Soared and Floored: NFL Week 8 Fantasy Recap

Welcome to PFP’s weekly studs and duds fantasy recap for the 2021 football season! Here we take a look at some of the standout performances, both and good and bad, from Thursday’s and Sunday’s contests. These are more instant reactions rather than in-depth analyses, with things to keep in mind as the season progresses. Let’s see who took to the skies and who bottomed out in Week 8! No article for Week 7, but you can check out Week 6 here.

Players Who Soared

Credit: Big Blue View


Mike White: 37/45, 405 passing yards, 3 pass TDs, 2 INTs, 5 rushes, -1 rushing yards

We lead off this week’s article with the most unlikely top QB of the year: Mike White. The third-year veteran out of Western Kentucky got the start for the injured Zach Wilson. The first couple of drives went about how you’d expect for a backup to a bad team: A decent first drive ending in a score, followed by two awful interceptions. From there, though, White caught fire, able to command the rag-tag group of offensive players. He kept the Jets in contention as the Bengals struggled to separate against an inferior team. White looked good enough to start raising questions about if Wilson will even get his job back once healthy. A short week into a Thursday night contest against the Colts will shed some light on this enigma of a standout performance.

Justin Fields: 19/27, 175 passing yards, 1 pass TD, 1 INT, 10 rushes, 103 rushing yards, 1 rush TD

We finally got to see Fields’s potential shine through, and all it took was Matt Nagy to cede head coaching duties thanks to COVID. Just as expected, it was the rushing stats that are cheat codes for quarterback fantasy production doing the heavy lifting here. Fields still looked shaky as a passer but showed some flashes on limited attempts. It’s the top-5 rushing stat-line that showed what he can do as an athlete. Hopefully, when Nagy returns they’ll be able to start working this aspect of Fields’s game in more often. Heading on the road to Pittsburgh next week will be a true test for the young star.

Others of Note
  • Josh Allen: 29/42, 249 passing yards, 2 pass TDs, 8 rushes, 55 rushing yards, 1 rush TD
  • Jimmy Garoppolo: 17/28, 322 passing yards, 5 rushes, 4 rushing yards, 2 rush TDs
  • Tom Brady: 28/40, 375 passing yards, 4 pass TDs, 2 INTs, 1 rush , 2 rushing yards

Running backs

Credit: USA Today
Michael Carter: 15 rushes, 77 rushing yards, 1 rush TD. 9 receptions, 95 receiving yards

Along with his new starting QB, Carter exploded onto the scene against the Bengals Sunday afternoon. He not only led the team in rushing attempts and yards but also lead the team in targets (14 total). Unlike White, Carter’s rise was a bit more telegraphed. His snap counts have been steadily increasing, lead by his utilization in the passing game. He now has 23 total targets in the last two games, which is a recipe for sustained fantasy success on a team that will consistently find itself in negative game scripts. Carter will find himself as a weekly flex play if he can maintain this level of usage, especially in PPR formats.

Joe Mixon: 14 rushes, 33 rushing yards, 1 rush TD. 4 receptions, 58 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

On the opposite side of the contest, it was a weird day for Mixon. The Jets defense which typically gives up all kinds of yardage to running backs gave Mixon a significantly tougher time than expected, only averaging just north of 2 yards per rush. The receiving work and multi-touchdown performance helped save his day in a big way. The good news is that nothing about this stat line is indicative of troubles to come. Mixon is still the clear leader in the backfield with Samaje Perine (2 for 16 receiving) barely getting any work behind him. He is one f the true workhorse backs in the league and will continue to have opportunities for big games fall in his lap.

Others of Note
  • Darrell Henderson: 14 rushes, 90 rushing yards, 1 rush TD, 1 reception, 3 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
  • Aaron Jones: 15 rushes, 59 rushing yards, 1 rush TD, 7 receptions, 51 receiving yards
  • Elijah Mitchell: 18 rushes, 137 rushing yards, 1 rush TD

Wide Receivers

Credit: USA Today
A.J. Brown: 10 receptions, 155 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

Brown is finally starting to hit his stride after a slow start to the season marred by a nagging injury. Julio Jones being inactive due to his ailments certainly helped his case as well. Brown has commanded 29 targets over the last three games, averaging 126 yards and compiling two scores over that timeframe. While this meteoric stretch is more of a regression to the mean rather than the new norm, it’s a great indicator that Brown is finally healthy and ready to contribute. You should not be scared to start him anymore, even in tough matchups against the Rams and Saints over the next two weeks.

Chris Godwin: 8 receptions, 140 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

Godwin won the Brady roulette this week, as Mike Evans (2 for 48 with 1 TD receiving) was busy dealing with his long-time nemesis Marshon Lattimore all day. Godwin became the focal point of the passing game, continuing the positive momentum he had from last week as well. As Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski continue to battle injuries, Godwin should continue to see this increased target share in one of the best offenses in the league. However, those guys have a great chance to get healthy going into their bye week, so it remains to be seen how much Godwin will continue to be involved moving forward. The pedigree of the offense and his relatively safe 5 target floor will keep Godwin in the WR2/flex conversation every week.

Others of Note
  • Michael Pittman: 10 receptions, 86 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs
  • Cooper Kupp: 7 receptions, 115 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
  • Amari Cooper: 8 receptions, 122 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

Tight Ends

Credit: The Fantasy Footballers
T.J. Hockenson: 10 receptions, 89 receiving yards

The season has not been as kind to Hockenson as his fantasy owners were hoping. While the third-year big man has been seeing a crazy amount of looks (at least 8 targets in six of eight weeks), the touchdowns and quality yardage just haven’t been there. What you can rely on is the targets: Jared Goff (25/34 for 222 passing) has been hyper-focused on Hockenson and the running backs in the passing game all season. That kind of consistency is extremely hard to come by at the tight end position this year. Look for Hockenson to retain his safe floor through the Week 9 bye.

Pat Freiermuth: 4 receptions, 44 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

With Eric Ebron missing the game due to a hamstring injury, Freiermuth took full advantage of his increased role in the offense. He saw the second-most targets on the team (7) and continues to earn red-zone looks from Ben Roethlisberger. Right now he sits solidly in the TD or bust category of tight ends, but these flashes are very encouraging for his owners. Rookie tight ends especially take some time to reach their full potential, and the future is looking bright for Freiermuth so far.

Others of Note

Players That Got Floored


Credit: Yardbarker
Matt Ryan: 20/27, 146 passing yards, 1 pass TD, 2 INTs, 2 rushes, 3 rushing yards

Heading into Week 8, Ryan enjoyed some consistent production against bad teams over the last few weeks. With the Panthers coming to town, and Calvin Ridley missing this game and potentially the rest of the season due to personal reasons, he crashed back to Earth hard. Carolina shut Kyle Pitts (2 for 13 receiving) out of the game as much as possible and Ryan was unable to compensate. It’s time to abandon ship on Ryan for now with the team headed to New Orleans next week as the offense goes back to sputtering.

Kyler Murray: 22/33, 274 passing yards, 2 INTs, 6 rushes, 21 rushing yards

The scoring streak, unfortunately, ends for one of the most consistent quarterbacks in terms of fantasy on the year. This was a rough game all around for Murray. The abuse he was taking over the last couple of games has finally caught up to him, culminating in a bum ankle at the end of this contest. His favorite target DeAndre Hopkins (2 for 66 receiving) is also dealing with a reoccurring hamstring injury. One final egregious plunder by A.J. Green (5 for 50 receiving) that led to Murray’s second interception capped an incredibly disappointing game for the young star QB. Murray has 10 days to get healthy and bounce back against San Francisco next week.

Others of Note

Running backs

Credit: numberFire
David Johnson: 2 rushes, 4 rushing yards, 1 reception, -1 receiving yards

The departure of Mark Ingram from the Texans running back room has appeared to have caused an even worse situation for the team. No one out of Johnson, Phillip Lindsay (3 for 8 rushing), Scottie Phillips (5 for 11 rushing, 2 for 9 receiving), or Rex Burkhead (4 for 21 with 1 TD rushing, 3 for 27 receiving) managed to stand out during the game against the Rams. Burkhead may have come away with the score, but the Texans will continue to use this four-headed amalgamation of a running game. If Ingram leaving gave you even a glimmer of hope that you could utilize anyone in this running game, this should convince you to leave it alone for the rest of the year.

Alex Collins: 10 rushes, 44 rushing yards

This was another instance of too many mouths being fed, as Seattle appeared to be distributing the snaps across their whole running back room to keep Collins healthy. He had some injury question marks coming into this game, opening the door for Rashaad Penny (7 for 7 rushing), DeeJay Dallas (1 for 6 rushing), and Travis Homer (4 for 9 rushing, 1 for 3 receiving) to give it a shot. The good news is Collins is still the clear best runner of the group. Also, Seattle heads into their bye next week, allowing Collins to get fully healthy and take back command as Chris Carson continues to heal.

Others of Note
  • Nyheim Hines: 1 rush, 2 rushing yards, 4 receptions, 22 receiving yards
  • D’Andre Swift: 12 rushes, 27 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 24 receiving yards, 1 fumble lost
  • Javonte Williams: 9 rushes, 35 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 13 receiving yards

Wide Receivers

Credit: Doc’s Sports
Mike Williams: 2 receptions, 19 receiving yards

This was a disappointing day for the Chargers offense as a whole. Williams fell victim to Bill Belichick‘s old ways, getting schemed out of the game almost entirely. He’s now had two weeks in a row where he’s most likely killed your chances of winning. I would not expect this to continue, with matchups against Philadelphia and Minnesota in the coming weeks. Fantasy owners just need to take their lumps for now and hope Williams can get back to his scoring ways soon.

Courtland Sutton: 2 receptions, 40 receiving yards

Sutton’s dud of a game this week was a combination of Teddy Bridgewater’s (19/26 for 213 and 1 TD passing) low-volume passing attack and Jerry Jeudy (4 for 39 receiving) returning to the lineup. The dominance Sutton enjoyed over the last few weeks is now over, and he’ll once again be left to fight over scraps in a less-than-stellar offense. There is still an opportunity to shine here: Dallas and Philadelphia on the schedule next bring the possibility of having to play catch-up for most of the game. As long as Jeudy can stay healthy, Sutton is nothing more than a boom-or-bust WR2 even in those positive matchups.

Others of Note

Tight Ends

Credit: Best Odds
Anthony Firkser: 1 reception, 8 receiving yards

Firkser was a popular sleeper candidate going into the season and he is still trying to fight his way towards meaningful usage. He hasn’t seen more than 5 targets in a game this year and only has 4 total over the last three weeks. Geoff Swaim (4 for 23 with 1 TD receiving) got the only valuable points at the position thanks to the touchdown this week. Firkser is essentially irrelevant for fantasy unless the Titans suddenly change up their offensive gameplan over the second half of the season.

Ricky Seals-Jones: 2 receptions, 12 receiving yards

This is Seals-Jones’s first true dud game since taking over the primary tight end role from Logan Thomas. Denver’s underperforming defense was able to corral the Washington offense enough such that they were unable to do much overall against them during this game. His snap counts are still best in the league and that level of availability has been a serious boon for his owners. However, his time in the sun may be coming to an end as Thomas has made enough progress to have a chance to play after the Week 9 bye.

Others of Note

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The GOAT Disappoints in Return to Foxborough

Most Anticipated Game Ever?

Sunday night was a quintessential cold and rainy fall night in Foxborough. But the nippy weather didn’t matter to the sixty-six thousand fans packed into a full Gillette Stadium; they were there for something bigger.

For four gripping hours, the entire sporting world stood still in wonder of, perhaps the most hyped up regular season game of all time. In the midst of the dreamlike night, an emotional New England crowd, arms wide open, welcomed back the man who had for so long been the source of their happiness. The GOAT.

But boy did Antonio Brown disappoint.

Despite a respectable box score of 7 catches on 11 targets for 63 yards, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Brown jealed for a good portion of the game.

Brown’s Middling Performance

Brown saw most of his initial production come on quick hitters while matched up against Jon Jones, the New England Patriots’ primary nickel corner. Despite Jones playing most of his career snaps lined up in the slot, he tracked Brown around the field on Sunday night in a direct man-to-man matchup.

Nearly half of Brown’s yardage came on a single 27-yard deep throw late in the first quarter, during which a perfectly placed back shoulder allowed Brown to separate at the last second from Jones.

After a few more quick throws, Brown had a chance to shine in the red zone before the end of the half. However, he dropped two (admittedly poorly placed) back shoulder bullets that forced the offense to settle for field goals.

On a big third down early in the third quarter, Brown finally made a big play on a 44 yard catch… only for it to be called back due to a hands-to-the-face penalty on the left tackle.

Brown’s return to New England was a filled with missed opportunities. His inability to convert in big moments became most evident on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ last offensive drive.

After a miscommunication on deep throw on second down in the red zone, Brown had a chance to redeem himself. On third down, quarterback Tom Brady (fun fact, Brady used to play for the Patriots) threw a deep strike that surgically hit Brown in the worst place possible: his hands. Of course, Brown dropped the dime, ruining what could’ve been his signature moment in his return home.

Though this will go down in the stats sheets as a routine game for the receiver, there’s no doubt that New England fans will be talking about the disappointment of Brown’s mediocre return for years to come.

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A Touch of Optimism in Patriots’ Offense Thus Far

I should preface this all by saying that the New England Patriots’ offense, led by rookie signal-caller Mac Jones, have not scored enough points to be up there with the top offenses in the league. In fact, they are currently 23rd in the league in points scored. This also comes with the help of things like the league’s second best turnover differential (thank you Zach Wilson). Point is, it’s not news to say that the Patriots’ offense has had opportunities to put points on the board, and they just haven’t converted.

Yet, as all the talk has been about conservative play-calling, passive play by Jones, a sloppy body of work from the offensive line, and timely mistakes like fumbles in the red zone, the purpose here is to shift the conversation. The discussion on the offense needs to acknowledge a different point of view, and to focus on how New England moves forward.

Remember what week it is

Now, to start by saying, it is Week 2 and the Patriots are 1-1. Any New England fan doesn’t have to go to far back into the history books here, just to understand the art of Bill Belichick and the slow starts out of the gate. Anyone seemingly perplexed only has to look as far as two out of the last three Super Bowl titles the Patriots have sitting in the trophy case (2014, 2018 seasons).

Yet, to state the obvious, those slow starts were with Tom Brady and teams with many long-tenured veterans. When after all this 2021 team is brand-spanking new. After a rather long 2020 season, and a historically aggressive offseason, New England these days can have five, six players on offense who either play a different position from the year prior, weren’t a full-time starter, or simply weren’t on the roster. When more than half your offense is only still learning the ropes in Week 2, that can be a significant disadvantage.

While certainly, most realize that this is a very new-looking offense for the Patriots, it’s the magnitude of it that is frequently understated. All of that starts with the rookie QB in Jones. Jones is not just new to the NFL, but relatively new to the offense, as he is just really started getting reps with the starters in preparation for week one. With Cam Newton holding on to his job till the very end, Newton managed all the starting reps through summer camps and the preseason, leaving Jones to play catch-up with the starters just before opening their doors to the Miami Dolphins.

In a normal year with Brady, it wouldn’t even be uncharacteristic for things to not click out of the gate. Yet, with all these new faces and unfamiliarity with each other and the coaching staff, it had to be nothing less than expected. With this mere fact alone, anyone overly worried about this offense might just be overreacting. As we all must look at the good from what we have seen so far.

Positive overall message

Belichick addresses media following the 25-6 win over the New York Jets

Belichick’s remarks aren’t a whole lot different than what he normally might say following a good win. Yet, this perfectly encapsulates the message going forward. The team and its fans must take to account that they made improvements from their loss to the Dolphins — even if they are not overly obvious to the naked eye. The team improved and should continue to improve week to week. Individual players showed more and turned in better overall performances. That is not something to simply brush off with a team still trying to find identity and compliment each other.

There are obviously still things that need to be tinkered with (the offense is far from perfect). However, it won’t improve with impatience. We all must acknowledge small wins. Contrasting from last season where the offense struggled to even string together completions, this offense looks not too bad. As it’s abundantly clear that the New England offense and their scheme runs far smoother with Jones and co. under center in comparison to last season’s 7-9 bunch led by Newton (or even what we saw in the preseason). That mere fact alone can be chalked up as a win as the team clearly made improvements at the most important position in the game.

Jones not losing games

Now, while we are not quite ready to anoint Jones the next savior of the franchise and the next best thing since Brady (as those expectations are rather unfair in the first place), it’s clear that he’s delivering the ball with proper timing (a huge problem last season), completing passes, and is doing everything he needs to in order to be successful. This is almost more than you can ask of a quarterback set to start his third career game.

Jones thus far, in a draft with many talented QBs picked ahead of him, has played the part for the best of the bunch so far. After staying put and getting him at the 15th overall selection, that’s phenomenal news as a Patriot fan.

While you can point to him playing passively and playing it a little safe in the early goings, he’s yet to turn the ball over. Games most frequently are won and lost by penalties, field position, and turnovers. Games were lost last year by turnovers at the quarterback position. So far, we have not been able to say that. Chalk this up as another small win and sign of progress. Although, this is something that must keep up.

Turnovers, fundamentals, and penalties

This leads nicely into the turnover department and some undisciplined football from the entire team. However, with a focus on the offense, they came out of the gate with two fumbles in week one. A costly fumble in the red zone by Damien Harris changed the entire scope of the game. Along with that, an uncharacteristically high amount of “silly”, rather basic penalties through the first two weeks for a Belichick-coached team. This team, this offense cannot continue to shoot themselves in the foot and make their gameplan harder to execute. With a slew of mistakes that Belichick and the coaching staff can’t stand taking place, it speaks to the newness of this team and the overall discipline.

Those silly mistakes will likely be cleaned up in due time. By the time that marquee opponents like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roll into town in week four, those silly mistakes will widen point margins very quickly. If one wants to look for evidence of improvement in the offense and overall team, this is one area to look at. As the coaching staff likes to mitigate self-harm as much as possible and do the little things right. Continued struggles in this area would be the reason for concern. As when one cannot do the little things right, how can one do the big things like consistently put points on the board and win games?

New England did not turn the ball over once last week (one area of improvement from the week prior). However, they did have some inexcusable penalties and some minuscule fundamental errors. Again, those should get cleaned up with more time together. With more practice time, in-game reps, and more continuity, they should get there naturally.

Speaking of continuity

One cannot stress newness and a lack of chemistry between the whole offense enough. With that, it couldn’t be more critical than up front on the line. Where all offensive success stems from. Losing Trent Brown early on in Week 1 was less than ideal. Leaving Jones staring at a revolving door at right tackle between Yasir Durant and Justin Herron. Wouldn’t we all love to stare at pressure coming from the right side in our first NFL games?

It’s almost as if the offensive line hasn’t been ready to go. With Brown back in action versus the New Orleans Saints, this should be a missing puzzle piece in the whole offense running smoother. Yet, don’t underestimate the importance of the offensive line needing more in-game reps together as well. The offensive line is a spot that plays off each other. Even with two guys like Brown playing right tackle and Onwenu playing left guard now can sometimes cause confusion for the whole o-line. Again, that all takes time and reps.

So, while guys like Isaiah Wynn haven’t gotten off to the best of starts, don’t slam the panic button yet. This group should be the strength of the entire team. As Brown gets back and we dive further into the season, that should be on display more and more. The plans were just, unfortunately, derailed a few weeks with this injury. Which, on another note, speaks to the importance of keeping Brown healthy.

Playcalling and sideline decision-making

One area that needs improvement is the decision-making from the headset. Josh McDaniels has been reluctant to get aggressive, despite his own claims somewhat indicating the opposite.

McDaniels speaking on conservative play-calling through first two weeks and Jones “playing it safe”.

Big chunk plays here and there are key to moving the ball downfield and putting more points on the board. Those shots just really haven’t been taken. Though this should be rebutted by saying that if you are looking for a high-flying, quick scoring offense, this is not your team. In fact, if that’s your kind of football, you might be better suited updating your old Brady jersey.

-The quarterback they drafted is known for this more conservative style of play. Everyone knew that was his bread and butter coming out of the draft.

-The teams they have played have not given Jones much time to sit back and make decisions. That’s also partially due to the offensive line play.

-The team’s list of deep threats on the team include all of the following: Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith. That’s the list.

-The team likes the idea of running the ball with Harris, getting it to guys like James White out of the backfield, and that’s worked thus far.

Through the first two weeks, their defensive opposition has actually been pretty good. Yet, Jones has still managed to complete 74 percent of his passes, Harris has found success running the ball, and White has been great thus far. Draw from those positives and rest easy in the Patriots’ offense seeing improvements from last year in efficiency. While that may cause some to roll their eyes, improvement is improvement, especially when dealing with teams that missed the playoffs.

Playing to strengths

What should be keyed in on with McDaniels is questionable usage with guys like the tight end duo, maybe even Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. He’s struggled to play guys to their strengths, put them in spots to succeed, and dial up some playcalls that draw from Jones’ success in college. For example, when signing Smith and Hunter Henry, the immediate thought was these two are the ultimate remedy for redzone woes. Yet, their usage in the redzone has been, well, pedestrian to say the least.

Another area has been a lack of RPOs, which were arguably what Jones did best in college. Arguably the best slant thrower in the draft, teamed with fellow Alabama man in Harris as his runningback. One would think McDaniels would take advantage. Yet, that wrinkle hasn’t really materialized.

While this is not so much to point holes in the offensive play design, as much as it is to say that players haven’t even come close to reaching their full potential yet. So, reserving judgement on the offense and these big contracts would be wise. Here’s to hope that the team takes advantage of these strengths once all the players gel more.

What to think as we move forward

We must appreciate Jones completing passes and trying to master the simple things before going long downfield. Jones is making quick decisions that protect the football, and putting the ball on target. Not only that, but also doing everything to be successful throughout the week in practice and film. He’s shown a great attitude and a dedication to improve. Jones is the first guy to acknowledge that he can get better and takes responsibility.

Jones watching the film, wanting to stretch the field more, and taking responsibility.

We must all acknowledge that this is a process. Week to week, by each practice, the team looks to get better than yesterday. Now, they head into Week 3 with a contest against the Saints. With a quarterback like Jameis Winston, we will see how the game script unfolds. As it is plausible that Jones could be asked to pass a lot.

Everything will be on display once again, and everyone should be watching to see how this offense gets better. How this offense plays more complementary football. My advice: make sure nothing stands in the way of you kicking your feet up on Sunday and watching the future of New England unfold before your very eyes. It should be exciting to watch this team progress throughout the season, with hopes that this offense can become a perennial juggernaut like we all have grown accustomed to over the years. This offense has many questions to answer, but everyone must take things one game at a time. We’re onto New Orleans.

Patriots Seek Improvement Versus New Look Jets

The New England Patriots suffered a tough break against the Miami Dolphins in the season opener last week. Just as they were driving down to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, running back Damien Harris committed a sin in the book of Belichick and fumbled the ball. Spoiling a rather impressive debut for rookie quarterback Mac Jones, and ensuring the game would finish 17-16 in a Miami win. Turnovers were a killer for the Patriots last week, losing two fumbles. Ball security was surely a focus in practice this week.

With several days to refocus, they aim their sights on another AFC East rival in the New York Jets. They suffered a bit of vengeance of their own in a 19-14 loss last week to Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers. The Jets also debut a rookie quarterback in BYU product Zach Wilson, who is under the tutelage of former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The Jets are no longer the Jets of old, again. I feel as though we say this every three or four seasons. Since the days of Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez, the Jets have not been able to figure it out. They’re currently in a 12-year playoff drought, and something has got to give. They sure do make Patriots fans count their lucky stars with the 20 years and six Super Bowls they got out of the Tom Brady– Bill Belichick era.

The Patriots need to make the most of this opportunity. A first-year quarterback, a first-year head coach, and a rebuilding roster. Belichick and company should be licking their lips at this opportunity. Let’s not delay this preview anymore, shall we? Set it up, Bailey. Let’s get this one underway!

3 Keys to The Game

With Mac Jones, Patriots offense looks more Porsche than Civic in season  opener | Chris Mason -

Key #1: Ball security

We touched on this a little bit in the introduction. If it wasn’t for a costly fumble, the Patriots would be the leaders of the AFC East right now. Mac Jones did a really nice job playing smart in his debut last week. There are maybe one or two moments where he made some dumb rookie mistake. Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson have to protect the ball though. Stuff like last week cannot continue to happen, and I’m sure Belichick didn’t let them forget it. Let’s not give the Jets a reason to make this a game like last year, where a washed-up Joe Flacco passed for 263 yards and 3 touchdowns. Just be smart, and limit the opportunities that Wilson has to make a big-time play. Don’t let the possession end at the doing of the offense’s own mistakes.

Key #2: Complicate the defense

It’s no secret that Bill Belichick loves to devour rookie quarterbacks. His record against them is almost impeccable (thanks Geno Smith and Tua Tagovailoa). Zach Wilson should be no different in Belichick’s plan to confuse the hell out of young quarterbacks. The defense should look dominant even without linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

Key #3: Don’t underestimate the Jets

Listen, I’m just as big a fan of the Butt Fumble jokes as much as the next. But even the redheaded stepchild of New York can sneak up on the Patriots. New England isn’t in any place to be bragging themselves. Losing their opening matchup because of two fumbles. The Patriots should be chasing perfection just as hard as they usually do. There’s no reason to play down to our competition. They have a flashy wide receiving core that should provide some frustration. The Pats are not the Steelers. They should be treating every opponent with the same amount of preparation. If not more for a division rival.

X-Factor: David Andrews

Why David Andrews has to be a free agency priority for the Patriots - Pats  Pulpit

Center David Andrews is going to play a big role in MetLife Stadium on Sunday. He’s going to be going up against one of the best young defensive linemen in the game with big Quinnen Williams. As the captain of the offensive line, Andrews is going to have his hands full. I’m not a genius when it comes to the technique and skill of being an offensive lineman. But Dirty Dave has it. So much so that he’s a perennial Pro-Bowl candidate and the team captain for the team. If Andrews is able to keep it all together and protect Mac Jones, the Patriots will be sitting pretty offensively against a pretty horrid Jets defense.

Final Thoughts

Marking the anniversary of Bill Belichick quitting the Jets after a single  day

The Patriots and the Jets have a rivalry that almost seems comical at times. Since the days of Parcells, these two franchises have a beef rivaled by few. Sparking by the resignation of coach of two days Bill Belichick because Parcells hid the interest of Bob Kraft and the Pats when he was being promoted. Writing his resignation speech on a napkin just minutes before going up to the podium. This followed with a legal battle and an eventual trade to send Belichick to the Patriots.

Since then, Belichick and the Patriots have won six Super Bowls, 17 AFC East titles, and countless other memories. The Jets’ biggest moments were in the 2009-10 seasons where they made the AFC championship under Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan. Since then they haven’t done much more than sniff the post-season. I think it’s safe to say New England won that trade unquestionably.

As for the year 2021, I can’t see this game ending in a Jets win. There are too many roster concerns for them, and the Patriots are hopefully coming in as disciplined as ever. I see Belichick’s football mastery being a bit overwhelming for the tag team of first-timers in Saleh and Wilson. Should be a fun day in East Rutherford though. Not a blowout by any means.

Final Score: 24-13, New England (1-1)

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Devin Asiasi Poised For A Big Week 2 In Philadelphia

The Patriots will play competitive football for the first time since trimming their roster down to the required 85 limit. With the smaller squad traveling to the City of Brotherly Love, there are a few interesting storylines to keep an eye out for as kickoff begins. However, none are as compelling as Devin Asiasi.

Source: AP Photo/Stew Milne

The Patriots’ Injury Bug is Back…

The Patriots entered the preseason with a renovated TE depth chart with the signings of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Now, just 2 hours away from kickoff, the team’s tight end situation already looks thin. Both Henry and Smith, as well as Matt LaCosse and the recently released Troy Fumagalli, will not be partaking in tonight’s festivities. The only remaining tight end for Thursday is 2nd year Devin Asiasi. The former Michigan and UCLA alum has a chance to shine and will look to continue his already impressive spring. Struggling mightily throughout his rookie season alongside Dalton Keene, Asiasi has turned heads during both OTAs and Training Camp.

Source: Liz Ketcham

Asiasi (6’3″, 257 lbs) was a beast at UCLA in 2019; many considered him to be the best prospect at the position during the draft. However, he fell to the 3rd round with teams worried about health. So far, Asiasi has amassed a whopping 2 catches for 39 yards in Patriots colors, with 1 of them coming for a score in Week 17. Even with the newly acquired stars in Henry and Smith, the 2nd year Patriots has a chance to shine under the radar, starting tonight.


With the Eagles dropping their first game of 2021 to cross-state rival Pittsburgh 24-16, they will be coming out strong with players fighting for jobs. Asiasi had a solid week with the teams having joint practices and will continue to build on that. He caught a TD on the 17th, the first day that he was the only TE practicing. He should match up well against the weaker Eagles linebacking corps and should be a key contributor in tonight’s game.

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Wilson Solid In Debut, Jets Top Giants To Win First Preseason Game

Jets football is back. 

Well, sort of.

On Saturday night, the Jets faced their cross-town (technically cross-stadium) rivals, the New York Giants, to kick off their 2021 campaign. A smattering of fans representing both teams filled MetLife Stadium. But the game itself, a 12-7 slugfest, was unimportant.

Zach Wilson and the Jets Offense Starts Strong

All eyes were on Zach Wilson, the Jets’ rookie quarterback, as he took the field for the first time in his NFL career.

Wilson played two series, completing six out of nine passes for 63 yards (an average of seven yards per attempt and 10.5 yards per reception). He did not turn the ball over and he did not take a sack. Wilson looked calm in the pocket, settling into a rhythm as the game went on. Generally, he delivered balls on time and was accurate. Two of his incompletions could have been blamed on the intended target – Tyler Kroft tripped while running a route and Corey Davis did not turn his head on an out route. However, both throws fell incomplete nonetheless.

The Mims Enigma 

The Denzel Mims mystery continued, as the wide receiver only saw reps with the third team and kickoff unit. Despite limited reps, he still made his presence known, refusing to go down on a 20-yard reception. He caught three of four targets for 51 yards.

Jets’ Young Defenders Impress

On the other side of the ball, young players shined. Rookie LB Hamsah Nasirildeen forced a fumble, which was recovered by UDFA DL Michael Dwumfour. Sixth-round CB Brandon Echols had some nice deflections, and second-year DE Bryce Huff hounded Giants QB Mike Glennon. Additionally, Huff had 3 tackles and 2 sacks. Rookie DL Jonathan Marshall safetied Giants QB Clayton Thorson near the end of the game. As a whole, the entire defensive unit shined, allowing just 163 yards of total offense.

The lone Giants touchdown came in the middle of the 4th quarter after TE Kenny Yeboah fumbled and Giants CB Rodarius Williams had a strong return.

Special Teams and More

The special teams battle appears to be leaning in favor of Matt Ammendola, who was excellent on kickoffs and hit a PAT. Chris Naggar made a field goal from 30 yards out but had an ugly miss from 53 that wobbled low and to the left. The star of the unit, however, was punter Braden Mann, who averaged 46.2 yards per punt, with three of five boots landing inside the 20-yard line.

Jets HC Robert Saleh won his first unofficial game as a head coach. However, that wasn’t the only thing he won – in the third quarter, he threw the challenge flag to contest a yardage call.

The Jets will look to win back-to-back preseason games next week when they take on the Green Bay Packers up at Lambeau Field.

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NFL Records Waiting to be Broken in a 17-Game Season

The 2021 NFL season will be the first year with a 17th game on the schedule. While seen as a revenue cash grab by some, this provides a unique opportunity to evaluate the league’s history. The NFL has numerous statistical records that players are waiting to be broken every year. Because of the extra game on the schedule, some of these volume-based records might be in more imminent danger. In this article, we will look at five records that have the potential to fall within the next few years based on current trends.

Photo credit: The Guardian

Rookie Passing Touchdown Record

  • Current holder: Justin Herbert – 31 touchdowns in 15 games (2020)
  • Previous record: Baker Mayfield – 27 touchdowns in 14 games (2018)
  • Average needed: 1.88 TDs/game

The rookie passing touchdown record is the quintessential example of the type of record waiting to be broken. It’s a recently broken record with multiple quarterbacks flirting with it in recent years. Herbert smashed the record last year after an unfortunate interaction with a team doctor sidelined Tyrod Taylor in Week 2. He proceeded to take over the team and gave no reason for Taylor to start again. Mayfield was on pace for an even higher total had the Browns started him sooner. In recent years, the trend of fully committing to your shiny new draft pick at quarterback has become more commonplace. This provides a golden opportunity for fresh faces to develop quicker and put up numbers similar to their veteran counterparts. This year both Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are in excellent positions to challenge this record. We could see this record fall in consecutive years if their teams are fully bought in.

Photo credit: Associated Press

Total Scrimmage Yards Record

  • Current holder: Chris Johnson – 2509 scrimmage yards in 16 games (2009)
  • Previous record: Marshall Faulk – 2429 scrimmage yards in 16 games (1999)
  • Average needed: 147.65 scrimmage yards/game

Despite the pass-happy tendencies of the modern NFL, the workhorse running back has remained a major offensive weapon for several teams. Derrick Henry became the prime example of this during his valiant attempt at the rushing yardage record last season. However, those 2000+ yard rushing seasons are few and far between. The total scrimmage yardage record favors running backs heavily featured in the passing game, which fits the mold of today’s true three-down back. Christian McCaffrey was on pace to break Johnson’s record in 2019, finishing third in the books. Dalvin Cook and Saquon Barkley are offensive staples for their teams that could take down the record provided they stay healthy. Even Najee Harris, Pittsburgh’s first-round rookie, has found himself in a system that loves to feature their lead back. He is in a prime position for a shot at the overall record in the coming years.

Photo credit: USA Today

Receiving Yardage Record

  • Current holder: Calvin Johnson – 1964 receiving yards in 16 games (2012)
  • Previous record: Isaac Bruce & Jerry Rice – 1848 receiving yards in 16 games (1995)
  • Average needed: 115.59 yards/game

The receiving yardage record set by Johnson nine years ago has been at risk a few times in the past decade. The most notable of these attempts was the race between Julio Jones (1871 yards) and Antonio Brown (1834 yards) in 2015. Both of these stud wide receivers flirted with the pace necessary to break Johnson’s record in a 17 game season. The league has continued to mold itself primarily as a passing league, highlighted by several standout receivers. DeAndre Hopkins and Davante Adams both command enough of a target share to make a legitimate run at the record. Michael Thomas got close during his reception record-breaking year in 2019. Standout 2020 rookie Justin Jefferson may see similar volume sooner rather than later with an aging Adam Theilen on the roster. Additionally, yards per reception monsters like Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown could mimic the pace Johnson himself needed to set his record in the first place.

Photo credit: USA Today

Rookie Reception Record

  • Current holder: Anquan Bouldin – 101 receptions in 16 games (2003)
  • Previous record: Terry Glenn – 90 receptions in 15 games (1996)
  • Average needed: 6.00 receptions/game

Typically, rookies wide receivers are prone to slow starts in the league. They usually find themselves behind an established first option and need to fight for target share in the offense. However, the more recent draft classes have produced wideouts that have hit the ground running more quickly than most. The aforementioned Jefferson finished with 88 receptions in 2020 in a relatively low-volume passing attack. This year’s rookies find themselves in even more advantageous positions to make a run at Bouldin’s record. Ja’Marr Chase is paired with his old college QB Joe Burrow in Cincinnati and has a chance to become his #1 target again. DeVonta Smith finds himself with loads of opportunities in Philadelphia due to no true first option to compete with. Even the running back Travis Etienne could find himself as a check-down monster in Jacksonville’s revitalized offense.

Photo credit: USA Today

Total Sack Record

  • Current holder: Michael Strahan – 22.5 sacks in 16 games (2001)
  • Previous record: Mark Gastineau – 22.0 sacks in 16 games (1984)
  • Average needed: 1.35 sacks/game

This one seems dubious at first since no player has come close to Strahan since Justin Houston in 2014. Strahan may not even be the record holder anymore with the recent introduction of unofficial sack totals to the books. However, we’ve seen several young players emerge and dominate in the trenches that have a shot. Aaron Donald already made a strong attempt at the record, recording 20.5 sacks in 16 games in 2018. At 30 years old, he’s the same age as Strahan the year he broke the record. Additionally, Donald has not shown any signs of slowing down and will remain a force for years to come. There’s also Joey and Nick Bosa, who have set strong foundations in the league provided they can stay healthy. Finally, Chase Young has the tools to cause havoc in the league for years, especially in the weaker NFC East division. This one might not fall as quickly, but the young guns could make a strong run at the record with an extra game on the schedule.

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Patriots’ 53-Man Roster: The Locks and The Bubblemen Before Preseason

Most 53-man roster projections take place after all the mess and chaos that is training camp and the preseason. With so much going on all at one time, evaluation, implementation of gameplan and strategy, and overall forming a team identity.

Everything about training camp and preseason comes with layers of mystery. A lot is unknown during this time, a lot is left to sort through, a lot is rather new. Especially when following a team like the New England Patriots and head coach, Bill Belichick.

With 90 players vying for a limited amount of spots, some will earn opportunities of a lifetime. Some will be spending their Sundays couch-dwelling, watching Belichick and his players emerge from an inflatable tunnel to crowd roars barely heard through a CBS broadcast on a home sound system.

Point being, some of the players you’ll see in the first preseason game against the Washington Football Team will not be there next week. If they’re lucky, maybe they survive another week or the week after that. Yet, many will not be here when wins and losses start to count. To survive, one must impress through this training camp period now. One must demonstrate the ability to make plays consistently as possible, understand what the staff is asking for, and show mental toughness and acuity that can last 60 minutes.

So, why do a roster projection when the preseason hasn’t even begun?

The simple answer is to help form an idea of where and what to look for over these next three weeks. There’s always going to be the roster “locks”, along with the guys who should make the roster. Yet, when one can narrow down a roster to about seven remaining spots, things start to become more clear.

With maybe 15 guys worthy of a spot and a good sense of where the depth lies, deductions can begin. The focal point can shift to these individuals and just by watching, you can determine who might be the last few to make the team.

Patriots’ roster locks and those fighting for spots:

Note– Players who could nab a final spot on the team are mentioned in red

QB (2):

Cam Newton 

Mac Jones

Brian Hoyer

Not sure what else to say here. Belichick is on record saying that Newton will be the QB1 to start the year. We also know that the team’s first-round pick in Jones is going nowhere anytime soon. With Brian Hoyer left, New England has shown no reservation to cut him in the past. With his age and his only in-game play last year vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, Hoyer can’t hang with Jones and Newton.

RB (3):

Damien Harris

Sony Michel 

James White

J.J Taylor

With Harris poised for big things this season, Michel looking the part in camp, and White looking to bounce back this season, these three vets will easily snag roster spots. While this is unbelievable to say, the way Michel has been running, it almost seems like White’s job security could be more in question than his own. Yet, with passing game value and an incredibly cheap contract, rest assured that all three will be on the roster for Week 1.

As for Taylor, he’s shown enough in just regular season action alone to merit a spot. Yet, if he really had true ability and was ready to take on a bigger role, it’s unlikely that the Patriots would have re-signed White and then also drafted another runningback in Rhomadre Stevenson to crowd the backfield some more. Taylor’s preseason will be important to his future with the team.

FB (1):

Jakob Johnson

After a strong year last season, filling the big shoes of James Develin, Johnson has faced little pressure this offseason. With second-year tight end/fullback Dalton Keene now on IR, Johnson stands alone.

TE (3):

Jonnu Smith

Hunter Henry

Devin Asiasi 

Troy Fumagalli

A much improved tight end core features Smith, Henry, and Keene’s partner-in-crime (if you will) in Asiasi. All three will make the roster, especially with big money contracts at the top two spots. Asiasi, who put together impressive practice reps during the spring sessions, is just trying to get back on the field now. After being derailed from the Covid-19 virus, Asiasi is now back at practice and should be active in the preseason contests.

Asiasi will be a name to watch throughout, as contribution from him would be key. While the top of the depth chart looks great and improved, Henry has already been day-to-day and earned a few nicks and bruises this offseason. If Asiasi shows that he can’t provide reliable depth at that third spot, New England might need a fourth guy in this room. More specifically, a veteran who can be solid both in the run and pass game. Which is where a guy like Fumagalli could come in, as he has flashed at times during camp.

WR (4):

Nelson Agholor

Kendrick Bourne

Jakobi Meyers 

Gunner Olszewski 

N’Keal Harry

Kristian Wilkerson

Agholor has had one of the best training camps of recent memory for a Patriots’ receiver, Bourne and Meyers have both encouraged on more shallow and horizontal patterns. Those guys are your three starting receivers for the 2021 season. Meyers projecting as the slot, Julian Edelman replacement, and Agholor looking like the X, Bourne the Z. With heavy run sets, these three will hold up. Lastly, Olszewski has demonstrated through camp that he is uncuttable. The special teams All-Pro has flashed in the slot at camp an his speed is apparent on this team. Count on these guys being there.

Harry and Wilkerson, both highlighted in red, are in two very different boats. A world could exist in which both make the roster. For Wilkerson, making the roster will entail proving himself as an NFL-caliber receiver with his practice squad days behind him. With that, Wilkerson should be an exciting watch this preseason. For Harry, making the roster pretty much means not getting traded. Both have been flashing this summer, and just based off current trends, that world where they both make the roster could very well become a reality. At the very least, it’s extremely likely that at least Harry sticks around.

OT (3):

Trent Brown 

Isaiah Wynn

Justin Herron

Yodny Cajuste

Brown and Wynn are obvious locks, unless Belichick gets a wacky idea to trade Wynn before he heads onto his fifth-year option with the team. That was more of a discussion before the draft, and while it would seem ludacris at this point, we all remember Logan Mankins. Don’t worry too much about that though.

As for Herron, he impressed enough last year to potentially even merit a look at a starting tackle spot. Obviously with Wynn and Brown, that’s not a consideration. However, the depth provides on a rookie deal is extremely valuable. He is a candidate to be New England’s go-to swing tackle.

Lastly, with Cajuste, his case is far more mysterious. With now two full seasons of being sidelined, yet to see in-game action, Cajuste will need a very impressive preseason to even be allowed on the sideline anymore. While he hasn’t exactly shown off what made him a third-round selection in 2019, here’s to hope he can. Yet, so far, the outlook is not good here. Especially with veteran Korey Cunningham and 2021 sixth-rounder Will Sherman also in the mix.

OG (3):

Michael Onwenu 

Shaq Mason

Ted Karras

Marcus Martin

Will Sherman

It should be exciting to see Onwenu make the move to full time guard after the tremendous rookie season he had at a more unnatural position. Both him and his compadre in Mason will be absolute bulldozers, maulers in the middle of that line. Along with them, a familiar face in Karras, who can serve as the top backup at both guard and center. As Karras was likely on pace to start another season for the Patriots at center before the unexpected return of captain Andrews. Those three you can write down in sharpie.

As for Martin and the aforementioned Sherman, their preseasons will dictate the role they play. With this starting offensive line having had it’s fair share of injuries in the past, holding onto depth along the line will be important. While neither Martin or Sherman have exactly flashed thus far, it helps that both have position versatility. Whether it be guard or center for Martin, or tackle or guard for Sherman. Undersized tackle/guard prospects can generally have value inside against strong pass-rush along the interior defensive line. Sherman might be able to boast that value in order to stand a chance.

C (1):

David Andrews

James Ferentz

Captain Andrews being an obvious lock to make the roster at center, leaving us with Ferentz. While Sherman and Martin might stand better chances to make the roster in the end, Ferentz can play both center or guard, along with has prior experience in New England. We will see how experience with the team factors in when trying to differentiate from a player like Martin. Both have an uphill battle on their hands.

DT (3): 

Davon Godchaux

Lawerence Guy

Christian Barmore

Carl Davis

With Godchaux on a good-sized deal, Guy being arguably the team’s most valuable defensive lineman, and second-round pick Barmore already being disruptive and passing the early eye tests, these three are on the roster.

As for Davis, he’s a guy that when it’s all set and done will more than likely be in the same boat as those other three. He’s been a disruptive force in camp thus far, has some (yet limited) experience in the system, and has made a strong case as the team’s best interior defensive lineman behind these three. Akeem Spence and Byron Cowart should give Davis a run for his money, however, in the end it will likely be Davis with his name up there in black.

DE (2):

Deatrich Wise

Henry Anderson

Chase Winovich

It’s looking more and more likely that Wise and Anderson will be big run-stopping presences on the edge, but before you flip at the name in red, please take a moment to put Wise on your watch list for breakout candidates. He seems to be getting better each year in the league and just signed an extension that would indicate a heavy role.

Ok, so for Winovich in red. With an overabundance of outside linebackers and some inconsistent play last year, Winovich has been a somewhat quiet subject of trade talks. While he’s more of a backer than an end, his true fit with the squad may not be ideal. Winovich is a player who could easily bring solid compensation in return and go to a defense more his style to have a true breakout year. While it might be something that could benefit both parties, he will still more than likely be on this team. Just a lot of pieces might have to come into place before New England can figure out the true plan for him. He’ll be someone to key on in any potential preseason action.

OLB (4):

Kyle Van Noy

Matt Judon

Josh Uche

Ronnie Perkins

The only guy out of this group to really watch during the preseason will be the rookie Perkins. Van Noy comes back into a scheme that he created a career out of, Judon projects as the team’s top pass-rusher, and Uche is balling out in camp as he heads into year two. There are high expectations for this foursome that should wreak havoc on opposing offenses. This is a position with no shortage of job security by any means. Forget a sharpie and break out your paint brush instead.

ILB (2):

Dont’a Hightower

Ja’Whaun Bentley

Anfernee Jennings

Caash Maulia

Speaking of job security, there might not be a player on defense with more of it than Hightower. Boy, it should be real refreshing to see #54 in the middle of the defense again. However, with lots of action in camp and experience calling plays, Bentley will be on this team too. After the recent season-ending ACL injury to Raekwon McMillan, it became all but final that Bentley will be there as the guy behind Hightower.

As for the bubble boys here, Jennings is listed at ILB after seeing some work inside recently. Jennings was thought of more as an outside backer when getting drafted back in 2020, however, after a rough outing last season in limited action, he needs to find any way in which he can contribute to stay alive. While it might be a little premature to cut Jennings loose after his struggles as a rookie in the Covid season, crazier things have happened before. Keep an eye on Jennings, as any sort of positive contributions from him would be big for depth.

Also keep a lookout for Maulia, who could also provide depth and special teams value. While no one is exactly losing sleep if he’s on the roster or not, he could take Brandon King’s spot away (who last appeared in the 2019 preseason).

CB (4):

*Stephon Gilmore

J.C Jackson 

Jonathan Jones

Myles Bryant

Joejuan Williams

Where is Waldo? How about where is Stephon? The Gilmore contract situation continues to loom into the first preseason game. He’s a player that gets bolded as he should be on this roster, no question. Anything short of it would quite frankly be a shame on behalf of the organization. Gilmore is the team’s best player, even off injury. Without him, plans change for this squad drastically.

Jackson looks the part of someone ready to impress and improve even more, as he and Gilmore both race to their paydays at the end of this season. Jones stands as another key piece here. A lock on defense that will be critical for handling guys like Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder the dynamic Jaylen Waddle, and another rookie in the New York Jets’ Elijah Moore.

Surprised at the willingness to designate Bryant as a lock? You shouldn’t be, as Bryant can play some cornerback and safety. He’ll be a solid depth piece for this defense as he continues in his development.

Yet, there’s always that one guy that isn’t like the rest. That is 2019 second-round pick in Williams. While he has the tools and the prototypical measurables to be an impact player at outside corner for the Patriots, it hasn’t unfolded that way just yet. There have been ups and downs for Williams through his road to simply just get on the field. Yet, if he keeps getting shown up by Harry in practice and can’t impress this preseason, his ambitions to get on the field in a regular season game will be most assuredly shattered. Williams is as on the bubble, on the fence as one can get.

S (4):

Devin McCourty

Jalen Mills

Kyle Dugger

Adrian Phillips

Cody Davis

Adrian Colbert

With McCourty and Phillips, breakout candidate Dugger, and the ever-so-versatile Mills, they not only have four guys that all could argue their way onto the field on a given snap, they also have position versatility just oozing out of this group. This group here is one to be very excited about, and those four guys will have heavy involvement in the defensive weekly gameplan.

As for Davis and Colbert, this will be a fun battle to see if either can find their way onto the squad. Both have good cases and can contribute on special teams. One of these guys has a good chance to squeak onto the roster as one the final guys to make it.

S/T (3):

Matthew Slater

Justin Bethel

Jake Bailey

Quinn Nordin

Joe Cardona

Then we’ve got Slater and Bethel, who should be considered inseparable at this point. They could be one of the better special teams duos the league has ever seen, as they just get to the ball so quickly.

Bailey needs his own paragraph as a mistake was made earlier calling Gilmore the team’s best player. Bailey’s big boot dictates field position and his value to the team as one of the league’s top punters is massive. Think he’ll be on the team? You better count it.

However, two guys not to count on right now are Nick Folk and his long-snapper in Cardona. Both could potentially see their jobs taken up from under them by youngsters. Folk by the emerging UDFA from Michigan in Nordin. Cardona by a recently signed Brian Khoury, out of Carnegie Mellon. With Nordin’s range exceeding the aging Folk’s, rank his chances of staging an upset much higher.

The final players to watch and who of them makes it:

Brian Hoyer

J.J Taylor

Troy Fumagalli

N’Keal Harry

Kristian Wilkerson

Yodny Cajuste

Marcus Martin

Will Sherman

James Ferentz

Carl Davis

Chase Winovich

Anfernee Jennings

Caash Maulia

Joejuan Williams

Cody Davis

Adrian Colbert

Quinn Nordin

Joe Cardona

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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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Should the Rams Move On From Johnny Hekker?

There may be no position in American football that receives less fanfare than that of a punter. I’d like to take a moment to shine some light on one of them: Johnny Hekker. A veteran punter for the Los Angeles Rams out of Oregon State and former high school quarterback for Bothell High School of the greater Seattle metropolitan area, Hekker went undrafted in 2012 before signing with the then St. Louis Rams.

That may have been the best signing of the 2012 class for rookie general manager Les Snead.

Simply put, Hekker is NFL punting royalty. The man has four All-Pros to his name and is a member of the 2010 NFL all-decade team.

Many fans loath Super Bowl LIII (53) for its lack of scoring but, while the Rams wilted, Hekker shined. That night, Hekker punted nine times. Two punts were returned for a total of two yards. His net was 46.1 yards. Five punts were downed inside the 20 with zero touchbacks. He set a Super Bowl record with a 65-yard punt. Hekker finished his 2018 season with a very solid outing. That game, however, would be the start of a turn in his career.


Pro Football Focus (PFF) punting data is available dating back to 2013, Hekker’s second season. In that time, there are some noticeable trends. For example, median punting grades among qualified punters were on a slight downward trend from 2013-2018 but have risen in each of the past two seasons.

Alternatively, top five punting grade averages saw steep declines from 2013-2018 with marginal upwards trends since 2019.

With these trends in mind, we can observe Hekker’s grades dating back to his second season.

Johnny Hekker was ranked as a top-five punter by PFF in 2013-2016 and 2018 (6th in 2017). Considering that average punting grades have decreased among the top five punters over that time frame, a reasonable expectation would be to expect his grades to decline, as they have. The decline relative to his peers, however, tells a more accurate story. Hekker plummeted from the second-ranked punter in 2018 to the 12th in 2019. He continued that free fall into 2020, finishing as the 21st ranked punter. To better understand why we need to examine both seasons.


2019 in isolation can largely be chalked up as a down season. Nearly all NFL players will have a similar experience if they play for an extended period of time. When compared with 2020, a troubling picture begins to form.

Including the playoffs, Hekker punted in 17 games in 2020. His first eight games (Weeks 1-10) resemble improvement from 2019 with a grade of 72 through Week 10 and the 10th ranked punter among those qualified. Beginning in Week 11 in Tampa, his numbers fall off a cliff. From Week 11 through the divisional playoff, Hekker’s grade sat at 50.9, second-worst among qualifying punters over the same period. What changed?


No stand-alone stat can tell a full story. This is especially true of punting. A 31-yard punt downed at the 19 yard-line has a better net outcome than a 50-yard punt that results in a touchback. Average yards per punt does not factor in the outkicking of coverage or whether or not a punt is returnable. Five seconds of hangtime is impressive out-of-context, but useless if the ball only goes 30 yards unless the offense happens to be punting from inside their opponent’s territory.

Context in punting data may be more important than for any other position in football. Over Hekker’s first eight games, his percentage of returned punts was 25 percent and his average hangtime sat at 4.41 seconds. Over the final nine, both numbers went in opposite directions. His return percentage skyrocketed to 44.2 percent and average hangtime dropped to 4.25 seconds. This is causation, not just correlation. The sample sizes were relatively similar: 36 punts through Week 10 and 43 punts after.

The Rams never placed Hekker on the injury report through the 2020 season. While NFL teams are not immune to misreporting injuries (ahem Seattle), there’s no written evidence he was hurt.

To continue our journey, we need to dive into the tape. We will look at two games that I believe define Hekker’s 2020 season-best: Week 4 versus the New York Giants and the Wildcard playoff in Seattle against the Seahawks.


Punt 1

Hekker’s first punt is a 61-yard bomb that hangs in the air for almost 5 seconds. The coverage is slightly outkicked and leads to a return of 15 yards. A net of 46 yards, is a good, but not great, result for an open field punt.

Punt 2

His second punt of the day was another open field bomb of 58 yards, landing right near the New York goal line. The returner fakes a catch, spoofing the coverage team and enabling the ball to bounce into the endzone. This punt nets only 38 yards, but Hekker does his job.

Punt 3

The third punt is an open field 46-yarder that is returned for 9 yards, a 37-yard net. The ball hangs long enough for the coverage team to swarm the returner, but they fail to do so adequately. An extra two-tenths of a second of hangtime would make this a great punt, but Hekker handles his business while the gunners do not.

Punt 4

The fourth punt is yet another open field bomb of 60 yards. New York brings pressure, speeding up Hekker’s punting process. The ball is over kicked and sails out the back of the endzone for a net of 40 yards.

Punt 5

The fifth and final punt is a long, open field, 54-yarder that lands at the New York 14. This punt hangs for nearly 5 seconds but slightly out-kicks the coverage. That, combined with an experienced returner, leads to a 6-yard return and a 48-yard net. With every second precious for NY late in the game, the outcome is a net positive as the return bleeds a few extra seconds off the clock.


This performance is what Hekker’s fans and coaches have come to expect over his 9-year career. While the end results are not perfect, nearly every punt is a bomb that gives the coverage team an opportunity to do their job and flips the field for the Rams defense. The margins between an elite punt and a solid punt are razor-thin, and sometimes beyond the control of the punter. PFF awards Hekker with a grade of 69.1, a quality grade for a quality outing. Next, we’ll look at Hekker’s seven punt wildcard performance in Seattle.


Punt 1

His first punt is an open field 40-yarder that hits at the 20 and bonces laterally out-of-bounds. It is a short kick that nets 40 with the same end result as a touchback. Hekker isn’t rushed. The coverage has outrun the punt, often a sign of a poor kick. This punt was recorded as one of his two punts inside the 20.

Punt 2

The second punt is an example of why general punting stats alone do not accurately describe the quality of a kick. The ball travels at a low trajectory for 39 yards, hitting at the 20 and taking a few hops to the 10 where it is picked up and returned for 10 yards. Hekker outkicks his coverage due to a line drive punt. The returner originally wants to let the ball go, rather than run under it, but the bounce enables a return. This was the second of Hekker’s two punts inside the 20. Not good.

Punt 3

The third punt is an open field 44-yard boot from the Rams 7-yard line. In this instance, negating a return is paramount. Hekker skies the kick, the gunners create a triangle around the returner, and a fair catch is forced at the Seattle 49. The stats won’t show it, but this is an excellent punt in the context of the game.

Punt 4

The fourth punt is a well-kicked open field sky-ball that goes for 45 yards. The punt is placed near the sideline. While the punt is returned, this is largely due to a failure on the coverage team. The weak side gunner is blocked away from the returner and takes a bad angle, approaching him from the side. The strong side gunner is blocked to the ground out of the play, nowhere to be found. The punt nets 37 yards, but Hekker has done his job.

Punt 5

Hekker’s fifth punt is an ugly one. Officially, it is a 46-yard open field punt that bounces into the sideline. The ball hits down at the Seattle 44, having traveled just 37 yards before taking a Rams bounce to the 35. This is a dreadful open field punt that is salvaged only by a bounce out-of-bounds. Had the ball bounced in any other direction, either the stats would show a very short punt, or there would have been a return. This is Hekker’s worst punt of the day.

Punt 6

The sixth punt is another ugly open fielder. The ball hits at the Seattle 46, just 34 yards before taking a Rams roll to the Seattle 31 for an additional 15 yards. The returner backs off because the kick is short, letting it bounce. This time, the coverage team is awaiting, and the returner opts to not take it on the bounce. Hekker is bailed out by his coverage team and another lucky bounce.

Punt 7

The seventh and final Hekker punt of the game is another poor open field punt. The ball lands at the Seattle 34 having traveled 37 yards. His process is rushed as the personal protector is nearly blocked into the punt. The kick has enough hangtime for the coverage to get around it, but the ball bounces towards the Seattle endzone. It is picked up by the returner at the 27 and take to the Seattle 35 where the ball is fumbled and recovered by the Rams. The stat sheet records a 44-yard punt with a 35-yard net.


Joe buck sums up Hekker’s performance in the wildcard round well with his call on the seventh punt: “Another ugly punt. Hekker has really not hit many good ones (today).” While a few were rushed processes, the majority were just bad balls. Hekker lacked command on the ball that he showed early in his career and even in the first half of 2020.


Above all else, Hekker lacked any consistency over the final nine games of 2020. His booming leg was still there, evidenced by multiple 60 plus yard bombs over that time span. Unlike previous seasons, there were far more short, ugly punts in between them.


This is a question the Rams are asking as well, and the answer should come following the preseason. This offseason, Los Angeles signed veteran punter Corey Bojorquez, formerly of the Bills, to compete with Hekker. From 2013-2020, STL/LA had never brought in veteran competition with regular-season experience at the punter position. Should Hekker not improve this preseason from his dismal finish to 2020, he will likely be trying to right the ship in another uniform.

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