Devin McCourty's HoF Case, Sneaky Eagles, & More

New England Patriots DB Devin McCourty
New England Patriots DB Devin McCourty
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 13 - It's easy to craft a strong Pro Football Hall of Fame argument for longtime New England Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty.

Yes, he has only been voted to two Pro Bowls in his career, and his statistical achievements don't leap off the page. But he has three Super Bowl rings as both a starter and one of the unquestioned leaders for the greatest dynasty in NFL history. He earned Pro Bowl notice as both a cornerback and a safety, a rare feat. McCourty's longevity matters, as does his role as one of Bill Belichick's most trusted on-field lieutenants. And he's famous, for the right reasons, which should matter at least a little.

McCourty is preparing to start his 200th career game on Thursday night. Belichick took time to praise him on Tuesday. USA Today Media Group NFL editor and friend of Walkthrough Doug Farrar discussed McCourty's PFHoF credentials on a summer podcast and mentioned on Twitter that McCourty "deserves serious consideration."

McCourty does deserve PFHoF consideration. So do Calais Campbell, Ndamukong Suh, Patrick Peterson, Cameron Jordan, Cameron Heyward, Fletcher Cox, Lavonte David, Khalil Mack, Demario Davis, Justin Houston, and Chandler Jones.

That's a partial list of the active defenders who rank above or just below McCourty in Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value metric. J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Aaron Donald, and Bobby Wagner were not included, because all are obvious Hall of Famers.

Let's grab a few offensive linemen to add to the mix: Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Trent Williams, Zach Martin, Tyron Smith, David Bakhtiari, Duane Brown.

That's 19 near-HoFers at the non-glamour positions, all of whom will be hitting the ballot within a few years of each other. The list does not include obvious choices such as the legendary quarterbacks, the defenders listed separately above, or aging receivers with strong cases such as Julio Jones. It does not include relatively recent retirees such as Gronk, Eric Weddle, Andrew Whitworth, or Richard Sherman. It does not include finalists who will still be on the ballot by the time McCourty arrives. It does not include younger players at his position such as Tyrann Mathieu, who could achieve eligibility while McCourty is working his way through the system. It does not include fellow Patriots whose PFHoF cases also rest largely upon being fellow Patriots.

There will probably be room for about five of those 20 non-glamor near-HoFers in the actual Hall once the committee gets done processing Brady/Watt first-ballot types and the backlog of players with Zach Thomas-level résumés. It's easy to scratch some of the players above off any plausible top five (Khalil Mack and Tyron Smith, for instance) unless they have remarkable late careers. But it's hard to seriously assemble a "top five" from the list above with McCourty on it.

To come at this from another angle, check out the Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist class for 2023. Two semifinalists stick out as similar to McCourty: Rodney Harrison and Darren Woodson.

Harrison, like McCourty, helped the Patriots win Super Bowls. He earned All-Pro notice for both the Chargers and Patriots. He recorded 34 interceptions and 30.5 sacks to McCourty's 33 and three. His reputation as a cheap-shot artist might become an issue if Harrison reaches the finalist stage, but he never has. In fact, Harrison has been Hall of Fame-eligible for nearly a decade but is a semifinalist for just the second time.

Woodson started for two Super Bowl-winners and was a rookie contributor to a third. He was a three-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler. He started until he was 34 years old, surviving the lean years after the Cowboys Super Bowl heyday to start for Bill Parcells for a year; in that respect, he's a lot like McCourty, whose productive career has extended beyond the Brady era.

Woodson has been a seven-time semifinalist. His case will soon be remanded to the seniors committee unless he gains almost unprecedented momentum over the next two years.

Superficially, both Harrison and Woodson are more qualified than McCourty. Both can furnish leadership bona-fides and legendary-coach testimonials upon request. Neither has even reached the finalist stage yet, because their paths are always blocked by better candidates. McCourty is likely to suffer the same fate when he achieves eligibility and finds not just Brady ahead of him but guys such as the Camerons and Kelce.

We should probably also mention Ronde Barber. His dossier blows McCourty's away: three All-Pro selections, an interception title, 14 career return touchdowns, a major contribution to a Super Bowl winner, second-team all-decade notice for the 2000s. Barber was a semifinalist for three years before reaching the finalist stage in 2021 and 2022. He may be enshrined this year if the selection committee decides it doesn't want Darrelle Revis to leapfrog him, but he could easily be bypassed in favor of Revis, a more traditional shutdown cornerback. If Barber is stuck in a gummed-up system, imagine what will happen to McCourty even if he pushes his way to the top of the C-plus tier candidates.

Such is the nature of appraising a player's Hall of Fame case in isolation. It's not enough to craft a convincing argument that the player in question was excellent. A legitimate Hall of Fame case must argue that someone such as McCourty is more excellent than at least a dozen similar guys who reached lots of all-star teams and were instrumental to championships.

That said, those "arguments in isolation" are essential to the Hall of Fame process, especially for non-glamor players. McCourty, the Camerons, and the offensive linemen need a record of what makes them special that offers stronger testimony than just interception totals and the stars and crosses tallies on Pro Football Reference. Fan campaigns and the opinions of folks such as Farrar and myself do matter a little.

It's better to focus on McCourty's contribution to the Patriots than to rehash another Matt Ryan (lolol) Hall of Fame argument. McCourty's a far more legitimate candidate than Julian Edelman or (ugh) Matthew Slater, so anything that pushes him toward the top of the Patriots fan wish list is probably worth the effort.

And McCourty can still help his case with a few big plays on Thursday night, in the Patriots' next two prime-time games, and down the stretch toward another potential playoff appearance. Helping the Brady Patriots win Super Bowls was impressive. Helping the Mac Jones Patriots remain relevant is the sort of thing that could make McCourty legendary.

The Sneaky Philadelphia Eagles

It should come as no surprise that the Eagles lead the NFL in quarterback sneaks by a wide margin. Here's the NFL top five through Week 12, per Sports Info Solutions:

  • Philadelphia Eagles: 24 quarterback sneaks, 21 first downs (three touchdowns)
  • Cleveland Browns: 18 sneaks, 15 first downs (zero touchdowns)
  • San Francisco 49ers: 13 sneaks, 11 first downs (one touchdown)
  • Cincinnati Bengals: 11 sneaks, 11 first downs (three touchdowns)
  • Chicago Bears: nine sneaks, eight first downs (zero touchdowns)

The first-down conversion rate for sneaks this season has been 83.5%, not far off the 82.8% rate for fourth-down sneaks over multiple years which Walkthrough discussed in October.

The Chiefs and Lions have each attempted just one quarterback sneak so far this season; Noah Gray was the "quarterback" for the Chiefs sneak. Both converted. The Cardinals and Packers have yet to attempt a quarterback sneak. Aaron Rodgers does not believe in them: he has run just three sneaks since 2018.

The Eagles lead the NFL with 12 third-down sneaks for 11 first downs. The 49ers are 8-of-9 on third-down sneaks, the Browns 7-of-8. With an 80-plus-percent success rate, the sneak is a logical play call on third-and-1 in many situations.

The 2022 Eagles have already smashed the "modern" record (since 2015 in the Sports info Solutions database) for most quarterback sneaks in one season. The 2020 Patriots, with Cam Newton at quarterback for much of the season, went 16-of-22 on sneaks. The 2021 Patriots were 16-of-19.

Sneak totals are on a sharp rise: of the 27 teams to have attempted 10 or more sneaks since 2015, 18 are from 2020 or 2022. The 17th game in 2021 has little to do with the increase, since of course we are just 12 games through 2022. Teams have realized just how high the success rate is on the quarterback sneak and have adjusted their tactics accordingly.

Quarterback sneaks, as opposed to victory-formation kneel plays, were a common end-of-game strategy to ice the clock until the late 1970s, so the actual record for most sneaks may be held by some team such as the 1972 Dolphins. It's safe to say that the Eagles are pioneering the use of the sneak (complete with extra players in the backfield nudging Jalen Hurts forward, a tactic the rules committee may take issue with in the offseason) as their default short-yardage strategy.

The Eagles, incidentally, only have two fourth-and-1 rushes which were not sneaks. They are 1-of-2 on those runs. The Lions lead the NFL with eight non-sneak rushes on fourth-and-1, with five conversions. With their offensive line and running game, perhaps a handoff makes more sense than a Jared Goff plunge. But that 83.5% league-wide rushing rate says otherwise.

Derrick Henry Has Thoroughly Established the Run

The Titans lead the NFL in first-down passing DVOA at 63.0%. Here's some raw data on their key starters:

  • Ryan Tannehill: 53-of-76, 795 yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions, four sacks, 69.7% completion rate, 10.5 yards per attempt.
  • Treylon Burks: 11 catches on 13 targets for 181 yards and five first downs.
  • Derrick Henry (receiving): 10 catches on 11 targets for 149 yards and two first downs.
  • Robert Woods: 10 catches on 16 targets for 84 yards and five first downs.
  • Austin Hooper: Seven catches on 11 targets for 88 yards and four first downs.
  • Dontrell Hilliard: Seven catches on eight targets for 67 yards and four first downs, all of them touchdowns.
  • Nick Westbrook-Ikhine: Five catches on seven targets for 136 yards and five first downs.

As you might suspect, much of the Titans' first-down production comes on play-action passes from running formations. Henry's fantasy-heartbreaker goal-line fumble (with Burks recovering for a touchdown) came at the end of a first-down screen built off play-action:

Bengals linebackers Logan Wilson (55) and Germaine Pratt (57) both initially react to the play-fake to Henry, then try to drop into coverage, then realize a moment too late that Henry is the screen target. It's a simple but effective way to get the ball to Henry on an early down without forcing him to hammer into an eight-man box.

Here's Burks catching a deep ball after play-action from a tight formation against the Bengals last week:

Burks gets a one-on-one 50-50 ball opportunity against Cam Taylor-Britt; Tannehill gets a clean pocket (for a few seconds, anyway) because of the play fake. The lone deep safety cannot be seen on the television angle, but he drives on what he thinks will be a crossing route by another receiver.

Friend of Walkthrough Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post curated this video of Tannehill himself explaining a first-down deep ball to Westbrook-Ikhine built off play-action and 22 personnel:

The Commanders remained in a two-deep shell on the last play, but the fake to Henry bought Tannehill a few seconds on a slow-developing play. You will notice that none of the Titans receivers can be mistaken for Tyreek Hill: guys such as Burks/Woods/Westbrook-Ikhine aren't going to get open downfield very often against a dime defense on third-and-10.

The Titans have a lot of red zone concepts for Hilliard, which explains his four touchdowns. Here's a misdirection screen built off motion and a pump fake to Henry:

Henry leads the NFL with 156 first-down rushes. He averages a respectable 4.4 yards per carry on first downs, and the Titans rank 17th in the NFL in first-down rushing DVOA. The Titans will settle for middle-of-the-pack rushing numbers from Henry if it helps set up big-play opportunities for receivers and change-up backs who would not typically threaten a defense all that much.

The Eagles defense ranks 23rd against first-down rushing but third against first-down passing. The Titans will no-doubt try to thump-thump-thump with Henry on early downs. They will almost certainly have some success. The key to victory, however, may be to set up a chunk passing play or two, because churning out another 17 points probably won't be enough against the Eagles.

One last point of order: here are the top five teams in first-down passing DVOA in 2022:

1. Tennessee Titans: 63.0%
2. Miami Dolphins: 57.0%
3. Atlanta Falcons: 49.0%
4. Cleveland Browns: 47.1%
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 37.9%

Three run-first teams, the Dolphins, and the stubbornly-committed-to-the-run Buccaneers, who also have a Hall of Fame quarterback. The Seattle Seahawks are sixth at 33.4%. Establishing the run is not necessary in the NFL, but rushing often on early downs, especially from heavy formations, does look like an effective way to open up first-down passing opportunities for teams that may lack elite talent at quarterback and wide receiver.

The Washington Commanders Up-Tempo Defense

The Commanders lead the NFL in average time of possession at 32 minutes and 46 seconds per game. They're doing so thanks to a defense which allows just 5.39 plays per drive, the lowest figure in the NFL. The average opponent's series lasts just 2:26, also the lowest figure in the league.

The Commanders defense forces a three-and-out on 26.3% of opponents' series, seventh-best in the NFL. Opponents are forced to punt on 44.4% of their series, sixth-best in the NFL.

Most interestingly, opponents play fast against the Commanders: 29.82 seconds per play in situation-neutral situations, the second-fastest opponents' pace-of-play in the NFL, well over one second faster than the league average. The Commanders offense, meanwhile, averages 33.06 seconds per play, the fourth-slowest pace in the NFL.

As the Eagles discovered on Monday Night Football in Week 10, and the Falcons discovered in the second half in Week 12, the Commanders want to play turtle ball, and trying to hurry up against them when they have a lead only plays into their hands.

The Commanders have faced some of the NFL's fastest-paced offenses. The Eagles rank second (two meetings), the Cowboys fourth. The Vikings and Lions both rank in the top 10 in situation-neutral pace, as do the Colts for reasons no human on earth could possibly comprehend. (There's zero chance Jeff Saturday has any concept of manipulating offensive tempo, despite snapping to Peyton Manning for a zillion years in his playing career.) The fact that the Commanders lost to several of these opponents is an example of the double-edged sword of pace-of-play analysis: sometimes a team is carefully milking the clock to preserve wins, but sometimes slowing things down is just prolonging the inevitable.

The Giants are a middle-of-the-pack team pace-wise, but anyone who watches them knows that they try to keep their games close, deliberate, and grimy. The Giants play just to have a chance in the fourth quarter; the Commanders strive for a three-point lead they can nurse like a newborn kitten.

The Giants rank ninth in fourth-quarter offense, which fueled a few early-season comebacks. But they rank 26th in fourth-quarter defense, which has allowed recent opponents to pull away from them rather easily. The Commanders rank 10th in fourth-quarter defense, which helped them hold off opponents such as the Eagles, but just 25th on offense: no one wants Taylor Heinicke trying to win a game in the final minutes.

The Commanders aren't a very good team, but they have figured out a formula that can work for them. The Giants are on the ropes right now due to an icky playoff tiebreaker dossier and a rough slate of divisional games over the next three weeks. Ironically, if the Giants hope to get back to where they were in October, they need to take their time on Sunday.

Comments

52 comments, Last at 02 Dec 2022, 2:45pm

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 01, 2022 - 10:18am

one of Bill Belichick's most trusted on-field lieutenants

"Trusted Belichick lieutenant" isn't worth a bucket of warm spit.

Points: -3

#18 by dmb // Dec 01, 2022 - 1:18pm

You missed the operative term: on-field.

I'd agree with you about this trusted off-field lieutenants, but most of his favorite players have generally proven themselves to be worthy.

Edit: I loaded this article but then didn't get to read it for awhile. Forgot to refresh before reading the comments, and so immediately after posting found that plenty of others had made the same point. Now I get to type this lengthy mea culpa rather than simply hitting a delete button. Whoops!

Points: 1

#2 by RickD // Dec 01, 2022 - 10:23am

I agree that Devin McCourty's HoF chances are slim at best.  I would also agree Rodney Harrison's career was better, but he's hurt by the reputation/PED issues. Looked at the numbers and I think Rodney had a better overall career than Polamalu, but Polamalu's peak was higher, and he also had a great public reputation. 

The Patriots' defense was good for many years, but it wasn't really based on stars so much as depth.  (I don't count Revis as a Patriot, but think he's a slam dunk for the Hall.)  Chandler Jones could have been a star as a Patriots, but his departure was a budget-shape decision for Belichick.  I'm hopeful that Donta' Hightower's superb play in three Super Bowl wins will eventually put him over the top. And I'm hoping Wilfork's general charisma will work in his favor. Both of those guys could have better odds than McCourty. 

Points: 2

#5 by theslothook // Dec 01, 2022 - 10:37am

I think hightower was overrated and seeing Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy be totally useless outside of Ne only furthers my view that linebacker is one of those areas that Belichick can Houdini his way around. Yes, that makes his decision to spend a first rounder in hightower curious, but then Belichick has done loopy things in the draft before that looked bad ex post and ex ante (why exactly did he draft Sony Michelle?)

Of all of the names you have mentioned, Rodney to me absolutely deserves the Hall of Fame. The rest to me are useful cogs but not guys I would put in because I don't think they'd be anywhere near as good or as notable outside of Ne, except for Chandler Jones

Points: 0

#3 by theslothook // Dec 01, 2022 - 10:27am

Seeing JC Jackson go from all pro corner to benched starter after leaving NE has me very skeptical about practically anyone on the NE defense. The one and only player who has done anything after leaving NE was Chandler Jones ( a decision I still remain slack jawed over by BB, results notwithstanding).

I'm glad Tanier laid out the reality of the HOF. There are always going to better / more visible candidates that leap frog McCourty. 

Points: 3

#4 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 01, 2022 - 10:31am

The system nature of the Pats defense and that so many of their players bombed on their next team when they got revealed as system guys really hurts McCourty's case. It's trivial to argue his plaudits are really owed to Belichick.

I think this is at least half of the reason Brady retired down to Tampa for his winters -- he wanted to prove he could do it absent Belichick.

As for Harrison, I'm not sure head-hunting really hurts your case if you are a safety. There are too many safeties in the Hall who were legendary headhunters.

Points: 0

#16 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Dec 01, 2022 - 12:22pm

Harrison, though, was a headhunter when the public perception was in the process of changing.  

Points: 2

#25 by Tracy // Dec 01, 2022 - 2:33pm

The system nature of the Pats defense...

This argument isn't really persuasive for me, because I think the HOF is about what you did, not about what you would've done in a different context, or whether another player would've done it better if they'd had your context. Part of what McCourty did was perform very well for a long time, and part of what McCourty did was be a leader on the defense during the all-time most successful dynasty in the history of the NFL. I don't think that's enough, because of the reasons Tanier has articulated, but the fact that he may be a "system" guy doesn't bother me at all.

I think his chances are tied to whether the voters think the Pats will be underrepresented in the HOF by Law, Seymore, Revis, Brady, Gronk, Moss, Martin, and Belichick; and if the Pats just need more representation, where he stands up against the likes of Wilfork, Makins, Ghostkowski, and Viniateri

Points: 3

#33 by theslothook // Dec 01, 2022 - 4:10pm

because I think the HOF is about what you did, not about what you would've done in a different context, or whether another player would've done it better if they'd had your context. 

To be sure, its not exactly that. I think if your play was so exemplary; it probably doesn't matter that you were so context specific. No one is going to ding Drew Brees because he played in a Dome and wonder his hall of fame merits were he to play the majority of his career in Buffalo.

However, and this is just my opinion, I do think once the player falls into a deep muddle of competing players; subjective adjustments about context start to matter because the on field results are too close to determine any real difference. Is McCourty better than some of the names Tanier listed? Well, how exactly do we compare a free safety to a guard and center; especially when we don't (any?) stats on this.

Furthermore, we already sort of do this for wide receivers given who their quarterbacks are. Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Smith definitely get the subjective QB sucked for years curve grading. 

Points: 0

#36 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 01, 2022 - 4:14pm

Brees made a Pro Bowl on a second team. Changing teams helps his career context -- SD letting him leave in preference for a HOvG QB in Phil Rivers and Miami passing on him is seen historically as a huge mistake for both franchises.

\Roethlisberger is the only VG+ QB of his generation who didn't switch teams.

Points: 0

#43 by BlueStarDude // Dec 01, 2022 - 7:12pm

Romo for sure was a VG+ QB. Same generation. Several fewer years as a starter of course.

Points: 0

#44 by horn // Dec 01, 2022 - 7:59pm

Hahahahahahahhahaha ohhhhh man did a literal spit-take at that one!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKUmILVcffo

Points: -4

#39 by MJK // Dec 01, 2022 - 5:31pm

Suggesting that “the guys the let walk weren’t that good after the walked” implies “a guy they thought was good enough to pay a lot and keep therefore can’t be that good” is a curious logical inference.   It reeks of selection bias. 
 

Isn’t it possible that their system props up some guys, as long as they also have some stars?  And they let the propped up folks go and hang onto the stars (until they’re not stars anymore)?

If I have a way of telling rotten eggs from good, and I throw out all my rotten eggs, and you then crack open all the eggs I threw out and find they’re rotten, does that imply that the eggs I kept must be rotten, too?

Points: 0

#47 by RickD // Dec 02, 2022 - 9:47am

The first thing JC Jackson did after signing his contract with the Chargers was have ankle surgery.  He's had injuries this season.  It's far from clear that he's "overrated because he was with the Patriots".  Sure, the Pats have a system D to some extent, but Jackson was far better than most of the parts that have been plugged into that system.

They certainly could have used him last night. 

Points: 0

#20 by dmb // Dec 01, 2022 - 1:37pm

I would disagree with Jones being the "one and only" defender to do good things after leaving New England. Asante Samuel, Logan Ryan, and Malcolm Butler all had varying degrees of success after leaving; if we're not looking solely at Belichick draftees, so did Aqib Talib and Stephon Gilmore. And that's just in the secondary! (Richard Seymour had a couple Pro Bowl selections while in Oakland, etc.)

That said, I would certainly agree that the overwhelming majority of players tend to look significantly better under Belichick than they do playing elsewhere -- including many of the players I mentioned above.

Points: 0

#22 by theslothook // Dec 01, 2022 - 2:02pm

Sure, I agree. I was too extreme in my characterizations and your summary is better/more even handed recount of the facts. Much like NE coordinators, I am just in the habit of being leery about players NE lets walk. Sure, some of them perform, but most never come close to justifying the amount of money they get. 

That's kind of why I said Chander Jones was the only one who outperformed above and beyond the expectations once he left NE. 

Points: 1

#26 by KnotMe // Dec 01, 2022 - 2:59pm

It just get back to the general problem of not consistently having stats for most defense guys. There is only one sack/int/tackle per play and the other guys have a big role in shaping who gets it. The next gen/charting stats help, but even then you have the barrier or not knowing what the playcall was.  

Points: 1

#30 by Pat // Dec 01, 2022 - 3:44pm

I think it's a bit of a stretch to just lump everyone together with "NE letting them walk." Most players you can point at are pretty late in their career, and, well... every team lets players like that walk. Especially now, because when a player starts declining, he's cheaper to other teams than his original team, because of prorated money.

Jackson's pretty different. There you're talking about a guy that they never committed serious money to, didn't franchise tag, and while they (apparently) offered him equal average value, it was more years and less guaranteed, and he's already pretty far down on the guarantee list. With Jackson, their contract offering was far more like "we'd like to keep you around, but we're not like, super sold on it."

Defensive stats suck, but money's money. Even the Chargers didn't view him as a top-end corner when they signed him, and New England was obviously even below that. If the Chargers cut him after next year, it's $40M for 2 years spread over 3, so it's not exactly a killer of a free agency failure.

I think Jackson's more a case of the media/fans hyping him more than NFL teams were.

Points: 0

#32 by theslothook // Dec 01, 2022 - 4:06pm

JC Jackson is just the latest example. It happened all the way back with Lawyer Milloy. Maybe everyone is overhyping things, but I am mostly responding to the sentiments made at the time. Basically calling Belichick a nut job cheap skate and how his penny pinching was going to sink the team. 

There are other examples though. Jamie Collins being traded and then instantly not working out. Or how he takes reclamations like Kyle Van Noy and spinning him into a useful cog only to seem him not catch on elsewhere. 

I don't mean to brand every player and every case as totally a byproduct of Belichick voodoo. That's certainly not true. However, to circle back to McCourty - it leaves the question about just how valuable is he in a vacuum(acknowledging that this may not be the criteria we should be using for the hall). I think clearly Belichick paying him suggests he is valuable, but take him outside of NE, is he stacking with those hall of fame candidates Tanier listed? Its here where I look to the track record and lean to that answer being no. But again, that's my thought process which relies on assumptions that could be wrong. Fully acknowledged. 

Points: 0

#37 by Pat // Dec 01, 2022 - 4:20pm

It happened all the way back with Lawyer Milloy.

This is what I mean, though. Milloy was released as a 30 year old safety clearing nearly $6M (which was, y'know, significant at the time). The Patriots wanted him to take a pay cut down to $3M/yr - instead, he signed with Buffalo for $15M over 4. Which, yes, is more than $3M/yr, but remember the Patriots still had prorated money on Milloy, so $3M/yr to him is more than that cap-wise. And regardless, it's still less than $6M.

So in other words, you had a player who was cut by the Patriots because he was too expensive and the rest of the league agreeing.

That's why I'm saying a lot of this is media/fans hyping the players more than the actual teams. And I think that does happen on the Patriots more because so much of their success is schematic rather than player-driven.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that there aren't players who did do poorly elsewhere and were valued relatively high (Deion Branch comes to mind, as mentioned below) but I think with New England part of it is that there are a lot of players that get media hyped more than what the NFL considers their actual value.

Points: 0

#45 by takeleavebelieve // Dec 01, 2022 - 9:17pm

I think this effect is probably more common than we think, but it’s obscured by how few coaches actually last long enough to notice it. It’s also not as if the Pats never swing and miss on FAs themselves; for instance, Adalius Thomas was supposed to be the perfect fit for BB’s defense, and he did basically nothing as a Patriot. And the less said about Antonio Brown, the better. 

Points: 0

#35 by SandyRiver // Dec 01, 2022 - 4:13pm

Farther back in time, this was also true for the "Smurf" cadre of WRs during the Pats' first dynasty iteration.  Deion Branch went from record SB pass catcher and sort-of #1 to mediocrity at Seattle.  (And was somewhat improved when back in NE.)  David Patten had one good season in NO then faded away.  David Givens left NE and was barely seen again.  Only Troy Brown stayed with the Pats and had a nice HOVG career (at best).  

Points: 0

#38 by Pat // Dec 01, 2022 - 4:43pm

David Givens left NE and was barely seen again.

Givens's knee exploded with the Titans in week 10 (after just coming back from a different injury) and then required three different surgeries on that same knee over the next two years. He actually sued the Titans for mishandling the injury, although the case was dismissed. So I don't really think that's a good example, unless the Patriots could foresee "catastrophic knee injury."

Branch is, though. 

Points: 0

#48 by RickD // Dec 02, 2022 - 9:48am

Talib was just as good after leaving NE as he was in Foxboro.  I view him as a temporary rental, a la Revis (though obviously not at the same level).

Points: 1

#31 by takeleavebelieve // Dec 01, 2022 - 3:49pm

Jackson’s strength is man coverage, but the Chargers play primarily zone. It was a bad fit from day 1. 

Points: 1

#6 by ImNewAroundThe… // Dec 01, 2022 - 10:45am

Mccourty is a HOFr in the same way Eric Wright is. But less so. 

Points: 0

#7 by Chuckc // Dec 01, 2022 - 11:00am

Bobby Wagner is an "obvious Hall of Famer" and Patrick Wills doesn't even get a mention, even though he was just as good if not better?

Points: 2

#8 by theslothook // Dec 01, 2022 - 11:07am

I think Willis should be in the hall, but longevity is and should be a factor weighing in here

Points: 1

#9 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 01, 2022 - 11:29am

It hurts Willis's case when even his fans can't spell his name correctly. =)

Points: 0

#11 by laurin // Dec 01, 2022 - 11:56am

It seems like you missed that only active or recently retired players were listed, Willis retired in 2014 and was a semi-finalist twice and a finalist just this year

Points: 1

#29 by Kaepernicus // Dec 01, 2022 - 3:38pm

Willis is going to get in. 7 PB, DROY, and 5 AP1s will ensure that. Injuries killed his career too soon but his level of dominance while healthy is so impressive you could make arguments for him being in the top 5 for off ball LB peaks in NFL history. I personally think he was better than Kuechly, but it is close. I think Willis and Kuechly both had better peaks than Wagner. The question is when those guys get in rather than if. My favorite one to think about is Willis' teammate Navorro Bowman. Before that devastating knee injury in the NFCCG in 2013 he was on one of the craziest paces I have ever seen. I will die on the hill that he should have won the 2013 DPOY over Kuechly. Look at this numbers next to each other:

Bowman: 120 solo tackles, 6 FF, 5 Sacks, 8 PD, and 2 Int for 93 yards and 1 TD

Kuechly:  93 solo tackles, 0 FF, 2 Sacks, 7 PD, and 4 Int for 33 yards and 0 TDs

If you value PFF ratings it wasn't all that close there either. Bowman was only trumped by his teammate WIllis in 2013 with Kuechly behind both. That is the other side of my argument for Bowman. He did it while sharing the field with a future HOF player *at the same position. If you take the post season production into account Kuechly getting the nod over Bowman is even more absurd since Bowman accumulated 2 more sacks and FF in 3 playoff games that year. I think there is a good argument for prime Bowman/Willis being the greatest off ball LB duo in NFL history.

Points: 3

#34 by theslothook // Dec 01, 2022 - 4:12pm

I need to confess. I mixed the two up at times because Bowman was so freakin athletic in his own right. 

Points: 1

#42 by Kaepernicus // Dec 01, 2022 - 6:06pm

Willis was the speed/acceleration guy vs. Bowman as the power/agility guy. Bowman had pretty terrible combine numbers which caused him to fall in the draft, alongside some off the field issues which is a given with the Harbaugh 49ers. He had incredible instincts and was one of the best block shedders I have ever seen. They complimented each other perfectly. They were like a better version of Urlacher/Briggs at their peak with Willis playing Urlacher and Bowman playing Briggs. That era of NFC football was amazing. The defenses were completely insane. Having Bowman, Kuechly, Willis, and Wagner in the same conference made the playoffs a blood bath.

Points: 1

#46 by Chuckc // Dec 02, 2022 - 8:52am

Bowman's injury really does make me sad. His interception in the final game of 2013 regular season was one of the best defensive plays I have ever seen.

Points: 1

#14 by Raiderfan // Dec 01, 2022 - 11:59am

Insightful commentary and minimal snark.  Great job.

Points: 4

#21 by dmb // Dec 01, 2022 - 1:48pm

I love a good serving of Tanier Snark every now and then, but I do think that recently it's been getting laid on awfully thick too often. Agreed that this was a refreshing change of pace!

Points: 2

#15 by Theo // Dec 01, 2022 - 12:10pm

  • Cincinnati Bengals: 11 sneaks, 11 first downs (three touchdowns)

14 sneaks? Or 8 first downs? Or zero TDs? 

Points: 0

#17 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 01, 2022 - 12:47pm

First downs are compiled only from plays originating from the line of scrimmage. A first down shall be credited on each touchdown resulting from rushes or forward passes, regardless of the distance covered.

https://www.nflgsis.com/gsis/documentation/stadiumguides/guide_for_statisticians.pdf

Points: 2

#23 by mTrowbridge // Dec 01, 2022 - 2:21pm

Curious how Football Outsiders rates Devin Hester, particularly because of all his fumbles (41). Cordarelle Patterson only has 11 fumbles. Who really were the best kick/punt returners in NFL history?

Points: 0

#52 by ChrisS // Dec 02, 2022 - 2:45pm

Billy 'White Shoes' Johnson cause he had a cool nickname, popularized white cleats (this revolutionized the sport), and he did some stuff.

Points: 1

#24 by mTrowbridge // Dec 01, 2022 - 2:21pm

Curious how Football Outsiders rates Devin Hester, particularly because of all his fumbles (41). Cordarelle Patterson only has 11 fumbles. Who really were the best kick/punt returners in NFL history?

Points: 0

#27 by KnotMe // Dec 01, 2022 - 3:02pm

I think they did this in one of the shows and said Hester was the best kickoff returner and Patterson the best punt returner. 

Points: 0

#28 by Raiderfan // Dec 01, 2022 - 3:35pm

Well , I did not see the show, but I would still bet money they said the reverse.

Points: 3

#49 by RickD // Dec 02, 2022 - 9:51am

I think it was the other way around.  Patterson has only returned one punt in his career. 

Points: 0

#40 by MJK // Dec 01, 2022 - 5:36pm

McCourty is excellent, bet he wouldn’t be my first choice for an additional Patriot to enshrine. (I do agree with Mike that he’s ahead of Edelman). 
 

I think Rodney Harrison absolutely deserves to be in.  Then I would put Wilfork as the next priority, and *then* maybe McCourty (though he’s kind of tied with Hightower, in my mind, and I don’t think either of them get in). 
 

I’m leaving out all the obvious Pats HoFers, like Brady, Gronk, and Vinateri, and also the obvious HoFers who were short term Pats rentals (Moss, Revis, Seau, etc). 
 

Edit… I left out Mankins. I’d put him ahead of McCourty/Hightower, but behind Wilfork. 

Points: 0

#50 by RickD // Dec 02, 2022 - 10:01am

Full list, including obvious ones

Brady/Belichick/Vinatieri/Gronk: locks

Wilfork

Harrison

Hightower

Mankins

Edelman/Welker

Gilmore

DMac

Harrison's only hope is the Seniors Committee.  Hightower not only was the best LB on three Super Bowl-winning teams, he also made big plays in all three of the wins, including the stuff of Marshawn Lynch one play before the Butler interception, and a huge sack of Matt Ryan that put the Falcons out of field goal range in the big comeback.  Those of two of the biggest stories in recent Super Bowl history.  You can't tell the story of BradyPats 2.0 without Hightower playing a big role. 

Of the ones below Hightower, Mankins would look to have slim odds.  If Edelman and Welker were one player, he'd be a shoo-in.  But he isn't. Gilmore might get in with some more productive years - cannot overlook the DPOY award.  I honestly don't think DMac has any shot.  So few safeties get in, and McCourty isn't close to Ed Reed's level. He generally wasn't considered as elite as Reed, Polamalu, Thomas, Weddle, or Kam.  

 

Points: 0

#51 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 02, 2022 - 12:32pm

Vinatieri would be a lock were he not a kicker, and he'll have to overcome that bias. I think he should be in.

I also think if you held a gun to my head and told me I could have Tucker or Vinatieri, I'd take Tucker.

Points: 1

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