ACC Risers and Fallers : The Half Way Point

ACC RIsers and Fallers
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With the college football regular season halfway over, let take a look at the guys I have seen shooting up boards, along with the guys dropping to the depth of the draft class. The ACC has been weird, to say the least this year. It makes sense that there are so many players with changing draft stock. Let’s get into some ACC Risers and Fallers :

ACC Risers:

Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt

While I am by no means a huge Kenny Pickett guy. However, he has played better than a lot of the guys who were poised to take the QB1 mantel. Pickett is a decent athlete and has a good arm, but the best part of his game is his IQ. Pickett has read the field very well this year and it’s definitely improved his game as a whole.

Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

First of all, Yes I know they aren’t in the ACC. Secondly, I know he has been touted as a top prospect. However, Kyle Hamilton looks like the second-best player in the draft this year. He has been playing out of his mind and is clearly a top 5 player in the nation. He is a ballhawk, great when played in the box, and has prototype size.

Zay Flowers, WR, BC

Zay Flowers should legally change his name to Wide Open. Without Phil Jurkovec Flowers is still always open, he just hasn’t caught the ball as much. Flowers is being held back by subpar QB play but his route running and speed in and out of breaks is unmatched.

ACC Fallers:

Sam Howell, QB, UNC

Sam Howell has been, how do I say this nicely? Bad. Yes, that was nicely. He has lost so much zip on the ball when he throws it, it even looks like he is seeing the field slower. It just is not good, I had high hopes for Howell this season he just hasn’t taken the next step.

Jarrett Patterson, IOL, Notre Dame

Another guy I thought would take a step up, and yet again, he took a step back. He is getting thrown around inside, it’s been ugly. Patterson has all the traits and all the potential to be great, it just hasn been good. Hopefully he gets it back to normal, but it isn’t looking good for Patterson.

Can they turn it around?

Well, I will be checking back in on these guys in a few weeks. Hopefully, the risers continue and the fallers flip it around. It is a long season and a longer draft process. Let’s get ready to ride it out with these ACC Risers and Fallers.

Atlanta Falcons Q1 Review: Defensive Line

Falcons Defensive Line
Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With the Atlanta Falcons in a bye week, I am taking a moment to review the performance of each position group so far. I’ve already covered quarterback, the offensive line, and the skill position players. Today I’m turning my attention to the other side of the ball, starting with the defensive line.

Before I dive into player-specific analysis, I want to share a few team defensive statistics that will set the table for this article and the upcoming articles on the linebackers and defensive backs.

Team Total Defense Stats

Atlanta Falcons Defensive Production per Pro Football Reference


Defensive Advanced Metrics

Advanced Defensive Metrics per rbsdm.com

As you can see, the Falcons haven’t been a particularly efficient defense. The raw yardage totals are better than they’ve been in years. However, raw production statistics can hide significant deficiencies. Instead, if you look at DVOA, EPA, or Success Rate, it becomes crystal clear that this defense hasn’t been overly effective.

The 2020 Atlanta Falcons defense set the bar so low it would be near impossible to perform worse. Having that as a reference point, the 2021 squad has actually been an improvement. Dean Pees is a legendary defensive coordinator. The feeling is it will only be a matter of time before Atlanta has a respectable defensive unit. There have been brief flashes, but this group is pieced together with primarily journeymen and late-round draft picks. Pees is a great coach, but he’s not a magician.

The Falcons defensive line is probably the weakest defensive group for the Atlanta Falcons. Since the departure of John Abraham, Atlanta has failed to find an edge rusher to fill his shoes. Grady Jarrett is a superstar, but there is only so much he can do on his own. It hasn’t been a complete disaster, but this isn’t anything approaching a fearsome defensive line. Let’s take a look at the pass-rushing statistics (per PFF) of every lineman (defined as IDL/Edge) that’s collected a QB pressure in 2021.

2021 Falcons Defensive Line Pass Rushing Stats

Atlanta Falcons Pass Rusher Stats per Pro Football Focus

Dante Fowler Jr. Flourishes After Flop

Fowler signed a massive $15 million per year contract with the Falcons in 2020. As most big-money free agents tend to do in Atlanta, he fell flat on his face. Lingering injuries sapped his athleticism and adjusting to life without Aaron Donald proved to be a challenge Fowler couldn’t overcome. Ultimately he earned $5 million for each of his three sacks, falling grossly short of what Thomas Dimitroff envisioned when he was signed.

The newly hired Terry Fontenot wasted no time renegotiating that albatross of a contract. He voided the 2022 season and converted most of Fowler’s 2021 contract to incentives tied to his sack production. It gave the cash-strapped Falcons much-needed cap relief. It also provided Fowler the means to earn back his money on the way to another shot at free agency. Everyone wins.

Fowler is Incentivized

Fowler appears to be making the most of this opportunity so far this season. He’s easily been the best of a bad group of pass rushers in Atlanta. He hasn’t been uber-productive, but he’s already totaled a pair of sacks and forced fumbles through five games. Per PFF, his pass-rush win rate (one of the best indicators of value added from pass rushers) indicated he hasn’t been particularly efficient. Of players with at least 60 pass-rush snaps, he ranks 70th in the NFL with a 14.1% win rate. His 13 total pressures are the 54th most for qualifying defensive linemen.

These aren’t particularly inspiring statistics, but he’s made timely plays as a pass rusher and run defender. His fourth-quarter sack of Daniel Jones set the Falcons up for their first win of the season. The difference in his performance between last year and this year is night and day. He isn’t dominant, but he is a disruptive force if opposing teams don’t account for him. That’s not the output we hoped for when he arrived in Atlanta, but, as with everything Falcons this year, we are looking for progress, not perfection.

Fowler has been surprisingly effective against the run, leading the Falcons defensive line with nine tackles with an average depth of tackle of 1.9 yards. He plays out of control at times and finds himself on the ground more often than he should, but his burst is clearly on a different level than the other edge defenders on the roster. Each sack he notches this season complicated the salary cap for the team in 2022, but it’s worth it knowing the defense has a chance to get off the field on third down. His improved play and how the team approaches him in the offseason will be a compelling storyline to track this year.

Grady Jarrett Following in His Father’s Footsteps

Much like there must always be a Stark in Winterfell, the Falcons must always have an elite defensive talent wasting away on a bad team. Jesse Tuggle held that honor for over a decade, and now, twenty years later, his son has assumed the mantle. Jarrett has earned universal respect from fans and pundits alike, but Atlanta has never been able to surround him with enough support to capitalize on his immense potential. Jarrett continues to toil away, playing at an elite level even if his raw production isn’t always reflective of his ability.

Grady isn’t quite as dominant as he’s been over the last few years in production and advanced metrics. In 2020, he had a pass rush win rate of 15.2% and averaged roughly 3.5 pressures per game. So far this season, he’s posted a win rate of 12.3% and is averaging 2.2 pressures a game. This dip isn’t a sign of declining play. Turn on the tape, and his skill is evident. However, with no other real threats playing next to him, teams are free to focus solely on him. As good as Grady is, there is no way for him to defeat an offense single-handedly.

Despite the singular focus from offensive coordinators, Grady still manages to make his presence know. He’s notched a sack and ties Fowler for the most tackles along the line. His average depth of tackle is 2.6 yards, comparable to the other elite defensive tackles in the NFL. He’s played an outsized role in limiting Daniel Jones and the Giants’ offense in week 3, paving the way for the Falcons to grab their first win.

The Falcons aren’t likely to find a clear solution to their pass rush problems this season, but if Atlanta makes any progress, it will start with Jarrett’s game-wrecking ability inside. Let’s all hope Fontenot finds ways to help him while he’s still here.

Ogundeji Has Earned More Playing Time on the Falcons Defensive Line

The Falcons drafted Adetokunbo Ogundeji late in the 2021 draft. At best, most expected him to be a deep reserve, with a redshirt season as a healthy scratch as his most likely role with the team. However, he flashed enough potential in the preseason to earn his way onto the active roster in week one and has played in every game since. He’s had a limited role, playing behind Fowler and Means, but has been the go-to player as the third man in the rotation.

He’s taken advantage of his opportunities, earning a team-high 16.7% pass rush win rate and notching a sack. Despite the small sample size, he’s outplayed every edge rusher aside from Fowler, and I suspect we’ll see his usage get ramped up as we move further into the year.

He isn’t overly athletic, but his length and strength set him apart from the other edge defenders on the roster. His inexperience shows at times, but the only way to get him up to speed is to give him snaps. His efficiency ratings are likely to drop with higher usage, but the disparity between him and Steven Means is apparent. At this point, limiting his snaps limits the defense. Give the rook the extra time!

The Leftovers

The rest of this defensive unit ranges from below-average to god-awful. I do my best to avoid disparaging our players too much, but it isn’t easy to find many positives to mention. Steven Means is likely the best of the rest, despite leading the edge defenders in pass-rushing snaps while only registering seven pressures. His 7.8% pass rush win rate is, to put it politely, sub-optimal. He’s been up and down in the run game, alternating between blowing his run fits entirely and dragging ball carriers down at the line of scrimmage.

Confusingly, Dean Pees continues to drop him into coverage an excessive amount of time, where he is a complete liability. Means is a consummate professional, but he is better as a rotational piece and special teams ace. The sooner the Falcons can move away from using him as a starter, the better.

From Bad to Worse for the Falcons Defensive Line

Johnathan Bullard and Ta’Quon Graham round out the primary rotational players. Neither has proven to be huge liabilities, but neither is really moving the needle either. Graham only found his way to the field over the last couple of weeks, so there is a chance he develops into more of a threat as time passes. Still, Bullard and Graham have a total of nine tackles and three QB pressures so far. It’s reasonable to assume a massive leap from either isn’t particularly likely this season.

Tyeler Davison, the other “starter” along the interior, is easily the most replaceable player on the roster. He’s routinely blow off the line against the run and has been utterly invisible as a pass rusher. His 47.3 run defense grade is the lowest among players on the Falcons defensive line.With a 1.2% pass rush win rate, they may be better off setting up a strong box fan in his place. Maybe the breeze would dry out the opposing QB’s eyes.

Unmet Expectations

Marlon Davidson and John Cominsky are two players Falcons fans expected more from this season. Cominsky has been a healthy scratch lately, while Davidson has been hampered with injury most of the season. There is an argument that Cominsky has been miscast as a nose tackle, but if the coaches repeatedly choose to play Johnathan Bullard over Cominsky every week, that has to carry some weight.

For Marlon, this is the second consecutive season that injuries have kept him from seeing the field. It’s too early to write him off as an injury bust, but he has yet to live up to the pedigree we were sold on when he was drafted in the second round.

That leaves one final player to mention, and I saved him for last because he’s one of my favorite Falcons. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner initially won me over with excellent special teams play. Since, he’s found ways to be productive as a pass rusher when given opportunities. He is tied with Dante Fowler for the most sacks on the team, despite only seeing a quarter of the pass-rushing snaps. Am I here to convince you JTM is a world-class player that just needs a shot? No, I’m not delusional.

However, he has always found his way into the backfield when given opportunities. The other players ahead of him aren’t exactly DPOY candidates. I hardly see the harm in giving him more opportunities. It’s a homer stance for me, but I love an underdog who’s shown he’ll put in the dirty work. Give the kid a shot.

Playing (and Praying) for 2022

This group of defensive linemen is the weak link on a bad defense. There isn’t much to work with on this roster despite Dean Pees’ ability to scheme his teams into pressure. Grady Jarrett and Dante Fowler are doing yeoman’s work, but unless one of the young players on the roster can emerge as a complementary piece, this unit will be a constant liability this year. Good defenses are excellent in coverage or rushing the passer; great defenses can do both. Atlanta can’t do either effectively. We knew this group would be a work in progress, but we haven’t witnessed much forward motion aside from minimal gains.

My biggest fear isn’t the lack of pass rush either. The Falcons have one of the highest rushing success rates allowed this season. It hasn’t been the reason for a loss yet, but if a team decides to lean on their run game, I am confident the Falcons defensive line will struggle to contain it. This team needs to add size, power, and explosiveness to its defensive front. Depending on undersized linebackers to perform well when the defensive interior can’t control the line of scrimmage is futile. Expecting a shaky secondary to cover with zero pass rush support is a recipe for disaster.

Luckily, aside from the Bills, Bucs, and Cowboys, the Falcons don’t have any dominant offenses on the upcoming schedule. Hopefully, the coaches can use this season to build up some young depth before Fontenot invests heavily in rebuilding an incredibly sub-par unit.

NFL Power Rankings: Week 7

NFL Power rankings Week 7
Emilee Chinn, Getty Images

The NFL Power Rankings Week 7 are seeing quite a bit of movement. Basement teams are shuffling around, the top 10 is shuffling around, and we even have a new No. 1 this week! The Detroit Lions had the biggest fall this week all the way down to the bottom spot in the NFL. The Las Vegas Raiders saw the biggest climb after overcoming their head coach drama to put away the struggling Broncos.

32. Detroit Lions (0-6)

Last Week: 29

The bottom fell out. The Detroit Lions are the last winless team in the NFL and they got there in absolutely embarrassing fashion this week. They were completely shut out in their own home stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals. That is, until the Bengals started playing prevent defense and allowed the Lions to march down the field and put 11 garbage time points up against their backups. Dan Campbell is no longer crying for his players. Now he’s just disappointed in them. That hurts worse, and that’s why they’re now at the bottom of the NFL Power Rankings.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5)

Last week: 32

The Jacksonville Jaguars finally snapped their 20-game losing streak. It figures it would happen in London, their second home, where they’ve played more than any other team. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still worried about how this locker room feels about Urban Meyer. But, for this week, they got the job done and earned a bit of credit on the NFL Power Rankings.

30. Houston Texans (1-5)

Last Week: 31

Trust me, I don’t feel good elevating the Houston Texans a spot after being blown out 31-3 by a team that came in with the same record as them. Unfortunately, that’s how things go sometimes when you’re down this deep in the Power Rankings. Sometimes you get dropped for looking awful, and sometimes the ineptitude of your peers makes you look slightly better.

29. Miami Dolphins (1-5)

Last Week: 27

Currently, I don’t believe the Miami Dolphins are a fundamentally more flawed team than the Jacksonville Jaguars. Miami’s quarterback situation is a mess and their defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed. But, Brian Flores still has to be a better coach than Urban Meyer, right? Flores’ fall from grace has been spectacular. But, at least his players still respect him. I think.

28. New York Giants (1-5)

Last Week: 28

Hey. They had a lead through the end of the first quarter. That’s progress right? Nevermind the fact that they let the Rams score 38 unanswered points after a pretty good start. I’m joking, of course. They’ve been absolutely spanked both of the last two weeks. You thought they were making progress when they upset the Saints after two close losses. But, it’s starting to feel a bit hopeless in Jersey.

27. New York Jets (1-4)

Last Week: 30

Sometimes one of the best things you can do is nothing. That’s what the Jets did this week on their bye week. In the process, they capitalized on an opportunity to not embarrass themselves, as they’ve done quite a few times this season. Luckily for them, a bunch of their peers on this end of the NFL Power Rankings had really bad weeks. So, the Jets end up with a large climb due to simply not looking worse than teams like the Dolphins, Texans, and Lions.

26. Atlanta Falcons (2-3)

Last Week: 26

The Falcons don’t get quite as lucky as the Jets on their bye week. Unfortunately for them, nobody in their area of the Power Rankings embarrassed themselves as badly as the teams in the bottom five. They’ll have an opportunity to get back to .500 against the lowly Dolphins next week, but for now they stay put.

25. Washington Football Team (2-4)

Last Week: 25

That was an admirable performance by Washington. They bullied Patrick Mahomes and went into halftime with a lead. Unfortunately, Mahomes decided to stand up for himself. Washington allowed the Chiefs to score three touchdowns on three drives after a missed field goal. Taylor Heinicke completed the meltdown with an interception thrown late in the fourth quarter. The game was probably already out of hand at that point, but that sealed it.

24. Philadelphia Eagles (2-4)

Last Week: 23

For a brief time, the Eagles turned a stinker of a Thursday Night Football game into a briefly watchable affair. They weren’t able to finish out the comeback due to a completely dead looking defense on the Buccaneers’ final drive. But, Jalen Hurts looked great on those final three drives.

23. Indianapolis Colts (2-4)

Last Week: 24

After nearly upsetting the Ravens last week, the Colts showed they’re still a dangerous team this week. They did it with a 31-3 drubbing of the struggling Houston Texans. Running back Jonathan Taylor exploded for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He was matched by Carson Wentz in the air, who had a very efficient night. When the Colts play like this, it makes you think they could do something exciting. The problem is, games like this have been few and far between in Indy this year. 

22. Denver Broncos (3-3)

Last Week: 19

RIP to that much talked about 3-0 start. The Broncos have gone from one of the most hyped teams in NFL Power Rankings to a “bad” team. In theory, they had a devastated Raiders team delivered, like lambs, to the slaughter. In reality, the Broncos were completely outclassed by a far more talented Raiders team that looked motivated to overcome their coaching woes.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3)

Last Week: 22

I can’t say I’m exactly impressed after the Steelers ground out wins against a hilariously overrated Broncos team and the Geno Smith Seahawks. But, a win is a win, no matter how ugly. And boy, was that an ugly win. The Steelers subjected America to an overtime nobody wanted. They pulled it off in the end, but this Steelers team still has way more questions than answers.

20. New England Patriots (2-4)

Last Week: 20

You have to give it to the Patriots: They played the Cowboys much closer than any other team has since Week 1 when Tom Brady beat them. It seems like ol’ Bill Belichick is inching this team closer and closer to contention every week. But, they had a tough task against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys this week. Still, they had a lead late and almost broke it in overtime. Patriots fans have to feel like they’re right there.

19. Chicago Bears (3-3)

Last Week: 18

As a fan of a team that has been owned by a hall of fame quarterback for the last decade or so, I feel for Bears fans. They won’t stop hearing “I still own you!” all week and possibly all year. They seem like they’re good enough to turn their season around and make the playoffs. But, they did this one to themselves. They’re going to have to get out of their own way if they want to play with the big boys.

18. Las Vegas Raiders (4-2)

Last Week: 21

I did not see that coming. Last week, the Bears were absolutely mauled by the Chicago Bears in the midst of the Jon Gruden fiasco. This week, they managed to put the drama behind them and play mostly flawless football en route to a huge win. It proved they are not pretenders of the same kind as the Broncos. Was it real, or was it an emotional reaction to their awful week? Their next three games are against the Eagles, Giants, and Chiefs. So, they could easily work their way back into the top 14 if they take advantage.

17. Seattle Seahawks (2-4)

Last Week: 15

Thank God Russell Wilson is coming back eventually. They aren’t going to do much winning with Geno Smith at quarterback. He almost brought them back at the end, but it was clearly a struggle to get there. Then, he fumbled the ball away at the critical moment. Just like the interception last week. Is this what Jets fans had to deal with? Poor suckers.

16. San Francisco 49ers (2-3)

Last Week: 17

The 49ers are probably happy that the Seattle Seahawks fell just short of a victory this week. The season is still early, so you could easily see their 2-3 start flip to 4-3 with games against the Colts and Bears coming up. Then again, they could easily plummet in the power rankings if they fail to win those games.

15. New Orleans Saints (3-2)

Last Week: 16

The New Orleans Saints also benefit from Geno Smith’s ineptitude on their bye week. Then again, this is two positive results in a row for the Saints. That seems pretty unsustainable considering their run of form this year. Is that a bad omen for their matchup with the Seattle Seahawks this coming week?

14. Carolina Panthers (3-3)

Last Week: 12

Broncos fans are probably looking at this list thinking I’m an idiot for putting them so low and the Panthers, who also blew a 3-0 start, still in playoff range. Rest assured, if the Panthers put up another bad performance next week, they will be plummeting down these Power Rankings. The difference, however, is the Broncos dominated three awful opponents then got exposed when they played real teams. The Panthers at least beat the Saints and have made each of their losses interesting. Sam Darnold is starting to fall back down to earth, but they still managed to force overtime against the Vikings. They didn’t even get the ball in overtime, but you feel like they might have won the game if their offense got the ball first.

13. Minnesota Vikings (3-3)

Last Week: 14

The Vikings’ luck in their 1-3 start was absolutely brutal. But, two solid wins since have brought them back to .500. Their schedule is absolutely brutal the next four weeks as they play the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers, and Packers. But, they’ve proven they can hang with anyone. If they can even go 2-2 in that stretch, you have to feel good about their playoff chances.

12. Tennessee Titans (3-2)

Last Week: 13

The Titans beat the team that I considered to be the most dangerous in football, so you can’t deny they look like a bona fide playoff team. Their offense is still heavily reliant on Derrick Henry continuing to be an absolute force. But, Ryan Tannehill came up clutch down the stretch too. He kept the Titans driving late in the game, allowing Derrick Henry to save his angry runs for big situations.

11. Cleveland Browns (3-3)

Last Week: 9

The last two weeks haven’t been great for the Browns. You could sort of look past that loss to the Chargers. Herbert’s gonna Herbert, but at least Baker Mayfield and the offense kept up and participated in a wild shootout. This week, Baker Mayfield couldn’t stop turning the ball over and the Browns’ offense simply could not keep up with the Cardinals. The Browns turn around on a short week to host the sputtering Broncos before getting 10 days of rest to host the Steelers. Hopefully that’s enough to shake off a rocky couple of weeks, because they need it.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)

Last Week: 11

The Cincinnati Bengals are a top-10 team in the NFL through six weeks, just like we all expected. Ok but seriously, did anyone see this coming? Granted, it’s not like the Steelers, Jaguars, and Lions are exactly difficult outs. But, they’ve been beating the teams they’re supposed to beat and that’s not nothing. Hell, they would have beaten the Packers if one of those field goals went in. They proved themselves this week by dismantling the Lions. Maybe not as efficiently as you’d hope, but it was still a blowout.

9. Kansas City Chiefs (3-3)

Last Week: 10

I was ready to move the Chiefs out of the top 14 after halftime. The Chiefs were sloppy in that first half and looked to be confirming the doubts of many with their play. But, they turned things around in the second half to the tune of a 21-0 shutout on the road. This is why I never moved the Chiefs out of the top 10. Because they’re still capable of stuff like this.

8. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2)

Last Week: 6

That was a bad loss. The Los Angeles Chargers’ vaunted offense was completely shut out in the second half and most of the first half. The missed extra point on their lone touchdown near the end of the second quarter perfectly encapsulated a day where almost nothing went right for the Chargers. The Chargers have had some close calls this year against less-than-stellar competition. But, this is also the same team that dropped 47 points on the Cleveland Browns last week. So, I’m not ready to demote them to pretenders in the NFL Power Rankings just yet. We’ll see how they respond to this setback.

7. Green Bay Packers (5-1)

Last Week: 7

Do your victory lap, Aaron Rodgers. When you’re 22-5 against an opponent, I think you have every right to claim you own them. For the most part, the Packers played pretty average football against the Chicago Bears. They held Justin Fields under 200 yards passing, but they allowed 140 yards on the ground. However, Mason Crosby hit all of his kicks and Aaron Rodgers personally scored all three of the Packers’ touchdowns against a Bears team that looked like it was turning a corner.

6. Baltimore Ravens (5-1)

Last Week: 8

How many times is Lamar Jackson going to overcome being super reckless with the football and end up looking good by the end of it? He had a bad day (167 yards passing, one touchdown, two interceptions). The Ravens STILL blew out a Chargers team many consider to be dark horse Super Bowl contenders. When they’re firing on all cylinders like this, Lamar can afford to be less than perfect. The Ravens look as tough as anybody right now despite some close games against bad teams earlier in the year.

5. Los Angeles Rams (5-1)

Last Week: 5

The Rams went into New Jersey to face off against a Giants team missing all of their legitimate offensive weapons. I can’t say this is the most legitimizing win of all time, considering many already consider the Rams to be Super Bowl contenders. But, they got the job done against an obviously inferior opponent and they absolutely deserve credit for that. There’s not much room to move around this high in the power rankings. Especially, when everyone else up here also won their games. But, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald both showed exactly why many value them so highly.

4. Dallas Cowboys (5-1)

Last Week: 4

It was getting tense there for a minute in Foxborough. The Cowboys came in against a below average Patriots and almost fell victim to what could be argued as a trap game and a plunge in the NFL Power Rankings. But, Dak was electrifying as ever. He overcame a boneheaded interception where he tried to force a touchdown pass into really tight coverage to wind up throwing for 445 yards and three touchdowns. 

3. Buffalo Bills (4-2)

Last Week: 1

Don’t feel bad, Buffalo. Everyone struggles against Derrick Henry. The Bills ended their run of dominance this week that had me claiming them as the best team in football despite the Week 1 loss. Josh Allen tried his hardest with 379 yards of total offense, three touchdowns, and only one interception. The problem is, his bowling ball style of scrambling couldn’t get the job done on a questionable 4th and one call. I get the Bills were trying to go for the win, but you could have lived to see overtime. I imagine they’ll take their frustrations out on the Dolphins after their bye week. But, another stumble and they could see a sharp fall in the NFL Power Rankings.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1)

Last Week: 3

If you turned the Thursday Night Football game after halftime, no one could blame you. The Bucs were dominating the Eagles through the first half after the Eagles’ first drive. If you kept watching, you saw the Bucs somehow let the Eagles back into the game, even after extending their lead to 28-7 in the third quarter. A missed Eagles field goal takes away from just how close the Eagles were to breaking through. But, the Bucs got their act together on the final drive and ran the clock out. Overall, it was a pretty solid win that shouldn’t have been a game.

1. Arizona Cardinals (6-0)

Last Week: 2

The Arizona Cardinals continued to make their case as the best team in the NFL Power Rankings as they dominated the Cleveland Browns from start to finish. A second quarter rally by the Browns gave them a fighting chance, but the Cardinals completely shut the door in the second half. Coffin nails were arguably achieved late in the third quarter when Deandre Hopkins reeled in a touchdown pass from Kyler Murray to make it 30-14. But, all hope was extinguished when AJ Green went in the endzone against his familiar foe with just under five minutes left in the game.

The Buffalo Bills and RAS

Buffalo Bills RAS

Welcome back, Buffalo Bills fans. In the next part of this RAS series, we take a look at Buffalo’s front office and their connections with their draft classes. For those that do not know RAS stands for Relative Athletic Score. It is a system put together by Kent Lee Platte. He assigns scores to each combine test and then combines them to get a 0-10 score that shows how athletic that player is relative to other players at his position.

Historical data has shown that this does effect a players potential, the more athletic a player the higher their potential to reach that elite level of play. You can find his site here: http://ras.football The Bills current GM is Brandon Beane who has been in place since May of 2017, which means the 2018-2021 drafts have been his. Now that is over with lets get to the analysis.

Quarterbacks: A Future MVP Candidate?

Beane has drafted only two quarterbacks in his time. Josh Allen in 2018 and Jake Fromm in 2020. The RAS scores from these two could not be more different. Allen scored a 9.67 and Fromm scored a 1.96. There are not many similarities between the two. Both are 220 or over, and That’s about it. This is something that seems to follow teams across the league. RAS does not seem to be all that important for most teams.

Running backs:

Since 2018 Beane and the Buffalo Bills have drafted only two running backs. Devin Singletary in 2019 and Zack Moss in 2020. The average RAS score for the two of them is 2.31. Which is interesting, because teams generally like their running backs to be at least decent athletes. Some similarities are that both are under 5’10 and both are over 200 pounds.

Both oddly have almost the same 40 times at 4.65 and 4.66. Same thing with their 10 yard splits with a 1.67 and 1.64. So it seems they do not care too much about athleticism with their running backs, although its a small sample size with only two guys.

Wide Receivers:

The Buffalo Bills have drafted five receivers since 2018. Austin Proehl and Ray-Ray McCloud in 2018, Isaiah Hodgins and Gabe Davis in 2020, and Marquez Stevenson in 2021. Looking at their average RAS score what comes out is a 5.45. None of them scored over a 7.56. Only two of them even scored a 6 or above (Davis and Hodgins).

With the Bills draft history it seems Beane prefers two different type of receivers either guys that are 5’9-5’10 like Proehl, McCloud and Stevenson or those that are 6’2+ in Davis and Hodgins. The three smaller receivers all seem to have good agility in common. 40 times range for 4.53-4.48 so they all have about average speed. Their explosion grade are average to below average. These tests are not prioritized by them.

Now when it comes to Hodgins and Davis besides both being 6’2+ they are both over 210. Both scored good in explosion and good with their 10 yard splits. Agility grades vary between the two, so that seems to be not a priority when it comes to bigger receivers for them.

Tight ends:

In his time Beane has drafted only two tight ends. Tommy Sweeney and Dawson Knox in 2019. Sweeney had a RAS score of 5.93 and Knox with a 9.25. Both are 6’4 250-255. Sweeney was pretty average across the board in testing, Knox meanwhile showed really well in explosion and speed testing, but average agility. Speed and explosion seem to be testing that they key in on.

Offensive line:

The Buffalo Bills have drafted five offensive linemen since 2018. Three guards and two tackles. Wyatt Teller in 2018, Cody Ford in 2019, and Tommy Doyle, Jack Anderson and Spencer Brown in 2021. The average RAS score for all of them is a very athletic 8.72 with only one of them scoring under an 8.

This seems to be a position that they highly value athleticism. As for the two tackles very similar athletic profiles. Both are 6’8 and 310+. They both had RAS scores of 9.9+. Both had very good bench scores for how long their arms are. They both have elite scores in explosion, speed and agility. It seems they really like tall super athletic tackles.

With the three guards all three are 6’4-6’5 and 314+. Their average RAS score is a solid 7.9. So they like their guards to have at least solid explosion numbers. All three have vertical jumps of 28.5+ with a broad jump of 8’08” at least. With their speed grades they are pretty average across the board. Their agility scores vary from average to poor. It seems the Bills do not prioritize agility testing with their guards. Arm length also varies with the shortest being 31 7/8″ and the longest being 36 3/4″

Defensive line:

Since 2018 the Buffalo Bills have only drafted two defensive linemen: Harrison Phillips (2018) and Ed Oliver (2019). Their average RAS score is a exceptional 8.99. They are 6’2-6’3. Their weights though vary with Oliver being 287 and Phillips at 307, so not much to connect there. Both did score high on bench press with Oliver being the lowest with 32 reps. So that might be something to keep an eye on. Both did score high on vert with a score of 32″ or better.

Now with speed they are on almost complete opposite ends. Phillips does have at least an average score on his 10-yard split, so that might be something that the Bills prioritize over 40 speed. Both did score very high in agility though, so that seems to be testing that Beane looks to when it comes to DL.

Edge:

In regards to edge players, the Buffalo Bills have drafted four since 2018: Darryl Johnson (2019), AJ Epenesa (2020), and Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham (2021). Their average RAS score is a 6.96. The guy that brings that score down the most is Epenesa with a weak 4.07 which is below average. If you remove his score you get a 7.96, so for the most part they like their edge defenders to be athletic.

Three of the four are 6’5 or taller, also three of the four are 266 or heavier. So it seems they like guys that are taller and a little bit on the heavier side. Oddly enough none of them were able to put up more than 21 reps on the bench. Arm length does not seem to be something they find important, the lengths vary from 32 7/8″ to 34 1/2″. They do not seem to value broad jump, three of the four had jumps under 9’9″ or less. Three of the four though had vertical jumps of at least 32″.

When it comes to speed scores three of the four had 40 times of 4.8 or faster with two of them running sub 4.7. Three of the four had good to great agility scores. Some guys scored well on one test and poor on another. So it seems they just like guys who are taller/bigger and are at least above average overall athletes.

Linebacker:

Now with linebacker Brandon Beane has only drafted two since 2018. Tremaine Edmunds in 2018 and Vosean Joseph. These two ended up on completely different ends of the spectrum. Joseph’s RAS score was a paltry .22, and Edmunds was an elite 9.74.

Neither scored high on the broad jump and Edmunds didn’t do the vertical jump. So it seems they may not prioritize that testing. Joseph did not do any speed testing and Edmunds did not do any agility testing. So outside of that there isn’t much data to go off.

Defensive backs:

Brandon Beane has drafted six defensive backs in his time as the GM of the Buffalo Bills: four corners and two safeties. Their average RAS score is a mediocre 5.94. Two of the guys drafted really bring that average down. Jaquan Johnson with a 3.46 and Dane Jackson with a 4.44, all the rest scored a 6.29 or higher.

Now in regards to the corners. All of them are either 5’11 or 6’0, so they seem to like average to above average height in their corners. The lightest was Jackson at 187, with the heaviest being Siran Neal at 206. So it can be said they prefer their corners in the 190ish+ range.

When it comes to explosive testing they vary from poor to elite so I would not put too much stock in this testing mattering for the Bills front office. We can say thought that they do not prioritize agility testing, all of their testing ranges from poor to about average. Speed testing does not seem to be a priority either with three of the guys running 4.53, 4.57, 4.56, and the fourth running just a 4.5 flat.

With the safeties as far as size goes it does not seem they value big body types, with Johnson being 5’10 190 and Damar Hamlin being 6’0 7/8ths 200. Both did put up 18 reps on the bench press. Both scored pretty average with explosion testing with 9’10” and a 10’1″ broad jumps and 33″ and 35″ vertical jumps. Johnson had a poor 40 time of 4.69 and Hamlin a average 4.6. Also interesting is both had identical 20-yard splits of 2.69. Both also scored average composite agility scores.

Final Thoughts

The Bills are kind of hard to pin point with athletic testing and RAS scores. They are kind of in the middle with most of the players they have drafted. With running backs you can say athleticism isn’t a high priority with their front office. As to wide receivers they seem to have two different types, slot sized guys and tall vertical type receivers.

When it comes to offensive and defensive line they have a preference for highly athletic players. With your edge players they like guys who are taller 265+ and relatively agile. Defensive backs they are kind of all over the place. Beane seems to like guys that are between 5’11-6’1 and 190+. Outside of that they do not seem to prioritize any athletic testing.

Atlanta Falcons Q1 Review: Linebackers & Safeties

Falcons Linebackers
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Falcons have the week off, and I’m taking advantage of the downtime to review the team’s performance over the first quarter of the season. Today I’ll be looking at the Falcons defense, the linebackers and safeties specifically. Feel free to get caught up on anything you’ve missed below.

Linebacker Was Supposed to Be a Competitive Advantage

There weren’t many position groups for the 2021 Falcons defense you could single out as strengths to start the year. The lone exception was at off-ball linebacker. Deion Jones has established himself as a playmaker, despite consecutive lackluster seasons.

Additionally, Foye Oluokun emerged as a rare bright spot from the 2020 season. Even Mykal Walker flashed in the few opportunities he was as a rookie. There was an argument to be made that Atlanta had one of the best off-ball linebacker groups in the NFL. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Falling Short of the Hype

Despite the high expectations, this linebacker corps hasn’t lived up to their potential. Missed tackles, blown assignments, and breakdowns in coverage have plagued the duo. The grades and stats from PFF paint a crystal clear picture.

PFF Grades

per PFF

PFF Stats

per PFF

Looking for Deion to Recapture the Magic

Despite a reputation for being an excellent coverage linebacker Deion Jones has struggled so far. PFF lists him as allowing a reception on 95.5% of his targets. Granted, the Falcons defense has leaned heavily on zone coverage, essentially conceding short throws. This strategy works if the defenders can rally to the ball and make the stop. Unfortunately, this hasn’t quite panned out for the Falcons so far. Jones has the second-highest total of YAC allowed in the NFL.

The Falcons coaches moved Deion Jones to WILL over the offseason to, in part, take pressure off of him in the run game. Jones is incredibly athletic, but playing through contact isn’t a strength, and any measures to free him up to have a clear path to the ball carrier should create an advantage. Sounds great in theory, but it hasn’t generated results either.

Jones isn’t near the top of the league in missed tackles, but a missed tackle percentage of 11.4% is less than ideal. After reviewing the film, that number might be even higher if he hit his assignments against the run. As we established in the defensive line review, the Falcons defense has allowed one of the highest rushing success rates in the NFL.

Part of the issue is blown assignments, a trend for Jones. It’s hard to tell if it’s attributable to confusion about the scheme, or whether he’s trying to play hero ball. Either way, unless Jones can play more disciplined football, it’s hard to envision this defense taking a step forward.

Foye Adjusting to the Middle

The same criticisms can be leveled at Foye Oluokun. He hasn’t been as undisciplined as Jones, but there are “oh no” moments on the tape for him too. He’s had similar struggles in coverage, though he has been targeted less and hasn’t allowed nearly as many yards after the catch. The most consistent issue I’ve seen from Foye so far is his struggle to get proper depth when tasked with covering the deep third in Tampa 2. This issue was particularly evident against the Bucs in week 2. Tom Brady routinely attacked the area behind Foye for significant gains.

They Haven’t Been Done Any Favors

We can explain away some of these issues for the linebackers. Their teammates aren’t doing them any favors, and it makes life difficult for them. Foye’s tendency to be slow in his drops in coverage may be due to the lack of trust he has in the line to bottle up the threat of a run on play-action.

Both Oluokun and Jones are finding themselves in positions where they have to take on offensive linemen because the defensive tackles can’t hold up against double teams. The entire defense must work in concert to be effective, and breakdowns on the line can make it impossible for linebackers to succeed.  

There is a learning curve associated with learning Dean Pees’ defense to consider as well. Both Deion and Foye are learning new positions in an unfamiliar defense that asks a lot from them. It takes time to learn the system, as Dean Pees made abundantly clear in a press conference earlier this season. I suspect we’ll see a better unit as the season progresses. 

Up and Down Play From the Safeties

The Falcons completely rebuilt their safety room over the offseason, parting ways with long-time starters in Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and Demontae Kazee. NFL journeymen Duron Harmon, and Erik Harris, were brought in on one-year rental deals to stabilize the position in the short term. It’s been a mixed bag so far, but there are a few glimmers of hope from this bunch.

Falcons Safety Stats

Harris and Harmon Keep the Seat Warm

I was guardedly optimistic about the signing of Duron Harmon in the offseason. Aside from a rocky year in Detroit, Harmon has been a steady presence in the defensive backfield for his entire career. No one will mistake him for an all-pro, but the Falcons defense hasn’t had consistency at safety in years. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out quite as well as I’d envisioned.

Harmon is allowing a career-high 72.7% completion rate when targeted and has surrendered 13.4 yards per reception. Those aren’t the worst numbers in the NFL, but they are comfortably in the bottom third. If PFF grading is your thing, Harmon ranks 76th of 85 qualifying safeties with an overall grade of 49.5.

Despite the terrible grades and stats, I haven’t seen him get routinely slaughtered on tape like Damontae Kazee or Ricardo Allen were over the last few years. He looks slow to react at times and out of position more often than a veteran of his stature should, but I expect him to clean up the mental mistakes as the season progresses.

Harris Surprises Early

Erik Harris, on the other hand, has been a PFF darling so far. He was ranked 7th of 85 qualifying safeties before his recent injury with a 73.3 overall grade. Were it not for a pair of dropped interceptions, he’d likely be ranked even higher. The former Raider is giving up receptions at a slightly slower clip than Harmon, but he’s been more active as a blitzer and against the run, which buoys his grading.

I had meager expectations for Harris, and all things considered, he’s far exceeded them. He’s lived up to the expectations I had for Harmon. He’s been a steady presence, even if he’s given up a few plays downfield. 

A Youth Movement at Safety for the Falcons Defense?

Though we all expected Richie Grant to figure into the picture at safety, he hasn’t received any regular-season snaps at the position. He did find his way to the field against the Jets, but he was used as a nickel corner. It shouldn’t come as a shock, that was the role he played in the preseason. It will be interesting to see how the coaches deploy him as the season progresses.

Jaylinn Hawkins is the only other player to log any snaps at safety, per PFF’s charting. In week five, he earned his first start in relief of the injured Erik Harris and made the most of the opportunity. He graded out as one of the best players on the field. Snagging an errant pass from Zac Wilson boosted his grade significantly, but there wasn’t any drop off with him in the lineup otherwise.

It was clear the coaching staff was high on him in training camp, and he is one of the few younger players they’ve found ways to incorporate from week to week. It appears Erik Harris remains limited coming out of the bye, so Hawkins may get another opportunity to secure more snaps moving forward. 

Falcons Defense Keeping an Eye on the Future

The chances of Erik Harris and Duron Harmon returning in 2022 aren’t incredibly high. Much will depend on the development of Hawkins and Grant. However, with many empty roster spots looming, the faster younger players can step up, the better. Harris’s injury, in that regard, might be a blessing in disguise.

The biggest looming question is whether we can expect to see Grant move into a safety role this year. There are a lot of moving parts that will come into play there. Can Darren Hall or Avery Williams step in to replace Isaiah Oliver? Can Grant get the playbook down enough to earn the snaps?

It seems that Harmon and Harris are dependable enough to avoid a complete implosion on the back end, but it would be hugely beneficial if someone could step forward as a playmaker. Hawkins’s lone interception is one of only three turnovers from the defense through five games. With several good offenses on the horizon, the Falcons defense needs more from their safeties.