jimmy garoppolo

NFL worst to first candidates for 2018

The NFL is wildly popular in America for many reasons. One of the biggest is that it is the only mainstream American sport where it is not all that uncommon for a team to go from really bad to really good in a very short amount of time. The Super Bowl champion Eagles as well as the Jaguars finished at the bottom of their respective divisions in 2016 before winning them last year.

Also, it is not like teams like the Bills and Saints were on everyone’s radar as far as contending last year either. Still, the worst to first turnaround is most impressive. There are three teams with a realistic shot at doing what the Eagles and Jags did last year.

Denver Broncos: The AFC West is pretty unique headed in to 2018. It is not difficult to imagine any one of the four teams winning it, or finishing last. A lot depends on whether or not two-time defending division champion Kansas City misses a beat in the transition to Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. The former first-round pick is basically a rookie apart from a throwaway start at the end of last season.

The addition of Case Keenum gives the Broncos some long-sought and much-needed stability at the quarterback position. Even if he regresses closer to the player he was prior to last year in Minnesota, he is certainly an upgrade over what Denver put on the field at that spot last year. Only Cleveland had more turnovers than the Broncos in 2017. A quarterback carousel was not the only reason for this but was certainly the biggest factor.

Bradley Chubb

Photo: milehighreport.com

If Keenum only raises the turnover numbers to the middle of the pack, Denver will be a much better football team in 2018. A defense that was top five in both rushing and passing yards allowed last year got younger and hungrier with the addition of Bradley Chubb up front and the departure of Aqib Talib at the back end.

The Broncos also spent another offseason taking a big swing at improving the offensive line. They are counting on veterans to stay healthy and youngsters to improve. Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas saw their production drop off last year, but Keenum showed last year he can get the ball to talented wide receivers. With the improvements made and the question marks that surround their division rivals, the Broncos could be in for a very quick turnaround.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers are going to win the NFC West this year. They won five games in a row once midseason acquisition Jimmy Garoppolo was inserted as the starting quarterback to finish out the season. This included defeating three playoff teams. The most impressive showing was putting up 40+ points on a Jacksonville defense that carried that team to within an eyelash of the Super Bowl.

Everyone has been singing the praises of the Rams all offseason long. However, the Jared Goff/Sean McVay offense took everyone by surprise last year. Whenever that happens, defensive coordinators always adjust the next year. Then, the offense either readjusts or never gets back to where it was. The same thing happened with the Wildcat offense in Miami as well as the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys. The Wildcat vanished almost as quickly as it appeared and this year will be the moment of truth for Prescott as an NFL quarterback.

For the Rams, this is the year where the offense regresses a little bit. We will see what Goff and McVay come up with in 2019. Los Angeles added some very splashy names on defense.

However, when you put that many strong personalities on one side of the ball, it is going to backfire. Los Angeles is a horrible place for guys like Talib and Marcus Peters to go. Their previous teams could not wait to unload them and it wasn’t because they are not good football players. To think those guys are going to be on their best behavior in Los Angeles is just plain dumb.

Seattle’s roster is a complete mess outside of Russell Wilson and Arizona is starting over as a franchise. Neither team will be a factor in the division race. San Francisco’s roster outside of Garoppolo is not full of household names.

The former Tom Brady understudy completed 67% of his passes and went 5-0 as a starter for a team that had won one game without him. Imagine what the 49ers can do with an entire off-season to build around their franchise quarterback.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has proven to be one of the league’s finest quarterback gurus in recent years. What those two are capable of doing together is flat out scary. The small sample size for Garoppolo is worrisome, but his toughest challenge should be being thrown on the field with last year’s awful team. He passed with flying colors.

 

Houston Texans: This one probably has the most ifs attached to it, but it is very intriguing. Prior to getting injured last year, then rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson had Houston looking like Super Bowl contenders. He threw 16 touchdown passes in one month and went toe to toe with Brady and Wilson on the road.

DeShaun Watson

Photo: slate.com

Blake Bortles is still Blake Bortles. If the Jacksonville defense is even slightly less dominant than it was last year, that team will take a step back. Tennessee has similar limitations at quarterback with Marcus Mariota. You can only go so far ranked 23rd in pass yards per game.

If Watson can stay healthy on offense along with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus on defense, it is sure going to be fun to see what this team is truly capable of. The Colts are capable of a similar turnaround in the same division if Andrew Luck stays healthy.

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NFL win projections

Man vs. Vegas: Projected NFL win totals

With the NFL Draft finally in the rearview mirror, the window for educated speculation is now open. The powers that be in Las Vegas have released their projected regular season win totals for all 32 teams.

Going up against Vegas usually proves futile, but it is fun to try anyway. Here are the three best over-under bets to cash in on. All projected win totals are from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Indianapolis Colts: Over 6.5 wins 

Since Andrew Luck entered the league as a rookie before the 2012 season, Indianapolis has never posted a losing record in a year where their franchise quarterback has started the majority of the 16 regular season games. Luck has also led the Colts to the playoffs on three occasions. However, Luck has missed 26 games over the last three seasons, including all of last season with a shoulder injury.

The good news for Colts fans is there seems to be optimism surrounding Luck’s health for the upcoming season. Owner Jim Irsay recently stated publicly that he believes Luck will be ready to go in the fall. Irsay also mentioned that the Colts turned down trade offers for the three-time Pro Bowler.

NFL win projections

(Photo from yardbarker.com)

If Luck stays healthy, this bet really is easy money. Still, even if he does not, the law of averages is on the Colts’ side. Jacoby Brissett filled in admirably in Luck’s absence last year. He started 15 games and threw 13 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions.

The Colts won just four games last year, but also managed to lose an astonishing seven games in which they held a halftime lead. Close games in the NFL often come down to a bounce of the ball. Some of those losses will turn into wins this year, no matter who is under center. A more offensive-minded coaching staff should help Indianapolis be better in terms of closing out games as well.

The Colts also have a workable schedule. Lastly, the addition of incoming rookie Quenton Nelson should immediately improve a Colts offensive line that is a large part of the reason Luck has been injured so often. One guy cannot fix an entire offensive line, but he can certainly make it better in a hurry. Nelson is the most polished offensive lineman to enter the league in quite some time. Ending a three-year playoff drought is realistic for this team.

Los Angeles Rams: Under 9.5 wins 

This will probably raise a few eyebrows. The Rams are being touted by many to make a Super Bowl run.

Forget that. They will have a hard enough time defending their division title. Sean McVay turned the Rams offense and Jared Goff from a dumpster fire into the highest-scoring unit in the league last year. However, defensive coordinators always adjust when something comes out of nowhere and takes everyone by surprise for a year. They will adjust to the Rams’ offense, and it will regress slightly, similar to what happened to Dak Prescott and the Cowboys last year.

The competition for the Rams is also brutal. Division rival San Francisco was the hottest team in the league to close out last year under quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. As long as Russell Wilson is in Seattle, they will remain a tough out. The non-division schedule is not much friendlier. It includes established powerhouses like the Super Bowl champion Eagles as well as the Saints.

Finally, the Rams acquired a wealth of defensive talent. Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh are all outstanding players. However, they are also very strong and volatile personalities. Finances aside, there is a reason they all changed teams this offseason. Whenever you put a bunch of volatile guys on the same unit, there is a reason to be nervous. It could all backfire, especially playing for such a young coach in a city like Los Angeles.

New York Giants: Over 6.5 wins 

The Giants went 3-13 last year. Yet, Eli Manning still threw 19 touchdown passes and performed well in the midst of complete chaos around him. Yes, he is getting close to the end of his career, and the simplest thing to do when a team struggles as bad as New York did last year is change the quarterback. Still, the Giants should be applauded for not doing so.

NFL win projections

(Photo from nypost.com)

Rookie Saquon Barkley immediately becomes an all-purpose three-down running back that will assist his two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback greatly. Second-round pick Will Hernandez and former Patriot Nate Solder have fortified the offensive line, at least on paper.

 

Also, the Giants have an easier schedule like the Colts. The Cowboys and Redskins could go either way this year. Even last year when they were awful, the Giants played the Super Bowl champions tough twice.

Lastly, new Giants head coach Pat Shurmur helped guide a quarterback with far less natural talent than Manning to one game away from the Super Bowl last year with the Vikings. Manning is well-positioned to find the fountain of youth in 2018, and the Giants are poised for a big bounce-back year.

 

Featured image from medium.com

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Los Angeles Rams 2018 NFL Draft profile

The 2018 NFL Draft is just two weeks away, which means that Draftmas is back. Draftmas will take a look at each NFL team heading into this year’s draft, what their needs are and who they could be targeting. Draftmas continues today with the 2018 Los Angeles Rams NFL Draft profile.

Summary

The Rams were one of the best stories of the 2017 NFL season. They finished 11-5 and champions of the NFC West. Sean McVay entered the season under heavy scrutiny, as he was the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.

Los Angeles Rams 2018 NFL Draft profile

(Photo from Clutch Points)

However, he resurrected this franchise offensively. The Rams finished first in points and 10th in yards. Whether it was Jared Goff and company through the air or Todd Gurley on the ground, McVay’s creativity took the league by storm.

Defensively, the Rams transitioned from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense under longtime coordinator Wade Phillips. Phillips has an undeniable ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks, and that is exactly what he did. While this unit finished 12th in points and 19th in yards, they were top five in sacks and turnovers.

Given the transactions made by the 2018 Los Angeles Rams, it is clear they are in “win now” mode. The additions of Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh and Brandin Cooks have solidified the Rams as winners of this offseason heading into the draft. That title does not always translate to postseason success, but the Rams have addressed a lot of their potential needs and are poised to make a deep run in this year’s playoffs.

Picks and Needs

The Los Angeles Rams’ success in 2018 will be predicated on their free agent moves. With only one pick in the first three rounds, it is unlikely they will find multiple impact players to help them in 2018.

Overall, the Rams have eight picks in this year’s draft, with four of those picks being in sixth round.

First round (0 picks):  

Second round (0):

Third round (1): 87

Fourth round (1): 111, 135, 136

Fifth round (0): 

Sixth round (5): 176, 183, 194, 195

Seventh round (0):

Offensive needs:

Offensive guard – This unit is very good. The only spot that appears to be vulnerable is the right guard position. Jamon Brown has never been an above average player and Rodger Saffold has missed four or more games four times in his career with the Rams.

Defensive needs:

Linebacker – The Rams made some tangible improvements on the defensive line and in the secondary this offseason. However, they have yet to address the linebacker position. After trading away Alec Ogletree, Ramik Wilson is slated to start next to Mark Barron. Hopefully Wilson will return to his 2016 form as a starter for the Rams this season.

Targets

Third round:

Pick No. 87: Frank Ragnow, G/C, Arkansas

Los Angeles Rams 2018 NFL Draft profile

(Photo from Cleveland.com)

NFL teams look to add impact players in rounds one through three. It was a close call between giving them offensive line depth, or a potential starter at inside linebacker. In the end, an injury to a starter on the offensive line would be more devastating than an injury to a starting linebacker.

The Rams can reinforce their offensive line with a versatile player in Frank Ragnow. Ragnow started at both center and guard during his tenure at Arkansas. His senior season ended with a high ankle sprain, and as a result, an abbreviated final year. It is likely he will be a Day 2 pick in this year’s draft.

Conclusion

The 2018 Los Angeles Rams will likely be defined by the phrase “Super Bowl or bust.” Whether that is a fair statement is an argument for another time. The Rams will face a new set of challenges in 2018, but it appears they have the coaching and talent to overcome those challenges and make a run at the Lombardi Trophy.

Make sure to tune in tomorrow for the Carolina Panthers 2018 NFL Draft profile.

 

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The Rams new defense

Lately, the Los Angeles Rams have been on a role during this offseason. They are looking to create a dominant force for next year, scoring big in the free agent signing. Just like last season, they are looking to make it even farther in the playoffs next year; and they need to sign the right players in order to fulfill this dream. They already have a terrifying defensive line, but with all the free agent signings that they’ve done, there’s no telling what their defense will be capable of now. Here are the signees:

Ndamukong Suh DT

The Rams struck gold by signing Suh on Monday. He is on a one-year contract that is worth $14 million. But hold on, some people thought that it was a risky move. Yes, it was a lot of money, but was it a good fit? With Suh lined up alongside with Aaron Donald, the Rams’ defensive line would be a terrifying force to reckon with.

Los Angeles Rams

Ndamukong Suh Miami Dolphins
(north jersey.com)

But, the problem is that they won’t be able to afford enough to give Donald an extension. Also, they have traded away the Rams’ top linebackers, Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree without replacing them. Suh has played more snaps than any defensive linemen for the last eight years. He is very durable, and he is able to get past the o-line and cause chaos in the backfield.

Dominique Easley DE

Los Angeles Rams

Dominique Easley rushing pass a defender (nbcsports.com)

The Rams brought back an old teammate of theirs, Dominique Easley. In 2016, the Rams picked him up from his release from the New England Patriots. Last season, he was the starting defensive end along with Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. During training camp, he had to sit out for the season due to an ACL injury. Sources say that if he’s put back on the roster before the fall, his contract would contain a base salary of $705,000 and additional earnings of $145,000.

Easley is a phenomenal pass rusher, fitting well in the 5-technique. If defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, chooses to put him in the five, then Brockers would remain in his position at nose tackle and there would be no adjustments to the front line. If Easley remains healthy, then he would also be a great help to the Rams’ defense.

Sam Shields CB

Los Angeles Rams

Sam Shields
(greenbaypackers)

The Rams added another key player to their secondary as well. The former Green Bay Packer, Sam Shields was a risky choice. He hasn’t played for the past two seasons due to concussions. Shields had a total of 18 interceptions for his whole career. His ball skills would be a major contribution to the defense, but he’s not the only defensive back that the Rams picked up.

They also signed former Denver Broncos cornerback, Aqib Talib. He will join Marcus Peters on the outside. If Sam Shields is able to remain healthy, then he’ll be served as a backup.

 

Ramik Wilson ILB

The Rams may have lost their two best linebackers on the defense, but they’ve gained a player that would be a helpful fit to replace Ogletree. It’s not the best choice, but they need as much help they can get. They signed former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, Ramie Wilson, to a one year contract. It’s not a lot, but it’s an opportunity to earn a starting spot on the roster.

The Rams hope that Wilson can live up to the challenge. He started 11 games in the 2016 season, having a total of 76 tackles, three pass deflections and an interception. The Rams are depending on him to fill in the shoes of Ogletree.

Marcus Peters CB

Los Angeles Rams

Marcus Peters (Ryan Kang via AP)

The Rams also picked up another Chief that will be a major threat. Marcus Peters is one of the most dangerous corners in the NFL. He was a first-round draft pick in 2015, and he had an outstanding rookie season. He led the NFL in interceptions that year and racked up more throughout his career, with a total of 19 interceptions.

The only problem is that Peters has a short fuse. He’s been caught on camera many times due to bad behavior. Peters was also suspended for a game because of his attitude. He even had a heated argument with Chiefs’ head coach, Andy Reid. During the offseason, the Chiefs decided that they would let Peters go because they were tired of his attitude.

Although he has a bad chip on his shoulder, the Rams have picked up a corner who is better than Trumaine Johnson. Peters is an expert at forcing turnovers and going after the ball. This is what Los Angeles needed, for they were 5th in the NFL for turnovers. Not to mention, Peters would work well with Aqib Talib at corner as well.

 

Aqib Talib

Not only Peters had issues of working on his attitude, but Talib has a short fuse as well. But he’s one of the most respected players in the NFL. Talib is a tremendous ball hawk; he has 34 interceptions for his whole career. With him and Peters playing side-by-side along with Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson, the Rams’ secondary would be unstoppable.

Los Angeles Rams

Aqib Taleb
(USA today)

 

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Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks

The Arizona Cardinals are at risk of becoming a laughing stock again

The offseason quarterback derby has settled as much as it is going to before the NFL draft. The franchise history of the Arizona Cardinals is far from glorious. However, they have spent most of the last decade as a competitive franchise that has gotten to the playoffs and done damage on occasion.

Still, this offseason has suddenly left them in danger of returning to laughing-stock territory for a couple reasons.

No long-term plan at quarterback 

When Carson Palmer retired earlier this offseason, Arizona had zero quarterbacks on the roster. Going by that metric, this free agency signing period has been a smashing success for the Cardinals.

In reality, Mike Glennon is a career journeyman who barely lasted a month before being replaced by then rookie Mitch Trubisky in Chicago last year. Also, Sam Bradford has put up decent numbers in his career including 101 touchdown passes to just 57 interceptions. Despite that, he has never led a team to the playoffs and has only been healthy enough to start all 16 games in a season twice.

By all accounts except his own, Bradford’s knees are in bad shape. He has had two ACL tears as well as an additional procedure last season. It made the news wires when Bradford passed his physical last week. Usually, that only happens if a guy fails a physical. That should tell you a lot.

Even if it is just for a year, handing the keys to your franchise over to either one of these guys is not only risky, but also close to plain stupid. The Vikings, Browns, Jets, Broncos and Bills have all addressed the quarterback position this offseason. Some have added a quarterback. Some are in position to draft one. Some are clearly doing both. There is no way plans will work out for all of these teams, but at least you can see the plan beyond this year.

Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks

Photo from NFL.com

Meanwhile, Arizona only has the fragile Bradford for one year to go with Glennon for two. Glennon has just nine starts in the last four years. Logic would dictate that means Arizona needs to draft a quarterback early. However, being at pick No. 15, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield will all almost certainly be gone by the time the Cardinals are on the clock.

 

That leaves them with two options: trade up to get one of those guys, or reach for someone like Mason Rudolph. Neither option is particularly good. The Cardinals would have no negotiating leverage with another team on draft day, but there is no such thing as too steep a price for long-term stability at quarterback in the NFL. Either option would be helped out greatly by Glennon or Bradford panning out, but that is iffy at best.

The rest of Arizona’s roster is not terrible. A healthy David Johnson is something just about every team would kill to have in the backfield, Larry Fitzgerald is ageless and Patrick Peterson is now the leader of a defense that looks a little different, but should still be pretty good in 2018.

Even so, if you don’t have good quarterback play, the rest of your roster does not matter. A bunch of losses are in your future. Just ask last year’s Denver Broncos.

An unstable future at quarterback is not the only thing that has the Cardinals organization in a delicate spot.

The NFC West is loaded

The biggest key to any NFL team preforming well is playing well within the division. This will be a challenge for Arizona no matter who their quarterback is in 2018 and beyond.

Seattle is in the midst of overhauling its roster and Arizona has played the Seahawks well in recent years, but Russell Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks on the planet. It was him and him alone that kept the Seahawks in it until the very end of the regular season last year. If Wilson needs to, he can carry this franchise again. The defense is certainly not better in terms of name value, but getting younger in the secondary might actually be a good thing.

Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks

Photo from azcardinals.com

Then there are the 49ers and Rams. The Rams were reborn last year as rookie head coach Sean McVay and his high-powered offense took the league by storm. Los Angeles also acquired Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. As volatile as those two can sometimes be, that cornerback tandem is sure to give every offense in the league a hard time.

San Francisco ended the season on a five-game winning streak after Jimmy Garoppolo was inserted as the starting quarterback. There is no reason to think that won’t carry over.

Playing these three teams twice a year with Bradford, Glennon or a rookie is setting rookie head coach Steve Wilks up to fail. The Cardinals should have been more aggressive for guys like Kirk Cousins or Case Keenum. Drafting a quarterback will likely result in some growing pains for the Cardinals, but it is now their only chance at having a clear long-term direction for the foreseeable future.

 

Featured image from usatoday.com

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NFL defensive records

Are all career defensive records in the NFL unbreakable?

Records are meant to be broken, right? Well maybe not in the National Football League.

Since its inaugural season in 1920, the NFL has seen countless defensive records broken, most recently in 2012 when Ed Reed broke Rod Woodson’s record for career interception return yards. After looking at all of the current records, I thought it would be fun to see which records will be broken next, and which will remain untouched.

With the continuous decline in the average career length of players, it seems that many career defensive records may stand the test of time. According to Statista.com, the average NFL player’s career is just 3.3 years, and a player with at least one Pro Bowl selection is 11.7.

After looking at each defensive record, i’ve found that each record holder spent at least 13-years in the NFL and started a minimum of 169 games. There are only four active defensive players in the NFL that have served such a tenure, hence why these career records continue to stand.

Career Interceptions

NFL defensive records

Paul Krause is a Hall of Fame defensive back who played for the Washington Redskins (1964-67) and Minnesota Vikings (1968-79). (Photo by christopherapage.com)

Career leader: Paul Krause (81)

Active leader: DeAngelo Hall (43)

Krause is a Hall of Fame defensive back who played for the Washington Redskins (1964-67) and Minnesota Vikings (1968-79). Over his 16-year career, he had 81 interceptions, including two seasons with double-digits, which is something that no active player has even done once. What makes this even more impressive is that he played during an era where NFL teams played 14-game seasons, opposed to 16.

The NFL’s active leader in career interceptions is DeAngelo Hall, who is expected to make his return to the field this Sunday for the Washington Redskins. In his 14-year career, he has amassed 43 interceptions. The most he amassed in a season was six, which was a mark he reached twice (2005, 2010). Hall’s career is coming to a close, and he stands no chance of reaching 81 interceptions. So are there any other active players that can eventually catch Krause?

Not likely. Richard Sherman has the most interceptions for a player under 30 years old with 32 in 103 games. Sherman is unlikely to reach this mark as he has only eight interceptions in his last 39 games, opposed to the 16 interceptions he had across a 32-game span from 2012-13.

A decrease in Sherman’s interception totals may be correlated to his increasing reputation as one of the leagues lockdown corners. Quarterbacks won’t throw the ball to Sherman’s man enough for him to come anywhere close to Kraus.

The young defensive back that stands any chance to match Kraus’ interception totals is Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs. Peters has played in only 39 games, but has already totaled 17 interceptions. If he continues his 0.44 interception per game pace for another decade, he would pass Krause in his 13th season.

Only time will tell if Peters has what it takes, although one can assume that quarterbacks will stop throwing the ball to his side as his lockdown reputation continues to develop.

Career Interception return yards

Career leader: Ed Reed (1,590)

Active leader: DeAngelo Hall (838)

According to the New York Times, New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick referred to Ed Reed as “the best weak safety (he’s) seen since (he’s) been in the National Football League.” He added, “Every time you break the huddle, that’s who you’re looking at.”

Reed, also known as the “Ball Hawk,” ranks first in NFL history in career interception return yards with 1,590, and is seventh in career interceptions with 64. His net of nearly 25 yards per interception return puts him in a category with only Deion Sanders as one of the most dangerous returners in NFL history.

This record may seem unbreakable, although the aforementioned Marcus Peters could technically pass Reed if he were to intercept 52 more passes and continue his 23 yards per interception return pace. Although it may be improbable, it is not impossible.

Career Interceptions returned for a touchdown

NFL defensive records

Hall of Famer Rod Woodson holds the record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown with 12. (Photo by Solecollector.com)

Career leader: Rod Woodson (12)

Active leader: Aqib Talib (10)

Now this is a record that can be broken. Hall of Famer Rod Woodson holds the record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown with 12, although 31-year-old Aqib Talib is just two house calls away from matching Woodson’s mark.

Talib has had at least one pick-six in seven of his ten seasons. Talib is a vital part of the Denver Broncos “No Fly Zone” defense, and he should have no problem intercepting a handful of passes throughout the rest of his career. I would not be surprised to see Talib holding this record by the end of his career.

Career sacks

Career leader: Bruce Smith (200.0)

Active leader: Julius Peppers (151.0)

Bruce Smith, who has 200 sacks over his illustrious career, has been the NFL’s sack king since surpassing Reggie Whites’ mark of 198 in 2003. It took Smith 19 seasons and 279 games to reach this mark.

The active sack leader is Julius Peppers, who has 151 sacks through 16 seasons and 242 games. With Peppers’ retirement imminent, it is clear he is not a threat to break the record.

Including Peppers, there are only four active players in the NFL with over 100 sacks: Dwight Freeney (123.5), Terrell Suggs (119) and Elvis Dumervil (102.5).

In my estimation, there are only three active players that have a chance to sniff Smith’s record. An honorable mention is Khalil Mack, as he is one of the league’s premier pass rushers. Because he is already 26 years old (which isn’t old) and has only 34.5 career sacks, it will be a stretch for him to reach Smith’s 200 sack mark.

The most likely candidate to break this record is the 2015 Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. In his seven-year career, he already has 80.5 career sacks and is averaging about 0.85 sacks per game. If Miller were to continue this pace, he would need to play in just over 141 more games to break Smith’s record. The likelihood of Miller playing nine more seasons at an elite level is unlikely, although he could improve his current sack pace if he stays healthy in his prime.

J.J. Watt was on pace to contend Smith’s record after recording 76 sacks in 83 games, posting a rate of .92 sacks per game, but was thrown off track due to injuries.

Watt missed most of the 2016 season and will miss the remainder of the 2017 season, causing his chances of catching Smith to continue to dwindle. If Watt returns healthy for the 2018 NFL season and continues his torrid sack pace, he would need to play for another eight seasons to contend with Smith. As an injury riddled 28-year-old, it seems unlikely Watt will become the sack king.

The other active player who may one day approach Smith’s sack record is Joey Bosa. The 22-year-old has a total of 19 sacks in just 20 games, giving him an insane .95 sacks per game. If he were to continue this pace for 13 seasons, he would approach Smith’s mark. Bosa will need to stay healthy and hungry for over a decade, which is something that very few players are capable of in today’s NFL.

Career Fumble recoveries

NFL defensive records

Rod Woodson holds the record for career fumble recoveries for a defensive player with 32. (Photo from NFL.com)

Career leader: Rod Woodson (32)

Active leader: Julius Peppers (18)

This record seems to be the least likely to be broken, ever. Recovering a fumble is incredibly difficult as many different factors affect a situation, including positioning, hand eye coordination and luck.

Rod Woodson holds the record for career fumble recoveries for a defensive player with 32. Woodson spent 17-seasons in the NFL and recovered at least one fumble every year.

The active leader in career fumble recoveries is Julius Peppers with 18, although no other defensive player in the NFL has half as many fumble recoveries as Woodson. This record may in fact never be broken.

Career Forced fumbles*

Career leader: Robert Mathis (54)

Active leader: Unknown

I understand forced fumbles is not an official NFL statistic, and unofficial numbers prior to 1991 were not recorded, although it should be.

According to Sportshoopla.com, unofficially, Robert Mathis is the NFL’s leader in career forced fumbles with 54. Unfortunately, because this stat is not officially calculated by the NFL, a list of active players’ career forced fumbles are not available, forcing me to believe this record will not be broken until the NFL begins to officially count the stat.

Career safeties

NFL defensive records

Jared Allen holds the NFL record for career safeties with four. (Photo by Genevieve Ross)

Career leader: Jared Allen, Doug English and Ted Hendricks (4)

Active leader(s): Calais Campbell, Leonard Floyd and Junior Galette (2)

This record may seem breakable since safeties are extremely uncommon. According to Ken Belson of the New York Times, one safety occurs every 14.31 games. Also, no player has ever recorded more than one safety in a single game.

There is a tie between three players for this record, the most recent being Jared Allen, who played in the NFL for 12 seasons. He recorded them all in just three seasons (2008, 2009, 2011).

Leonard Floyd seems like the most likely of the group to break this record, as he is half-way there and just 24 years old, but this record may be unbreakable due to the lack of safeties that occur.

So, are all career defensive records unbreakable? No, but clearly some records stand a chance of never being broken.

Did I miss any record-breaking candidates, or did I disrespect a legend by saying their record is breakable? Only time will tell, but let me know your opinions.

 

Featured image from SB Nation

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week 2 DFS don'ts

Week 2 DFS don’ts: wide receiver

Week 1 was tough for everyone, but it was especially tough for wide receivers. Players like Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Doug Baldwin no doubt disappointed their DFS owners.

How can we avoid busts at this position in week 2? For one, we’ll have more teams on the Sunday main slate, and more teams means more options. Let’s examine which options we should stay away from in the wide receiver edition of week 2 DFS don’ts.

Antonio Brown: FanDuel Price $9,400

Antonio Brown might be the only wide receiver in the NFL that is matchup proof. Brown is so talented and skilled that no scheme or player can fully contain him.

However, the same sentiment was being echoed for players like David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, and they went bust in week 1. There are two things that scare me away from Brown: Xavier Rhodes and his staggering price tag.

If you don’t follow the NFL closely, you may not know how good Xavier Rhodes is. His 2016 season has catapulted him into the elite group of cornerbacks. Rhodes saw 79 targets last year. Of those 79 targets, he allowed a catch on 41.8 percent of those targets, which was the best. Rhodes’ impact even extends to the opposing team’s quarterback, as they averaged a 39.2 passer rating when targeting him. You can find the full report here, but this raises some serious concerns for Brown.

I’d say Brown is usually worth every penny of his DFS salary, but Brown is too expensive. His status of the most expensive receiver by $600 is absurd. Brown will not catch 100 percent of his targets like he did last week.

Let’s say he gets the same number of targets and Rhodes has a down game and allows a 65 percent catch rate. That means Brown only gets seven catches on 11 targets. He would have to average 26 yards per catch to equal last week’s production without getting in the end zone.

As great as Antonio Brown is, he’s not worth the price. If he was $9,000 or $8,900, I would have no problem keeping him off my week 2 DFS don’ts list.

Alshon Jeffery: Fanduel price $6,900

You’ll start to notice a theme this week. Everyone on this list has a challenging matchup. Alshon Jeffery is no different, as he’ll likely see a heavy dose of Marcus Peters.

Since Peters entered the NFL, no player has more interceptions. In 2016, he was able to limit the number of big plays he gave up, while still being one of the best ball hawks in the NFL.

However, Peters ins’t a typical “shutdown” corner. He does not travel with a player across the field. He plays the left corner position. Jeffery spends almost all of his time on the outside and can bounce between the left and right side of the field. We saw Nelson Agholor as the primary slot receiver for the Eagles, so Jeffery won’t avoid Peters completely.

I don’t believe in Jeffery’s volume yet. Drawing Josh Norman in week 1 was tough. Jeffery did catch a two-point conversion, so maybe he will get an increase in red zone targets if the situation presents itself this Sunday.

Overall, I have faith that Jeffery will emerge and start producing as a WR1, just not this week. Jeffery is firmly on my week 2 DFS don’ts.

DeVante Parker: FanDuel Price $6,400

week 2 DFS don'ts

The arrival of Jay Cutler has placed some lofty expectations on the talented DeVante Parker (Photo Courtesy of; Fantasy Alarm).

I was incredibly excited about DeVante Parker’s prospects in week 1 vs. Tampa Bay. I’m not so excited about him this week, as he’ll face one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.

On Monday night, the Chargers’ secondary held Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to eight catches on 14 targets for a total of 93 yards. Also, neither player saw a target inside the red zone.

In the aforementioned report about the best cornerbacks of 2016, Hayward was third. Like Rhodes, he only allowed a 51 percent catch rate out of the 100 times he as targeted.

Hayward was the highest targeted corner on that list, which may have been why he lead the NFL with seven interceptions. He has a track record of succeeding against great players like Mike Evans and Amari Cooper.

From a physical standpoint, Parker is more like Thomas than Sanders. Both players have unique speed and athleticism for their size. Thomas is superior in terms of run-after-the-catch ability. This is mostly because we haven’t seen that much of Parker thus far. Jay Cutler has openly said he likes targeting him, and Parker only needs one play to pay off his $6,400 price tag.

Sadly, I don’t see it happening this week. Thus, he’s on my week 2 DFS don’ts list.

 

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NFL top 100 players 2017: 30-21

The NFL season is right around the corner and all the lists of top players of the NFL are out. There is only one problem with these lists: they look back on the 2016 season too much. This list will look forward to the 2017 season and predict who will be the top 100 players for the 2017 season. The Game Haus staff compiled their lists together to rank who they think will be the top 100 players this upcoming season.

This is the eighth installment, containing players 30-21.

30. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL Top 100

Mike Evans (Photo by buccaneers.com)

Jameis Winston has developed into a good quarterback, but has a lot of help from Mike Evans, who has turned into an elite receiver. In 2016 he had a great season that resulted in a Pro Bowl appearance. He finished last season with 96 receptions for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Evans is a matchup nightmare at 6’5″ and 231 pounds. In 2017 Evans can continue to move up the ranks of the receivers in the NFL. The emergence and continual progression of Winston will help, but the offense will have some new weapons that might take away some of the double teams. Desean Jackson and O.J. Howard were both added this offseason and the hope for the Buccaneers is that opponents will have to pick and choose, if and who, they decide to double team.

With more help on the offensive side of the ball, Evans should find himself open more and he will capitalize.

Comments: “Mike Evans is a bad man, he makes cornerbacks look like children. The crazy thing is I can see him getting even better.”-Robert Hanes

29. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Top 100

Ben Roethlisberger (Photo by denverpost.com)

The Steelers have a really good offense because of the “Killer B’s” of Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger is aging, but is still leading a very good offensive unit that ranked sixth in total yards in 2016. His 2016 campaign saw him throw for 3,819 yards, 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Roethlisberger is now 35, but still has proven to make good throws. With Brown and Bell back, the offense should be balanced and dynamic. The Steelers also get Martavis Bryant back from suspension this year, giving Roethlisberger a plethora of weapons to use. Pittsburgh’s offensive line is very good and will have to try to keep Roethlisberger healthy, as he hasn’t played in a full 16 games since 2016.

With the weapons and talent he has, Roethlisberger is destined to put up great offensive numbers again in 2017.

Comments: “The only thing holding Roethlisberger back is injury and the contemplation of retirement. On a great offense with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, Roethlisberger will be a top 30 player in the NFL. His ability is what is going to make the Steelers a contender in the AFC once again.”-Joe DiTullio

28. Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

NFL Top 100

Marcus Peters (Photo by mercurynews.com)

Peters has only been in the NFL for two seasons so far and has cemented himself as one of the best corners and players in the NFL already. In 2016 he had 45 tackles, six interceptions, 20 passes defended, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.

Kansas City’s pass defense is average, but Peters does his part. He covers really well and has success against the best of receivers. In his two seasons, he has 14 interceptions already and is getting the reputation of being a ball-hawk. His productivity will continue because of his great instincts for the ball.

In 2017 a lot of quarterbacks will try to shy away from Peters and throw in a different direction, which is the ultimate sign of a great corner.

Comments: “Ever since Peters has come into the NFL he has been a magnet for the football. The Chiefs don’t always utilize his talents the correct way but he is a great young corner. This is the perfect spot for Peters.” -Matthew Hagan

27. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

NFL Top 100

Russell Wilson (Photo by sportsonearth.com)

Seattle doesn’t do a great job of protecting Wilson, but he is still productive. In 2016 he threw for 4,219 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The stats are good, but the most impressive thing about Wilson is that he has never had a season of lower than 10 wins.

The Seahawks looked primed for another great season. Wilson will still not have great protection, but the Seahawks tried to improve by drafting Ethan Pocic and signing Luke Joeckel. If Wilson has been good the last few years, he will do fine with this offensive line as well. He still has Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham to throw to and the running game should take a little bit off of his plate with a few options to carry the ball.

Wilson will have to make plays on the run like he has his whole career, but he has thrived before and will again in 2017.

Comments: “He is a winner plain and simple. His offensive line was atrocious last season and he barely had a running game. Yet, he still put up big numbers.”- Robert Hanes 

26. Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks

NFL Top 100

Bobby Wagner (Photo by seahawks.com)

Wagner can sometimes be overlooked for people giving adoration to Russell Wilson, the “Legion of Boom” and the pass rush, but he is one of the league’s best linebackers himself. He led the NFL in tackles in 2016 with 167. He added 4.5 sacks, one interception, three fumbles forced and one fumble recovered.

With the “Legion of Boom” behind him and a good defensive line in front of him, Wagner has the freedom to go run after the football knowing everyone else is doing their jobs. In 2017 Wagner will once again be flying to the football and amass a lot of tackles. He has a knack for doing everything well, which makes him a top 100 player in 2017.

Other people on the Seahawks might get more attention, but Wagner is a great defender that will be near the ball on a lot of plays this season.

Comments: “Wagner is rated a bit too high for my taste. Seahawk linebackers benefit from a good defensive line and a great secondary. Wagner is talented but on any other team he wouldn’t be a top 50 player.” -Matthew Hagan

25. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks

NFL Top 100

Richard Sherman (Photo by richardsherman25.com)

Three Seahawks in a row and there are more coming. Sherman has been one of the best corners in the NFL for what seems like forever. In 2016 he recorded 58 tackles, four interceptions, 13 passes defended and one fumble recovery.

Sherman gets some heat for only covering one side of the field instead of trailing the other team’s best receiver, but he does his job phenomenally. With the other members of the “Legion of Boom”, Sherman will return once again to do his job and create one of the best secondaries in football.

In 2017 Sherman is going to try to keep his status as one of the best corners in the NFL and will likely come away successful.

Comments: “Sherman is the best corner in the NFL. He locks down an entire side of the field. He is on his way to a hall of fame career and is truly one of the best players in the league.” -Matthew Hagan

24. Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks

NFL Top 100

Earl Thomas (Photo by youtube.com)

His season was cut short after he broke his leg in the Seahawks eleventh game, but Thomas still had a good season in that time. He finished his 2016 season with 46 tackles, two interceptions, 10 passes defended and a fumble recovery.

The Seahawks defense was significantly worse after Thomas’ injury, which showed how good of a player he truly is. When he was on the field Seattle allowed just 16 points per game, but when he wasn’t they allowed 23 points per game. This season he will help restore the Seahawks’ defense to elite status with his big-hitting, ball-hawking nature.

Thomas is coming back from an injury, but his natural instincts will still be sharp, making him one of the best players in the NFL.

Comments: “When Thomas went down with injury, the entire Seahawks’ defense changed for the worse. Thomas could be higher on this list with the big impact he has. If he can recover from his injury he is in no doubt a top 25 player in the NFL.”-Joe DiTullio

23. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

NFL Top 100

J.J. Watt (photo by jjwfoundation.com)

Watt only played three games in 2016 due to injury, but if he can recover, he will be a great player once again. In his three games he had eight tackles, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. When he was healthy in 2015 he led the league with 17.5 sacks.

Houston ranked tenth in the NFL as a scoring defense last season without Watt, but they needed more pass rushing. They had just 31 sacks, which tied for 24th in the NFL. Watt will rejoin Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, which will help. Watt will be one more problem for opponents’ offensive lines to worry about and will produce in 2017.

There is no reason to believe that Watt won’t be a great, physical force in 2017 if he recovers from his injury.

Comments: “Health is the only concern with Watt. If not for last year’s injury, he would be in the top ten”- Dylan Streibig 

22. Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

NFL Top 100

Landon Collins (Photo by giants.com)

The Giants hit the jackpot by selecting Collins with the first pick of the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Ever since he came into the NFL, he has produced. Last season he had 125 tackles, four sacks, five interceptions, 13 passes defended, one touchdown and one fumble recovery.

With Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie taking care of shutting down receivers, Collins is free to play instinctive football. He flies to the football and usually makes a play. Collins is so effective because he can do so many different things. He can cover, blitz and provide good run support.

Collins has been extraordinary in his first two seasons and will continue to improve in the coming years.

Comments: “This man is basically a whole defense by himself. Not to say he doesn’t have good pieces around him but, I think he will be a top 20 players by the end of the season.”-Robert Hanes

21. Tyron Smith, OT, Dallas Cowboys

NFL Top 100

Tyron Smith (Photo by insidethestar.com)

Smith has been one of the best tackles in the NFL and is entering his prime years. The Cowboys have two other offensive linemen on this list: Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, showing how good of an offensive line they have. Smith is ranked the highest out of all of them. He made his fourth straight Pro Bowl in 2016 and added his second appearance as a first team All-Pro.

Like the other linemen from Dallas on this list, he helped Ezekiel Elliot have a great first season in the NFL, as he rushed for 1,631 yards. Most impressively for Smith though was his pass protection, as he allowed just two sacks all season. As the left tackle who goes up against a lot of effective pass rushers, that is an outstanding output.

Dak Prescott has to feel comfortable with how good his offensive line is going to be in 2017, especially with Smith protecting his blindside.

Comments: “Smith is clearly one of the best offensive linemen in the league and deserves this spot. He will keep Dak Prescott upright in 2017 and also help the Cowboys have a good ground game. Smith will make his fifth Pro Bowl in 2017 and is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.”-Joe DiTullio

NFL Top 100 Players:40-31

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Is Dez Bryant a top fantasy option?

Dez Bryant has struggled with injuries and in-season battles in the past two years. Bryant was once a top five receiver in fantasy. From 2012-14, he finished in the top five in fantasy points in the receiver group. But with struggles with injuries and a transition to a new Dallas offense and quarterback, will Bryant return to being the elite fantasy player that he was early in his career?

Throw up the X: 2011-14

After his rookie season, Bryant came to life. In 2011, Bryant became a top option for Tony Romo behind Jason Witten. He finished with 63 receptions, 928 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished in the top 20 that year in fantasy for receivers.

The following season, Bryant broke onto the scene. He had his first season over 1,000 yards and had over 90 receptions and double digits in touchdowns. He finished in the top 10 in receptions (92), yards (1,382) and receiving yards per game (86.4). His 12 touchdowns were top-three. Bryant finished third in fantasy that season.

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant and Tony Romo (Photo by: zimbio.com)

In 2013, he had another solid season. He saw his targets spike from 138 to 160. He finished in the top five in fantasy again under receivers and his 93 receptions ranked eighth. His 13 touchdowns again ranked third.

Bryant did see a small decline in receiving yards with 1,233 and his receiving yards per game (77.1) that both ranked outside the top 10.

However, Bryant did perform in the top two inside the 10-yard line of the red zone. He led the league in targets (16), receptions (11) and touchdowns (9). He finished second in yards (38) and target percentage (43.2).

Bryant developed into a red zone weapon and also ranked in the top 10 in receptions (13) and target percentage (29.9) inside the 20-yard line. He was also second in touchdowns with 10 inside the 20.

2014 was probably Bryant’s best fantasy season to date. He finished third in fantasy points among receivers, his third top five finish in a row. He led the league in receiving touchdowns with 16. Bryant also improved his receiving yards (1,320) and receiving yards per game (82.5), which ranked eighth and 10th respectively.

He did have less receptions (88) but averaged 14.3 fantasy points per game, a career-best that season which ranked third. He also had his best PPR fantasy points per game at 19.8. Bryant also doubled his catches of 20-plus yards with 22 that ranked fifth in 2014.

In those four seasons, Bryant totaled 4,863 yards and 50 touchdowns. During that time, just Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green had more yards than he did. His touchdowns were the most during that timeframe, and no other receiver had more than 43 touchdowns.

Injuries and quarterback issues: 2015-16

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: whatthebuc.net)

Before the season, Bryant resigned with the Cowboys on a five-year, $70 million contract that included $45 million of guaranteed money and a $20 million signing bonus.

In a game against the Giants on Sep. 13, 2015, Bryant had a foot injury. The x-ray revealed a fracture in the foot that required surgery. He returned in week eight and struggled, getting two receptions for 12 yards.

In a season in which he struggled with health issues, he caught 31 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns. Before the injury, part of Bryant’s success was having Tony Romo as the quarterback. They only played three games together in 2015 as Romo had a back injury.

Bryant played with two other quarterbacks (Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore) that season. All of his three touchdowns came from a different quarterback. On Jan. 6, 2016, he underwent foot and ankle surgeries.

In 2016, his favorite quarterback in the preseason went down with another back injury and rookie Dak Prescott became the starter. It proved again that Bryant missed Romo as the quarterback as he and Prescott only connected on 16 of their first 41 targets in their first five games together.

This led to inconsistent fantasy numbers, as Bryant had just three games with 10 or more points, but two games with less than two points. He also missed three games with a knee injury. However, removing week 17 where they played only one series, Bryant and Prescott came to life.

In the final eight games including the playoffs, Bryant had 66 targets, 43 receptions, 646 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s a 65.2 percent completion rate. It seemed that Bryant came back to being the receiver he once was.

2017 outlook

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: sbnation.com)

In 2017, there is some concern regarding Bryant. Besides adding no receiver help to complement him, Bryant will face Janoris Jenkins twice, Josh Norman twice, Aqib Talib/Chris Harris Jr., Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Jason Verrett/Casey Hayward and Richard Sherman.

In the two matchups with the Giants last year, he was held to just two catches for 18 yards on 14 targets and fumbled once that clinched the Giants win in the second meeting.

The last time he played against Sherman, he totaled just two catches for 12 yards on six targets.

And expect Norman to shadow Bryant this year after not doing so in 2016. In the first three games for Bryant, he plays the Giants at home and then goes to Denver and Arizona on the road. We could see again early season struggles for him.

He has missed 22 games in two seasons. He is also in a run-heavy offense with a great offensive line and a premier running back. The defense in Dallas hasn’t improved, especially in the backfield which could lead to Prescott throwing the ball more if they have to play catch up. That would benefit Bryant but the game plan will be to run the ball to protect Prescott.

But how good will Prescott be if he has to throw to win? That’s a question for another article.

Bryant is a top-10 fantasy receiver that should be drafted somewhere in the third round. Be cautious with his durability, and Prescott worries me this year as he is my top bust for quarterbacks. In some leagues he will be a top receiver for most teams, but he’s a high-end WR2 with a ceiling as a middling WR1.

 

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Franchise Analysis – Kansas City Chiefs

Since 2014, the Kansas City Chiefs have consistently gotten better. After recording nine wins in 2014, 11 wins in 2015, and 12 wins in 2016, what more could a fan base ask for? The answer is simple, win in the playoffs. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1993 and haven’t won the conference championship since 1969. So the question remains, what must happen to snap the Chiefs championship drought?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

This offense, like those in previous seasons, was predicated on not making mistakes. Kansas City finished in the top 10 in terms of giveaways by only committing 17 on the season. Given they had 15 giveaways in 2015 and 17 in 2014, it’s clear that their number one priority is taking care of the football.

Just because a team doesn’t accumulate turnovers doesn’t mean they are a great offense. The Chiefs finished 13th in points and 20th in yards, according to Pro Football Reference. I often talk about how an offense can skew a defenses ranking in points allowed; however, the Chiefs benefited from the opposite. Their defense was able to put them in great field position by creating a league high 33 turnovers.

Chiefs Championship Drought

Alex Smith became the first quarterback in NFL history to lose a playoff game when scoring two or more touchdowns than their opponent. (Courtesy of; Kansas City Star)

With any NFL offense, the focus is on the signal caller. One stat most people don’t know about Smith is that since 2011, only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have won more games. However, despite what most people think, winning isn’t everything. At this point how Alex Smith performs in the regular season is irrelevant to Chiefs’ fans, as long as he plays well enough to get them to the postseason.

Since 2013, his adjusted yards per attempt in his postseason campaigns has declined from 10 yards, to 4.3 yards. This was never more apparent than against the Steelers. Smith failed to connect with Tyreke Hill on two occasions, one of which was a guaranteed touchdown.

At this point in his career, it would be unfair to ask Alex Smith to start attacking downfield. His style of play is one that you either take or leave, and in all fairness, is one the Chiefs should leave by 2018 at the latest. You won’t lose a Super Bowl with a quarterback who doesn’t take chances, but you can’t end the Chiefs’ championship drought with one either.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

2016 was great for this defense. With four Pro-Bowlers, two of which earned All-Pro honors, this defense was electrifying. While they may have had lapses against the oppositions running attack, there was one constant that remained. Turnovers. As stated earlier, the Chiefs were first in creating turnovers, with 33. This defense was also tied for the most interceptions caused with 18 and were first in fumbles with 15.

There’s no doubt that this team’s strength lies in the secondary. With All-Pro safety, Eric Berry, and corner, Marcus Peters, teams struggled to find favorable match ups in the passing game. Berry was the single best pass defender in terms of covering tight ends and no one has more interceptions than Peters since he entered the league.

Sadly, this team did struggle when trying to stop the run. The Chiefs finished the season as the 26th ranked run defense, something they have to improve on for next year. In a 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is the most important player in terms of defending the run. The nose tackle has to occupy double teams and not give up ground.

Chiefs Championship Drought

Dontari Poe has unique pass rushing skills as a 3-4 nose tackle, but will Chiefs wind up making him one of the most overpaid free agents of 2017? (Courtesy of; Arrowhead Addict)

Who plays nose tackle for the Chiefs? None other than, Dontari Poe. Yes, Poe has a lot of notoriety for what he does in goal line formations. However, Pro Football Focus rated Poe as the 90th best interior defender against the run. On the other hand, Poe has an uncanny ability to rush the passer from the nose tackle position, making him a unique player at that position.

It’s not entirely Poe’s fault. Other players who were liabilities against the run included defensive end Rakeem Nunez-Roches and linebacker Terrence Smith, who filled in the for the injured Derrick Johnson. This triangle of ineptitude made one side of the defense especially susceptible to the run.

If this defense plans to be the one to end the Chiefs championship drought in 2017, they must become at least an average rush defense.

Divisional Analysis

Clearly, Kansas City has everything they need to win the AFC West. However, this team is far from perfect. The Chiefs have a large decision looming this offseason, as both Eric Berry and Dontari Poe become free agents. I think the choice is simple. Let Poe walk and resign Berry.

In this situation, the Chiefs have to address their run defense by finding a new nose tackle. Brandon Williams and Kawann Short, while he played in a 4-3 scheme in Carolina, could be suitable replacements. On the other hand, it’s likely they’ll want to address such a pivotal position in the 2017 NFL Draft.

As of January 24th, our own Joe DiTullio has the Chiefs selecting Corey Davis, the wide receiver from Western Michigan. I’m not so sure. Davis would be a good fit on an offense that wants to attack down the field, but we’ve clearly outlined that isn’t what Alex Smith does.

Instead, they would likely replace Dontari Poe with Caleb Brantley, a top nose tackle prospect from Florida. They could however wait to fill this need by selecting Carlos Watkins from Clemson, or Elijah Qualls from Washington in the later rounds.

Offensively, the Chiefs don’t have a glaring need. They could bolster their receiving core, or, they could look to upgrade their running game. Jamaal Charles’ health will be questioned for the rest of his career and Spencer Ware proved he can handle a starters workload. However, Christian McCaffery would be a great addition for Alex Smith and this conservative passing attack.

Postseason Prospects

The Chiefs not only won the AFC West, but were also able to claim a first round bye. So clearly, they must be doing something right. Here are the following relevant offensive and defensive statistics that serve as good predictors for postseason success.

Chiefs Championship Drought

A good barometer for postseason teams is to have two or more categories inside the top 15 and usually one or two inside the top ten. For the Chiefs, they are top 15 in both points scored and sacks allowed. However, they are largely mediocre in the other metrics. Remember, mediocre isn’t terrible, but it isn’t good enough to win multiple playoff games.

Of these statistics, the two most telling is 3rd down conversion rate. Why? Because it gives you an idea about how effective this team is on first and second down. Teams with a high 3rd down conversion rate are successful early on first and second down, making their third down attempts less difficult.

 

Chiefs Championship Drought

The Chiefs defense suffers from an all or nothing problem. They finished top ten in points allowed and number one in turnovers. But, they were bottom third in the other defensive metrics. When Justin Houston is able to play a full season, their sack numbers will no doubt improve.

We outlined the Chiefs’ struggles against the run earlier and those struggles led to a poor production on third down. The Chiefs have to improve against the run in 2017 in order to record more sacks and get offenses off the field.

2017 Prediction

The Kansas City Chiefs are in a great position to end their championship drought in 2017. Unless Andy Reid is able to transform Alex Smith in the offseason, this team has reached their ceiling. The Chiefs will take a step back next year and will miss the playoffs after finishing 9-7.

 

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