Monthly Archives: February 2019

Tim’s 2018 NFL Awards: Defensive Rookie of the Year

Defensive Rookie of the Year

And the nominees are…

Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers

105 tackles, 75 solo, 3.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 13 passes defensed

If someone told me today that Derwin James would be a Hall of Famer, I could buy that. It’s been one year and I’ve never been one to anoint someone after a year of production and I’m not gonna start now, but man, Derwin James was good this year. He earned an All-Pro honor and was a certified ball hawk all year. I haven’t gotten to watch nearly as much of James’ tape as I would like, but in the Sunday night game against the Steelers, James was everywhere and was by far the best player on the field.

James is a lethal hit stick waiting to happen in the open field and regularly lines up in the box. A sure tackler and solid coverage man, James is an all-around nightmare. He personifies the definition of playmaker. He’s got incredible range, the acceleration to close a gap in a hurry and seems to be everywhere and anywhere. That versatility is a highly rated commodity in today’s NFL.

Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Dallas Cowboys

140 tackles, 102 solo, 2 interceptions, 7 passes defensed

Leighton Vander Esch is a large man. At 6’4″, 256 lbs, Vander Esch is a presence in the middle to say the least. Pro Football Focus loved his play all year and regularly had him rated as the league’s top defensive rookie. Vander Esch’s appearance is extra notable because the Dallas defense is no longer a torn bed sheet. It’s formidable now. Only a few years ago it was setting records as the worst defense of all-time. Now, DeMarcus Lawrence is a constant torturer on the edge, Byron Jones is a CB1 and Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch look to be one of the brightest young linebacker duos in the league. It could be a pairing that lasts for half a decade if not longer.

Vander Esch is confident in the open field and ran a 4.65 in the combine. His arms measured near 34 inches, which will give him a reach advantage against some of today’s offensive linemen, which will aid him when he’s sent on the blitz or has to get off blocks in run defense or screen coverage. There are a few times when Vander Esch seems just a tad slow picking up on things but for a first year sample, he is very promising. I think Darius Leonard had the better year but Vander Esch certainly deserves a nod on this list and let the record show, with his measurements, I think Vander Esch might have the higher ceiling.

Bradley Chubb, DE, Denver Broncos

60 tackles, 41 solo, 12 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, fumble recovery, pass defensed

The Denver Broncos have identified themselves as a defensive stronghold for a little bit now, calling themselves the “No Fly Zone”, and their pressure up front is why they are able to bestow that name upon themselves. Von Miller, who I still feel is slightly overrated, is one of the league’s best edge rushers and the addition of one Bradley Chubb won’t make life any easier for opposing offenses if his career runs parallel to this year’s performance. Chubb finished with 12 sacks, only 2.5 behind the rookie record set by Jevon Kearse of Tennessee back in 1999. The edge duo of Chubb and Von could wreak havoc on opponents for the next four years. Chubb already has refined technique and compares to Joey Bosa but stronger.

Darius Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts

Led NFL with 163 tackles, 111 solo, 7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 8 passes defensed

If you didn’t watch any Colts games this season and didn’t look at any tape or deep into the stats, you would assume that Leonard’s only talent is tackling and that his only skill set might be as a run stuffer. You would be wrong.

What really impresses me about Leonard’s tape is not that he’s a surefire tackler. His tackling technique is excellent and he always seems to be going for strips, providing him some of that game changing ability. No, what really impresses me about Leonard is his intelligence. He’s got a strong understanding of the game, great gap discipline and knows his role. That intelligence means Leonard is unlikely to be a one-hit wonder. As long as he reads the plays as fast as he did in 2018, any deficiency he may have physically can be overcome. A 4.7 40 is nothing to go crazy over but he’s not susceptible to being beat on the edge because of that awareness. He stays alert in his zones and has a technically refined blitz package. He’s a developed product already and a gem of the 2019 draft the Colts organization is lucky to have.

Da’Ron Payne, DT, Washington Redskins

56 tackles, 35 solo, 5 sacks, forced fumble, fumble recovery, 3 passes defensed

The Washington Redskins did what they seem to do just about every year now: go 7-9 but had it not been for their own stubbornness in refusing to sign Colin Kaepernick and fill their quarterback spot with someone with a remote sense of athletic ability, they likely would have won the division. The Redskins defense made the Redskins the kings of the NFC East for a time with a 6-3 record. Then Jay Gruden went full Jeff Fisher, again, and took his team to a 1-6 finish. That should be enough to get someone new at the head coach position but the Redskins are a malignant tumor of an organization. What I do want to focus on is what made this defense so stout at the beginning of the year. That squad was bound to fall apart when the team began sending an offense out onto the field to die each possession but was one of the best in the league for the first half of the season. The reason for that change? Da’Ron Payne.

Payne demonstrated why the defensive tackle position, while generally overlooked by football fans, can be extremely valuable. In most cases, defensive tackles are meant to take up blocks and let others make plays but a strong defensive tackle can do a lot more than that and Payne put that on full display. The final season stats don’t show it but the stats halfway showed a complete flip from the previous year.

Last year, Washington was dead last in rush defense. At one point this season? They were second and that was with the same starting 11, minus Payne, and the same defensive coordinator. They ended the season 17th. It’s hard to know which half of the Redskins season was more indicative of their identity but it seems likely it is the former half and if that’s the case, it’s hard not to put some of the rewards on Payne’s doorstep.

Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns

53 tackles, 41 solo, 3 interceptions, forced fumble, fumble recovery, 11 passes defensed

Denzel Ward began his NFL career opposite Antonio Brown. This, especially considering Denzel Ward plays for Cleveland, could have been the worst day of his life. This was an episode of laugh factory waiting to happen.

He ended the day with two interceptions.

And I think from that point, no one questioned Mr. Ward. Ward ran a 4.32 40, so he’s unlikely to get beat by pure athleticism. He’s got excellent hip fluidity, preventing receivers from crossing his face. Those two attributes are musts if you’re going to give a player 1-on-1 responsibilities and Ward has shown he can do that. At just under 5’11”, Ward’s size will likely cause the usual hurdles. Bigger receivers may be able to go over top of him on jump balls but Ward is likely to always be in the play because of the hip fluidity.

Another common blockade may be physical receivers. That was one of the criticisms on his college tape but that is something that can be overcome with time in the gym and technique/biomechanics. Ward was the highest drafted cornerback and one year in, seems to be the best of the class. He earned a Pro Bowl nod, too. Bravo, sir.

And the Oscar goes to…

Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers

I looked at a lot of tape this year. If you told me I could pick one defensive player from this draft to build my team around, it would be Derwin James. As we’ve seen with the Eagles system, the safety position is becoming far more important than good cornerbacks. A great safety, especially one with range, can be the difference maker in a defense, especially one that runs predominantly Cover 3. Eddie Jackson is so quick and so aware he can cover nearly the entire field in the Bears backfield. Derwin James is as sure a tackler as you can get at the position, can battle with tight ends and seems to love run support. Darius Leonard was really close to getting my vote but James was just phenomenal this year.

See more from my 2018 NFL Awards:

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Comeback Player of the Year

Coach of the Year

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Tim’s 2018 NFL Awards: Offensive Rookie of the Year

Welcome to the first annual NFL awards on this blog. Here’s to many more. We have a strong list of candidates for this year’s prizes after what has been a contentious, drama-filled and, at times, quizzical regular season. These nominees demonstrated the best their sport had to offer. We begin this year’s ceremony with the newcomers, the members who have burst onto the season as innovators and prodigies of the sport.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

And the nominees are…

Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos

192 carries for 1,037 yards, 5.4 avg, 9 TDs, 35 receptions for 241, 6.9 avg, TD, 1,278 yards from scrimmage

The Denver Broncos selected Royce Freeman in the third round of the 2018 draft but by the middle of the season, it was Phillip Lindsay, the hometown kid, who was starting in the backfield. Lindsay ended the year with the second highest rushing total by an undrafted rookie in league history and became the first undrafted offensive player in history to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

As you can see above, Lindsay didn’t have just a great year; he had a historic one. He was one of only nine backs to broach the 1,000 yard plateau this season.

Lindsay was skipped over because he’s 5’8″ and even though it’s the beginning of 2019, the size argument still runs as draft analysis in the conservative NFL, a league consistently reluctant to acknowledge and learn from their shortcomings. Players like Lindsay and Tarik Cohen have a place in the NFL and the teams that pick up on that first will reap huge rewards. Here’s to hoping Lindsay continues defying the odds.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns

310/486 for 3,725, 63.8% completion, 7.67 yds/a, 27 TDs, 14 INTs, 93.7 passer rating

I was not a Baker fan on draft day. I thought he had an attitude problem and had the potential to be Johnny 2.0. I, and many others, were wrong.

Mayfield set the rookie touchdown record this season in 13 starts. His fierce competitive edge rallied his teammates and for the first time in near 20 years, the Cleveland Browns looked like a professional football team. Yes, there are some other strong players around him: David Njoku is one of the league’s best athletes at tight end. Jarvis Landry was an excellent add for a team that needed a long-term franchise receiver. Denzel Ward had a strong year and won a Pro Bowl nod. The 2018 draft was a great one for Cleveland. They finally used their U-Haul of picks effectively. The Browns have a bright future ahead of them and Baker is one large reason for that. The days of 26 names on the back of a jersey appear to be over. Mayfield has been the best of the rookie quarterbacks chosen this last April. It’s too early to say if he’s the best of the class but Baker Mayfield is no joke and neither are the Browns.

Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

261 carries for 1,307, 5.0 avg, 11 TDs, league-leading 16 20+ yard runs, 91 receptions for 721, 7.9 avg, 4 TDs, 2,028 yards from scrimmage

Saquon Barkley was one of the most touted college athletes in recent memory, so much so that some had Barkley going first overall on their draft board. Rarely is a back recommended to go that high because the position has been deemed easily replaceable by most experts. We’ve seen it more than a handful of times. You can find late gems in the third to take on that role. Spending a high draft pick on a back seems to defy NFL logic.

But NFL logic has not always been sound and is not foolproof. I personally liked the Giants taking Barkley. I felt then and still feel that this quarterback class was overhyped and through one year, that seems to be the case. Mayfield had a strong rookie year, yes, but Darnold, Allen and Rosen all looked raw for most of the year. It’s still too early to say how this class will be remembered but so far, I feel vindicated.

The Giants were essentially crucified for taking Barkley before filling an obvious need at quarterback. The Giants believed they took the best player on the board. After the season Saquon put in, it’s hard to disagree with them.

Despite playing behind a suspect offensive line, Barkley put on a show week after week, at times looking like Barry Sanders. He finished second in rushing yards and 13th in receptions, second among backs. He was a do-it-all player, a one-man wrecking crew. If he puts up these numbers for the next few years, he’ll be the league’s best before long.

Quenton Nelson, G, Indianapolis Colts

The return of Luck has been nothing short of shocking to most NFL minds and I’m sure his name will come up later in this presentation but props have to be given to what has been one of the best offensive lines in football and to the man who has best exemplified that dominance. Quenton Nelson was the first big man off the board this past summer and he earned a Pro Bowl nod and an All-Pro honor, earning him recognition as one of the best offensive lineman in football. High praise for a rookie and yet another rookie that succeeded under the biggest of spotlights.

Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns

192 carries for 996 yards, 5.2 avg, 8 TDs, 20 receptions for 149, 2 TDs

Chubb began the season playing second fiddle to free agent add Carlos Hyde but soon demonstrated his capabilities. Chubb fell just short of 1,000 yards in nine starts. His performance definitely aided his quarterback in creating an offensive groove but Chubb was also very good on his own, especially when he took on the starting gig. Chubb was yet another part of what was likely one of the best draft classes in Cleveland Browns history.

And the Oscar goes to…

Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

Barkley came into the draft with an aircraft carrier’s worth of expectations. Many people struggle to meet the bar outsiders set for them. Barkley was magical this season. He didn’t just meet the standard. He eclipsed it. To see a rookie live up to the Herculean standards fans and professionals placed on him was something to behold. The Giants took a gamble by taking a position that’s not appreciated and in return, got a player with the skill set to be a Hall of Famer.

See more from my 2018 NFL Awards:

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Comeback Player of the Year

Coach of the Year

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