Jerbis Jones with TJ Watt in the first round.
They addressed the CB situation. They drafted HB James Connor, but if they refuse to use him and keep using Le'veon Bell "until the wheels come off" as Tomlin has been quoted; I'm afraid this is just another 11-5 and one and done exercise.

With Ben's window fastly closing.

by mrt1212 :: Tue, 05/09/2017 - 7:04pm

I'm buying you a thesaurus, a metaphorical one, so you can say what you mean without looking silly.

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 05/09/2017 - 7:58pm

Do not ever call me a thesaurus.

Nothing goes over my head. I would catch it.

by Theo :: Wed, 05/10/2017 - 5:03am

Apologies about that.

I'm trying to point out that it's useless to draft a runningback if your gameplan is to never play your backup runningbacks.

by mehllageman56 :: Wed, 05/10/2017 - 1:56pm

I was just making a Guardians of the Galaxy reference because I just saw the second one. No apologies needed, I'm not Drax.

by theslothook :: Wed, 05/10/2017 - 11:59am

Another poor season and qb may end up becoming the Ravens biggest need if its not already.

by BJR :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 7:11am

It's incredible how much rope Flacco is given, especially around here (though plainly obvious why). Even this article takes some not-so-subtle shots at Andy Dalton, and talks about his need to "re-establish" himself (after finishing 11th in DYAR last year), whilst making no mention of Flacco's terrible play (29th in DYAR). Looking at all recent performance it's unfathomable that Dalton could be being questioned whilst Flacco isn't.

by t.d. :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 8:15am

This is plainly true, but the problem isn't questioning Dalton (he ought to be questioned, at least on par with Alex Smith), it's giving Flacco the free pass. Didn't seem to me that Eli got a free pass after winning a Super Bowl, so it's strange that Flacco has (both do have a compelling counterargument that they've operated in deeper-route offenses that efficiency-oriented stats hate but that have proven to be capable of great team success- in other words, both play for teams employing high-variance David strategies- Dalton's shown no similar upside)

by BJR :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 9:12am

I'm sure Eli does suffer more scrutiny than Flacco, by virtue of playing in a larger market. But he probably gets something of a pass because of his reputation. His play seems to have deteriorated the last couple of years, which would suggest physical decline (he's 36), but I haven't really seen that openly acknowledged anywhere.

Just to pick you up on Dalton: his 2015 season was excellent by any measure, and his team were well placed for a deep playoff run before he got injured. There's no doubt he was surrounded by excellent talent that year, and I agree there's no evidence he can transcend average talent, which he may have to going forward. But that's his upside - being able to produce excellent output when given a good situation.

by drobviousso :: Wed, 05/10/2017 - 12:08pm

Ravens - Mike Wallace fits the Raven's O to a T, in that he can run downfield very fast. Miami and the Vikings paid him much money and asked him to do other things. Ozzy is smarter than that. 'Please incorporate drawing PI flags into receiver value' -signed Mike Wallice's Agent.

Bengals - Andy can be a competent enough QB with a good supporting cast. Being thrifty with the O line doesn't seem to play to his strengths.

Cleveland - I lived in Cleveland for 8 years starting about 15 years ago. I hope this is the "better" that the fans there deserve. I assume it is not.

Pittsburgh - The Steelers got an amazing season from Ross Cockrell last year *given the expectation level*. The Pittsburgh front office is lauded for its steady hand on the tiller, but this D needs a serious shake up. They have the bodies in Tuitt, Heyward, and J Wobble (should be a household name by next year) to run all sorts of crazy fronts, but the D coordinator is too tied to a 34 front to really shake it up.

by jtr :: Wed, 05/10/2017 - 1:16pm

As far as that last point, Pittsburgh has been very slowly getting more flexible with their defensive schemes. For instance, last year they occasionally showed a 4-3 look with one of the OLB's lining up behind the defensive line. Plus, the mere fact that they drafted J Wobble, who is definitely not a traditional 3-4 nose, shows that they understand that they can't just play 2-gap all the time anymore.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 05/10/2017 - 5:41pm

I hadn't thought about where Wallace fits with the Ravens until you pointed it out. I guess he fits Torrey Smith's old role which is important when sometimes the plan is for Flacco to chuck it long and let the fast guy run under it.

by Jerry :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 1:53am

How was life as a Steeler fan in Cleveland?

by drobviousso :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 4:14pm

How was my time? Interesting. Having grown up in Western PA, I knew crushing economic despair like a fish knew water. But I had some great sports teams to root for - the Killer B's were a thing when I was in middle school and then I found the Steelers a bit later. That sense of pride, in a too-poor-to-paint-to-proud-to-whitewash kind of way, was an important part of that time in my life.

Then I go to Cleveland, which had all the economic despair, but with shitty sports teams.

There were fewer Browns fans in Cleveland than Steelers fans in Pittsburgh, which you could probably expect. But almost every Browns fan I talked to was a great fan. Knowledgeable about other teams. Respectful. Not likely get upset at me for boosting the Steelers once they knew I moved to Cleveland from Pittsburgh and would be leaving when I was done with school. I don't think I got one serious complaint about my black 86 jersey. Lot lots of good natured ball busting though.

Didn't hurt that I felt like the Steelers where the Browns big brothers, while the Ravens where the jerkass fat kid next door that starts trouble with both of us. Lots of Browns fans liked that analogy.

There was a joke going around from a local comic that wen like this - The divorce rate in Cleveland is one of the lowest in the country, and I know why. I was talking to one of my girfriends, and she said her husband beats her. You gotta get out of that marriage I said. Yeah, its pretty bad she said. Maybe I should go. But maybe it'll be better next year.

There was a lot of fatalism in the city at the time. The Great Recession hit the area hard. It was already suffering from bad fundamentals, but there was a huge fraud ring that left a huge % of houses in some neighborhoods abandoned. Downtown had just called quits on another upscale-living boondogle and civic structure. If that makes you think "that sounds like Detroit," well, yeah. The sports climate played into and reinforced that fatalism.

Did you see Believeland? The tone and emotions in that movie felt very authentic to me. I didn't give two shits for myself, but I was very, very happy for many Clevelanders when LeBron did his thing.

Now I live in Minneapolis, which, all due respect to our resident Vikings fan, is a shit city for sports. Its a bummer. I miss the instant sense of fellowship and tribal community that comes from seeing people that share that little slice of life with you, no matter what. Me, a homeless guy in a Steelers cap, Snoop Dog, and Stanley Druckenmiller all share something we could talk about if we got stuck in the same elevator. My son won't ever have that unless he sticks to rooting for the Steelers. There just aren't Vikings or Wolves or Twins fans like that around here..

by Jerry :: Sun, 05/14/2017 - 4:54am


I'll skip the sociological discussion and just agree that if your son adopts your team, it really is an amazing community of fans.

And I do look forward to the Browns becoming good enough that beating them once again means something.

by justanothersteve :: Sun, 05/14/2017 - 9:59pm

I have a brother in Minneapolis. We were raised in Green Bay and are both Packers fans. But he does know a fair number of Vikings fans and would probably disagree with you on the fanaticism of Minnesota fans.

Minnesota is, in general, the home of a lot of people who are publicly just nice. There's even an expression called Minnesota Nice. They may be passionate about something but you will never get them into a spirited argument over it. That includes football, baseball, and especially hockey. You have to get to know them first before you'll get them into that sort of conversation.

They also seem to exhibit a sense of the inevitable regarding when the Vikings will fail this year. Four SB losses and some incredible playoff bad luck (the 1999 playoff collapse vs the Falcons, the Favre INT against NO, the Walsh chip shot miss against Seattle) tends to make fans a bit fatalistic. It doesn't mean they're not fanatical. We have our own Will Allen as an example of the otherwise.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 05/15/2017 - 12:46pm

I live in the Twin Cities and specifically in the suburb of Eagan, where the Vikings are building their new HQ (I actually used to work across the street from where it's going in, oddly enough). Having lived in the DC area and spent a bunch of time in both Atlanta and Tampa, I'd say Vikings fans are in my experience significantly more fanatical than the other fanbases I've been around. Vikings fans desperately wanted to beat the Seahawks in the playoffs a few years ago, but I know multiple people who turned around and just left the room before Blair Walsh missed that kick, because they knew he was going to miss it. Same deal with that loss to the Saints about ten years ago; it was a foregone conclusion.

They hope to win and expect to lose.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 10:11am

My only memory of Wallace as a Dolphin is him with alligator arms on what appeared to be a well-thrown deep pass. There was no threat of a hit, mind you, he just wouldn't make much of an effort unless it was a perfectly thrown ball. That being said, he does bring some value to the table.

by Bwomp_Bwomp :: Wed, 05/10/2017 - 1:56pm

"Say what you will about Joe Mixon's character..."

Say what you will about how Joe Mixon shattered a woman's face and nearly ruined her life...


by bobrulz :: Thu, 05/11/2017 - 4:26am

The Bengals' plan is not to trot out Rey Maualuga into the 2020s, considering they released him in March.

Of course, they could always resign him.

by OldFox :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 3:31pm

I agree with most of the things that were said about the Browns in this article, and it was especially good to remind everybody that even if the Browns really did have a good draft (for the first time in about 30 years), you can't expect a bunch of rookies to take the NFL by storm. It will take some time for them to develop into good players.

However, I found it odd that DeShone Kizer is described in the article as an honest-to-goodness NFL prospect. Really? He stunk at Notre Dame, and this website's QBASE article ranked him as essentially hopeless (a mean score of -30 DYAR). I was happy with the Browns' draft until they wasted a pick on Kizer.

by LionInAZ :: Sat, 05/13/2017 - 12:28am

There's QBASE, and then there's any given writer's opinion. They often don't intersect, and sometimes they're all wrong, like most NFL projections.

by mehllageman56 :: Sat, 05/13/2017 - 11:49am

Matt Waldman is high on Kizer, as were several other talking heads. Kizer did have a good 2015, so it's not like he was terrible every year he started.

by Alternator :: Sat, 05/13/2017 - 5:11pm

A prospect with flaws is still a prospect, and that's more than the Browns have had in a while.

by Jerry :: Sun, 05/14/2017 - 4:57am

Um, many flawed quarterback prospects have made their way through Cleveland. I don't know if Kizer is a better prospect than, for instance, Manziel or Weeden was.

by Noah Arkadia :: Sun, 05/14/2017 - 9:44am

Manziel was a great prospect. He turned out to be more interested in having fun off the field, but as a football player he had great tools. But if you want a prospect with no flaws, first, wait til next year, and second, those also bust sometimes.

by dryheat :: Fri, 05/19/2017 - 11:34am

He certainly isn't a better prospect than Brady Quinn was.