Lamar Jackson just put the “M” in MVP

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws the ball under pressure from Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Lamar Jackson. Have yourself a night, young man.

Down 22-3 late in the 3rd, after 3 quarters of sloppy play, the Baltimore Ravens seemed out of this game. The defense couldn’t get stops, the running game was going nowhere, and the Ravens had failed to convert any 3rd downs. The deficit itself was daunting enough, but the play up to that point made it feel even larger.

Worse still, the game had been dedicated to Haloti Ngata, a team legend. Ngata was forced to watch the depressing performance instead of celebrating a victory with his family on a night made for him.

And then Lamar Jackson happened.

The Comeback

After a short two minute drive, Lamar threw a 40 yard bomb to Marquise Brown. The score was now 22-9 with time left in the third and seemed to jolt the Ravens’ offense awake. When the Colts predictably drove down the field and made a field goal to make it 25-9, Lamar got right back to work in the 4th.

Circumstance forced him to drop back snap after snap, and he responded with darts across the field to Mark Andrews. He checked down when he had to, ran when he had to, and punished the Colts down the field. Another touchdown and 2-point conversion later, and this was suddenly a one-score game. 25-17. The drive only took two and a half minutes off the clock.

Then the Colts started driving again, this time into field goal range. The Ravens’ defense still had no answers for anything Indianapolis did on offense. However, a huge Calais Campbell blocked field goal meant the Colts got 0 points for their drive. The game was still winnable.

Just like that, the Ravens drove down the field again behind Lamar’s impeccable throwing. The Colts’ entire defense seemed exhausted at this point, understandable given they had to chase receivers and worry about Lamar running every single play. With barely any time left on the regulation clock, Lamar found Mark Andrews for their second touchdown connection. 25-23. The two-point conversion was successful, and the game had somehow gone to overtime.

Once the Ravens won the toss, everyone seemed to know the game was over. Lamar even said so himself. And everyone who thought that was proven right. The final drive of the game was methodical, featuring checkdowns to running backs. The final play came on a dart to Hollywood Brown just inside the endzone. 31-25.

Lamar MVP?

On a night where seemingly nothing was going the Ravens’ way, Lamar Jackson stepped up like few quarterbacks in the game can. In the second half and overtime alone, he was 29-32 for 300+ yards and 4 touchdowns. He set a new career high in passing yards at 442. He accounted for all but 19 of the Ravens’ total offensive yards. The first QB to ever complete 85% of his passes in a 400 yard performance.

The list of records and mind-boggling statistics all point to one reality; Lamar Jackson delivered an all-time performance with his arm to bring a listless team back from the grave. His heroics also brought the Ravens to 4-1 on the year and atop the AFC North standings.

Such comebacks are the hallmark of franchise quarterbacks. In the truest sense of the title “Most Valuable Player,” Jackson stands out as an anomaly. No Quarterback in the game has accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s total offense. After games like last night’s, it’s also clear he can single-handedly win games for his team even when the rest of the team isn’t playing well. There is a compelling argument to be made that removing Lamar Jackson from the Ravens would hurt them more than removing any other player from any other roster.


Despite his performance last night, there are also fair reasons why Lamar should not be the frontrunner in the MVP race. The largest factor is the way this Ravens team is 4-1.

While they’ve had an impressive win over the Chiefs, their remaining wins have come against less than stellar competition in the Lions, Broncos, and now Colts. With the Chiefs struggling, the Ravens’ victory over them looks less impressive by the week. Excluding the Broncos game, every win the Ravens have was nail-biting until the final snap. And when you factor in the improbabilities of their victories- a fumble from a running back that hadn’t fumbled since college, a missed delay of game, a 66-yard field goal- these wins look less and less definitive. Realistically, the Ravens could be 1-4.

Winning close games against poor competition is not what MVP quarterbacks do. To win the award, you need statement wins against good teams. Lamar himself benefitted from this during his first MVP season; his wins over the Seahawks, 49ers, and undefeated Patriots on Monday Night Football catapulted him from breakout star to unanimous MVP. Thus far this year, Lamar lacks such a statement win.

The second largest factor is the other Quarterbacks in the league. Tom Brady is ageless, Justin Herbert has been spectacular, Josh Allen has regained his 2020 form, and Kyler Murray is playing playground football on the NFL. All four of those Quarterbacks’ teams can match or exceed the Ravens’ team record, but their wins have been more decisive and against arguably better competition. While the Ravens squeaked by the Chiefs, the Bills dominated them. It’s telling that all four teams are above the Ravens in the latest NFL power rankings according to ESPN. The Ravens are also the lowest-ranked 4-1 team in the NFL in that poll.

So…is Lamar MVP or isn’t he?

The short answer is “yes, but no.” The long answer is “he’s probably the most valuable player in the NFL, but the award factors in more than that. It factors in team success, who a team beats, how they beat them, and even things like how “new” the player is. Lamar benefitted from being the “new” superstar in 2019; now, Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert get the same benefit against him. And right now, when factoring in all of the common criteria for MVP, the league will likely give it to Kyler Murray for his breakout campaign”.

However, the NFL season is long. Longer than ever, actually. There’s still a lot of time for the MVP race to become solidified. If Lamar continues this level of play, he’ll remain on the voters’ radar all season. Even if he doesn’t, one thing is perfectly clear; Lamar Jackson put the “M” in “MVP” last night.

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2021 NFL Preseason Week 1: Stories to Watch

Football is here! The NFL preseason officially started last week between the Steelers and Cowboys, but most fans consider this week to be the start of football season. As we head into an exciting NFL season, the first week of preseason is rife with interesting stories to follow. Here are just a few.

Justin Fields’ Snaps

Bears coach Matt Nagy recently claimed he would make sure Justin Fields receives as many reps as possible against the Miami Dolphins. This is a bold attitude for a head coach to take with his first-round quarterback but his mindset is simple. “The more reps we can get of him right now, the better.”

Of course, there are obvious concerns this mindset raises. Snaps are important for all rookies, quarterbacks especially, but risking your potential franchise quarterback’s health to prioritize snaps during a meaningless preseason game? That’s a bit more questionable.

Not all fans are happy with the decision, but Nagy isn’t bothered. In his words, “When you look at the Quarterback position, there is that balance. We’ve gotta be able to evaluate. The only way you can evaluate is running stuff you want to run.”

Translation: we don’t know what we have until the kid gets snaps, so we’re getting him as many snaps as possible.

If this storyline wasn’t juicy enough, Justin Fields has apparently been tearing training camp up. His arm talent, mobility, and accuracy are impressing everyone. If the reports are true and carry into the game, Fields might announce his NFL presence in the first action of his professional career. Certainly, something to watch.

The Taunting Rules

Will taunting become the next hot topic in the NFL preseason?

The preseason is the first chance for fans to see the new NFL rule changes in action. It’s also a chance for NFL referees to set the tone with players, which usually leads to high penalty counts. A few years ago, the preseason was filled with flags for players lowering their heads to initiate contact. This year, we’re likely to see officials crackdown on taunting. Allegedly, NFL coaches have complained that taunting rules are almost never enforced, and they have a point. Somewhat. Taunting is more common in today’s league, but most fans seem to enjoy it.

To call this new emphasis unpopular would be…an understatement. For a brief moment, the phrase “No Fun League” was trending on Twitter when the news broke. Players, fans, and media members alike voiced their outrage at the NFL for seemingly trying to take the fun out of the game.

If history repeats itself and we see a large number of taunting penalties, it would sour the start of an otherwise promising year. Let’s watch and hope the NFL doesn’t repeat its mistakes.

The Preseason Superstars

Okay, this one is a bit of a cop-out, I’ll admit. But it’s still exciting! The preseason offers a chance for players fighting for a roster spot to receive major playing time over their established counterparts. As a result, every year, unknown players have the games of their life in the preseason, vaulting their names into the national spotlight for a moment.

Sometimes, these players translate their performances into grander careers. Victor Cruz notably put on an amazing display against the New York Jets his rookie year – within a few years, he was one of the best receivers in the game. Getting a glimpse at the next NFL star in the preseason is a rare treat for any NFL fan.

Other times, these players don’t amount to anything, even after their performance. Yet, in a strange way, that makes them even more captivating than the “successful” preseason superstars. Their stardom is as brief as the sport will allow; just a week, maybe two. But for that moment, their names become the discussion of media members and team fans alike. “Does so-and-so have a chance to make the roster?” “Who is this guy?” “I’ve never heard of this college before, are we sure it isn’t imaginary?”

That fleeting fame is a glory reserved exclusively for the preseason, where backups become the starters and get their chance to show the world their gifts. But it’s a pyrrhic glory for many, often highlighted against the shadow of unfulfilled dreams. The two sides of failure and success are on full display, highlighting the valleys and peaks of many young men’s lives. It’s the natural high of hope and the crushing agony of despair alike. It’s football, and it’s back.

I just can’t wait.

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Baltimore Ravens 2021 Preview: Can They Beat the Best?


Football is just around the corner, Baltimore Ravens fans! The first game of the preseason is today, marking the first of at least 21 weeks we’ll be able to watch the Ravens play.

Last year, the Ravens struggled in seemingly every way after entering the season with Super Bowl aspirations. The passing game, rumored to be improved, fell flat all year and cost the team in the playoffs – again. The team also struggled through a massive Covid-19 outbreak and ultimately played a game with a depleted roster. There were important injuries, miscommunication on the field, and several other problems. Despite an 11-5 record and a playoff win, the season was a disappointment.

This year cause for optimism, however. The team has invested heavily in the problem areas from last year. The wide receiver and edge rusher rooms both received multiple picks in this year’s draft. They also received free agent help with the signings of Sammy Watkins and Justin Houston. Notably, the addition of respected receiver coaches Tee Martin and Keith Williams means, for the first time in franchise history, there’s optimism that our young receivers will develop. Ronnie Stanley‘s return, Kevin Zeitler‘s signing, and the drafting of Ben Cleveland could lead to a much-improved offensive line. The rest of the roster features young players on the rise as well. Will that be enough for the Baltimore Ravens to make a Super Bowl appearance, though? To get to the final dance, the Ravens will have to take on a loaded AFC conference.

Stacking Up Against the Best

The AFC has rapidly turned into a conference of heavyweight contenders all vying for the throne. Teams like the Bills, Browns, and Chiefs are all preseason favorites to make deep playoff runs. Other units, such as the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts, could also impress. How do the Ravens stack up against those teams?

Kansas City Chiefs

It’s no secret the Kansas City Chiefs are the cream of the AFC crop. They’ve represented the conference in the past two Super Bowls and show no signs of slowing down. In particular, they seem to have the Ravens’ number in their head-to-head matchups. Lamar Jackson has yet to defeat the Chiefs in his young career.

The Chiefs roster needs little introduction; a high-powered offense led by Patrick Mahomes and a fast, aggressive defense. Both units are fantasically well-coached and both can make game-changing plays on any snap.

To beat the Chiefs, the Ravens will have to copy the performance of the Tampa Bay Buccanneers in last year’s Super Bowl. They will have to pressure Mahomes without blitzing and play sound, aggressive defense in the back seven. Meanwhile, their offense must be explosive in its own right, capable of moving the ball consistently through the air.

To their credit, the Ravens have tried to improve in both areas. Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston could greatly improve the pass rush, while Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins could do the same for the passing offense. Unfortunately, the Chiefs have spent every resource they could this offseason to prevent last year’s Super Bowl from happening again. An objective analysis of the matchup still favors the Chiefs until proven otherwise.

Buffalo Bills/Cleveland Browns

The Bills, along with the Browns, are this year’s up-and-coming AFC powerhouses. They both boast complete rosters with minimal weaknesses to exploit. Notably, the Bills handed the Ravens their playoff loss last year, while the Browns pushed the Ravens to the brink in an instant classic in week 14.

However, I don’t think the Bills or Browns present quite the same problem a team like the Chiefs does. Even though the Ravens lost to the Bills in the playoffs, much of the game was marked by the Ravens’ maddening inconsistency that covered up an overall even affair. Most promising is that the Ravens managed to mostly contain an explosive Bills offense. It was a game the Ravens could have won if they played at their usual level.

With that said, the Bills are an incredibly dangerous opponent. Josh Allen looks like the real deal and their defense likely will improve from last season thanks to the progression of young talent. I see this matchup as a toss-up, but if push came to shove, I would favor the Bills until the Ravens prove they have a decent passing attack.

Meanwhile, the Browns showed they could hang with the Ravens last year and have only gotten better in the offseason. New addition Jadeveon Clowney is a game wrecker versus the run and the offense is fully gelled to start the year. On paper, this is a team that can beat just about anyone – the only thing left to do is prove it once and for all. I think the Baltimore Ravens still have the slight edge here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the two teams traded games.

Other Contenders

While new teams unexpectedly rise to prominence every NFL season, the likely other contenders in the division are the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, and Indianapolis Colts.

The Dolphins are the most likely of the “other” teams to become a major power in the AFC. They have a young QB with plenty of room to grow in Tua Tagovailoa, a first-round wide receiver already turning heads in Jaylen Waddle, and a talented defense already among the NFL’s best. Right now, I would take the Baltimore Ravens over the Miami Dolphins in a hard-fought, defensive game. If Tua matures and makes the offense more explosive, the Dolphins instantly become of the best teams in the league.


The Colts are even harder to project. They have a very good defense, a talented running back, and one of the best offensive lines in the game. Like the Ravens, their only real question mark is with their passing game. Is the receiver room good enough? Is Carson Wentz a good QB? The Colts must show us some answers to these questions before we can reliably make any claims about them. Assuming Wentz is who we’ve seen the last three years, the Colts are a middling team that probably won’t make the playoffs. If he looks like 2017 Wentz, however, the Colts will challenge for a Super Bowl appearance.

Finally, the Tennessee Titans. The bad blood between the Baltimore Ravens and Titans has existed for two decades at this point, dating back to the days of Eddie George and Ray Lewis. The Titans unexpectedly dominated the Ravens in the 2019 playoffs, marking a horrible end to a storybook season for the Ravens. Last year, the Ravens returned the favor, coming away with a close but decisive victory in the Wild Card round. Both teams spent time on each others’ logos, only furthering the rivalry. The Titans have many defensive question marks, but adding Julio Jones to their offense is downright unfair. Jones plus Derrick Henry, AJ Brown, and Ryan Tannehill is probably the most explosive quartet in the game. I believe the Ravens are a slightly better team, but I also believe the Titans can beat anybody they play.

In Conclusion…

The Ravens are one of the best teams in the AFC on paper. If the changes they’ve made in the offseason bear fruit, a Super Bowl appearance is possible.

However, the team has shown a level of inconsistency that warrants caution for fans. Objectively, they still have much to prove to make before being seen as AFC Championship contenders. While they’ve clearly made attempts at those improvements, we can’t just assume the problems are gone.

My final prediction is a 12-5 record and a divisional-round exit against the Chiefs. Ideally, the Ravens’ passing attack improves enough to finally surpass the Chiefs as the best AFC team. If things go poorly, however, the Ravens will struggle just to make it to the playoffs.

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Ed Reed: The Greatest Ballhawk in NFL History

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Ed Reed really is, to me, the most complete and best safety that I’ve ever seen in the National Football League”

Bill Belichick in NFL Film’s “Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu Revolutionize the Safety Position

“Best-best safety in the history of the game. I don’t think it’s close.”

Rex Ryan in NFL Film’s “Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu Revolutionize the Safety Position”

Ed Reed’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame wasn’t a shock, nor was it a long time coming. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, as (hopefully) everyone agreed he should be. From 2002-2013, Ed Reed took the position of safety and elevated it to an art form, becoming the gold standard for the classic “single high” archetype. Many would argue he was the greatest ballhawk the NFL has ever seen.

But…was he?

That question is harder to answer than you might realize. The NFL has changed drastically over the past seven decades, often in ways most fans don’t quite realize. Those changes alter the context in which a player plays, which in turn can drastically change a player’s legacy in the eyes of fans. This can often make comparing players across different eras extraordinarily difficult.

At first blush, the stats would indicate Ed Reed was an all-time interceptor and a worthy addition to the Hall of Fame. He’s currently in 7th place all-time in career interceptions with 64, only trailing other legends. Yet that 7th place finish also seems to indicate placing Reed on top of the proverbial mountain would be foolish. How can he be the best of all time at picking passes when he finished 7th in that mark?

So was Ed Reed the greatest ballhawk in NFL history? Yes. I believe he was, and I’d like to present my case. Before I can do that, however, we need some historical context.

Spiralling Through History

When the NFL first began to play in 1922, passing was a desperation gamble, the last resort saved for the direst of circumstances. Official passing records don’t exist until 1931, but in that year, teams attempted 1,044 passes out of 4,282 total plays. That works out to 24.3 percent or less than one-quarter of all plays. This number and percentage would climb until 2015, when it reached an all-time high of 18,298 attempts in 32,973 total plays, meaning over 55 percent of all plays were passing plays. It’s hovered around that ratio since.

This transformation into a passing-oriented league is hardly news to most fans of the NFL. Passing records are seemingly set every year. Quarterbacks play longer than ever thanks to increased protection. Linebackers have grown smaller in recent years and coverage is more important than stopping the run. Armchair GMs across the world grimace when they hear “analysts” declare running backs aren’t very valuable.

This change is especially important to understand when comparing defensive backs, who are often judged by the number of interceptions they get. As passing attempts increase, so too do the opportunities for a defensive back to get a pick. This naturally means defenders of today have a massive advantage over defenders in, say, 1955. That would seem to make Ed Reed’s place at 7th all-time behind older players like Emlen Tunnell and Paul Krause even more damning.


Not Quite

Actually, it isn’t that simple. See, passing offenses have changed in far more than just the volume of attempts. Importantly, the type of attempts have changed as well. As any football fan knows, deeper passing attempts tend to be riskier for two main reasons. First, the longer air time offers defensive backs more time to react to the throw and make a play on it. Secondly, it’s harder to be accurate on longer throws. Quarterbacks are more likely to put the ball a few yards in the wrong direction, right into the hands of a waiting defensive back. Combining these two factors, deep passing is often fraught with danger.

That matters to us because, across NFL history, teams have been taking shorter and shorter pass attempts, which has resulted in a sharp decline in interceptions, even as the league has thrown more. Don’t just take my word for it, let’s look at the data.

The Data

As the above chart shows, yards/completion have declined for almost all of NFL history. The decline was especially sharp in the early days, but it still took until nearly 1970 (1969 to be specific) before teams fell below 12 yards/completion. In 1958, teams averaged a whopping 13.28 yards/completion! For context, in 2020, teams averaged 10.46 yards/completion. This emphasis on shorter throws has resulted in far fewer opportunities for all defensive backs, but especially safeties, to snag interceptions.

Again, let’s look at the data for proof. Teams in 2020 averaged 12.3 interceptions across an entire season, which is the exact same amount as they did in 1932. Yes, you read that correctly. Even though teams are attempting passes at record rates in recent years, they’re throwing interceptions like it’s 1932. The all-time highs for this metric came in 1934 and 1950 when teams threw 26.4 interceptions in a season on average. From 1932 through 1989, teams threw over 21 interceptions per season on average. In the last decade, teams have thrown 4431 interceptions. That’s an average of 443.1 interceptions per season or just 13.84 per team. That’s a difference of over 7 interceptions per team in every single season! That means modern defenders actually have it much harder, not easier, to compile interceptions than their 20th-century counterparts.

That revelation, that modern defenders have it harder than previous generations, forms the basis of my argument.

The Argument

Now that we’ve added the historical context, I can make my argument. My argument is that Ed Reed’s 64 interceptions from 2002-2013 are the most impressive in NFL history because they were compiled in some of the least friendly interception environments of all time.

If we accept that teams have thrown fewer interceptions as NFL history has progressed, then placing Ed Reed as the best ballhawk ever becomes a reasonable debate. But how can we prove his interception total is more impressive than, say, Paul Krause‘s 81? Reed had fewer chances, sure, and has a fantastic career total, but that doesn’t prove he was the best ever.

Any time we want to compare players across eras, we have to compare how they performed relative to their league. Throwing for 4000 yards in 1970 was astonishing; now, it’s almost expected. So how do we do that with interceptions?

The answer I’ve come to is Interception Share. Interception Share is the percentage of a team’s average interceptions an individual player accounts for. For example, if the average team had 20 interceptions in a season and an individual player on that team had 10 interceptions, he would have an interception share of 50 percent (10/20). He accounted for 50 percent of the average team’s interception total by himself. This method is helpful because it eliminates the wildly different contexts each player faced and simply asks “how good were you relative to the norms of your era?” By using this method, we can compare players across eras with much more confidence. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than comparing raw totals.

The Method

In the interest of saving time, I’ll be focusing my efforts on the top-11 pick artists in NFL history, as rated by career interceptions. I chose the top 11 because a few players are tied and a clear top 10 isn’t possible.

My methodology is simple; first, I’ll use historical data to find out how many interceptions per season an average team would have during the years a player played. Then, I’ll multiply that value by the number of years they played to see how many total interceptions an average team would have during those years. Finally, I’ll divide the player’s career interception total by the previous value to get their interception share. After doing that for every member of the top 11, we have an ordered list of the best ballhawks in NFL history adjusted for eras.

The Results

11th. Dave Brown – 20.44 percent.
10th. Dick LeBeau – 21.55 percent.
9th. Ken Riley – 21.87 percent.
8th. Rod Woodson – 22.39 percent.
7th. Charles Woodson – 22.510 percent.
6th. Night Train Lane – 22.512 percent.
5th. Ronnie Lott – 23.75 percent.
4th. Emlen Tunnell – 24.91 percent.
3rd. Paul Krause – 25.27 percent.
2nd. Darren Sharper – 27.27 percent.

1st. Ed Reed – 33.43 percent.

The results are breathtaking when put into this context. Of the top 11 interceptors in NFL history, only 2 besides Reed cross the 25 percent threshold. That means only two other players in NFL history, at least among the best ballhawks in the game, have accounted for one-quarter of an average team’s production for their entire career. Given these results, it seems fair to say that crossing the 20 percent threshold cements you as an all-time great. 25 percent places you as a top-four pass thief ever. Reed towers above all competition with 33.43 percent, or over one-third of an entire average team’s production for his career.

This is a Ruthian number, a Secretariat feat; something or someone so far ahead of the field that it almost makes one think there’s been a mistake. Maybe this method overcorrects and favors new players? Paul Krause and Emlen Tunnell at 3 and 4 say otherwise. You’d expect them to be much lower if that were the case. Charles Woodson would be higher, too; he even retired after Reed. Interception Share is an imperfect method, but no quirk of methodology would create a gap this massive while bunching everyone else so tightly together. Ed Reed is further from 2nd place than 2nd is from 10th. Sharper would have needed 77 career interceptions to match Reed’s Interception Share. 77! The second-best interceptor of all time needed 14 more career interceptions, or 22 percent more, just to match Ed Reed.

In Conclusion…

I could list remarkable numbers to prove how incredible this result is for pages and pages, but I doubt that’d be interesting to read. No matter how you look at this result, it’s a powerful argument that Reed is not just the best ballhawk in NFL history, but head and shoulders above his field. A single player was worth a third of an entire team when it came to picking off passes. It’s a feat I don’t think we’ll ever see again and just one more reason why Reed is a worthy member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Training Camp Standouts in the AFC

Training camp is an exciting time for NFL teams and fans alike. It’s an opportunity to see which players have used their offseason wisely and how the team has progressed as a whole. Some players show up looking like entirely new people, while others stagnate without direct guidance. Of course, of all the players that improved in the offseason, some stand out among the rest. The following players are the ones making the most noise in training camp so far.

1. Bryan Edwards, WR, Las Vegas Raiders

Bryan Edwards catches a pass in 2020 training camp.
Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Bryan Edwards (89) trains during an NFL football training camp practice Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The Raiders selected Edwards with the 81st pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. He was a big-bodied outside receiver with intriguing Yards After Catch (YAC for short) potential. However, they sidelined Edwards for most of the year, leading to a disappointing stat line for the first-year wideout of 11 receptions on just 15 targets for 193 yards and a single touchdown. He struggled with an ankle injury most of the year as well, further limiting his involvement and production. In short, 2020 was a busted year for Edwards.

This year, things seem to be different. Edwards has been tearing up training camp, earning high praise from teammates with impressive contested catches. Hunter Renfrow said, “You can’t guard him when he’s locked in.” Most importantly, he’s earned the praise of his head coach and play-caller, Jon Gruden. Gruden claimed that Edwards “…looks like T.O. (Terrell Owens, pro football Hall of Famer), he looks like one of the number one wideouts in the league.”

Now hold on, Gruden. Comparing a second-year wide receiver with 11 catches to their name to Terrell Owens is clearly a step too far. However, while we shouldn’t take Gruden’s word as gospel, it’s still exciting to hear for Raiders fans. While it’s unlikely Edwards will leap from first-year disappointment to being one of the better receivers in the league in one offseason, the strong praise is encouraging and hints at a heavily increased role going into his second year. His large frame at 6’3″ and YAC potential offer a unique skillset for Jon Gruden to dial up plays for. If impressing his coach wasn’t enough, playing alongside talented players like Henry Ruggs III and Darren Waller will only help Edwards take a huge step into year 2.

2. Trey Smith, IOL, Kansas City Chiefs

Trey Smith taking reps in training camp.

Trey Smith, man. The narrative surrounding Smith heading into the 2021 NFL Draft was simple- Day one talent, undrafted medicals. Smith suffered from blood clots in his lungs not once, but twice during his career with the Tennessee Volunteers. According to Smith “That was brutal, because it was like, ‘Dang, am I going to die? Just be real. Am I going to die? What’s going on?'” After several talks with his doctors about his future playing football, Smith believed he understood any risks and that he had a future playing in the NFL.

Despite Smith’s personal confidence, it’s safe to say many teams were scared away by his medical history. He fell all the way to the 226th pick in the 6th round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Finally, the Chiefs took a chance on him. So far, the results have been outstanding. Smith has been mauling defensive linemen left and right throughout practice, turning each 1-1 session into his own personal highlight film.

Smith is a massive human, standing 6’5″ tall, weighing 321 pounds, and boasting a wingspan of 82 and 1/8 inches. That wingspan is in the 94th percentile of all offensive guards since 1999, by the way. He finished above-average in every physical drill and measurement at his pro day besides the 20-yard shuttle and 20 yard split in his 40-yard dash. In short, Smith is HUGE but lacks foot speed, hence his position of guard despite tackle measurements. Still, as his highlights show, once he gets his hands on a defensive lineman, the rep is over. Expect to see a lot of won reps in 2021 for the talented guard from Tennessee.

3. James Proche, WR, Baltimore Ravens

James Proche looks in a pass at Ravens training camp.

James Proche may not have been the most anticipated receiver entering Baltimore’s training camp this year, but he’s been playing like it. The team added several Wide Receivers through the draft and free agency to fix a major weakness on the team. Proche’s performance thus far is making a case they would have been fine solving the issue in-house.

Proche has been turning in strong practice after strong practice, making a once-close position battle with Miles Boykin into a runaway victory. In the process, his play has loudly demanded not just a roster spot, but a prominent role in the offense. He’s made impressive catches in every practice and frequently finds openings in the defense to haul in passes.

So what caused this sudden growth? Well, Proche always had incredible hands – he only had 9 drops on 456 targets in college, according to PFF. That works out to a %2.05 drop rate, good for second in the country during his time at SMU to Texas’s Devin Duvernay, now his teammate. This year, it seems he’s polished his route running, resulting in more open looks. His hands and natural ball skills also mean he can come down with a pass even when he isn’t open. The combination of consistent separation and playmaking even when covered makes him an easy player to throw to for any QB.

While Proche probably won’t see many targets this year due to the highly anticipated trio of Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman, and Marquise Brown taking snaps in front of him, he looks to be an excellent WR4 option.

Of course, there have been many more standouts throughout training camp. Too many to cover, in fact. If you’re interested in seeing more coverage, we have new content and team coverage coming out regularly.