Scramble: 2020 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team
Andrew: Hello and welcome to the penultimate Scramble for the Ball of the 2020 season -- a season quite unlike any other for a variety of different reasons, but mainly because of a global pandemic. For the first time in history, staying at home and watching football all week has been the respectful, considerate way to live, rather than being broadly considered some manner of social dysfunction. We're hoping that continues to be the case, even as we're hoping that this accursed plague passes very, very quickly.
Bryan: We're both more than ready to leave 2020 behind us, but we have got one piece of unfinished business left to handle. In what was truly one of the Wood-Choppingest years in recent history, it is our duty once again to bring you the worst of the worst -- the annual All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team.
Andrew: As ever, this is not just a list of the worst 26 players in the league -- 11 starters each for offense and defense, plus four specialists in the kicking and return game. That would just be a list of late-round picks and bottom-of-the-roster flotsam who barely made it onto the field, and nobody needs a list like that (at least not now that the XFL has folded again). Instead, the All-Keep Choppin' Wood select names the players who made the least of their ample opportunities, who did the most to hurt their franchises either on or off the field (sometimes both!). Whether by underperforming a massive contract or a high draft pick, blowing games directly by their mistakes, or simply being very bad, very consistently, there are many ways to become immortalized as a member of one of these select groups.
Bryan: With 2020 being what it was, there were fewer chances for players to hurt their team off the field -- strict quarantine rules do tend to help prevent late-night drunken shenanigans. That's not to say that no one managed to turn off-field disasters into on-field pain -- see the entire Denver Broncos quarterback room not masking, forcing practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton to start a game at quarterback, or the Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints breaking enough COVID rules to cause their teams to forfeit draft picks -- but for the most part, this year's roster has more on-field lowlights than usual. That's OK, because there were plenty of lowlights to highlight!
Andrew: As usual, we'll pick starters by position, using modern football groupings with 11 personnel and nickel defense, plus a coaching staff. This year even sees us make a pick for a spot we wouldn't normally consider! Such is the madness of the 2020 NFL season. Without further ado, we present...
Scramble's 2020 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team
Bryan: There are a couple different criteria we can use when picking a player for the Keep Choppin' Wood team. Poor performance in and of itself can certainly qualify; anyone near the bottom of a DYAR or DVOA table is at least in contention. A horrible contract can help someone vault to the top of the list; even run-of-the-mill poor performance can win you an award if it's tied to an albatross of a long term deal. Off-field incidents are always a favorite, as well -- sowing discord in the locker room is a great way to earn a much-desired KCW honor. Sometimes, it's difficult to weigh all the different categories to come up with one winner.
Not this year, though -- Carson Wentz blows away the field in the first two categories and scores some points in the third, and is the clear and obvious All-KCW Quarterback for 2020. Wentz finished with -780 passing DYAR, worst in the league and one of the 10 worst seasons in DVOA history. He was well on pace to at least break the Eagles' record of -962, set by Bobby Hoying in 1998, and had an outside chance at 2018 Josh Rosen's low-water mark of -1,145 before being benched late in the year. Wentz's -35.9% DVOA was the fifth-worst in history among players with at least 400 pass attempts; we have rarely seen a passer play this poorly in such a large sample size. And, if you prefer classical stats, Wentz led the league in both sacks and interceptions, the first player to pull off that double since 2015. On on-field performance alone, Wentz deserves this spot.
Carson Wentz pick-six
He leads the NFL in INTs.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 22, 2020
To make matters worse, Wentz did this on the back of signing a massive extension prior to the 2019 season. While his cap hit in 2020 wasn't anything particularly egregious, it balloons to nearly $35 million for next season and remains over $30 million the rest of the way. Wentz's extension has become an anchor around the team's neck, with the only way out this season being a post-June 1 trade. Good luck getting anyone else to accept that contract, considering everything we wrote above about, y'know, one of the worst seasons in NFL history.
Keeping Wentz on the roster isn't a prize, either. Wentz wasn't thrilled with being benched for Jalen Hurts -- reports from Albert Breer, among others, stress that Wentz is not happy with the idea of coming back for another season with the Eagles. The Philadelphia Inquirer came out with a piece describing Wentz's turbulent 2020 -- fighting with ex-coach Doug Pederson, rebuffing advice, and defying criticism. Wentz reportedly gave the Eagles' brass an ultimatum: either Pederson goes, or he'd publicly demand a trade. Best of luck to new Eagles' coach Nick Sirianni, who has a difficult task in front of him getting his quarterback situation sorted before 2021.
Honorable mention goes to Dwayne Haskins -- poor performance led to him being benched, and then poor performance and an unauthorized trip to a strip club during a pandemic led to him being cut just before a playoff game where he would have been the projected starter. That kind of season would get you a win most years, but not this one. Also, Sam Darnold, you're off the hook this year because of the "Adam Gase was my head coach" excuse; that won't fly in 2021.
Andrew: It's not David Johnson's fault that he was the makeweight in the DeAndre Hopkins trade -- a trade so shockingly bad and lopsided, it's difficult to come up with the right adjectives to describe it even a full season after it happened. That trade hurt the Texans franchise in so many ways, we still haven't seen the full ramifications yet as the Deshaun Watson situation rumbles on.
Johnson was, however, the starting running back on the league's worst rushing offense by DVOA, with a cap hit of over $11 million. He wasn't the worst back on the Texans -- that dubious honor goes to namesake Duke -- but David Johnson finished No. 23 in rushing DYAR and No. 24 in receiving DYAR among qualifiers as Houston's lead back. That is not terrible, but it is nowhere near good enough to justify his price tag. Considering the player he was swapped for finished third in receiving yards as the top target in Arizona, with a cap hit $4 million lower, perhaps no player in the league represents more negative value compared to what the team could have had instead. For that, if not for his own intrinsic value (or lack thereof), Johnson is the All-KCW pick.
If you prefer your pick to represent terrible performance on the field, you'll prefer the other Johnson from the Texans backfield. Duke Johnson's -117 DYAR almost surpassed rookie Joshua Kelley's league-worst -142 despite having less than 40% of the carry volume, as Johnson put up a truly putrid -45.4% rushing DVOA. The Texans invested an awful lot of money and playing time trying to get Not Carlos Hyde to play like Carlos Hyde, instead of just, you know, re-signing Carlos Hyde for less money. Somehow, that doesn't even make the top 10 in the list of things they have done wrong in just the 2020 season. Sorry, Rivers.
Bryan: Speaking of franchise records that nearly fell, A.J. Green's -173 receiving DYAR just falls short of 2001 Peter Warrick's -180, and his -33.2% DVOA is less than a tenth off of 2015 John Ross. It would be very strange to see Green at the bottom of Bengals receiving records, considering his years of success for the franchise; he now has both the second-best and second-worst receiving years in franchise history, a double no other player can match. Green has lost all ability to get open -- he still occasionally shows some flashes of his old self by making contested catches, but most of his catches end up being contested because any cornerback worth his salt can keep up with Green nowadays. He had a league-worst average separation of just 1.7 yards, per Next Gen Stats. It is possible Green's struggles are in part due to an extended recovery from the ankle injury which cost him the 2019 season, and I'm sure some team will give him a prove-it deal to see if he can return to his old form. After a year like 2020, consider us doubtful.
Andrew: Our second receiver pick is mainly nominated for two standout moments, both coming against this writer's favorite team. Bears backup Javon Wims was basically the definition of a replacement-level player in his third season: his -13.3% DVOA worked out to -1 DYAR. The 2018 seventh-rounder won't be remembered for any of that, though. He'll be remembered for these two moments, both against the Saints:
Javon Wims has been ejected from the game for punching Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. But on another note, Janoris Jenkins (#20) was playing no games about protecting his teammate #Saints #Bears #NFLTwitter pic.twitter.com/qkfVVRT2Zi
— Double Take Sports (@dbltakesports) November 1, 2020
Wims with the drop pic.twitter.com/vJsrx3dwUK
— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) January 10, 2021
The first of those, during the regular season, resulted in a 15-yard penalty and Wims' ejection. Nick Foles threw a critical interception on the resultant second-and-20, in a game the Bears lost on an overtime field goal. Wims was then suspended for the team's next two games. He was back in time for the playoffs though, during which he played a season-high 88% of snaps ... and had the critical drop of a trick play that would have tied the game in the first quarter. Wims didn't play enough to actively harm the team during the regular season. When these are his two standout plays, it's easy to see why.
Bryan: For our third receiver, we'll toss the ball over to Pittsburgh, where ... oh, shoot, Diontae Johnson dropped it. Johnson remains exciting with the ball in his hands, but he had significant trouble getting the ball into his hands this year; he led the league with 16 drops per SIS charting, the first receiver to average a drop a game since 2015. Drops in and of themselves aren't a guarantee to be on this list; Tyreek Hill was third with 11 drops and he's one of the most dynamic players in football. But to lead the league in drops with an average depth of target of just 8.0 yards, leading to 23 failed receptions? That's KCW material -- more so than Johnson's 88 catches, 923 yards, or seven touchdowns would lead you to believe. We did consider Jerry Jeudy for this third slot, as he was just two drops behind Johnson and with a slightly worse DYAR and DVOA. In the end, we're giving him a pass for being a rookie, and having Drew Lock and friends throwing him passes rather than the ghost of Ben Roethlisberger.
Andrew: Before we move on, I should add one note. Some of you may justifiably have expected to find Will Fuller in this category, having been suspended under the league PED policy during the best season of his career. You may also be expecting to see Bradley Roby and/or A.J. Bouye in the cornerbacks category (spoiler-not-spoiler). We've consciously stayed away from the players involved in that PED case, following reports that they are suing a medical professional as a result of the suspensions. We cannot and dare not draw firm conclusions while there's a lawsuit involved, so we're steering well clear.
Bryan: Eric Ebron and Zach Ertz went head-to-head at the bottom of our DYAR tables -- it was a bad year for Pennsylvania tight ends. Ertz hit the bottom by our stats; catching fewer than half your passes and averaging fewer than 10 yards per reception is the kind of low-ceiling, low-floor performance that gets you noticed 'round these parts. However, Ertz has more excuses than Ebron does. The Eagles' receiving corps (and, frankly, the roster as a whole) was beaten up this season, allowing defenses to focus on Ertz, and he also had Carson Wentz's terrible year under center to deal with. Ebron has an argument of his own -- he had more drops than Ertz did, a problem which has plagued him throughout his career. He also was less of a factor in the run game; Ertz is, in theory, the better blocker.
Those excuses just aren't enough to cover the 60-DYAR gap between Ertz and Ebron. Nor can we only blame Wentz for Ertz's poor performance; Ertz had a -34.2% DVOA when targeted by Wentz, but a -44.2% DVOA when targeted by Jalen Hurts. Ertz also boasted the highest cap hit in the league in 2020, and when you couple the largest cap hit with the lowest DYAR, you really have to be sure that the surrounding circumstances are severe enough if you're going to look elsewhere. Put it this way: Ertz averaged just 4.7 yards per target this season, the worst total for any receiver in the league in 2020 and the worst total for a tight end since Levine Toilolo had 4.4 in 2014. You'd expect a $12.5-million player to be more than a little better than a glorified sixth offensive lineman.
Andrew: As a general rule, we prefer to avoid picking rookies in the All-KCW team. The transition from college to the professional game is tough, and some people simply won't make the leap in any or all of athleticism, technique, mentality, or performance. However, both of our All-KCW tackles are rookies, and they are here for very different reasons.
Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas was the top choice at the position in April's draft, chosen No. 4 overall. Every other tackle in the top 20 outperformed him: Tristan Wirfs was one of the best right tackles in the league in 2020, Mekhi Becton and Jedrick Wills also look like franchise cornerstones, and Austin Jackson appears to have more than adequately replaced Laremy Tunsil in Miami despite losing a portion of his rookie year to an October foot injury. Thomas, meanwhile, blew more blocks than any other left tackle, tied for the league lead in blown pass blocks, and allowed 12 sacks in 15 starts. It's not that he was especially bad in isolation -- we could argue that Jacksonville's Cam Robinson deserves the spot for the worst year of his professional career -- but Thomas represents so much lost potential compared to the rest of his class.
That said, Thomas' performance issues pale in comparison to the first-round tackle not included above. Titans rookie first-round pick Isaiah Wilson played precisely four snaps in his debut season: three kneeldowns on offense and one extra point on special teams, all in week 12 against the Colts. Wilson was not injured, as you might expect for a rookie first-round tackle who didn't make it onto the field. Instead, he made headlines for a series of off-field violations and an on-off relationship with the league's Reserve/COVID list. Before the season even started, Wilson had violated the league COVID policy by attending a party at Tennessee State University, where he was caught trying to flee over a second-story balcony. On September 11, he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, reportedly recording over 13 times the state limit on his breathalyzer while doing "donuts" in a traffic intersection. Following his appearance against the Colts, the Titans announced that Wilson would be suspended during Week 13 against Cleveland for violating team rules. They then placed him on the reserve/non football illness list on December 9. Already, Wilson looks like he has no future in Tennessee: he appears to be the draft bust to end all draft busts. When questioned about Wilson, Mike Vrabel offered the following reply:
"I can't comment on Isaiah. I wouldn't even begin to be able to eloquently have an answer for you."
So that's reassuring.
Bryan: We could have knocked off early and put the entire Chargers offensive line here, as all five primary starters ranged from poor to terrible. At least four of the five Los Angeles linemen who started at least half the season would make sense here, and frankly, we'd hear arguments for Bryan Bulaga as well. Trai Turner and Sam Tevi (and, for that matter, Trey Pipkins) are all solid picks, but we're going to double down on the guard here to represent the SuperChargers. Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney tied for the league lead at guard with 32 blown blocks apiece. Yes, Feeney played about half the season at center, so it's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison. But frankly, we considered Feeney for the starting center role as well, so we're fine not splitting hairs here.
Lamp started all 16 games for the first time in his career after overcoming two seasons of knee injuries, and while his comeback is a good story, his play simply was not. Feeney has started each of the last three seasons and has been in consideration for the KCW team each and every year. It can be hard to dole out credit and blame when an entire line is struggling -- the Chargers were 29th in adjusted line yards this season -- but the Chargers were worst when they were running up the gut. With both of these gentlemen playing 16 games on the interior of the line, they can share credit here as they get blown 5 yards off the ball.
Andrew: Wait, another rookie? I'm afraid so. For a variety of reasons, 2020 was an especially challenging year for rookie players ... and an especially especially challenging year for rookie offensive linemen. Lloyd Cushenberry was a third-round pick thrust into the Broncos' starting lineup at center. He might have been the single worst intended starting player (i.e., not an injury or opt-out replacement) in the league in 2020. It doesn't matter what statistic you look at for Cushenberry: he allowed more sacks than any other center, blew more pass blocks and more run blocks than any other center, and allowed the second-most stuffs of any center (behind former Broncos starter Matt Paradis, now in Carolina). The Broncos had the worst adjusted line yards at mid/guard of any team, yet ran almost half of their rushing plays in that direction. Cushenberry couldn't generate push in the run game and couldn't hold up in the pass game. Hopefully, that is a result of the difficult circumstances and transition in 2020, and he will improve with a full offseason in 2021. If not, this could be a very difficult spot for the Broncos next time out.
Andrew: Former NFL sack leader and Falcons edge rusher Vic Beasley was the Titans' headline addition during the major portion of free agency, signing a $9.5-million contract to start opposite the emerging Harold Landry. The problems started when he didn't show up for training camp, with no reason given by either the player or the franchise. When Beasley eventually did show up, he underperformed, recording only three solo tackles, no sacks, and not even a single pass pressure on 125 snaps across his first five games. Per SIS, Beasley was the only player with more than 27 pass-rush snaps but no pressures. The Titans eventually released Beasley and the Raiders signed him. He had no sacks for them either, and just one tackle in over 60 snaps on defense.
The Titans struggled to generate pressure all season, recording a league-low 14 sacks. With 5.5 of those, Landry was the only back-eight defender to surpass even a single sack. Jadeveon Clowney also had no sacks on a big contract, but he at least managed 19 tackles and six pressures, and he avoided the off-field headaches that peppered Beasley's time in Nashville. Derrick Roberson had no sacks on 151 pass rush snaps, the third-lowest pressure rate among linebackers with at least 100 pass rush attempts. The team Beasley then joined, Las Vegas, finished second-last with just 15 sacks. Beasley's lack of production, allied to his off-field issues, trump all comers. At $2.5 million each, we sure hope those three solo tackles were worth it.
Staying in the AFC South, Houston's Whitney Mercilus had a top-20 salary cap figure among edge rushers. Mercilus has long been paid like an elite edge rusher, but he has always been an ancillary piece: a player who is just good enough to take advantage of the extra attention being devoted to J.J. Watt. He was not that in 2020: Houston finished No. 29 in defensive DVOA, and despite 12 starts Mercilus' 21 defensive plays (totaling all tackles, passes defensed, interceptions, and fumble recoveries) were not enough to qualify for our main defensive stats table. Mercilus had 4.0 sacks, but only 10 total pressures. He made only two run defeats all year, and his average run tackle came 3.7 yards downfield. He missed a terrible 19.2% of his tackles, per Pro Football Reference, or an even worse 25.9% if you prefer SIS charting. His pressure rate of 8.1% was seventh-worst among primary edge rushers, and he failed to bat down even a single pass.
Mercilus' main rival for this spot, incidentally, was Green Bay's Preston Smith, and it's remarkable how similar their stats are: 4.0 sacks apiece, four knockdowns versus five, 22 pressures versus 23, a slightly worse pressure rate for Smith. What sets them apart is tackling, and perhaps consequently production in the run game: Smith had five run defeats on 312 snaps, whereas Mercilus had only two on 249. Both were highly paid edge rushers, among the top 20 at the position. Neither covered himself in glory in 2020.
Bryan: Jaleel Johnson is a pure stat pick. Jackson's average tackle in the run game came 3.9 yards downfield, worst of any defensive tackle with at least 20 run plays. Ideally, you'd like to tackle running backs when they're in the backfield, not when they're trying to stutter-step around linebackers. Only 51% of Johnson's run tackles were stops, which helped contribute to Minnesota's 31st-place power success rate on defense -- full credit to Johnson for not quitting on plays, but those are disastrous numbers. Whether Johnson was the worst run defender in football or not is a matter of debate -- and my esteemed colleague is about to introduce you to another leading candidate -- but Johnson played 650 snaps for the Vikings this year, starting every game. It's hard to point to another linemen who put up anything near as poor as Johnson's play while still being given so many opportunities to hurt his team. To be fair, the plan was for Michael Pierce to anchor the spot Johnson ended up taking over, and the Vikings didn't have a great option once Pierce opted out of the 2020 season.
Andrew: Only six players played more run snaps than Jaleel Johnson. Nobody did less with more opportunities than he did. However, slightly adjust the parameters above from 20 run plays to either 10 tackles or 100 snaps on run defense, and Johnson no longer has the worst average tackle depth of any defensive tackle. That dubious honor goes to Ross Blacklock of the Houston Texans, whose 14 tackles came an average of 4.4 yards downfield. A single pass defeat improves that figure: his average run tackle came an appalling 5.1 yards downfield. For a defensive tackle. A primarily run-stopping defensive tackle, at that. Blacklock may have been the worst run-defending defensive tackle to earn regular playing time in 2020, but his negative impact is limited because he only played 243 snaps, roughly a quarter of the team's total. We can do better.
Only one team joined the Vikings in allowing more than 5.0 yards per carry on carries marked mid/guard: the division-rival Detroit Lions. The Lions also had the worst pass defense in the league, in no small part thanks to a near-total absence of interior pressure. Veteran Nick Williams, former Patriots free-agent addition Danny Shelton, and rookie John Penisini combined for just three sacks, with Penisini in particular recording the lowest pass pressure rate of any defensive lineman with at least 100 pass rush snaps. Penisini also missed 14.6% of his tackle attempts, fourth-most of any starting defensive tackle. Shelton and Williams did at least contribute a handful of pass pressures each to make up for their failings against the run. Penisini has no such mitigation. His inclusion here may be a bigger indictment of the Lions coaching staff and front office than himself, but somebody from this interior line needs to be here, and the unfortunate rookie was the worst of the lot.
Andrew: The AFC South may have been one of the four divisions that sent multiple teams to the postseason, but the other two teams were various degrees of trash fire depending on the exact position group under consideration. The Texans have a disproportionately huge amount of salary invested in two inside linebackers: our first nominee is our third member of that franchise, and also the third-highest remunerated inside linebacker in the NFL. Zach Cunningham does not rank third in broken tackles, however -- he has the lead in that statistic all to himself. Among linebackers with at least 20 pass targets, only Danny Trevathan allowed more than Cunningham's 9.7 yards per target. Cunningham had problems with misdirection and run fits all season, as demonstrated by his starring role in this Derrick Henry 94-yard touchdown. Compounding matters, the Texans had the second-worst defensive DVOA against tight ends, the primary coverage responsibility of the modern linebacker. A valuable fantasy IDP option thanks to his inflated tackle total, Cunningham is far from the worst linebacker in the league, but both his salary and that of Benardrick McKinney vastly outweigh their value, and the net effect is a significant negative for the Texans.
Our second nomination was originally another player from the AFC South, Jacksonville's high-profile free-agent addition Joe Schobert. However, one other free-agent linebacker surpasses Schobert's lack of contribution to Jacksonville's lack of excellence. Corey Littleton signed a big deal in free agency to join the glitzy Las Vegas Raiders. They were rewarded with a whole lot of nothing. Littleton had no sacks or quarterback knockdowns. He did not have an interception, a forced fumble, or a fumble recovery. He had only one pass deflection and two charted pressures. He had only four tackles for a loss and eight defeats. Littleton did record 82 tackles, but he also missed a further eight for a rate of 10.0%. Littleton has a top-15 inside linebacker contract paying him $11.75 million per year. His contribution to the Raiders did not live up to that in Year 1.
Bryan: Byron Jones signed a five-year contract with Miami this offseason, making him the fifth-highest paid cornerback in football. It is safe to say that, so far, that has not worked out as well as the Dolphins might have hoped. Jones allowed 10.6 yards per target and 17.6 yards per completion, both worst among starting cornerbacks in 2020. His two interceptions are misleading; he set a career low with just three pass breakups and 42 tackles and tied his career high with 10 broken and missed tackles, and his 82.5% deserved catch percentage was the highest SIS has recorded for him as well. Now, to be fair, some of those high average numbers come from the fact that opposing quarterbacks were more likely to challenge Xavien Howard or Eric Rowe; Jones had just 73 targets per Sportradar. But when he was targeted, Jones gave up far too much for someone of his caliber and paycheck. I'd expect him to bounce back next season, but those are not numbers you want to see out of your $82.5-million man.
Andrew: Our fourth member of the Texans came down to a toss-up between Phillip Gaines and eventual winner Vernon Hargreaves. Houston ranked in the bottom quarter of DVOA defense against every category of pass receiver (FO+ required): No. 1 receivers, No. 2 receivers, "other" wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends. Gaines was probably the worse of the two players, allowing 9.6 yards per target and five touchdowns on 28 targets, but Hargreaves was the player opponents targeted over and over and over: he was targeted 84 times for 763 yards, the second-highest total in the league behind Tennessee's Malcolm Butler. Hargreaves allowed 9.1 yards per target, broke up just six of those passes, and snagged just a solitary interception. His 72 tackles tied for 11th-most among cornerbacks, but that is not a good thing: broadly speaking, you want a starting cornerback to stop passes from being completed, not tackle receivers after the fact. Even there, Hargreaves under-performed: he missed 13.3% of his tackle attempts. Unlike Houston's linebacker pair, at least Hargreaves was cheap, but the former Buccaneers first-rounder has not lived up to his draft status in either of his two professional stops so far.
Bryan: LeShaun Sims should be a nickel or dime package player, and not the player with the most targets for Cincinnati's defense. Well, opposing quarterbacks know how to sniff out a weak spot when they see one, and Sims was a flashing target all year long. Sims was credited with giving up a league-worst eight touchdowns, contributing to a 136.8 quarterback rating allowed in coverage, worst in the league among cornerbacks who started at least eight games. But it wasn't just big plays that Sims gave up, oh no -- Sportradar charted Sims with allowing an 81.1% completion rate, the worst among starting cornerbacks. SIS, which adds in drops to create a deserved catch percentage, puts Sims at 92.5%, which was ... third-worst among starting cornerbacks. I suppose he couldn't have won them all.
Andrew: It's tough to believe we have made it this far with only honorable mentions from a Jaguars roster that earned the No. 1 overall pick thanks in large part to the No. 31 DVOA defense. We shall go no further! Former Packers and Cowboys safety Josh Jones started 13 games for the Jaguars in 2020, and he was one of the worst starting safeties in the league. Allowing 80% of targets to be completed is bad in its own right, but per SIS charting, all six incompletions should have been caught: Jones did not deflect a single pass thrown his way. Jones had just one pass defeat: an interception that was tipped into his hands, and he dropped another tipped interception. The Jaguars had the third-worst defensive DVOA against tight ends and allowed the third-worst rate of open field yards by our own adjusted line yards metrics. Though at least his contract didn't bring the team down, Jones was the worst regular starter on the league's second-worst defense. It would be a surprise to see him return as a starter in 2021.
Bryan: Earl Thomas gets the other award here for punching his way out of the league, a sudden and abrupt fall from grace for the All-2010s Team safety. Thomas was cut by the Ravens with a "conduct detrimental" tag, given for a trendline of repeated violations and, yes, Thomas' 2020 offseason certainly qualifies. The triggering incident was a fight with teammate Chuck Clark, but the fight itself was the flashpoint after two years of missed meetings and excuses led to mental mistakes on the practice field. The Ravens had fined Thomas multiple times for his lackadaisical approach to timekeeping, and they sent him home after he came to blows with Clark. Thomas then attempted to defend himself on Instagram, which riled up members of the Ravens Leadership Council, a group of veterans within the team considered to be the team leaders. That was enough for the Ravens to give him his walking papers. That and an ongoing saga with his now ex-wife involving cheating, drunken rages, and a gun, was apparently enough to scare away any other NFL teams interested in adding the former superstar, and whether his career will continue in any form at this point is yet to be determined.
Andrew: This world is full of terrible jobs that nobody wants to do, but somebody has to. Miner. Sewage worker. Crime scene cleaner. Vikings kicker is fast becoming the NFL equivalent. From Blair Walsh's playoff miss through to the present day, Minnesota quietly endured Buccaneers-level misfortune during the mid-to-late 2010s. Even the heretofore reliable Dan Bailey fell victim in 2020. During one particularly dreadful stretch in early December, Bailey missed six of eight kicks against the Jaguars and Buccaneers. The nadir was that Buccaneers game, in which Bailey went 0-for-4 on three field goals and an extra point at Raymond James Stadium. He recovered to make 13 of his 16 kicks in Weeks 15 to 17, but the Vikings still finished rock-bottom in our measure of field goal and extra point value, behind even the notoriously cursed Chargers.
Bryan: The Chargers managed to put up -37.8 points of punt value this year, nearly three times as bad as any other team in 2020 and the worst total in DVOA history. To have results THAT bad takes an entire team effort, but we don't feel we're painting Ty Long with too unkind a brush by singling him out and placing him on this team. The league-leading three blocked punts weren't all his fault, but the league-worst 34.1 net punting average was more his doing. Long had 37 punts returned, third-most in the league -- and he only punted 57 times. He wasn't forcing fair catches (just eight), or pinning them inside the 20 (just 12), or kicking it high enough to give his team time to run down and down it (just four). Partially because of these poor punts, Chargers opponents started, on average at their own 31.7-yard line, second-worst in the league.
Andrew: Kickoff returning is a dying art, and we may soon have to retire this category absent truly disastrous Josh Huff-level atrocities against the art of special teams. Only 13 players qualified for the official kickoff return leaderboard, with its cutoff of 20 kicks returned. Our own figures give Brandon Powell of the Atlanta Falcons the title of worst returner, whereas Boston Scott was the worst of those 13 qualifiers. The Jaguars had the worst kickoff return numbers in our special teams metrics, and Tennessee's Kalif Raymond had the lowest average return distance of any player with at least 10 kickoff returns. We ultimately settled on Brandon Powell, as the worst of the lot in our figures. This was not a vintage year for kickoff return disasters.
Bryan: The worst punt returner by our numbers was Steven Sims. With -6.7 points of punt return value, Sims was the worst returner on Washington, the worst returning team in the league. Sims managed just 6.7 yards per return, with a long of 22. That's not to say he had no highlight plays, mind you -- he muffed three punts, one of them leading to a Carolina touchdown. It got to the point where Ron Rivera had to come out in a media session and admit that if Washington had a better alternative, they would go to it. That's not exactly the strongest endorsement for Sims keeping the job in 2021.
Coaches and Ownership
Andrew: We don't usually pick an owner for the All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team. Most years, we don't even give a thought to it. Even the Jerry Richardsons and Jerry Joneses of this world generally don't botch things badly enough to earn All-KCW consideration.
2020 was not most years. The Houston Texans might be the worst-run franchise in American professional sports. Let's recap what Cal McNair has done:
- In April, 2019, McNair hired "character development coach" and former youth pastor Jack Easterby away from the Patriots to work in the Texans' player personnel department.
- By January of 2020, Easterby was in charge of football operations at the Texans following the dismissal of former general manager Brian Gaine and Easterby's rapid ascent through the organization.
- In summer of 2020, Easterby and GM/head coach Bill O'Brien traded away star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, upsetting a significant portion of the locker room and fanbase, including starting quarterback Deshaun Watson.
- In October, the team dismissed O'Brien and appointed Easterby as interim GM. The team finished 4-12. Easterby is now the team's Executive Vice President of Football Operations.
- McNair promised star quarterback Deshaun Watson that he would be involved in the team's search for a new head coach and general manager. He then appointed Nick Caserio, a former colleague of Easterby at the Patriots, as GM without consulting with Watson.
- Watson, feeling betrayed, has now requested a trade. The Texans have an aging, expensive roster and no premium draft picks to restock it. David Culley, the former coach of one of the league's worst wide receiver corps in Baltimore, is now their new head coach. Fans are actively boycotting the team.
It's legitimately difficult to think of a way an owner could screw this situation up more, short of selling everything and relocating to London overnight. The Texans are run by a motivational speaker, the owner has created a mess that nobody seems to know how to fix, one of the best young quarterbacks in the sport doesn't want to play for them anymore, and they have no draft picks or cap space to rebuild a roster that just propelled them to 4-12.
Andrew: In a normal year, the worst general manager in the league would be Jacksonville's Dave Caldwell, who took a team that reached the AFC Championship Game in 2017, prioritized all the wrong aspects of that success, and systematically dismantled it to a deserved 1-15 three seasons later.
This was not a normal year. Bill O'Brien was appointed Texans general manager, officially, last January. In that announcement, Cal McNair mentioned that the Texans had already been operating that way for most of the previous eight months. Some highlights from that time:
- The Texans traded star edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks for Jacob Martin, Barkevious Mingo, and a third-round pick. They traded the third-round pick to the Raiders for Gareon Conley.
- They traded Duane Brown to the Seahawks, then traded the farm to Miami for a direct replacement in Laremy Tunsil.
- They also traded valuable picks for Kenny Stills and Duke Johnson, two bit-part players.
- They traded DeAndre Hopkins, arguably the best veteran wide receiver in the league, to Arizona for another running back (David Johnson), a second-round pick, and a fourth-round pick.
- Theys spent a heap of money on their own aging veterans such as Whitney Mercilus and Zach Cunningham while trading away any resources they could use to replace those veterans.
- They went 4-12 anyway, and O'Brien was fired.
Bryan: Our head coach is a repeat! Last year, we named Adam Gase to lead our team to greatness, and wouldn't you know it, we get to bring him back for a second go-round. That, presumably, will work out better for us than it did for the New York Jets, and especially for Jets fans. They were chanting for Gase's head before the 2020 season began, and to watch other teams move on from their terrible coaches as early as September, while Gase stood firmly on the sidelines, had to be infuriating.
Gase finishes his Jets career with a 9-23 record. The so-called offensive guru never saw the New York offense top a -20.0% DVOA; the quarterback whisperer unable to get anything out of Sam Darnold. If anything, Darnold regressed under Gase's tutelage, and when your calling card, the reason you have a head coaching job in the first place, is your work with quarterbacks, that's a strike you simply will never be able to recover from.
Gase alienated arguably his team's best player, with Jamal Adams demanding a trade out of town. That was just the start to a terrible season which saw, in no particular order:
- Gase declared that the offense was about to go into "hyperdrive" after an 0-3 start. The Jets would go on to average just 10.0 points over their next six games. To be fair, Gase never said which direction his team would be hyperdriving in.
- Against Denver, Gase sent both Sam Darnold and Mekhi Becton into the game after clearly being injured. Because, of course, what you want to do with your franchise quarterback and left tackle is expose them to as many potential long-term injuries as possible.
- Gase tried to obfuscate whether he or offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was calling plays, claiming that keeping that as a mystery would create a competitive advantage. Considering the aforementioned -20.5% offensive DVOA, I'm not sure the identity of the man calling the terrible plays really mattered too much in the long run.
And, of course, the worst blow of all? After an 0-13 start, Gase actually managed to coach his way to two wins in New York's last three games, costing them the top draft pick and Trevor Lawrence. Because even when Gase wins, his team's fans lose.
Bryan: Three offenses finished with an offensive DVOA worse than -20.0% in 2020. We already talked about Adam Gase above, and Scott Turner in Washington had to deal with multiple quarterback injuries and significant turnover. So we're leaning on Pat Shurmur, who took over as Denver's offensive coordinator this season and saw their offensive DVOA fall from -11.3% to -20.3% in his first year on the job. Suffice to say that Drew Lock did not take a significant step forward under Shurmur's tutelage. Lock looks lost in Shurmur's offense, and it often felt like the team just wasn't on the same page. A byproduct of not having a regular offseason to work? Perhaps, but Shurmur's play selection doesn't inspire confidence going forward. He sparingly uses play-action even though the Broncos' offense saw their yards per play increase significantly with PA in the mix. The Broncos believe they have a number of young, dynamic playmakers, but Shurmur's offense doesn't seem designed to maximize any of them. The Broncos offense looked the best when trailing big, forcing them to throw out the regular playbook and run an up-tempo offense, yet Shurmur never tried to bring any of that late-game philosophy to his general offensive strategy. Some adjustments -- both in-game and overall -- would seem to be in order for 2021.
Andrew: When the Dallas Cowboys moved on from Jason Garrett, they hoped that the move would enable them to escape their recent trend of postseason disappointment following a solid regular season. It did, but not quite the way they imagined. Quarterback Dak Prescott broke his ankle in October, which mostly wrote off their season. However, that also stole attention from the fact that new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was coaching a talented defense to a terrible performance: the Cowboys allowed 34 or more points five times in the first six games, including 49 to the Cleveland Browns and 39 to the Atlanta Falcons. Things settled down a little after that, but the Cowboys still dropped from league average to No. 23 in defense, and still allowed over 33 points three times in the final six games -- against Washington, San Francisco, and Baltimore, who were hardly thunderous opponents at the time. The Cowboys finished with their first losing record since drafting Prescott, and Nolan was not retained.
Special Teams Coordinator
Bryan: George Stewart was the Chargers' special teams coordinator for four seasons, from 2017 to 2020. In those four years, the Chargers special teams have produced:
- -46.1 points of field goal/extra point value, worst in the league
- -17.1 points of kickoff value, second-worst in the league
- -10.4 points of kickoff return value, fourth-worst in the league
- -62.8 points of punt value, worst in the league
- 0.4 points of punt return value.
Well, at least he figured out how to be average in one category. It goes without saying that the Chargers have been the worst special teams in the league during Stewart's tenure. Stewart was removed from his post in November, ending one of the least successful special teams runs we can remember. Consider this a lifetime achievement award.
|Scramble's 2020 All-KCW Team|
|QB||Carson Wentz||PHI||DT||Jaleel Johnson||MIN||K||Dan Bailey||MIN|
|RB||David Johnson||HOU||DT||John Penisini||DET||P||Ty Long||LAC|
|WR||A.J. Green||CIN||ER||Vic Beasley||TEN||KR||Braxton Berrios||NYJ|
|WR||Javon Wims||CHI||ER||Whitney Mercilus||HOU||PR||Steven Sims||WAS|
|WR||Diontae Johnson||PIT||LB||Zach Cunningham||HOU||Staff|
|TE||Zach Ertz||PHI||LB||Corey Littleton||LV||OW||Cal McNair||HOU|
|LT||Andrew Thomas||NYG||CB||Byron Jones||MIA||GM||Bill O'Brien||HOU|
|LG||Forrest Lamp||LAC||CB||Vernon Hargreaves||HOU||HC||Adam Gase||NYJ|
|C||Lloyd Cushenberry||DEN||CB||LeShaun Sims||CIN||OC||Pat Shurmur||DEN|
|RG||Dan Feeney||LAC||S||Josh Jones||JAX||DC||Mike Nolan||DAL|
|RT||Isaiah Wilson||TEN||S||Earl Thomas||BAL||ST||George Stewart||LAC|
Playoff Fantasy Update
Bryan: With the Bills losing in the AFC Championship Game, this is not a runaway! We still have a contest going into Sunday's action.
|2020 Staff Playoff Fantasy Challenge|
Bryan: Had the Bills won, Andrew would be running away with this thing. As it is, a 25-point lead, plus Chris Godwin (and what little Rob Gronkowski has been able to provide this postseason), is a more-than-solid spot to be in. However, by losing so many of his players, he has left the door open for Aaron to have a come-from-behind victory. Boasting both Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans, not to mention Harrison Butker scooping up points on Chiefs touchdowns, Aaron is set for a high-scoring game of his own. If every player left alive scores the same number of points they have been averaging this postseason, Aaron would come out on top by 12 points. Either way, I would imagine your champion will be one of those two teams.
Vince and Scott still have a chance, as they boast the two starting quarterbacks in the game, but the exact circumstances likely have them on the outside looking in. Scott is 41.85 points behind Andrew. Patrick Mahomes has only had two games in his career where he scored higher than that, most recently his 385-yard, four-touchdown, one-rushing-touchdown day against Baltimore. The possibility of Clyde Edwards-Helaire catching a touchdown pass or two does make catching Andrew more likely as it stands now, but presumably, both Andrew and Aaron will pick up points of their own. Plus, Scott would have to avoid Mahomes-to-Tyreek Hill points to make the comeback. A similar logic counts against Vince -- he's not as far down, but his Tom Brady is blunted somewhat by Evans, Godwin, and Gronkowski on teams ahead of him. It's not impossible for either team to catch up, but I wouldn't count on it.
Dave still has Travis Kelce and Antonio Brown, so he has a chance in a world where Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert throw five or six touchdown passes each to his guys. I can't even say that much, as I'm guaranteed last place with no players remaining.
Best of the Rest
Bryan: Seven teams have a mathematical shot at victory, but this is basically turning into a runaway for ARandom. Not only does he have a 45-point lead over the rest of the competition, he still boasts leading scorer Leonard Fournette, leading available kicker Ryan Succop, and Mecole Hardman, who hasn't been too shabby himself. It would take a minor miracle for him not to win at this point.
Who are the six who could still theoretically catch him? In order from closest to furthest behind, we have:
- Surebrec (186.35 points, down by 63.2). Surebrec shares Fournette and Succop with ARandom, and replaces Hardman with Sammy Watkins and Darrel Williams. Last season, Watkins had a nine-catch, 198-yard, three-touchdown day against the Jaguars, so he has some explosive potential on his bench, and Watkins is expected to make his postseason debut in the Super Bowl. Add a day like that to a multiple-touchdown day from Williams, who has done it before, and we could have a massive upset.
- AlecB (182.85 points down by 66.7). AlecB shares Succop with ARandom and adds Williams, Watkins, and Cameron Brate. So, take Surebrec's scenario, add in both Hardman and Fournette doing nothing in the Super Bowl, and give Brate a touchdown reception of his own, and you have AlecB's path to victory. This seems remarkably less likely.
- BearGoggles (177.15 points, down by 72.4). BearGoggles shares Succop with ARandom and then has Scotty Miller. The highest scoring fantasy day in NFL history was Jerry Rice's 65.5-point day in 1990 -- 13 receptions, 225 yards, and five touchdowns. So, all Miller has to do is be better than that, while all of ARandom's players take a day off. No sweat.
- Andrew (164.3 points, down by 85.25). Andrew shares Fournette with ARandom, and has Miller and Watkins. At least he has two receivers to share the load!
- Basmati (142.95 points, down by 106.6). Basmati only has DeMarcus Robinson still active. Robinson has 2.4 points this postseason.
- MGilson86 (135.15 points, down by 114.4). MGilson shares Succop and Hardman with ARandom, and then has Watkins, Robinson, and Le'Veon Bell remaining. The fact that his team is comparatively unique is why he's still alive. The fact that his team is comparatively terrible is why he's over 100 points down.
For those who just want to do well, and don't care about necessarily winning, here are the top five:
- ARandom: 249.55 (Leonard Fournette, Mecole Hardman, and Ryan Succop remaining)
- Bronco Jeff: 203.85 (Leonard Fournette and Ryan Succop remaining)
- EdHoliday: 192.65 (Ryan Succop remaining)
- Eddo: 191.75 (Leonard Fournette, Mecole Hardman, and Ryan Succop remaining)
- Surebrec: 186.35 (Leonard Fournette, Darrel Williams, and Sammy Watkins remaining)
Keep Choppin' Wood
Green Bay's wide receivers were a problem all year, for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is drops: Marquez Valdes-Scantling's 11.1% drop rate is the highest among starting receivers (per Sports Info Solutions), and among Green Bay's top four wide receivers only Davante Adams has a drop rate under 10%. Per The Athletic's Mike Sando, the Packers lost 643 yards and seven touchdowns to drops this year -- shockingly, numbers that represented a huge improvement from 2019's 1,281 yards and 15 touchdowns. Valdes-Scantling atoned for his earlier missteps with a huge performance in the NFC Championship Game, but those same issues bit the Packers elsewhere. Equanimeous St. Brown had one glaring drop in the end zone on a two-point conversion, and even Adams had a huge drop (on an admittedly tougher catch) in the end zone that led to a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter. Those two drops alone were a likely six-point swing in a game the Packers lost by five.
One common refrain throughout this Green Bay season has been "imagine this offense with a better No. 2 receiver instead of Jordan Love on the bench." The NFC Championship Game only emphasized the difference another pair of reliable hands could have made.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
With eight seconds left in the first half, no timeouts, and a 14-10 lead, Bruce Arians and the Buccaneers faced first-and-10 from Green Bay's 39-yard line. Most observers expected the Buccaneers to try a quick pass toward the sideline to hopefully shorten Ryan Succop's potential field goal attempt. The Packers appear to have designed their coverage with this possibility in mind, but Tom Brady had other ideas. Brady found Scotty Miller behind the Packers defense for a 39-yard touchdown that proved the difference by the end of the game. This came one play after the Buccaneers converted fourth-and-4 in no man's land with a short pass to Leonard Fournette when many coaches would have chosen to punt. Arians acknowledged after the game that Brady lobbied hard for the decision to go for it; his reward for agreeing with his quarterback was a decisive score and his first conference championship as a head coach.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
Both conference championship games featured remarkably timid field goals by the eventual losers. Bills head coach Sean McDermott has been anything but timid for much of the season, but his decision to kick on fourth-and-goal from the Chiefs' 2-yard line just before halftime, trailing 21-9, seemed much more about attempting to remain vaguely "competitive" than attempting to engineer a comeback. Still, his team's opening drive of the second half provided him an opportunity to make up for it. On fourth-and-3 from the 8-yard line down by the same margin, McDermott chose to ... kick. Again. If the Bills had gone for both and succeeded, they could have been right back in the game at, worst-case, 24-21 (if they gained no extra points). Instead, they remained two scores behind, and the Chiefs pulled away in the second half.
Neither of those decisions comes close, however, to the astounding timidity shown by Packers head coach Matt LaFleur against the Buccaneers. Trailing by eight points, 31-23, the Packers faced fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line with 2:09 remaining. While a field goal is not absolutely useless in that situation -- it would have overridden the need for a successful two-point conversion if the Buccaneers had gotten the ball back and scored a touchdown -- it was shockingly conservative to kick from that close to the goal line. That would have meant the Packers needing to drive the length of the field again for a touchdown, rather than one 8-yard play enabling them to potentially get the ball back needing only a field goal. As it turns out, they never got the ball back in the first place. They should have gone for it, and it was stunning to see them do otherwise.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
We'll talk about the Packers' defensive play call on the final play of the first half in the Game-Changing Play section, have no fear, Mike Pettine fans. And we could talk about Bruce Arians' accepting the Packers' deliberate offside penalty late in the game, as they tried to trade yardage for time. But instead, we're going to go back to Matt LaFleur's field goal decision, which we talked about a bit above.
We should note that Andrew writes the Foxy award, while Bryan handles the Fisher, and you can sort of see the differences in our thinking here. In the view of your humble Fisher writer, the Packers kicking a field goal late in the game down eight is very, very, very bad, but at least you can construct an argument around it that makes a little more sense than the Bills' kicking decisions. In Green Bay's scenario, you still need to score twice down eight; it's just one of those scores can be a two-point conversion that takes no time off the clock. That's not the confusing bit, just the conservative bit. No, the confusing bit was the lack of communication with the offense and, in particular, Aaron Rodgers. In his post-game press conference, Rodgers made sure to clarify that the field goal was not his decision, though he understood the thinking. More interestingly, he was asked why he didn't attempt to scramble for a touchdown on the previous play, and his response was "I thought maybe we were gonna have four chances to go."
Watching from this angle and I kinda think he could have scored here? pic.twitter.com/t4ML95q7lK
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) January 26, 2021
This is part of the problem with inconsistent and arbitrary fourth-down decisions. If Rodgers knew, for a fact, that the Packers would kick a field goal on fourth down in that scenario, that likely would have changed his thought process on that play. Maybe he scrambles for a touchdown, or at least runs the ball close enough to change the call from a kick to a fourth-down attempt. At the very least, the quarterback and head coach were not on the same page. Players should never be left guessing what their coach is going to do in key situations, yet that's what we saw at the end of the NFC Championship Game.
'As Usual, We're All Idiots' Fantasy Player of the Week
Imagine if Aaron had taken Leonard Fournette instead of Ronald Jones in the Staff Fantasy Draft -- he'd already be running away with the title, essentially untouchable. For that matter, imagine if any of us had taken Fournette. With 63.3 points so far, he's the leading fantasy running back in this postseason. Even if you give an allowance to being surprised that Tampa Bay is going to the Super Bowl, only Cam Akers put up more points per game than Fournette has. His 55 yards against the Packers was actually his least effective game of the playoffs so far, but he still found a way to add a touchdown. Picking Fournette was a requirement if you were going to be competitive in the Best of the Rest challenge; he is, in fact, the Best of the Rest.
GROWN MAN TD
Leonard Fournette gives the Bucs the lead.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 24, 2021
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
While Josh Allen had a game to forget, he at least did everything he could to keep the Bills in the game in the dying moments against the Chiefs. Buffalo got the ball back down 23 points with 7:36 left in the AFC Championship Game. From that point on, Allen went 7-for-10 for 88 yards and a touchdown, running for 19 more yards and picking up a first down, as well. Yes, he took a back-breaking sack on the Bills' last drive of the game, forcing a field goal instead of a fourth-down attempt. At that point, however, the Bills needed a miracle to get back in the football game, and holding on to the ball and hoping something magical would happen is understandable in that circumstance; you can't get the miracle play if you don't give it a shot. In a week with only two games, 100 yards of offense in the dying moments of a contest definitely qualifies for this award.
No quit in @JoshAllenQB. #BillsMafia #NFLPlayoffs
#BUFvsKC on CBS
NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/RTcXvhOR4u pic.twitter.com/rjzAykpSRL
— NFL (@NFL) January 25, 2021
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
Bills quarterback Josh Allen had the best season ever for a quarterback coming off two straight years at replacement level or lower, beating out Case Keenum's flash-in-the-pan 2017 campaign and Matthew Stafford's 2011. He also had the second-highest improvement ever from his first year to his third, narrowly behind Jared Goff. The timing on this is amusing, given that Stafford and Goff have just been directly traded for one another (with picks included). From looking like a bust through his first two seasons, Allen looked like a franchise cornerstone in 2020.
The Packers' comfort is also found in their likely league-MVP quarterback: in his second year under Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers had the second-highest passing DYAR of his career, and his highest since 2011. He also recorded his highest DVOA since that first of his MVP campaigns, leading the league in touchdowns and completion percentage despite one of his starting receivers being among the leaders in dropped passes.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
The biggest play of the season to date, considering the stakes present in a conference championship game, never should have happened. There is no justifiable reason why, with eight seconds left in the half and no Tampa Bay timeouts remaining, Kevin King should be single-covering Scotty Miller with no help deep. It's a massive failing in defensive play calling, and Tom Brady has been doing this for too long to let an opportunity like this slide.
Troy Aikman's dumbfounded laughter is the icing on the 39-yard bomb from Tom Brady to Scotty Miller pic.twitter.com/lv9SC6oowO
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) January 24, 2021
Note Chris Godwin getting triple-covered down the middle, leaving both Miller and Mike Evans single-covered on the outside. Brady could have gone down either sideline and thrown a touchdown. This is a situation where you do not care if Tampa Bay completes a pass in the middle of the field -- time will expire and the Packers would go to the half down 14-10, not a terrible place to be in. This was a time to play the softest zone imaginable, guarding the sidelines and end zone. Instead, the Packers were in Cover-1, playing tight inside technique man-to-man? That's insanity, and was rewarded appropriately.
Scotty Miller's max speed on this play: 20.64 MPH.
Kevin King's max speed: 19.19 MPH.
Via @NextGenStats pic.twitter.com/uGWBTyyPyE
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 24, 2021
After the game, Bruce Arians said that he knew it would be a touchdown from the moment the teams lined up; it was just a matter of execution. Also after the game, the Packers announced they would not be re-signing defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. These two things may be related.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
All picks are made without reference to the FO+ picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.
Records to Date:
Bryan: What are you doing here? We had an entire article dedicated to this last week! Both of us are taking Tampa Bay +3.5 -- less because we're predicting the Buccaneers to win, and more because we think the game will be closer than the general betting public seems to think at this point. Normally, identical picking would require some sort of tiebreaker to determine the true Lock of the Week Champion but, well, that was decided long ago. With Andrew winning Double Survival, and my victory in the Lock, I suppose the Prop Bets will decide the better picker for 2020 -- so we'll just have to see which of us has a better Weeknd.
42 comments, Last at 07 Feb 2021, 9:11am
#1 by Pat // Feb 03, 2021 - 10:52am
While his cap hit in 2020 wasn't anything particularly egregious, it balloons to nearly $35 million for next season and remains over $30 million the rest of the way. Wentz's extension has become an anchor around the team's neck, with the only way out this season being a post-June 1 trade. Good luck getting anyone else to accept that contract, considering everything we wrote above about, y'know, one of the worst seasons in NFL history.
It's not exactly as bad as you think. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's bad. But the cap hit for Wentz includes the $9M/year proration on the signing bonus, so a trading partner would only be paying ~$25M/year if they got him.
For the Eagles, Wentz's cap hit isn't terrible for a quarterback, mind you: it's only really going to be on the high side in 2021/2022. By 2023, you'd have to guess that a $32M/year cap hit would actually be on the *low* side for a quarterback. (Of course, if Wentz's 2020 performance is where he's at, his performance value/cost ratio is still horrible).
The real problem with trading him, of course, is whether anyone thinks he's salvageable. If they think he can get to "boring starter" level (Teddy Bridgewater, for instance, or heck even Ryan Fitzpatrick) $25M/year is basically what the going rate is.
#7 by ImNewAroundThe… // Feb 03, 2021 - 1:11pm
You could very well attach assets to move him as Goffs hits are now $27.825m, then $25.5m, then $0 dead cap in 2023 and 2024 or UFA in 2025
Philly seems adamant on making it work though. And dead cap hits of $19m then $25m, are not fun.
#17 by theslothook // Feb 03, 2021 - 2:37pm
"If they think he can get to "boring starter" level (Teddy Bridgewater, for instance, or heck even Ryan Fitzpatrick) $25M/year is basically what the going rate is."
I have never quite understood the appeal of paying boring started big money(even if its at market rate) unless you are a coach on the hot seat and you need to win at least 6 games to tied you over.
Even then its a losing proposition and a fast track to mediocrity. I think the Panthers did a lot right this season, but Teddy was never going to lead you anywhere interesting and the coach has time on his hands. The best strategy should have been to stink one year behind awful qb play while your kiddos learn the ropes.
Wentz is worth taking a chance on provided his contract is palatable. I don't think 25 million dollars is worth the risk of ending up getting the worst qb in football. Now granted he may be better than that, but the biggest issue for me is - to justify the cost, he needs to be at least as good as say Derrick Carr.
#2 by Travis // Feb 03, 2021 - 11:02am
Our own figures give Bilal Powell of the New York Jets the title of worst returner, whereas Boston Scott was the worst of those 13 qualifiers. The Jaguars had the worst kickoff return numbers in our special teams metrics, and Tennessee's Kalif Raymond had the lowest average return distance of any player with at least 10 kickoff returns. We ultimately settled on Bilal Powell, as the worst of the lot in our figures.
Bilal Powell didn't play a game for anyone this year; did you mean Braxton Berrios?
#8 by BigRichie // Feb 03, 2021 - 1:55pm
Guys. Get over it. Everyone knew DeAndre was on the market. 31 NFL teams, 31 NFL GMs knew DeAndre was on the market. The Texans did not rush the trade. 31 NFL franchises had plenty of time to work out how much they thought DeAndre, and his next-contract requirements, was worth to them.
And the worth the Cardinals put on DeAndre was higher than the worth every other NFL team put on DeAndre.
The Texans mismanaged it where they had to sell on DeAndre. If DeAndre is not mad at Texans' management, maybe he plays out the final year of his contract before hitting free agency. Maybe. Maybe he gives the Texans a hometown discount on a next contract. Maybe.
Instead the Texans pissed DeAndre off, and they had to sell his last contract year to the highest bidder. Which they did. At a price which every other NFL franchise fully decided was more than DeAndre was worth to them.
#18 by ImNewAroundThe… // Feb 03, 2021 - 2:54pm
TWICE. Not too long beforehand. But I doubt every team knew. In this world #40, a 4th and a bloated RB isnt worth a top WR and #131. There was a whisper of it maybe the day prior but they clearly rushed it. There would've been someone willing to give up more.
#16 by theslothook // Feb 03, 2021 - 2:34pm
You know...Stefan Diggs went for a 1st rounder. OBJ who was coming off an injury went for a first rounder +.
DeAndrew Hopkins went for a 2nd rounder and someone the Cardinals were trying to salary dump. I may be missing something obvious but the trade was a disaster in both ways. Is any 2nd rounder going to come close to replicating Hopkins even at a discount? But then you tie up more of your limited cap to a running back who isn't any good.
#29 by Mr Shush // Feb 04, 2021 - 9:00am
Where do you get the idea Hopkins was in the last year of his contract? He was under contract until 2022, at affordable numbers, and could have been franchised in 2023. He wanted a new contract because he felt he was underpaid, but his existing deal was not about to expire.
The Texans alienated and traded him because he wasn't a culture fit with Ayatollah Jack due to such heinous crimes as wanting to be a father to his children from previous relationships, and accepted a terrible deal because their sub-Millen-level GM saw David Johnson as a valuable asset when in fact he was a significant liability.
#33 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Feb 04, 2021 - 12:52pm
"And the worth the Cardinals put on DeAndre was higher than the worth every other NFL team put on DeAndre."
I think the correct way to say this would be "The offer made by the Cardinals was valued more highly by the Texans than the offers made by any other NFL team." Which brings into play the Texans getting David Johnson as part of the package, which is part of the reason the deal was widely panned, i.e. the Texans overvalued (in the eyes of analysts) what they were getting back.
#10 by BigRichie // Feb 03, 2021 - 2:16pm
Has Sally Ford (or whatever) ever won a year-end KCW award? Has Shaka Khan (or whatever) ever won a year-end KCW award? Daniel friggin' Snyder? Cal's ownership record really isn't historically awful, plenty worse out there. So where is the hate actually coming from?
Especially regarding Easterby? One thing we know about him. He canned O'Brien. OK, another thing. He exaggerated on his resume. (Gadzooks, Caped Crusader!) One thing we know didn't happen. Y'all were going "The virus will disappear the day after the Election! Just you watch!" Oh wait, I mean "Easterby himself will wind up being named GM! Just you watch!" We know that didn't happen. So where is the hate actually coming from?
#15 by theslothook // Feb 03, 2021 - 2:32pm
I would like to know what qualifications Easterby had in the first place. I've exaggerated on my resume at times, especially early in my career, but I certainly didn't make up whole sections about work I've had 0 knowledge in. You certainly will not see my stint as an ER doctor in Mt. Sinai on my resume.
#12 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 03, 2021 - 2:22pm
One common refrain throughout this Green Bay season has been "imagine this offense with a better No. 2 receiver instead of Jordan Love on the bench."
Were there any WR2s available behind Love? Jeudy, Lamb, Jefferson, and Aiyuk were off the board. So you basically have Tee Higgins, Laviska Shenault, or Darnell Mooney.
Higgins was the second-best option on a 4-11-1 team who wasn't actually a shambling corpse. He still dropped 8 passes.
Shenault was the 3rd-best receiver on a 1-15 team.
Mooney proved Chicago couldn't throw every pass to Allen Robinson. Of these, only Higgins even appears in a game for GB, and he's probably a WR3 or WR4. Most receivers taken after Love didn't actually do much this year. Claypool or Gabe Davis probably did the most, but they were both WR3s or worse.
#14 by theslothook // Feb 03, 2021 - 2:29pm
I would rather have Adam Gase any day over Matt Patricia, who replicates Gase's terrible on the field coaching but marries it with a soul destroying, locker room poisoning personality. Seriously, the Lions probably had the most dispirited season I can remember and we're talking about a franchise that went 0-16 less than not thaaat long ago.
#28 by jheidelberg // Feb 03, 2021 - 11:51pm
In a week where we crown a champion, we get to talk of the worst, I love this column and its timing. I am neutral with regards to your comments about Gase and Patricia, I can not say whether I agree or disagree with regards to which is the better or worse coach.
What I can say is that comparing Gase to Patricia is as if you had made a sandwich with moldy bread and moldy meat and determined that the bread is much better than the meat.
#22 by jgov // Feb 03, 2021 - 4:56pm
I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned that both of the rookie KCW offensive tackles were from Georgia. As a UGA alum I am embarrassed! Perhaps having a constant stream of NFL running backs behind them in college made them look better.
#23 by Eddo // Feb 03, 2021 - 6:22pm
"This is part of the problem with inconsistent and arbitrary fourth-down decisions. If Rodgers knew, for a fact, that the Packers would kick a field goal on fourth down in that scenario, that likely would have changed his thought process on that play. Maybe he scrambles for a touchdown, or at least runs the ball close enough to change the call from a kick to a fourth-down attempt. At the very least, the quarterback and head coach were not on the same page. Players should never be left guessing what their coach is going to do in key situations, yet that's what we saw at the end of the NFC Championship Game."
While LaFleur's coaching was, at best, confusing, I think this is a little backwards.
While it's far from a sure thing, I'm fine trusting Rodgers's judgement that he wouldn't have made the end zone had he scrambled on third down. However, he would have at least gotten inside the five - so if he was expecting another chance on fourth down, scrambling was definitely the right decision, since at worst they'd have a much shorter fourth down play. Likewise, throwing it (like he did) would be the right decision if he thought he only one shot at scoring - i.e. that they'd be kicking a field goal on fourth down.
#39 by Andrew Potter // Feb 05, 2021 - 6:14am
This year's column was tougher to put together as a result, too. I'm absolutely not going to advocate for the sort of behavior we've seen from previous all-KCW selections, but for example Isaiah Wilson was much more fun to write up than Andrew Thomas this year.
#40 by Rich A // Feb 05, 2021 - 11:25am
Javon Wims is pretty stupid though,.... To me it's hilarious that Gardner-Johnson just stands there waiting for him to continue knowing that the ref is watching - when the drive earlier he had knocked Wims mouth guard out.
#32 by ChrisS // Feb 04, 2021 - 12:39pm
I do think Haskins was a worse and more dysfunctional than Wentz. He had worse DYAR on a per start basis and got cut after just reclaiming his starting job by violating COVID protocols while celebrating getting his job back. Perfect KCW behavior
#37 by Will Allen // Feb 04, 2021 - 4:26pm
It was a good year for a Vikings fan to have a pandemic hugely reduce football viewing, to make a grab at the most dim of silver linings inside a pretty goddamned dark cloud, but I think it really would have driven me nuts to see them go 7-9 while being again unable to kick the ball through the uprights with any degree of professionalism. By Odin, just make everything inside the 40 four down territory, and go for two after every touchdown! If nothing else, it'd be more entertaining!