Posts by Adrian Nelson III

2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Joshua Perry

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Joshua Perry out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Joshua Perry has had a

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Joshua Perry out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Joshua Perry has had a fairly productive career. He assumed a starting linebacker role during his sophomore season in 2013, and since then #37 has started 37 games. He has put up 283 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and eight pass deflections over those three seasons. This past year was his best year when he put up 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and four pass deflections while playing inside and outside linebacker. He is well respected as a leader by both his teammates and his coaching staff.

Pros

Perry won’t wow you when you look at the tape, but he does present a skill set that can be very useful for a football team. Partially due to his size, 6’4″ and 254 lbs., Perry is very good at setting the edge and playing his gap well in the run game. He knows where he is supposed to go and makes sure that running backs can’t get outside of him. He forces them back towards help, and his strength makes it so that he can engage with offensive linemen without getting pushed around.

In the passing game, Perry has good instincts and is always looking to make a play, allowing him to be more than competent in a zone defense. This one play best summarizes what Perry can bring to a team in terms of coverage.

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Perry drops back initially, keeps his eyes in the backfield and diagnoses the screen pass. He is able to move laterally, avoid a would-be blocker, cut up down the field, and make a solid tackle on a good running back. These instincts and his ability to tackle will make him an asset to some team.

Cons

Although you can see Perry shed a block in the play above, it’s important to note that he did so against a wide receiver. When Perry gets matched up against offensive linemen and good blocking tight ends, he may not get pushed around, but he also doesn’t shed blocks very often. That means that while he will give others around him an opportunity to make a play, he’s not exhibiting much game changing talent.

Perry, who plays an aggressive and instinctual style of ball, has a tendency to play too aggressively, sometimes taking him out of plays. Here is an example from the same game where Perry bites on a fake and finds himself out of position.

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He should learn to avoid these obvious mistakes as he gains more experience, but the underlying tendency may always be there.

Lastly, Perry is below average in man coverage. He will need to be limited to zone defense and pass rushing on most occasions.

The Verdict

Overall, Perry is a solid backer that should have success depending on what his coaching staff asks him to do. It is still unclear whether he will be listed primarily as an inside or outside linebacker. It depends on who you ask. His limitations in coverage and his setting the edge in the run game makes him look more like an OLB. But his pass rush skills are a bit limited and his instincts would be a bigger asset at the ILB postion. Regardless, he is a good mid-round talent that should probably go sometime between the late second and the middle of the thir round.

Best Fit

A good fit for Perry would be the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are a team with good defensive players that would play around him and a great defensive coaching staff that could best utilize his skill set. In addition, they just lost a player who is very similar to Perry in Bruce Irvin. Irvin played the OLB role for Seattle and just signed a deal with the Oakland Raiders this off-season.

He had some bitter words for his ex-team, saying “I honestly felt if I stayed in [Seattle’s] system, I don’t think I would ever be the player I think I can be in this league, being a pass rusher. SAM outside linebacker is cool, but you can do your job the whole game at SAM linebacker and you have two tackles. I just want to be utilized more and get put in position more to make plays.”

Perry is a perfect player to fill this void. He does the dirty work and sets up his teammates. He is fine rushing or dropping back into coverage. Both parties will be fortunate if Perry falls to them.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Taylor Decker

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we look at into the offensive line. Today we look at Taylor Decker out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Taylor Decker was a cornerstone

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we look at into the offensive line. Today we look at Taylor Decker out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Taylor Decker was a cornerstone for the Ohio State offensive line during his time there. In his four years at the university, Decker started 42 consecutive games, 28 of which were at the left tackle spot. He became the full time starter his sophomore year and made 14 starts at right tackle, and moved to the other side of the line the following year and started 15 games. This past season he was voted a team captain, selected for the All-Big Ten team, and won the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year award.

Pros

Decker is a big body, even as far as offensive linemen go. He is 6’7″ and 310 lbs (for comparison, the average NFL lineman is around 6’5″). He has the size that you want, and he knows how to use it in order to overpower rushers. Often when you have big, tall offensive linemen, they don’t bend their knees enough, but when you look at the tape, Decker shows consistent bend in his knees.

He plays best against the run. Decker can get up into defenders, and has good hands which allows him to drive them, while also making it difficult for them to shed the block. He plays smart, and is not often fooled by opposing schemes or the moves.

Cons

One thing, you’ll inevitably see if you read up on Decker is that scouts love his long body, and the measurables just don’t seem to support that. Decker has an arm length of 33.75″ which just so happens to the NFL average for offensive linemen. And, given that Decker is a bit taller than average, his arms are shorter than you would hope. Maybe standing next to a 6’7″ behemoth in person makes you a little less objective. This isn’t a death sentence by any means, but it’s not ideal, and is something to keep an eye on moving forward.

Decker also struggles against defenders who consistently play with lower pad level. This is basically Physics 101: leverage is helpful, but his lack of athleticism hurts him here. It also leads to him being a bit slow when moving horizontally (he finished outside the top-15 in the three cone drill).

The Verdict

Although he played LT his last several years in school, Decker will most likely end up being switched to RT, where he is probably a better fit. Traditionally the LT is more of a pass blocker, and the right tackle is more of a run blocker. In addition to that, Decker probably does not have the skill set to go against a team’s best pass rusher unassisted for the majority of a game.

That being said, Decker has the skill set and size that will result in him being a reliable fixture on a team’s offensive line for the next several years. He is a late first round/early second round talent.

Best Fit

Tackles don’t often slip too far in the NFL Draft, for that reason I see Decker going late in the first round, and not falling to the top of the second round where many teams like the Browns, Chargers, 49ers, and Eagles could use his talents. Of the teams that will be picking at the end of the draft, the Green Bay Packers at pick number 27 make a lot of sense.

As you saw this past season, Aaron Rodgers needs a lot of offensive line help. The Packers could really afford to strengthen both their LT and RT spots, so getting a player like Decker who can play a bit of both would be a big plus for them. It would also help for Decker’s development to play with such a player like Rodgers. There are probably not many better spots for a rookie to land.

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An In-Depth Look At The “Struggles” Of Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck’s Success

At the surface, there is a legitimate case to be made for Matt Hasselbeck being the best quarterback on the Indianapolis Colts roster this season.

For starters, Hasselbeck sports a 2-0 record to Luck's 1-2 mark. In addition, Matt Hasselbeck has a 77.2 QBR, and is averaging 247.5 yards per game, 1.5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and

At the surface, there is a legitimate case to be made for Matt Hasselbeck being the best quarterback on the Indianapolis Colts roster this season.

For starters, Hasselbeck sports a 2-0 record to Luck’s 1-2 mark. In addition, Matt Hasselbeck has a 77.2 QBR, and is averaging 247.5 yards per game, 1.5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 63.2% completion rate. Luck, so far, has a 30.9 QBR to go along with 251 yards per game, 1.7 touchdowns, 2.3 interceptions, and 56% completion.

The most striking of these statistics are QBR, completion percentage, and turnovers. These three stats. which often have a strong correlation to winning, are all heavily in favor of Hasselbeck.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the numbers, though, to see if there is any explanation for the difference in play? Let’s look at the opponents that Luck has played and his performance in each game.

Game Starting QB Colt QBR Colt Comp % Colt INT Opp. Avg QBR Opp. Avg. Comp % Opp. Avg INT per game
Wk 1 v. BUF Andrew Luck 38.7 53.1 2 42.3 58.5 1.4
Wk 2 v. NYJ Andrew Luck 20.0 56.8 3 27.7 51.1 1.2
Wk 3 v. TEN Andrew Luck 37.1 60.0 2 52.2 55.2 1
Wk 4 v. JAC Matt Hasselbeck 63.7 63.8 0 60.0 67.8 .2
Wk 5 v. HOU Matt Hasselbeck 92.1 62.1 0 60.9 58.0 .4

*denotes better than opponent average

When looking at how Luck and Hasselbeck performed in their individual games, Hasselbeck still comes out ahead, especially following an extremely impressive showing on the road against Houston in Week 5.

Yet, while Hasselbeck looks good, it does provide a bit of context as to why Luck may have struggled: Luck has faced more impressive teams defensively. One takeaway is that, while not great, Luck has not been very far from average. This isn’t something to write home about for someone who was considered a top five quarterback entering this year, but it should be enough to keep people from hitting the panic button.

These numbers also start to make even more sense when you look at how the pass blocking of the Colts has fared over the weeks.

Week Starting QB Pro Football Focus Pass Blocking Grade
Wk 1 Andrew Luck -0.5
Wk 2 Andrew Luck -3.1
Wk 3 Andrew Luck -11.1
Wk 4 Matt Hasselbeck 5.5
Wk 5 Matt Hasselbeck 0.6

Pro Football Focus grades each play of a football game based on the impact that players had on the game. Their grades support the conclusion that Andrew Luck has had some pretty bad protection these first few games, especially in comparison to Hasselbeck. With the exception of the game against the Tennessee Titans, it hasn’t been terrible, but it’s been below average. Hasselbeck has had solid to good protection in both of his two starts.

So what does this all mean? It means that we need to be patient with Andrew Luck. Three games is by no means a good sample size and a 40-year old Matt Hasselbeck is probably not the savior of the Colts this season.

Luck has faced some good defenses, hasn’t gotten much help from his protection and the result has been average play. Hasselbeck surely has played well these last few weeks, but some of that credit goes to those playing around him and who he’s playing against.

The Colts’ next four opponents are the Patriots, Saints, Panthers, and Broncos. With Andrew Luck healthy, it will be a good test to see if he is able to produce against some other defenses that have had success this year.

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An NFL Opening Night Primer

Some sports fans believe that nothing is sweeter than the day in late March/early April when baseball has it's Opening day. Unfortunately, they're wrong. 

Baseball had its day. Now football is king, and there is no greater feeling than Opening Night in the NFL which is upcoming this Thursday.

The NFL season starting on a Thursday is actually

Some sports fans believe that nothing is sweeter than the day in late March/early April when baseball has it’s Opening day. Unfortunately, they’re wrong. 

Baseball had its day. Now football is king, and there is no greater feeling than Opening Night in the NFL which is upcoming this Thursday.

The NFL season starting on a Thursday is actually a fairly new idea. The first official NFL kickoff game was introduced in 2002. It featured the San Francisco 49ers playing at the New York Giants and it was supposed to be a boost to the New York area, given that, as a country, we were still in the first year of grieving following 9/11.

2004 was the first year to feature the defending Super Bowl champions in the season’s first game. In the time since 2004, defending champions are 9-2 in NFL kickoff games.

Year Defending Champ Score Opponent Score
2014 Seattle Seahawks 36 Green Bay Packers 16
2013 Baltimore Ravens 27 Denver Broncos 49
2012 New York Giants 17 Dallas Cowboys 24
2011 Green Bay Packers 42 New Orleans Saints 34
2010 New Orleans Saints 14 Minnesota Vikings 9
2009 Pittsburgh Steelers 13 Tennessee Titans 10
2008 New York Giants 16 Washington Redskins 7
2007 Indianapolis Colts 41 New Orleans Saints 10
2006 Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Miami Dolphins 17
2005 New England Patriots 30 Oakland Raiders 20
2004 New England Patriots 27 Indianapolis Colts 24

So what does that mean for tomorrow’s kickoff game between the defending champion New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers? If you’re a betting man, it means that you should take the Pats at home this week.

Given the success of defending champs, the energy that will inevitably be in the stadium and the massive chip on Tom Brady‘s shoulder, it’s probably not a bad bet.

The game should be a high-scoring affair. Both the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are impressive offensive teams, but both will be without their number-one option at running back which should open up the offense even more.

While Brandon Bolden and DeAngelo Williams are okay options, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger are perennial Pro Bowlers who will determine their teams’ fates on Thursday.

Neither team lacks in the defensive department, but neither sport an embarrassment of riches either. The defenses should put up a fight, but it will be tough to stay strong for the full game.

Whether the game is high scoring or not, it really won’t matter for most of us fans. The real deal is no more 24/7 deflategate coverage, no more OTAs, and no more NFL filler.

Nothing can really compare to the joy created by the kickoff of the NFL season. So grab some popcorn and enjoy the season; football is back!

Orlando Jorge Ramirez - USA TODAY Sports

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Be Careful What You Wish For, Jay Gruden

Every football fan, and even some who aren't, must be aware of the dysfunction that is the Washington D.C. football franchise. Just recently, the Redskins added to their laundry list of drama by promoting Kirk Cousins to starting QB for the 2015 season and by relegating their once savior, QB

Every football fan, and even some who aren’t, must be aware of the dysfunction that is the Washington D.C. football franchise. Just recently, the Redskins added to their laundry list of drama by promoting Kirk Cousins to starting QB for the 2015 season and by relegating their once savior, QB Robert Griffin III, to the bench.

While in the moment the move seems to have not split the locker room, the move does seem to have split the fan base. Many Skins fans are completely ready to set up shop in Camp Kirk, announce RGIII DOA for the 2015 season and move on to a new face that could possibly be the answer at quarterback.

Others in Camp Griffin recognize his talent and the circumstances he has faced with a mediocre offensive line and hesitate to give up on the man who set the league on fire in his rookie season.

For now, we can only speculate on what the result of this move will be, but I suspect, that as with most things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. In the short term, Kirk Cousins may in fact be a better choice for the Redskins at quarterback; he seems to have grasped Gruden’s system more quicker and more successfully than Griffin.

However, Cousins was a 4th round pick for a reason. He can be a solid piece on a good team, but without a lot of help, his low to middle ceiling will not likely ever lead Washington to the promise land, especially when the team currently lacks top talent at many key positions.

Griffin, on the other hand, is probably not done. After he and the Skins inevitably part ways, I can very easily see him being relatively successful in a different scheme that capitalizes more off of his unique and impressive skill set.

Nonetheless, his fundamental deficiencies as a quarterback and the multitude of injuries he has faced will probably cause him to fall short of the high ceiling anticipated when coming into the league.

With all that said, I’m neither a wizard nor an oracle and I certainly don’t have all the answers. All we can do is look from today and see whether Jay Gruden seems to be making a smart move or not.

And when you look at the numbers they are anything but conclusive.

Player Games Played QBR Pass Attempts per Turnover
Robert Griffin II 2012: 15
2013: 13
2014: 9
2012: 75.6
2013: 42.2
2014: 33.5
2012: 49.1
2013: 25.3
2014: 19.5
Kirk Cousins 2012: 3
2013: 5
2014: 6
2012: 65.4
2013: 25.7
2014: 46.5
2012: 12
2013: 15.5
2014: 18.5
Colt McCoy 2014: 5 2014: 46.9 2014: 18.3

I didn’t pick these two stats to prove my point; I chose them because when I think about quarterback play these are two of the stats that I think matter most when looking at success. QBR looks at how well the QB played overall. This includes turnovers, touchdowns, yards gained, and the situations under which all of these are done. Besides that, I consider turnovers by themselves to be the crucial stat.

When looking at QBR, RGIII outperformed Cousins and McCoy in 2012 and 2013. In 2014 he took a major step back, there is no denying that. However, when you consider the injury he faced early in the season which stunted his development in a system that he was less suited for than the other quarterbacks the difference can almost be wholly explained away. When you step back and look at the whole picture by focusing solely on career QBR, RGIII has the edge.

When looking at turnovers, RGIII has a decisive edge and one of the worst things a QB can do is turn over the ball. Although RGIII appears to have become more careless with the football as the years progress, he has done extremely well in this area over the course of his career, compared to the likes of Kirk Cousins.

Considering that the Redskins want to be a run heavy team anyway this year, it will be even more crucial than ever for the Skins QB to avoid turnovers as they will have less opportunities to make up for these costly mistakes.

These two stats give just a taste of the total discussion surrounding the Redskins’ QB controversy. But, they do at least demonstrate that Skins fans who believe that Gruden is making the best decision for the team may need to wait a little bit longer before declaring that as fact.

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Is There An Answer To The 3-4 vs. 4-3 Debate?

As we get closer to the start of the regular season, the debates begin to multiply. Which rookie QB will have the best season? Who would win in a fight between J.J. Watt and Gronk? What the hell is going to happen with Tom Brady?! But there is one debate that seems to have been going on

As we get closer to the start of the regular season, the debates begin to multiply. Which rookie QB will have the best season? Who would win in a fight between J.J. Watt and Gronk? What the hell is going to happen with Tom Brady?! But there is one debate that seems to have been going on for decades, and I’m not talking about the Deflategate hearing. I’m talking real defense. Because in the NFL, there are two main base defenses: the 4-3 and 3-4. 

The 4-3 is the older defense of the two and is more thought of as the standard. It consists of four defensive linemen and three linebackers. In the 3-4 there are three defensive linemen and four linebackers.

Now, besides just the differences in number of players at the positions, the two base defenses differ in their purposes, strengths and weaknesses. Although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about the two, I am by no means an expert, nor do I claim to be. However, in a nutshell, the two base defense differ in the way that they attempt to apply pressure.

In a 4-3 defense, pressure is mainly created from the front four. One tackle occupies two blockers, and the rest of the line get one-on-one match-ups. Linebackers do their fair share of blitzing, but their main responsibility is stopping the run and guarding against the pass.

In a 3-4 defense, the pressure is mainly created from the backers. The job of the defensive line is to occupy gaps, and occupy multiple offensive linemen. The outside linebackers in a 3-4 have a much greater pass rushing responsibility, and the fact that there are two middle linebackers allows for a lot of creative blitzes and coverages.

Now that Football 101 is over, it’s time to address a question that has always existed: which base defense is best? For a long time most NFL minds thought that the 4-3 was the way to go. Only in the mid 2000s did the 3-4 start to become as popular as it is.

A lot of credit for popularizing the 3-4 is most likely due to the success the Pittsburgh Steelers have had over the years they have utilized it. As of this year, there are 17 NFL teams that operate out of a 3-4 base defense, and only 15 that operate out of a 4-3.

When comparing the Pro Football Focus defensive rankings for teams that ran the 4-3 v. the 3-4, a few interesting things pop up. Looking at the overall rankings, the difference between the median 3-4 team and 4-3 was .5, for run defense it was 3.5, for pass defense 1.3 and pass coverage -4.4.

Let’s ignore pass coverage for now, because that is more dependent on the defensive backs than the set-up of the front seven. It seems to be that 3-4 teams do better when it comes to defensive line performance. But “better” is really a .5 or a 3.5 difference.

To do this, I used a technique called bootstrapping. Basically what it does is for a given data set, it randomly assigns the labels of 3-4 and 4-3 to the Pro Football Focus rankings to see what percentage of the time were the results as extreme as the actual. For overall it occurred about 40% of the time, for run defense it was 18% and for pass rush it was 29%.

None of the numbers are really low enough to conclude anything for sure. They tend to suggest that 3-4  base do a better job of stopping the run and rushing the passer, but it could have just been a bit of a lucky year. One reason why the link between base defense and performance is not very strong is that teams just don’t use it that much.

We may never get an exact answer to the question, because there may not be one. Teams can succeed in either base defense. It most likely comes to coaches and the players themselves. Still, you can bet that if a definitive answer ever does rise, that half of the NFL’s teams will be making the switch, ASAP.

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Which Skill Positions Should You Pay Attention to During the 2015 NFL Preseason?

During Week 3 of the NFL preseason last year, Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns notched 113 receiving yards and one touchdown on seven catches. In Week 1 of the NFL regular season, this same unknown wideout put up 110 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Now, if you were crazy

During Week 3 of the NFL preseason last year, Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns notched 113 receiving yards and one touchdown on seven catches. In Week 1 of the NFL regular season, this same unknown wideout put up 110 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Now, if you were crazy enough to draft this guy on your fantasy team and start him, you might have thought you were a psychic. However, if you look at his preseason average of 16.6 yards per catch, you may not have been all that surprised. Using this little nugget of preseason info, although Hurns was a Jaguar, a rookie, an unknown, unheralded, and undrafted receiver, you may have realized that, in the words of the the very eloquent Stephen A. Smith, “this kid is no scrub.”

However, it’s more than fair to push back a little here and question the validity of using preseason numbers to project regular season performance. I mean, there are a multitude of reasons why using preseason numbers to extrapolate regular season play should have very little efficacy.

For one, the sample size is small. The already-small sample size of a 16 game NFL season is being cut by 75%. Then, those minutes are being spread out over nearly twice the regular number of players that normally see minutes.

Additionally, the competition in preseason not at a level equal to that of the NFL regular season. For the most part, it’s backups playing against backups. And while someone may perform well against backups, it may be tougher for them to contribute on the same level when facing first stringers play after play.

Finally, preseason offenses and defenses look a lot different than regular season offenses and defenses, as teams try to disguise their plans for the upcoming season. Playing with inferior talent may hinder the performances of not only inexperienced players but also veterans attempting to hone their craft. For those that are playing way over their heads, Casey Printers once said, it’s tough to make chicken salad out of chicken s***.

Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

But rather than just hypothesize, let’s look at what the numbers have to say. Statistics aren’t that readily available for the preseason, so I just looked at one simple statistic for the skill positions of quarterback, running back, and pass catcher.

For quarterbacks I looked at players in 2014 who played at least four regular season games, and averaged at least 10 attempts per preseason game and 15 attempts per regular season. I compared passer ratings between the preseason and regular season.

For running backs playing at minimum four games, with five carries per game in the regular and post season, I looked at yards per carry

For receivers I looked at yards per catch for those playing at least four regular season games and one reception per preseason and regular season game.

Below are the strengths of the correlations between  the regular and preseason statistics compared:

Position Correlation (0 to 1)
Quarterback .01
Running Back .11
Pass Catcher .17

So the grand finale is that the preseason is not very predictive, but really we already knew that. In fact, some of the correlations are higher than what I would have originally thought. For pass catchers, 17% of the difference between pass catchers in regular season yards per catch performance can be attributed to preseason performance. Obviously not a lot, but it’s something.

It at least tells us that when you’re watching a preseason game and you want to pay attention to one skill position, pay attention to the wideouts. Although the quarterbacks will always be the most talked about of the preseason, basically none of what they do in those 3 weeks will predict how they will perform in the next 16.

Although Allen Hurns did cool off, he still had a solid season, especially given his lowly NFL beginnings. He caught about 50 balls for nearly 700 yards and six touchdowns. Paying attention to the standout wide receivers in this years preseason could pay dividends.

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