Russell Wilson Will Have The Best Supporting Cast Of His Career In 2017

Russell Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks of our generation. Building his game as a dynamic running quarterback and master of vertical passing, Wilson’s very presence alone has allowed the Seahawks to make the playoffs in each season he has played.

Wilson has long had a narrative of being a game manager playing with a great run game and the Legion of Boom. What these people miss is Wilson is the glue that brings everything in the run game together. With the run blocking being one of the worst in the league, Russ is able to elevate the run game even without quality protection thanks to his mobility and run threat.

As a passer, Wilson thrives doing the impossible.

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One of Wilson’s best traits is being able to throw to angles that generally should require him to throw across his body, but he does it without altering his mechanics. This looks “awkward” but for Wilson it plays out perfectly.

An example of this is shown in the play above, where Wilson runs out of the pocket. The pass he throws would force most quarterbacks to stop, alter their bodies, and try to complete the pass. With Wilson, he has the arm strength and running ability to complete these types of passes without altering his body. This comes from his background as a baseball player, and you can see him playing the part of a second baseman.

It’s a stage Wilson is comfortable in. He’s arguably the best quarterback on the run, and probably the most comfortable at doing it.

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What truly stands out about Wilson as a passer though is his arm control. Sure, he can rocket the ball with intense velocity, but he also offers the rare trait of controlling the exact acceleration and trajectory his passes go at. This allows him to lead receivers in stride with perfect timing and execution.

On this play, the quarterback is again forced out of the pocket. He notices an open target and is able to comfortably get rid of the football. The speed at which Wilson lofts the ball is spot on. Anything faster or slower, and the pass would be too far out or too far behind. His quick release allows his throws to stay out of harms way, for the most part.

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This throw also shows how excellent Wilson’s arm trajectory is. He’s one of the league’s most accurate deep passers for this reason, and here, he does a great job of anticipating a spot for Doug Baldwin to be in. He’s able to float the pass at just the right time and speed, making the connection a perfect one.

These were some of the bright spots in a down season for Wilson, though that doesn’t speak of his quality. From the beginning of the season it was clear he was playing hurt, and since he played every game the Seahawks played, never got rest or time to stay cozy. And behind a bottom of the barrel unit in pass protection, he was extremely hesitant to stay in the pocket. At the end of the season, his overall accuracy diminished, but that should be a moot point this season, where Wilson will be healthy once again.

This should allow for the pass game to thrive. For years, people have wondered what Wilson would be capable of with excellent skill players. In past seasons he had Golden Tate and Sidney Rice, but only recently has he been able to create a focus on chemistry with Doug Baldwin. The tight end position wasn’t bad, but he never really had a superstar playmaker at the position.

Enter 2017, that dream has become a reality. The Seahawks’ aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to receivers, yet the WR corps has not gotten the credit they deserve, as the team is deep at the WR position. Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, C.J. Prosise, Jermaine Kearse, and Tanner McEvoy make up a loaded receiving corps, and Prosise, Thomas Rawls, and Eddie Lacy make up the RB unit.

Despite the Seattle offensive line, Russell Wilson has the best supporting cast of his career to date. Below, we’ll go through each of the key factors to the offense, offering what they do well and how well they do it.

 

Darrell Bevell

First up to bat is offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. While the line sucks, Russ’ situation thankfully has not been hopeless, as Bevell has been a great play caller and schemer. Bevell is underrated as far as coordinators go. He runs a very friendly scheme which understands how to diversify an offense that is exactly that and diminish the effects the offensive line has on the rest of the team.

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Bevell likes to use trickery and misdirection in his offense. His play calls succeed because the design of the plays are quick enough for openings to occur without the linemen destroying it. On this play, Wilson flicks the ball to Baldwin after an option fake to Rawls. The QB is able to sneak through the run blocking, and Baldwin returns the favor to Wilson by throwing the touchdown pass to Wilson just in time. It’s a beautifully designed play.

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To his advantage, Bevell also dials up unique WR sets. Above, he calls for a 5 WR set, with 4 being positioned on the left. The motion (not shown in the GIF) creates for misdirection, allowing Prosise to cut outside and be open easily. This allows for a huge gain on 3rd and 6.

Bevell’s perception is still haunted by the infamous pass play call in Super Bowl XLIX, but the Seahawks have been fortunate to have him as the offensive coordinator for the past six years. He offers the creativity needed for a team that’s filled with playmakers, and understands the unique, individual skills each player has.

 

Doug Baldwin

Every hardcore football fan’s favorite secret at wide receiver, Doug Baldwin is one of the more complete pass catchers in the league. His 94 receptions in 2016 tied the franchise record (Bobby Engram, 2007), and his 1,128 receiving yards were the highest from any Seahawks receiver since Engram’s 1,147 (also in 2007).

As a receiver, Baldwin offers it all. Speed, separation downfield, toughness, elusiveness, and threat as a YAC and vertical weapon. He’s the best slot receiver in the league, and for an offense that’s only just begun to transition to a pass oriented one, he’s managed to put up big numbers.

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Baldwin has perfect balance as a receiver. As shown in this play, he’s able to create extra yardage by staying in bounds on the sidelines, and is able to elude or jump away from tacklers (again shown above) for more yardage. This makes him dangerous cutting the outside edge.

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Baldwin also offers a wide variety of ways to create separation downfield. He’s regarded as one of the more patient and creative route runners, and offers such above. Here, he acts as if he were a blocker for a split second, then separates instantaneously with his opponent confused. With the big amount of separation, he’s able to make an easy touchdown catch.

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#89’s value as a slot receiver is shown in his spatial ability. Baldwin understands the role being a slot receiver inquires, and senses tacklers coming the entire way. On this play he fakes one way and cuts to the outside edge, leaving defenders in the dust and creating more yards after the catch.

Baldwin is a guy that has always been great, as well as a constant favorite with Football Outsiders. With Wilson being less hesitant and paying more attention to receivers like #89, his stats have skyrocketed.

 

Jimmy Graham

Setting Seahawks’ single season franchise records last year for receiving yards (923) and receptions (65) from a tight end, Jimmy Graham has arguably been the team’s first superstar tight end. He came back from injury from the previous season and thrived as one of Wilson’s favorite targets, constantly racking up yards on intermediate and vertical plays.

Graham has always been one of the league’s top tight ends, and even at age 30 his athleticism is extremely good.

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As seen on the 2 plays above, Graham has fantastic ball skills for a tight end. He excels at minimizing the need for Wilson to be precise with his throws (though he is anyway), and is a natural pass catcher with expert ball security. His frame makes him a gigantic target for Wilson, and Seattle has been wise to position him on more downfield routes, as he’s able to consistently win those.

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Graham is also versatile, as shown in his ability in the short passing game. Here, Graham does the Ezekiel Elliot-esque hurdle (shown in slow motion). Not something you’d expect from a 6’7 tight end that weighs 265 lb, but it is welcomed anyway.

All in all, Graham is a spectacular, top 5 tight end. For some reason he’s been under the radar despite having a great reputation in New Orleans. I suppose being with a team thought of as a run first offense does that.

 

Tyler Lockett

Tyler Lockett’s tibia/fibula injury in his sophomore season was devastating for the Seahawks’ offense, but at 24 years of age he should be able to bounce back.

Lockett is the return specialist for the Seahawks, and as he’s progressed throughout his young career he’s been used primarily as a vertical receiver. And in this field, he’s one of the strongest.

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Lockett’s speed is what makes him so good on downfield routes. He’s a favorable vertical target for Wilson, and when the two have connected, they’ve connected really well. It’s an obvious statement but it shows how good Lockett is. Here, Wilson launches a rocket to #16. He’s able to make a difficult, over-the-shoulder catch for a massive gain. He reminds me of Antonio Brown and DeSean Jackson in this area of the field.

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Lockett is also nimble and elusive at the line of scrimmage, and this allows for him to create separation with relative ease. He uses lighting quickness on this route, allowing him to be open immediately. Wilson drops the ball in the breadbasket and Lockett is able to hang on for another big gain.

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Lockett’s athleticism allows him to be an option on end around plays as well (he had a 75-yard touchdown run against the Panthers last season). Here, the line formation messes up, but Lockett is able to break one tackle and elude himself away from another, making nothing something and getting the first down.

Even if Lockett returns rusty, the next receiver would be able to step in his place without missing a beat.

 

Paul Richardson

When Lockett’s injury forced him to miss the playoffs, Paul Richardson climbed up the depth chart. He garnered significant attention after a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch against the Lions, and racked up decent stats in Lockett’s place.

Ironically, Richardson himself has dealt with injuries throughout his career. His rookie season ended with a torn ACL in a playoff game against Carolina, and his 2015 campaign was cut short due to a hamstring injury. Finally escaping the injury bug in 2016, Richardson’s talents were able to thrive before a primetime audience, shocking many who not expecting this from the 25-year-old second round pick.

Without sugar-coating anything, Richardson’s rise in the playoffs was not a fluke. He is a very talented receiver who has been efficient with the reps he has been given, and can succeed from any level on the field.

 

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One trait that stands out with Richardson is his ability to get on the ground and run quickly, or as I like to call it, “YAC Mode.” This allows him to be one step ahead of the defense, further moving the chains down the field. Above, he does this is and uses great awareness to shift outside and pick up more yards after the catch.

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As highlighted with that TD catch against Detroit, Richardson has a wide catch radius. He’s held on this play, but manages to make another outstanding one-handed catch. His playmaking in the postseason was compared to Chris Matthews’ ascension in Super Bowl XLIX (where he had 4 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown), but there’s a few things to keep in mind. Matthews was a sluggish route runner that was limited to downfield receiving, which is why he never got off the ground after the Super Bowl game. Richardson is a faster player, and has shown the ability to succeed outside vertical routes, something Matthews never did.

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Richardson is also aggressive with his pass catching, as he constantly attacks the ball instead of waiting for it to arrive (as shown above). This is what good receiver should do, and it allows him to secure the ball quicker without being in danger of having the ball slip from his hands. Add this with additional polish at route running, and Richardson at full health is another dangerous receiver for the Seahawks.

We’ve shown what the receivers can do, but now it’s time to check out the run game. Although Marshawn Lynch is with the Raiders, the Seahawks have two really good running backs that are both perfect fits for the kind of offense the team runs.

 

Thomas Rawls

The leader in yards per attempt in his rookie season, his 3.2 YPA would suggest that Thomas Rawls had an awful sophomore year. The truth is that Rawls’ rookie season YPA was benefited by several huge holes that overinflated his league leading YPA the year before. Running behind that line with a fractured fibula also affected how his YPA would do.

Having said this, I found him to still be the high quality back he was in his rookie season.

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Seattle loves playing quick running backs that play with head on aggression and create space early on. It should be no surprise that Rawls does that and then some. On this play, he’s met with immediate pressure from nose tackle Kenny Clark. The vision on this play is superb; Rawls executes a quick (and I mean quick) side step jump cut then cuts left, making an impossible play a 7-yard-gain.

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Like Lynch, Rawls is great at getting yards after contact; He had 72 yards after contact in the Lions’ playoff game alone according to ESPN Stats and Info. This comes not just from Rawls’ aggressive playing style, but his ability to work tight gaps. On this play, Rawls keep chugging through defenders, maintaining his quickness while slipping by tackles and maintaining his balance long enough to move the chains and pick up the first down.

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Here, Rawls again creates yards at the line of scrimmage, making a small cut outside before executing a spin move, allowing him to burst open in space. One thing you’ll notice with Rawls is that he’s extremely quick. He’s an exciting player because he combines his speed with aggression and the ability to work small holes. While there are no small holes on this play, he creates the most out of failed run blocking, and turns a dead play into a huge gain.

 

C.J. Prosise

C.J. Prosise is a remarkable talent out of Notre Dame. He was limited in his rookie season, and it ended prematurely with a fractured scapula, but he managed to show more than enough to be trusted going into the sophomore year.

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In high school and early on in college, Prosise was a wide receiver (before making the switch to running back his junior year), and this is shown in the play calls the Seahawks assign him. On a few occasions, he was used as a deep threat, which is rare even for a receiving back. On the two plays above, he has the speed and concentration to make the plays work, and has proven he can be flexed to any position on the field and still be relied on.

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Like his ability in the pass game, he was limited as a running back, but showed terrific vision when he did play. He performs a terrific jabbing jump cut above, allowing him to break free for a 72-yard touchdown run. It’s his ability at both running and receiving that have won me over, and with more reps he will be able to expand the options Seattle has not just at running and receiving back, but at the WR position as well.

 

Other Players

The starters at the skill positions for Seattle are impressive enough, but even some of the backups are interesting. While Jermaine Kearse is an inconsistent pass catcher, he is an aggressive, explosive wide receiver at his best, and as far as backups go he isn’t half bad.

Tanner McEvoy, a former quarterback/safety that converted to wide receiver, was moved around quite a bit in his rookie season. He threw a 43-yard pass to Prosise against the Saints (featured in the first Prosise GIF) and also caught 2 touchdowns of his own. His frame (6’6, 230 lb) makes him an interesting prospect the Seahawks should consider keeping around.

Eddie Lacy signed a one-year, $5.5M contract in the offseason. His signing is confusing especially with the presence of Rawls and Prosise. While a big and aggressive back, he lacks the patience Rawls has and isn’t as good with yards after contact. He can offer moments of explosive play, but is coming from one of the best lines in the league to one of the worst. At the least, he offers Seattle veteran depth.

3rd round receiver Amara Darboh out of Michigan isn’t a bad prospect. In college he showed moments of impressive play, though with a team with incredible depth at the WR position, he may find it difficult to have a role with the offense in his rookie season. He was prominently used on shallow crossing routes in his senior season, and can be effective on those routes in Seattle.

Conclusion

Even with a horrible offensive line, Russell Wilson has the best supporting cast of his career. Is the defense the best it’s ever been? Maybe not, but it’s still a strong unit. The point is that the running back and wide receiver positions are loaded with extremely talented playmakers and depth, much more than people are willing to acknowledge.

It’s possible that Wilson may not get a cast this good in his career for a while, especially with Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham being unrestricted free agents in 2018. But for the time being, combined with the excellent coaching and scheme, the Seahawks offense is arguably the deadliest in the NFC, and with the defense returning healthy, can make a big impact and return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2014.

This, of course, depends on if Wilson will be healthy this time around. When he is, he makes the offensive line look better than it actually is, and is one of the most accurate passers across all cylinders. When he’s not, he can still impact the offense greatly, but lacks the consistency you would expect from a QB of his quality, turning down open receivers because of his hesitation.

Still, with a great QB and skill players with so much promise, it’s hard not to be excited about what the 2017 Seahawks can do, and I look forward to seeing what they accomplish this season.

 

Featured image via wccbcharlotte.com.

 

The New York Giants Have The Best Receiving Corps In The NFL

The New York Giants have been on the rise. In 2016 they got into the playoffs for the first time since 2011 with an 11-5 record and a Wild Card spot.

The defense clearly deserves a lot of credit for New York’s success, but the offense allowed for the rise of rookies Sterling Shepard and Paul Perkins. While the offense ranked 26th in points scored and 25th in total yards, this was hampered by a bad offensive line, predictable play calls on 3rd and 4th down from Ben McAdoo, the limited skill sets of Rashad Jennings and Will Tye, as well as the declining Victor Cruz. Eli Manning’s arm strength also showed signs of a decline. (Week 16 at Philadelphia was a premiere example)

Though it ended with a loss against the Packers in the Wild Card round, the team still went out of their way to add to an already dangerous team, adding two explosive receivers. The big prize of the offseason was receiver Brandon Marshall from the Jets. While 33, his skill set is still quite strong for someone of his age, and with Odell Beckham and Shepard, he’ll be able to help Manning distribute targets.

In the draft, the Giants selected Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram in the first round. While he’s been called more of a wide receiver than a tight end due to his weight, Engram is extremely talented and should be able to solve a tight end problem that has plagued the team for years.

These two offseason additions, as well as the upgraded roles of Shepard and Perkins, have made the Giants’ receiving corps the best in the league. So below, I’ll preview the 5 key receivers for the team: Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram, and Paul Perkins (in a receiving back role).

 

Odell Beckham

Odell Beckham needs no introduction. He is arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, and in my opinion, he is. In each of his first 3 seasons, he has put up at least 90 receptions, 1,300 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns, and 13.5 yards per reception.

Beckham is one of six receivers in NFL history to put up 1,300+ receiving yards and 10+ TD in at least three consecutive seasons. He’s the first to do this in each of his 3 seasons since Randy Moss from 1998-2000.

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Beckham is in elite company, and has the chance to match Marvin Harrison’s record of 4 consecutive seasons with 1,300 yards and 10+ touchdowns in 2017, though with the loading receiving cast, it could be a challenge.

Nevertheless, Beckham is perhaps the most complete receiver in the league. His ball skills, route running, speed, and elusiveness are all first class, making the “distraction” narrative that’s been going around meaningless.

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Beckham is an insane YAC receiver that can turn impossible situations into big plays (GIF 1). Because of his field awareness, he’s able to understand how to break free and uses quick athleticism to sprint away from defenders.

While he dropped more passes than he should have in 2016, Beckham’s catch radius is still the best in the league (GIF 2). He’s capable of pulling in passes that wouldn’t be in the same area code for 90% of today’s receivers while securing the ball and completing the process of catching, making it look extremely easy.

Finally, Beckham’s ability on routes is nothing but special. He creates separation in all sorts of ways (GIF 3), which adds to the already difficult task of guarding him in the first place. All in all, Beckham provides everything you could want in a #1 receiver and then some.

 

Sterling Shepard

When Sterling Shepard stepped up in his rookie season, it finally afforded Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense a second great wide receiver behind Beckham. This in of itself allowed for more breathing room for the passing game.

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Already after one season, Shepard is a terrific slot receiver. In the slot, it’s key to use your spatial awareness and fight your way through traffic, which Shepard has shown he can do (GIF 1). He’s basically a 2nd rate Beckham, offering the same nimble route running (GIF 2) that allows him to be swift and open easily. As a slippery target, he’s shown consistent ability to fight through defenders at the line of scrimmage (GIF 3) and break tackles for YAC.

Shepard could definitely show improvement in year 2 against contact, but in general he’s been a fantastic addition to the Giants’ offense.

Brandon Marshall

Pairing up Brandon Marshall with Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard was a scary thought after Marshall hit the free agent market, and that’s exactly what the Giants did this year. While the 33-year-old receiver saw a drop in quality from 2015 to 2016, he still packed a punch and made plenty of crazy plays that bailed out whatever quarterback he played with.

Staying in New York (or New Jersey, whatever you prefer) gets his best shot at making the postseason for the first time in his career. The Giants have two receivers that had at least 13.0 yards per reception in 2016 (Beckham with 13.5 and Marshall with 13.4), and since Marshall’s skill set has not reached the downhill spiral Victor Cruz’s did last year, he’s another weapon the offense can stretch downfield.

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Similar to Beckham, Marshall offers a gigantic catch radius that can bail out the quarterback’s accuracy (GIF 1). He’s old, but has remained healthy, so his athleticism on route running (GIF 2) is still high quality, and his speed after the catch is also very good (GIF 3).

Granted, Marshall has a small window left before he eventually retires, so it’s wise that he’s on a team that is capable of making the Super Bowl. He gives the Giants a really good WR2 while Beckham works the WR1 and Shepard carries the load in the slot.

Evan Engram

Out of all the tight ends drafted in the loaded 2017 class, Evan Engram just might be the most talented. Because of his size (6 ft 3, 234 lb.), he’s considered by many to be “a wide receiver disguised as a tight end.” Indeed, he was treated as such at Ole Miss, putting up 926 yards to the tune of 8 touchdowns in his final season in college.

That’s not a problem at all for the Giants, since it gives them a FOURTH receiver that can dominate anywhere on the field and provide yards after the catch.

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Engram’s physical talent is awe-inspiring. He’s perfect for McAdoo’s offense as a short game receiver due to his elusiveness, which can be jaw dropping at times (GIF 1). He can also stretch the field and offers excellent concentration at the catch point (GIF 2) (GIF 3), which will be a huge asset for Manning, who hasn’t had that kind of skill from a tight end in a long time.

Engram is one of the more exciting rookies for these reasons, offering the perfect target for an offense that desperately needed a tight end.

 

Paul Perkins

Finally, though more of a running back, Paul Perkins has shown hints of explosiveness as a receiving back. Perkins is a very talented back that ultimately took over the starting job at RB at the end of the season. And with the release of Rashad Jennings, the Giants are committed to him as the starter.

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Perkins has had few attempts as a receiving back, but has done well in his limited role. In the GIF above, he shows off his ability to elude defenders, stepping back and getting a few extra yards on the catch and run. As a back, his cut ability is terrific and his vision behind a poor offensive line is stellar. With more (probable) targets as a receiving back, Perkins will add to the Giants’ Big 4 a 5th dangerous receiver.

 

Conclusion

You might be wondering why I don’t consider the Buccaneers to have the best receiving corps in the NFL. Tampa Bay’s is also terrific, but it’s very close. Odell Beckham has the edge over Mike Evans for WR1, DeSean Jackson gets it over Brandon Marshall at WR3, Sterling Shepard has the edge over Adam Humphries or Chris Godwin in the slot, and while Cameron Brate is a really good tight end, I think Engram has just as good ball skills as him, and I like him better than O.J. Howard (who to his credit is the best blocking tight end of his class).

Charles Sims has more experience as a receiving back, but Paul Perkins has age and health on his side. I like Shane Vereen, but he’s a question mark at this point, and must prove he can be a force on the Giants’ offense. Jeremy McNichols is a guy I’m high on, though he’s not a guarantee to make the Bucs’ roster according to Dirk Koetter. Wayne Gallman has a shot to compliment Perkins in the run game, while Doug Martin has to prove he can be the RB1 in Tampa after he returns from suspension.

Really, this could go either way and I’d be perfectly acceptable with it. But to me, the Giants receivers’ at their peak look just slightly better than the Buccaneers’ at their peak. All of Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram, and Paul Perkins have the skill sets to be dangerous at pass catching, giving the G-Men one of the NFL’s most dynamic and dangerous offenses heading into 2017.

There could be a few setbacks. Eli Manning needs to show better arm strength, but with this supporting cast he should have an easier time completing passes. The offensive line is a train wreck, and left tackle Ereck Flowers, a first round pick in the 2015 draft, is rapidly drifting into bust territory. Ben McAdoo must show more aggression and trust in his offense on 4th down play calls, and his 3rd down calls need to be less predictable.

Still, the Giants are covered in the pass game, and with a top defense on the other side, they could easily start the season 5-0. They’ve managed to stress Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in their two matchups against him, can beat the Detroit Lions in week 2, can beat the Eagles in week 3, could get the edge in a showdown against (who else) the Bucs, and can beat the Chargers at home in week 5.

If all goes right, the Giants are a team the rest of the NFC needs to look out for, and they have the best receiving corps in the league.

 

Featured image via sny.tv

Improved Accuracy From Jameis Winston Will Skyrocket A Loaded Buccaneers Offense

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the more interesting teams of the offseason.

After finishing with a 9-7 record in 2016 under new head coach Dirk Koetter, greater expectations have been placed on the team, who has been busy this offseason. The signing of DeSean Jackson for three years, and the selection of Alabama tight end O.J. Howard in the draft highlighted this stretch.

Adding these two players to a team that already has Mike Evans and Cameron Brate has made Tampa Bay’s receiving corps one of the league’s deadliest, if not the deadliest. 3rd round receiver Chris Godwin also has the potential to step up at the WR3 position, which would even boost a loaded unit even further.

It’s safe to say that Jameis Winston, entering his third season, has plenty of toys to throw to. Known as one of the league’s most aggressive passers, Winston’s downfield accuracy was surprisingly low in 2016, ranking near the bottom in the 2016-17 Deep Ball Project. Even in an offense with a loaded cast of receivers, his accuracy likely won’t be masked due to the aggressive, vertical passing attack Koetter employs. And behind a sub-par offensive line, Winston will need to take big steps in his accuracy by himself to take Tampa Bay to the next level.

If he does, the Buccaneers are easy playoff contenders and will employ a top 5 passing offense at the very least.

This article will take a look at the Buccaneers’ passing offense as a whole, not just Winston. Key players that will be discussed will include Winston, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, and Chris Godwin.

So let’s get things started.

Jameis Winston

Winston is a very talented quarterback that when at his peak can do things very few quarterbacks are able to accomplish in the NFL. He generally reacts to pressure very well, and is a consistent anticipation passer. Winston is also the first quarterback to pass for 4,000+ yards in his first 2 seasons, mainly due to his aggressive style of QB play.

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Winston’s movement in the pocket is magnificent. He reacts well to pressure and will keep his eyes up to find any open receivers. On this play, Winston makes subtle movement in the pocket, then shifts his body right, where he fires a beautifully placed pass over a defender and into the hands of Mike Evans. His vision and arm strength allow him to deliver a smooth throw with smooth processing.

Where Winston really thrives however is outside the pocket. Through 2 seasons, he has proven he is extremely comfortable with making movement and escaping defenders on unstructured plays. Few quarterbacks in the league do it as well.

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Since Winston is a quarterback that keeps his eyes downfield, he has been a red zone threat outside the pocket. The two plays above are excellent examples of how Winston combines aggressiveness with patience and anticipation, never giving up on the play and firing at the last minute to the open receiver.

The 2nd play might be the most impressive I’ve seen from the third year starter. He rolls out of the pocket and hops backward, and launches it to Evans after noticing him turn away from a defender. It’s perfect awareness and it’s a play very few quarterbacks would attempt. Most would give up on the play and throw the ball out of bounds.

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Winston’s body also makes him tough to take down on the run. This play provides the best instance, where the quarterback breaks a tackle, buying him even more time. He uses it to his advantage, jump cutting at the right time and throwing to an open receiver. Like the rest, it’s a fantastic play from the quarterback.

When Winston is on, he’s on fire. We’ll get to his accuracy later in the article, but let’s move on to the other role players in the Bucs offense.

 

Mike Evans

Mike Evans is a borderline top 5 wide receiver. At 6 ft. 5, he not only provides height, but a wide frame, making him a favorable target for Winston. His ball skills are transcendental, capable of making adjustments on the dot and making his quarterback’s accuracy look better. His 12 touchdowns in 2014 and 2016 are both franchise records, and his 96 catches from 2016 are the most from any Bucs receiver since Keyshawn Johnson back in 2001. (Fun fact: Johnson only caught one touchdown from that season.)

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Evans provides value everywhere on the field, and is deadly on vertical routes and on inaccurate passes. These two plays are difficult for the receiver to make. Evans’ box out ability allows him to make an fantastic touchdown catch in the first GIF, and in the 2nd he bails out Winston’s accuracy, something he’s been doing the last 2 years.

Evans’ size, speed and hands make for one of the league’s most exciting receivers, and then the Buccaneers went out and paired him with another one of the league’s top downfield monsters.

DeSean Jackson

Former legendary WR Reggie Wayne recently provided a great insight on DeSean Jackson’s value, calling him “a fast deep threat with rare home-run ability.”

Jackson is a sensational vertical receiver, capable of getting downfield quickly and creating massive separation. This has rarely been realized because of the quality of quarterbacks he’s played with, but he gets his best quarterback since Michael Vick in 2010, as well as standing alongside Mike Evans.

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With the Redskins, Jackson provided a massive security blanket for Kirk Cousins in an offense that was already loaded with security blankets. His value to the team is huge and will be in future years for both Washington and Tampa Bay.

On this play, Cousins’ accuracy is terrible. The pass is position behind and wide of Jackson. It would be impressive enough to dive and make the catch. Not many receivers are able to make a play on it and keep going.

Jackson makes an outstanding adjustment on the pass like it was nothing and makes it look easy. He breaks a tackle and jogs to the end zone for a miraculous touchdown.

Jackson’s ability isn’t just limited to being a downfield threat though. He is as much of a threat on short/intermediate routes, and provides yards after the catch, impressive routes, and refined footwork.

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This play is another instance of Jackson bailing out his quarterback’s accuracy. The decision by Cousins is good, but the accuracy is way too low. Jackson’s approach to the ball, concentration, and footwork are all impossible. To get a handle on this pass without letting hit the ground while keeping his feet in makes this one of the best catches I’ve seen from 2016.

Alone, the Evans and Jackson duo is perhaps the most terrifying in the league, but the Buccaneers added a few tricks with a few more receivers of note.

 

Cameron Brate

Cameron Brate proved to be one of the best tight ends when he broke out in 2016. Undrafted out of Harvard, Brate took the starting job from Austin Sefarian-Jenkins for good, and became one of Winston’s most valuable targets in the process.

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Like Evans and Jackson, Brate is an excellent route runner with a strong catch radius and frame. The technique he displays in his ball skills, routes, and adjustments on inaccurate passes make it hard for me to believe this guy was undrafted. This is the work of a guy that looks like a 5-year veteran.

The first GIF provides an impressive route and adjustment from Brate. He is very explosive in Koetter’s vertical offense, and as shown in the 2nd GIF, provides a big cushion to be thrown to. Brate’s advanced techniques allowed him to catch 8 touchdown passes in his first season as the starting tight end.

 

O.J. Howard

Another explosive tight end in the Bucs offense, Howard was drafted out of Alabama in the first round. He is a very talented receiving tight end and an excellent blocker, which will expand his reliability in Tampa Bay.

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Howard didn’t make as many outstanding adjustments on throws in college like fellow rookies Evan Engram and David Njoku, but he is still a dangerous YAC option. The play above displays his shiftiness, as he is able to make a move and cut to the outside corner, where he is easily able to get the first down.

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Another factor Howard will bring to the Bucs offense is power. Or more power. Either way, his toughness plays a role in his ability to get yards after the catch, as shown in the play above. Pairing him up with Brate will give the Bucs two really talented tight ends to throw the ball to in 2017.

 

Chris Godwin

A third round pick out of Penn State, Chris Godwin provides the Buccaneers with another talented young receiver. As well as having an amazing last name, Godwin has the potential to be a dangerous WR3 for the team.

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Godwin provided good routes in college, but it’s his ball skills that are the most impressive. He makes an outrageous one handed catch on a pass behind him. It’s one thing to catch the ball with one hand, and it’s another to do it while adjusting your body when the throw is behind.

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The big thing I need to see more of from Godwin is better consistency on contested catches. He had a few plays last year where he failed to win on tough plays at the catch point. The above play is an example of when he won. Granted, the pass was tipped, but his concentration allows him to catch the ball and sprint for the end zone without breaking a sweat. As a whole, Godwin’s explosiveness downfield makes perfect sense in Koetter’s offense,

 

Other Players

The offense is already stacked at this point, and the Bucs have a few more skill players worth mentioning.

Doug Martin is obviously the big one, but he’s suspended for the first three games of the season, so we could see rookie Jeremy McNichols get some valuable playing time.

McNichols is a very talented back who combines powerful bursts with explosive running ability in space. If he makes the team, he could provide these assets.

Charles Sims missed a lot of time last season, but is a speedy receiving back, and one that could help what was an injured run game from 2016.

Adam Humphries is a decent slot receiver with good speed, but he’ll likely compete for the WR3 spot along with Godwin at the most.

 

Concerns With Winston

We come back to Winston, this time discussing a major flaw of his, which is his accuracy. For as many things as he does right, Winston’s accuracy is downright horrible at times, often not being in the same area as the intended receiver. This is what stalled the Bucs offense at times in 2016, and if it’s not improved, it could continue to stall them this year.

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There’s plenty of examples of Winston completely missing receivers, but for this article we’ll focus on two great examples. The first throw, above, is an atrocious miss. To overthrow a 6 ft 5 freak in Mike Evans is an achievement in of itself, and it’s something Winston has done way too much in his career. As productive as Evans has been, he would benefit much more from far more precise accuracy on downfield throws.

Anyway, you’ll notice that Winston’s release is a bit high on this throw. The mechanics on the release look unnatural, the footwork is sloppy, and it’s no surprise that the pass itself is wobbly. The entire process is uncomfortable to look at.

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The 2nd throw, above, is as much of a disaster for different reasons. Winston’s inaccuracy left too many downfield plays on the field, and several touchdowns as well. He performed much better later on in the game, but this was a sign of how awful his accuracy can be. Outside the pocket, his mechanics look much more comfortable. Outside, while he’s able to step up in the pocket, his accuracy isn’t clear-cut.

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While Winston’s aggressive style of play is a blessing, it can also be a curse. His ability to process reads as a result is madly inconsistent. The play above is more of a terrible decision than anything else. Winston misreads the coverage completely, firing an interception straight to the safety.

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As good as Winston is outside of the pocket, he can also be too aggressive for his own good. I’m all for quarterbacks being aggressive, but there also has to be a perfect balance of aggression and awareness. This play illustrates the wrong way to do it. Winston does a great job of buying time, but the play is pretty much dead. He should’ve thrown the ball away to set up a field goal.

Instead, the pass is nearly picked (the defender didn’t have possession in bounds), almost costing the Buccaneers valuable points. Winston was very fortunate to escape with just an incomplete pass.

 

Conclusion

While Jameis Winston has accuracy and decision making issues, he does do a lot of things right. His pocket movement, play outside the pocket, and patience are all terrific. Winston gives the offense many chances for success, but as previously stated, it’s his job to improve his accuracy in an offense that stresses vertical routes behind an offensive line that creates stress.

At this point I’m repeating myself. The Buccaneers’ opportunity for success is tremendous, ask anyone. The passing game is unbelievably loaded, with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, and Chris Godwin offering tons of potential on paper, and the offense as a whole is one of the most exciting units in football.

We should anticipate great things from the Buccaneers offense in 2017. If Winston takes the next step, we should anticipate even greater.

 

Featured image via defpen.com

Deshone Kizer Has A Shot At Ending The Cleveland Browns’ Quarterback Curse

 

The Cleveland Browns’ historic quarterback carousal has gone round and round, never seeming to end.

Since the team’s return since 1999, they’ve been highlighted by the lack of a franchise quarterback. The closest Cleveland has seen to one was Tim Couch, and he was doomed from the start with a lack of talent around him. Derek Anderson’s 2007 season was the only year in the team’s expansion era that saw a QB selected to the Pro Bowl, and that turned out to be a fluke. Lakewood’s Brian Hoyer was supposed to be the hometown hero after not being Brandon Weeden in 2013, but his 2014 season wiped any hope away.

From bad quarterback to bad quarterback, the Browns have had nothing to show at the position, which is the biggest reason why they’ve failed to make the playoffs since 2002.

So with me singing the praises of how good the supporting cast on offense is for the 2017 team, it only feels appropriate to discuss how a good quarterback would take the team to the next level now that it has plenty of pieces on offense.

And wouldn’t you know it, the Browns drafted Toledo’s own Deshone Kizer this year in the 2nd round.

The Notre Dame prospect was one of the more discussed quarterbacks leading up to the 2017 draft, but was the fourth QB taken after the first 3 were grabbed as a result of teams trading up. To get a promising prospect in the 2nd round without giving up anything is great value for the Browns.

With word coming out that Kizer has been the most promising QB in Browns’ training camp, one wonders if he’ll get the starting job right away. As a Clevelander, I can tell you this; There are a lot of people who want him to sit for 2017 and learn the position while Cody Kessler starts.

The big issue with Kessler is that he generally lacks poise. He’s a very shaky player under pressure, often dropping his eyes panicking. This caused much of the pressure and sacks he ran into his rookie season. His mobility allows him to buy time outside of the pocket for some impressive plays, but he’s not subtle with his movement, and his arm strength is lacking.

But Kessler’s achilles’ heel comes from how he handles pressure.

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The above two plays are sacks created by Kessler. You can see in both of these GIFs that his vision and poise are limited. He never puts himself in a comfortable state of mind where he can wait in or out of the pocket and deliver the throw. In the first GIF, he doesn’t see in the interior pressure, while in the 2nd, he fails to see exterior pressure.

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This sack is the worst I’ve seen Kessler take. He doesn’t sense pressure coming around him and runs into his own sack. His pocket movement isn’t natural; He should have climbed the pocket instead of staying like a statue in his spot. If he had climbed the pocket and still took the sack, that would’ve been much more acceptable.

Ultimately, having a QB learn by sitting doesn’t make any sense, and it doesn’t in this case when Kessler is a flawed quarterback himself.

Besides, what good is it to sit and learn when the best learning comes from actually playing on the field? You get better by practicing, not sitting on the field and watching from an angle that isn’t the same as the QB on the field. This narrative exists because quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre, a Hall of Famer. Philip Rivers sat behind Drew Brees. Steve Young sat behind Joe Montana. All Hall of Famers. The Browns have had experience with this when they sat Johnny Manziel behind Brian Hoyer for his rookie season, and that turned out well.

Before I get carried away though, let’s get back to Kizer. If reports of his rise are true, he could very well be the quarterback that ends the Browns’ QB curse and take the team over the hump. After he was drafted, I sat down and watched his 2016 season, coming away impressed with what I had seen.

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Kizer brings something to the table that Kessler does not: Consistency in the pocket and under pressure. With Kessler, he drops his eyes when faced with pressure, and you don’t know whether he’ll make subtle movements or run into a sack. With Kizer, you get someone that constantly keeps his eyes downfield even when faced with heavy pressure.

On this play, Kizer is faced with an unblocked defender up at him. The receiver in the flat is open while this is occurring. The QB notices this and focuses his attention on that. He’s tripped up, but steps up in the pocket, keeping his eyes on the receiver, and fires a pass. It’s not the most accurate throw, but it’s a sensational play under heavy pressure because of Kizer’s concentration.

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The best QBs in the pros focus on maximizing the results of the play however they can. This doesn’t just include scrambling out the pocket; A lot of times it involves taking hits you know you can’t avoid if you want the play to succeed. On this play, Kizer does just that. What makes this work is that he doesn’t anticipate pressure. This has no effect on his mechanics, allowing him to complete a tough pass while taking a crushing blow.

The Browns’ offensive line won’t put Kizer under as much pressure as he was in college, so for a QB to exhibit this quality under it is magnificent.

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Kizer’s pocket movement is sensational. He is a smart quarterback who understands how to create subtle movements to avoid tacklers. On this play, he glides left of pressure while keeping his eyes downfield. This allows him to hit the shallow crossing route while putting himself out of harm’s way.

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Going further into his movement, Kizer also has terrific footwork. This was one of his biggest selling points going into the draft (Derrik Klassen raves about it all the time), and you’ll get no rebuttal here. When using your feet, it’s obviously important that they’re pointing in the direction where you want to throw the football. It won’t always be as easy when you have to make movements in and out of the pocket. With Kizer, his feet are consistently smooth.

On this play, the QB spots an open receiver downfield. He’s able to sidestep a tackler using small movements. This allows him to stay in the general area without going too far out of it. His poise is excellent, and he lofts a great pass into his receiver’s breadbasket.

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With many college quarterbacks, you get guys that require their first reads to be open. These tend not to be players that throw with anticipation, instead requiring receivers to create separation on their own. With Kizer, you get a guy that does not panic when his first read isn’t open. As shown on the play above, he keeps his composure and surveys the field, firing a beautiful dart across the middle of the field after sidestepping pressure.

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Lastly, Kizer has good arm strength to work with. His talent allows him to control the speed of which he’s throwing so he can attack tight windows. This has helped elevate his teammates in Notre Dame when facing those regards. Compared to Kessler, there’s a lot more room to work with in his arm.

While Kizer does do a lot of things beautifully, his accuracy could be a major flaw if it’s not improved. It’s true that Kizer’s accuracy can be really bad, but in an offense with plenty of safe throws a couple of talented receivers, it’ll be a bit easier for the QB to develop his precision.

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These two plays were the biggest strikes I had of Kizer’s film. He reminds me of Jameis Winston in that when he misses, he can miss horribly. That he has taken the biggest leap in training camp would suggest that his accuracy is being trained upon, but I take training camp with far less credentials than the regular season or even preseason.

 

Conclusion

Despite criticisms of his accuracy, Deshone Kizer is an otherwise wonderful prospect. His footwork, play under pressure, arm strength, pocket movement, and overall poise are all excellent and a dream come true for the Browns if he starts from day 1. He’s with a really good supporting cast on offense, one with a great coordinator in Hue Jackson, a great run duo in Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell, and behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.

If his accuracy improves, Kizer could be the franchise quarterback Browns fans have waited so long for. Outside of it, he does everything right, which will allow him to have more room to improve on his flaws while working in a quarterback friendly environment. I think he should start in Week 1, but time will tell if that is guaranteed.

But for what it’s worth, the Browns have drafted a really exciting prospect at the quarterback position, one that has the best shot at ending the team’s curse that I’ve seen as a fan.

 

Featured image via Fansided.com

The Cleveland Browns Have Built One of The NFL’s Best Supporting Casts For A Quarterback

The Cleveland Browns have been the laughing stock of the NFL since their return to the league in 1999. With two fluke winning seasons in 2002 (with the only playoff appearance in the team’s return) and 2007 (barely missing out on the playoffs despite a 10-6 record), the team has been haunted by a never ending curse of bad/washed out quarterbacks, inept front offices, poor coaching, and a focus on washed up veterans that provide “potential leadership” instead of embracing a full rebuild.

In 2016, that changed.

When Sashi Brown took over as the general manager, he wasted no time in establishing his presence, letting tackle Mitchell Schwartz, center Alex Mack, and WR Travis Benjamin walk to the Chiefs, Falcons and Chargers respectfully. Browns fans had ripped this move, but in the long run it actually paid off. Allowing the two linemen and receiver to walk freed up a load of cap space for the Browns to use for the following offseason.

Brown also shook up the draft for Cleveland, trading the team’s #2 pick to the Eagles in exchange for Philadelphia’s 1st round, 3rd round and 4th round selections from 2016, as well as the team’s first round selection in 2017 and their 2nd round pick in 2018. This set up the stage for many trades to come for the team.

Sashi made additional noise trading for Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, then signing him after the season with a four-year, $50M contract extension.

But it was during the free agent year of 2017 and the draft that the Browns attracted serious attention. The team signed Rams receiver Kenny Britt, linemen JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler in free agency, and bought a 2nd round pick from the Texans on the condition of being the team that had the displeasure of letting Brock Osweiler waste away on the roster. The trade was heavily compared to a basketball trade and was praised for its unconventional technique.

The team drafted Myles Garrett with the #1 overall pick as expected, before trading their 2nd first round pick to the Texans in addition for more picks. They went on to select Jabril Peppers and tight end David Njoku in the first round.

All things considered, it’s been a hell of an offseason for the Browns. Sashi Brown thus far has exceeded any expectations I had of him when he was first hired, and his methods of trading and signing go against the traditional norm of NFL culture not just because he wants to do it different, but because he’s used actual logic and reasoning behind his trades. Because of him, the Browns have successfully entered a full, actual rebuild, going after fresh, young talent and making trades/deals that make sense.

While the Browns may not make the playoffs in 2017, what they have made is one of the best offenses for a quarterback to play in thanks to their coaching and front office. Regardless of whether Deshone Kizer, Cody Kessler, or Brock Osweiler (maybe not) starts, all 3 will be in a heavy QB friendly environment that gives them excellent pass protection and a good slab of weapons to throw to.

Below, we will analyze the key parts of the Browns offense and why it is so QB friendly.

Hue Jackson

I’ve already written on head coach Hue Jackson before, so you can find more information there. But he’s the key ingredient to the Browns’ future. While the team went 1-15 in 2016, it was primarily based on the lack of talent on offense, incompetent quarterback play, and one of the absolute worst defenses in the league.

Jackson’s scheme and play calling allowed the Browns to stay in games they weren’t supposed to be in, and got them a Christmas miracle with a win over the Chargers on Christmas Eve.

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In Cincinnati, Jackson was known for diversifying an already loaded offense that played at its peak in 2015. He was able to get the most out of Andy Dalton because his protection schemes kept the QB safe and gave him plenty of easy, open throws.

In Cleveland, while the offensive line was not as good in his first year, he was still able to provide the same friendly environment with less talent. On this play, Jackson calls for a play action pass off a jet sweep. The movement of the back and linemen creates misdirection, baiting the defense into going after the back. Gary Barnidge runs across the line of scrimmage and is left completely uncovered, allowing Robert Griffin III to make an easy throw for the first down.

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On this play, Jackson calls to motion in the outside receiver behind the slot receiver. This is smart because the secondary can’t communicate this in time. This leaves one guy to guard two guys, resulting in the outside receiver being completely open. The QB is given an easy target and a first down.

When people point at the Browns’ receivers not being up to league standards and preventing them from having a loaded offense, from an abstract point they’re right, but Hue Jackson at the helm makes up for this. Give me a great offensive line and a coach that can provide a QB friendly environment over a loaded receiving corps and a coach that doesn’t help the quarterback out. With the former, you’re guaranteed more openings and easy throws for the QB.

A healthy and fully improved offensive line will help the Browns, especially with Jackson calling the shots. He’s one of the best coordinators in the league and provides the beginning of what is to come for the Browns offense.

Next, let’s check out the running backs. The Browns have one of the best and most underrated duos in the league, with two backs that are young and have wide skill sets.

 

Isaiah Crowell

Isaiah Crowell’s development since year 1 has been substantial, as he’s gradually shown better footwork and running ability into tight gaps. While he’s been provided with quality run blocking, he hasn’t been the product of it, as he’s been able to make runs on his own as well.

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This play shows Crowell’s athleticism. The right tackle blows his protection, noted immediately by the back. He stops and cuts back outside before showing burst, shuffling his feet and crossing past the first down marker. Crowell shows off an impressive burst after grabbing the football, helping him on this run.

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Here, Crowell provides an example of how he’s able to run through tight windows. Before going up the middle, he lowers his head, protecting the ball, and is able to glide through the gap and cuts through the open space.

 

Duke Johnson

As one of the most exciting receiving backs in the league, Duke Johnson has been a gem for the Browns. He is a gifted route runner and extremely dangerous after the catch. He finished with the 4th most receiving yards of any back in the league in 2016 (514), finishing only behind David Johnson (879), Le’Veon Bell (616), and James White (551). His 53 catches were also 6th most out of all receiving backs.

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On this play, Johnson cuts inside to the first down marker. His awareness allows him to spot two defenders coming up against him the second he catches the ball. Once he sees this, he is able to make a sensational cut, avoiding the tackle and advancing the the field position.

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On third downs, Johnson is your safest bet. Not only is he fast and nimble, but he is also tough to bring down because of his slippery nature and his quick vision. An example is shown on the play above.

The combination of a healthy Crowell and Johnson will be lethal in 2017 behind the healthy line. They create enough plays on their own that they can give the Browns offense multiple dimensions to work with.

While the team doesn’t have the best group of receivers, they have some pieces that are definitely worth watching.

 

Kenny Britt

Kenny Britt is the Browns’ big free agent prize, and he’s a really good wide receiver (as illustrated in this article). With the Rams, he never had a good quarterback (Sam Bradford was out for the season in his only year with Britt) or a WR friendly offense. He gets the latter in Cleveland, and could potentially get a good QB to play with if Kessler ever develops or Kizer takes command of the starting job.

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In signing Britt, the Browns have replaced Terrelle Pryor with someone who is a bit more balanced and every bit as a threat at the catch position. Britt provides a huge frame to work and great strength, making him ideal for downfield throws and yards after the catch. On this play, Britt is held, but is able to break away from the guy guarding him. He bounces off tacklers and stays on his feet, bulldozing his way into the end zone for the touchdown.

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Britt is also a strong red zone option thanks to his footwork and body. On the above play, he’s able to box out his defender like a tight end, attacking the ball while making sure his feet stay in bounds. The combined concentration on the catch and his position allow him to score the touchdown.

 

David Njoku

Myles Garrett is the guy that’s gotten most of the draft buzz for Cleveland, but it’s David Njoku, drafted in the first round out of Miami, that gives them a potential superstar at the tight end position. It’s true that Njoku is lacking in blocking, but in today’s league filled with receiving tight ends (and with a great offensive line), it’s not that big of a deal.

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Like Britt, Njoku provides a cushion at the catch point, and in this case, he is a tight end! In Miami he was extremely dangerous partially for these reasons. The above play is one of the most impressive catches I’ve seen from any tight end in college. Njoku only gets one foot in (it counts as a touchdown due to the college football rules), but the concentration and ability to stay in bounds are both remarkable.

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On this play, Njoku shows his toughness, breaking through a tackle and bullying his way into the end zone. He’s a dangerous receiver and will be able to bring yards after the catch and contact to the team.

Britt and Njoku have been the two big additions to the receiving group, but the Browns have two other receivers that could potentially breakout.

 

Other Receivers

Corey Coleman

Corey Coleman’s rookie season was cut short thanks to injuries that kept him out during the middle of the season. He’s not great at the slot, but played well in Hue Jackson’s offense when on the field, and showed flashes of explosiveness.

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Here, Coleman does the step jab on Janoris Jenkins and gets open easily, leading to the score. Coleman is fast and can afford to be schemed open in Jackson’s offense. He just needs to stay on the field so we can see what he can become.

Ricardo Louis

Ricardo Louis is another receiver both the Browns and Browns fans have been excited about in the offseason. He had some bad drops in his rookie season, but he is a talented receiver.

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This play shows Louis’ shiftyness after the catch. His experience on the field was limited due to the amount of reps he got, but it offered some positives. He has a good frame to work with and can potentially be a YAC weapon. We’ll still need to see more from him, but at this point he should get more opportunities in his second season, especially since the Browns reportedly liked the improvements he made.

 

Linemen

Finally, we look at the bread and butter of the Browns offense: The offensive line. For a team that hasn’t had much success since its return, it’s been able to completely rebuild its offensive line in just a year, something competing teams like the Seahawks and Vikings have struggled to do.

In free agency, the Browns made two big splashes that have revamped their offensive line, signing center J.C. Tretter from Green Bay and right guard Kevin Zeitler from Cincinnati. Tretter is 26 while Zeitler is 27, so both players are young enough to play for the Browns while they continue to rebuild while also offering veteran presence.

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Both Tretter (#73 in the first GIF) and Zeitler (#70 in the 2nd GIF) are athletic linemen that will patch much needed areas for the line. Tretter gives Cleveland a legit center while Zeitler gives the team much needed depth at the right guard position. These two pieces will be vital to what will likely be one of the top offensive lines in the league.

Future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas needs no introduction. He’s been the league standard in each of his 10 seasons in Cleveland, and shows no sign of slowing down. Left guard Joel Bitonio will return after a foot injury kept him out for the season last October. He signed a 5-year extension with the Browns in the offseason, and is one of the league’s top left guards when healthy. John Greco provides depth at the right guard position as well.

The one unproven is the right tackle position, where Shon Coleman and Cam Erving will battle it out, but the Browns have filled enough holes at the line where they should be one of the league’s most dominant units once again.

Conclusion

The Cleveland Browns have built one of the best offenses for a quarterback to take over. With an excellent, revamped offensive line featuring Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler, a QB friendly scheme with efficient playcalling from Hue Jackson, a dynamic RB duo of Isiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, and a receiving corps featuring Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman and David Njoku, the Browns will put little pressure on their quarterback while giving them weapons to throw to.

As far as the overall team goes, the defense clearly still needs work and the team still needs established QB play before talk of the playoffs can begin. The front office understands this. This will be year 2 of the rebuilding process for the Browns, and they have done a phenomenal job of doing so. The team made plenty of crucial signings and draft picks in the offseason, drastically improving the quality of the team and adding more pieces all around.

Sashi Brown and the front office have done wonders managing the team. The Browns have avoided mistakes of the past by making logical steps for a true rebuild, collecting young talent and bringing in veterans with smart, reasonable deals. The best part is that they have added loads of draft picks for future drafts, with plenty of cap space for the 2018 season.

This is not a 10-12 win roster, but it definitely won’t be an 0-16 or 1-15 team. As the offseason continues to unfold, the Browns have looked like one of the least dysfunctional teams in this span in a time where other teams are shooting themselves in the foot with scared, illogical moves. If Kessler develops or Deshone Kizer takes the starting role, this group will look even better.

It’s been a long time since Browns fans have seen the playoffs. As a Browns fan myself, I’ve waited for the opportunity to see my team host a playoff game for the longest time. It’s one of the things that’s on my bucket list. It’s not likely that it will happen this season.

At the rate this team is rebuilding, however, we won’t have to wait long.

 

Featured image via dawgpounddaily.com

 

Why Cam Newton Was Still A Great Quarterback In 2016

Cam Newton was the best quarterback of 2015. Winning MVP and carrying the Carolina Panthers to their first Super Bowl appearance since 2003, Newton’s level of play guided the team to a 15-1 record and their third consecutive NFC South title.

Expectations for Carolina and Newton were about the same in 2016, but then, everything came spiraling out of control. With injuries to key players and a much tougher schedule, the team finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Newton’s numbers have also been scrutinized. Putting up the league’s lowest completion percentage (52.9%) while throwing for 3,509 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, this for many was enough to drop the QB out of the top 5 or top 10 discussions. In addition to fans and analysts citing that Newton has to show improvement for the Panthers to make it back to the Super Bowl, this sets up the idea that he had a major regression last year.

The NFL is populated by analysis that is rooted heavily in raw statistics, so from their perspectives it makes sense to suggest Newton did not have a good year. With these stats, however, it’s critical to point context into why they happened, which is a mistake many stat buffs make.

For instance, Newton’s accuracy has always been brought up, but this is usually done without context. The Panthers run one of the most aggressive passing games in the league, regularly pushing the ball downfield and calling vertical routes religiously. Research tells us that every QB will see their accuracy decrease on long passing in comparison to short passing.

The issue is that when you play behind an injured, beaten up offensive line and throw to receivers that cannot catch, create separation, run the correct routes or win at the catch point, your completion percentage is of course going to suck. That’s not to say that Newton is the most accurate passer in the game, but his accuracy is better than people think it is. In the 2016-17 edition of the Deep Ball Project, Cam’s accuracy on throws of both 16+ and 20+ air yards was 8th for the year. This came despite a league worst completion percentage.

To explain why Newton’s downfield accuracy was so good in 2016, it’s appropriate to start with a more obscure method of analysis; Looking at his receivers. The Panthers have one of the worst receiving units in the NFL, as stated previously, and have consistently ruined big plays from their quarterback. This is not relatively new (It’s happened for the last 3 years as far as I can tell), but along with the injured offensive line, caused Newton’s stats to crumble.

Famed Irish NFL analyst Cian Fahey stated in his 2017 QB Catalogue that Newton experienced the 2nd most failed receptions (throws the receiver should have caught) of any team in 2016 with 59 failed receptions (only behind Aaron Rodgers who according to Fahey witnessed his receivers leave 67 catches on the field). Newton lost 845 yards on these passes, also 2nd to Rodgers’ 875. (Fahey also noted that Newton’s accuracy percentage dropped below 70% in four of the last five games of the season, and he had an accuracy percentage of less than 60% in 3 of those 4 games. That was critical in making his overall completion percentage and the accuracy percentage Fahey gave him look far worse than they would have been with a healthy Newton.)

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Kelvin Benjamin was a part of the legendary WR Draft Class of 2014 (a class that includes Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Jarvis Landry, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, and UDFA Allen Hurns), but he’s heading closer to bust territory at this rate. Despite his size, he’s a receiver that lacks discipline in every area that counts. Above, Newton fires a catchable pass to Benjamin. Benjamin creates little separation on the play, and when he does get his hands on the ball (theoretically), he can’t get himself to haul it in.

The pass needed a good play from the wide receiver to complete it, but at the same time it was still an accurate pass. Benjamin’s inability to separate and soft hands botches this opportunity.

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Ted Ginn is notorious for his poor ball skills, and in 2016 proved no different. Where in 2015 he went on a 2nd half stretch where he was able to minimize the amount of drops he had, they came back full force the next year.

On this play, Newton fires a perfect pass that should be a trip to the red zone if caught at the very least. For some odd reason, Ginn keeps waving his hand up long after Newton fires it as if he was making a fair catch or was Randy Moss. He drops the pass, the sun is hot.

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This pass to Ed Dickson triggers the same result. It’s a beautifully thrown ball that bounces off the hands of Dickson, wasting a touchdown. It’s a theme that followed the Panthers from week 1 until week 17.

Combine that with Newton playing through injuries in the 2nd half of the season, and the 2016 Panthers were an utter disaster.

Despite these setbacks, Newton’s quality wasn’t that far off from his MVP season in 2015. In fact, it actually was great for a large part of the season.

Cam Newton’s been able to carry bad offenses for his entire career in the NFL because he’s one of the league’s top quarterbacks. When he won the MVP, it was during a season where Carolina played a soft schedule. This allowed the supporting cast to look better than it actually was, but Newton’s high quality play remained unchanged, just with monster stats.

It’s an outlier for the quality of the offense around Newton, but not for Newton himself. With something like the Steelers’ offensive line and receivers around him, he’d consistently put up massive numbers every year. That’s not a strike against a great QB like Ben Roethlisberger, that’s just showing how he’s been able to have a good supporting cast, which is what the Panthers need to do with Newton.

But before I get too carried away, let’s take a look at why I think Newton was still a great quarterback in 2016, looking at what truly defines him as an underrated great.

Newton’s ability as a run threat is obvious. As a dynamic passer and runner, his ability gives the Panthers offense multiple dimensions to work with. He is quite known as a runner, and he’s also one of the best passers in football.

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As previously mentioned, Carolina runs an aggressive passing offense that encourages pushing the ball downfield, and this is because of Newton’s playing style. He is one of the league’s hungriest QBs in terms of further pushing the ball, aggressively attacking tight windows with precision passing and throwing receivers open even when they aren’t.

In the first play above, Newton works a pocket that gets more condensed as time goes by. While his mechanics are awkward (he doesn’t really step up), it doesn’t matter because of how strong Newton’s arm is as well as the accuracy of the throw. The pass is sensational, leading his receiver to a spot where he can make a catch without being contested with, all while the ball is thrown over everyone’s heads. Newton’s anticipation allows him to be aggressive without constantly being punished, and similar results happen in the 2nd play.

One of the more defining aspects of Newton’s style is in his arm. The range at which he throws as well as the maximum velocity and precision he has on downfield passes give him an otherworldly quality.

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Newton is gifted at throwing 50-60 yards downfield without the need to step into his throws. He is rare in that while his mechanics and footwork are sloppy, they don’t really harm him, as he is comfortable from these angles and consistently throws with accuracy downfield. On the play above, the way Newton throws suggests an awkward desperation pass, but further inspection reveals that his feet were pointing at the place he was throwing Ginn open. The pass is thrown without Newton stepping in and is on time, resulting in an incredible touchdown throw.

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I consider this play one of the five best throws of the 2016 season. As Newton’s pass protection decreased until a small circle surrounded him, he climbed up the pocket and fired in the back corner of the end zone to Ginn. While it was initially ruled incomplete, the replay revealed that it was a touchdown pass, and the ruling was changed. The pass is sensational not just because of the delivery and accuracy, but because of the pocket Newton was working with.

And when it comes to working with condensing pockets, Newton is one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks at handling them.

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Like all other great quarterbacks, Newton’s quality of play thrives under pressure. He’s always looking down the field to give his receivers a chance to make a play even if the pass protection sucks. On this play, the Saints’ front 7 pushes the pocket into Cam, but he keeps cool in spite of this. He isn’t even phased by as he makes multiple reads before moving to his right to find a wide open receiver. He gets the pass off before getting thrown to the ground.

Newton is one of the more notable examples of mobile quarterbacks in the NFL. His peak mobility isn’t at the level of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or Matthew Stafford, but it’s still quite good.

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This play was offset by a holding penalty on Carolina, but it still shows the intelligence and movement the QB makes under pressure. He’s able to break free of a tackle and climbs up the pocket, choosing to release the ball right before taking a shot to the head (a penalty should have been called).

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Newton’s mechanics may not be “normal”, but they remain about the same when the pressure closes in. His movement is terrific; he’ll make subtle movements to ease himself away from pressure and maximize the results of a play. This play combines most of Newton’s traits. He’s able to sidestep an edge rusher, makes quick reads surveying downfield, and fires a precise rocket to his receiver that gets there before the defender does.

It’s indicative of how Newton has played in the NFL.

 

Conclusion

Cam Newton is still a top 10 quarterback, and his 2016 season, while not on par with 2015, was still a great year. His declining stats were based on the health of his offensive line, the vertical offense he plays in, and the horrible quality of the receivers he throws to.

The Panthers drafted Christian McCaffrey in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft to try and ease the pressure on Newton. McCaffrey was a sensational running back in college, and offers some of the most exciting play I’ve ever seen at the college level. His efficiency was tremendous and suggests he can dominate at an NFL level instantly. They won’t rush him behind Jonathan Stewart, an excellent and underrated back in his own right.

The team also drafted Curtis Samuel to help at the receiving end. Samuel is talented, and could be the #1 receiver for the Panthers by the end of the year.

These two players should be able to offer Newton some much needed help, as well as the return of several linemen. Expectations shouldn’t soar too high though, as the offensive line and receivers will still be a problem for Newton. What is important is that he’ll be healthy to start the year.

Whatever the case, Cam Newton is a terrific quarterback that is far too underappreciated. What he lacks in being the most accurate passer in the league he makes up completely with his peak level of play. He makes Carolina stay in games each year and gets the most out of a limited cast of receivers.

Carolina must do all they can to insure that they don’t waste the career of one of the most talented quarterbacks to ever step into the league.

 

Featured image via vibe.com

 

 

 

Sam Bradford vs. Teddy Bridgewater: The Battle for Minnesota

It’s a surreal time to be a Vikings fan.

Following franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s devastating leg injury that kept him out for all of the 2016 season, the Vikings traded for temporary franchise quarterback Sam Bradford from the Eagles in order to stay competitive for the year. While they failed to make the playoffs for a 2nd year in a row (meaning they didn’t make it like they did in 2015), Bradford helped guide the team to an 8-8 record despite constant injuries and arguably the worst offensive line in the league. He threw 20 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions and his 71.2 completion percentage is an NFL record.

Following the 2017 season, the team will face a tough decision regarding the quarterback position. Earlier this year, the Vikings declined to pickup Bridgewater’s 5th year option, and he’ll most likely miss the 2017 season as well. When 2018 comes, will they return to Bridgewater or continue to roll with Bradford?

Debates between these two quarterbacks can get intense in the state of Minnesota. One side feels Teddy is the true franchise quarterback, while the other feels the team should continue to roll with the healthier quarterback in Bradford.

My take is that I think both quarterbacks are really good and undeserving of the scrutiny they’ve gotten outside of Minnesota. So for this article, I’ll do a comparison between both quarterbacks, highlighting what areas they play their best in and which is better in certain areas.

Without further delay, let’s compare both of the quarterbacks in selective traits.

 

Decision Making

Sam Bradford

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Bradford is a poised passer despite his reputation as a checkdown machine. The reason he’s like that is due to the lack of quality of the offensive lines he’s been behind, making it impossible for the routes to develop in time for him to get rid of the ball. This forces him to check it down to get the most amount of yards possible.

#8 is a smart decision maker though. Unlike Teddy, though, he’s put in an offense that requires him to make quick decisions, and in 2016 he succeeded on that end. On the play above, Bradford looks off his receiver (#82), causing the defender guarding him to move along Bradford’s eyes. Once the QB sees this, in the snap of a finger he turns back to his receiver, plants his feet, and fires a strike that allows to ball to be delivered safely.

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Above, Bradford immediately turns to his left after the snap after noticing a receiver creating separation downfield. His quickness processing the play and his vision allow him to throw a dime outside the numbers. He is exceptionally quick when throwing outside the numbers, making it easier for the Vikings to run vertical routes even if the offensive line can’t hold up.

Teddy Bridgewater

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In stark contrast to Bradford’s quick decision making, Bridgewater has played in a offense that allows him to be more patient. This is partly due to his advanced athleticism in comparison to Bradford. His movement in the pocket is more nimble and fluid, allowing him to make decisions on the fly.

On the play above, Bridgewater sees that none of his routes are open, so he moves around the pocket in an attempt to find an open receiver. This instead creates an open gap at the middle, which Teddy sees and takes advantage of. This allows him to hurdle his way into the end zone for the touchdown, showing off his patience in the process.

With this said, Teddy has shown some plays where he releases the ball quickly.

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On the play above, Bridgewater makes an aggressive move firing this pass into a tight window. The closest Lions’ defender at the catch point isn’t looking, and Teddy knows this beforehand (he’s too busy guarding another receiver) and fires a perfect pass to his receiver. He does an excellent job of diagnosing the coverage and finding his receiver.

Winner: Teddy Bridgewater

Both Bridgewater and Bradford are excellent decision makers, but while Bradford is able to make quicker decisions downfield, Bridgewater is able to make more decisions on the fly, so he barely gets the edge in this category.

 

Arm Strength

Sam Bradford

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I’ve talked a lot about arm strength recently, so this is redundant, but still needs to be said.

Sam Bradford’s arm strength is phenomenal. He is capable firing rockets and throwing from any angle/position of the field, and is also capable of processing the long ball throws quickly. The above play is a perfect example. With anticipation, Bradford fires an absolute laser that is right on the money to his receiver.

A decent amount of quarterbacks could make that throw, but can’t do it as consistently or as accurately as Bradford.

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Bradford is an anticipation thrower. He usually does a great job of finding the open receiver and locking on to a spot where he can catch the ball without interference, and for a QB with limited mobility, that’s crucial.

This throw combined with the arm strength is unreal. He notices one of his receivers has an angle in traffic, and Bradford uses that to his advantage. He’s able to direct his receiver away from said traffic by placing it only where he can make the catch. The pass rockets through the tight window and is right into the hands of the intended target. It’s a beautiful throw and a perfect example of Bradford’s arm talent.

Teddy Bridgewater

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Bridgewater’s arm strength doesn’t make him a big downfield passing threat, but from time to time he does have enough zip on his passes. On the play above, for example, he shows he’s capable of executing a strike on the run with this first down completion. His arm strength isn’t great, but it is quite good, and it has decent control on all aspects of the field.

Winner: Sam Bradford

Bridgewater simply can’t compete in this area. Bradford’s arm talent is one of the strongest in the NFL and is far advanced in comparison to Teddy’s. This additionally makes him a superior downfield passer as well.

 

Play Under Pressure

Sam Bradford

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Sam Bradford has a reputation for being a “deer in the headlights” in the pocket. This is strange, because in 2016, I thought he showed extreme awareness in the pocket, and what better time to show awareness than when under pressure? The Vikings offensive line is perfect practice for pressure plays.

In spite of his limited mobility, Bradford is great under pressure. The collapsing protection doesn’t affect his mechanics, as he’s able to concentrate and stay disciplined on the play. The throw above is electrifying. Bradford’s footwork makes a slight adjustment when he sees pressure, without the awkwardness or stumble. Unless you’re a deadly accurate quarterback, you cannot backpedal in these situations, because it will affect the accuracy of the throw.

This throw is fantastic not just because Bradford gets hit the second after releasing, but because of the placement as well (more on that later). It’s well out of reach of the defender’s hands and far enough that Stefon Diggs can make a play on it. It’s an awesome, awesome play under pressure.

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On this play, a linebacker goes undetected and rushes up the middle to drill Bradford. The QB sees a player open cutting across the field on a shallow crossing route. He uses his eye movement to direct traffic away from the spot he’s throwing to and side arms it to his receiver just as he gets hit. The pass is perfect, and proves that Bradford is a wizard under pressure. With an offensive line that doesn’t give him any time to react, his reaction is a lot better than it’s given credit for.

Teddy Bridgewater

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Bridgewater is also a master under pressure. His advanced mobility allows him to create plays under pressure, like Bradford helping to make the offensive line look so much better. On the above play, Bridgewater doesn’t waste any time stepping up in the pocket, as he recognizes pressure immediately. The space he’s in becomes more and more condensed as he climbs up, yet he’s somehow able to get the pass off to an open receiver. It’s an excellent play made even more impressive considering this was his first career game.

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This might be the most impressive play of Bridgewater’s career, and it’s similar to the throw Andrew Luck made in the 2014 wild card game against the Bengals. He climbs up the pocket once the protection collapses, scrambling before finding a receiver to throw to. Despite being tackled to the ground as he’s throwing, he doesn’t lose his concentration, and is able to get a breathtaking throw off before his knees hit the ground.

Winner: Both Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater

Both quarterbacks play really well under pressure in their own ways, so this time this category results in a tie.

 

Accuracy

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Bradford’s league leading completion percentage last year was not a fluke. He is one of the most deadly accurate passers in the NFL, and shows precision from any range whether the window to throw is tight or wide. In the 2016-17 edition of the Deep Ball Project, he was the most accurate downfield passer on all throws of 16+ air yards, and inside the top 5 on throws of 20+.

On this throw, Bradford attacks a tight window with the same degree of anticipation he’s always had in his career. The window is tight but Bradford’s strength and early release under pressure allow for a perfect pass.

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This throw has Bradford leading his receiver in stride away from a potential interception. It’s thrown with enough velocity and early enough that all 3 defenders around the ball can’t make a play on it. The ball makes it safely as the receiver runs out of bounds.

Teddy Bridgewater

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Bridgewater is also a really accurate quarterback. He is able to display near flawless accuracy on all types of short and intermediate passes.

On the pass above, Bridgewater throws right as his receiver is about to turn the corner on his route. Doing this allows the pass to be delivered perfectly in stride so that the defender can’t reach it. Had he released the ball later, the receiver may have caught it out of bounds, so his timing succeeds here.

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The accuracy on this throw is insane. Bridgewater understands the degree of difficulty the completion of the pass would take, so he lofts it just high enough so that his receiver can make a play without screwing him over, and high enough that the defender can’t lay a finger on it. It’s a terrific throw.

Winner: Sam Bradford

Bridgewater may be a monster at the short and intermediate level, but Bradford combines that with much better downfield accuracy, so he takes this category.

 

Movement

Sam Bradford

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Bradford’s mobility is extremely limited, but he is capable of making small movements in the pocket to help better position himself. With that said, he has shown a couple of moments where his mobility suddenly becomes like Bridgewater’s, such as the spin move above. Here, he is able to extend the play and fires right when he needs to a receiver on the sideline. The pass is tight but perfectly thrown.

Teddy Bridgewater

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When he was on the field, Teddy Bridgewater was one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league. He can consistently juke out defenders and play aggressive from outside the pocket.

Above, Teddy shows off the spin move as new Panther tackle Matt Kalil displays his lack of protection. He senses the pressure and spins at the last moment, surveying downfield to find a target that can escape coverage. He extends the play until he’s at the line of scrimmage, where every defender is far enough for him to throw safely to a receiver.

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This is also a great play. Bridgewater rushes out of a clean pocket, but in a rare exception it’s excused because he is able to detect an open target. He rolls out of the pocket and makes a comfortable sideline throw on the run, where his target is able to make the catch. A great throw rolling out.

Winner: Teddy Bridgewater

Bridgewater wins this one easily, as he is much more mobile than Bradford is, who is limited to subtle movements inside the pocket for the most part.

 

Health

Before Minnesota, Bradford’s previous 3 seasons saw him struggle to stay on the field. He didn’t even play in 2014 due to an injury suffered against the Browns in the preseason. So seeing him play every game he was assigned (He didn’t play in week 1 because the coaching staff didn’t want to rush him as he was recently traded to the Vikings) under the worst line he’s played behind was of course completely unexpected.

With Bridgewater still recovering from his leg injury, this one is easy.

Winner: Sam Bradford

 

Conclusion

Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater are both really good quarterbacks in my opinion, and have much more to their skill sets than people will give them any credit for. Only being able to choose one quarterback to keep is extremely tough, and the Vikings will eventually have to answer that question after the 2017 season, providing that both quarterbacks are healthy by then.

Ultimately, I have to give the nod to Sam Bradford. Bridgewater is the superior quarterback on broken plays, but Bradford provides a better fit for the vertical style of offense the Vikings want to run. His arm strength and quick decision making allow him to process reads further downfield, and unlike Teddy, he’s healthy for a change.

Again, coming to this opinion was difficult for me to do. Both quarterbacks are great under pressure, at decision making, and at accuracy. But Bradford provides the better skill set for downfield throws as well as durability, and it’s unclear if Bridgewater will ever be the same quarterback he was when he comes back.

Right now, this is Bradford’s job to lose, and if his 2016 season is of any indication, and as long as he stays healthy, it will be nearly inconceivable for him to lose it.

 

Featured image via startribune.com