We are The Pulling Linemen: dedicated to bringing you stories and opinions from the guys at the centre of football - Linemen!

Contact us at info@pullinglinemen.com, or on twitter @PullingLinemen

Friday, 7 June 2013

TPL100 2013: 90 - 81

Introduction | #100-#91 | #90-#81 | #80-#71 | #70-#61 | #60-51 | #50-41 | #40-#31 | #30-21 | #20-#11 | #10-#1

We're only ten players into this year's TPL100 and already there's been debates and arguments tweeted at us over the names already revealed! If players #100-#91 brought out some strong opinions, we can only imagine how you'll react to seeing which players were ranked in the next group of ten...

But don't just keep it to yourself! If you agree or disagree with where the players already reveal were placed, if you've got an opinion on the list so far, we want to hear it! Leave a comment below, tweet us @PullingLinemen or join our Facebook group - like last year, we'll reply to the best comments at the end of the countdown. So speak up and tell us why you think we're right or wrong!

And with that said, it's now time to reveal #90 on the 2013 edition of the TPL100...

90. Lardarius Webb, CB, Balitmore Ravens (TD = 70, PG = 100, GS = 95)
2012 Ranking: --

While much of the 2013 offseason talk has revolved around the Darrelle Revis storyline, he's not the only cornerback attempting to come back from a torn ACL in order to take his place in a secondary that sorely needs him. The eleventh name on our list may hold a lower profile in the eyes of the national media, but for those who were paying attention, Lardarius Webb was quietly but unmistakably making a strong case to be considered amongst the NFL's elite at the position. Young, fast, strong and displaying an ability to read the game as if he were a veteran, Webb's 2013 campaign was cut short in a Week 6 match up against the Dallas Cowboys.

Lardarius Webb
P: Keith Allison
Already racking up an interception, a forced fumble, twenty four solo tackles and an assist, when Webb went down, many believed it would be a huge blow to the Ravens' D, one much bigger than the loss of the old guy in the #52 jersey the same week. Of course, Baltimore were able to soldier on without him, and would end up having a pretty decent season anyway; still, even with the Lombardi, the effect of losing Webb was absolutely notable. While it is of course a flawed comparison, since there are naturally a multitude of factors on what occurs in a game, one statistic that you can point at to show the impact of losing Webb is the touchdown/interception ratio with and without the corner. From the season kickoff until the first quarter of the Cowboys' game, when Webb went down, the Ravens had allowed only two touchdowns through the air while picking off six passes. In the next ten and a half games, the Ravens just anther six interceptions, while allowing opposing passers to throw for thirteen touchdowns. Again, it's not a perfect comparison, but the stats are supported by the tape.

When you watch the game film, you see that the Ravens trust Webb to be put in a situation that very, very few cornerbacks in the league are ever asked to face - being left on an island with a team's best receiver. Webb was put in that situation week-in, week-out, and always stepped up. It's a talent the Ravens are going to desperately need in 2013, with three of the four starters in the secondary that won the Super Bowl are now plying their trade elsewhere, and the one remaining starter - Jimmy Smith - was third on the depth chart before Webb went down for the year. So, if Webb is so talented, why is he so low down the ranking? Simple: even in the best case scenario, there's no guarantees a player will ever be able to come back from an ACL tear, a fact the Ravens know from personal experience with Domonique Foxworth; in Webb's case, this was the second time in his short career that he tore the ACL in his right knee. Will he be able to cut on that knee with confidence? Will his now twice-repaired ligament effect the 4.46 speed that made him the first corner taken in the 2009 draft? Can the Baltimore defensive coaches still trust him on an island? There's simply no way of answering these questions until we see him play in 2013; but just on the strength of his upside and how good he was before the injury, he finds himself the first player in this year's list to appear on all three of our ballots - and if his play is as good now as it has been in the past, he'll appear much higher this time next year. (Gur Samuel)

89. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions (TD = 69, PG = 78, GS = --)
2012 Ranking: 41

P: Wikimedia Commons
His rookie year in the NFL was phenomenal, starting all 16 games, recording 10 sacks, and earning himself All-Pro, Pro Bowl and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honours showing that the Lions were justified in choosing him #2 overall out of Nebraska. They even let him attempt a PAT when kicker Jason Hanson picked up an injury, but he only managed to hit the upright.

2011 was a less auspicious season, however, and Suh's on the field temperament, already in question, was shown in a terrible light when he pushed Packer's O-lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith's head into the ground repeatedly, and then stamped on his arm. He got a 2 game suspension for this incident, but clearly didn't learn, and in 2012 was again penalized by the league for his conduct, this time kicking Texans' QB Matt Schaub, although his $30,000 fine was seen as a league cop-out by not suspending him again. Suh's talent as a player is unquestionable, but he has been blessed by a lot of help around him from the likes of Cliff Avril, Kyle Van Den Bosch and Nick Fairley, and with two of the former now gone, will Suh still be able to produce, and keep his head, when OLs have his card marked. The addition of rookie Ziggy Ansah might give Suh some help to again reach double-figures sacks, with more edge pressure loosening the middle for him, but that'll only happen if he can manage to avoid more disciplinary action for some of his less favourable hits. (Phil Gaskin)

88. Chris Myers, C, Houston Texans (TD = 97, PG = --, GS = 50)
2012 Ranking: 52

P: Brit
Chris Myers' slide down the rankings has more to do with the improvements of others than any steep decline on his part, but there was a noticeable difference from his previous stellar play.

Houston's offensive line saw a lot of turnover in the off-season, and none was more harmful than right guard Mike Brisiel's move to Oakland. As a result Myers had to cope with Antoine Caldwell for 6 games, and rookie Ben Jones' struggles for 9.

These issues next to him saw Myers having to compensate for weaker right guard play, leaving him with tougher blocks to make to that side. The numbers back up the eye-test as well, Houston's yards per carry slumped from 4.5 in 2011 to 4.2 in 2012, and Football Outsiders shows nearly a half yard slip in their Adjusted Line Yards up the middle from 2011 to 2012. Although that's not to say that Houston's offensive line play has been terrible, our own defense-adjusted OLR ranked them 12th for the season, but it's not what we've come to expect from the Texans.

With production in the run game slipping and Myers having to try and account for his right guard issues his own play did see a slight decline, but he remains one of the premiere centres in the NFL and should play like one in 2013. (Toby Durant)

87. Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TD = 48, PG = 98, GS = --)
2012 Ranking: --

Drafted one pick after our 89th-ranked player, Suh, in the 2010 draft, Gerald McCoy's career got off to a much slower start than the Lions defender. Where Suh, no doubt aided by having Avril and Vanden Bosch as Phil outlined above, was able to take advantage of offenses having to pay attention to multiple down linemen to have one of the best rookie seasons a DT has ever had, McCoy suffered from having no real help along the D line, meaning that from his first snap in the NFL, he has been the central point of focus for blocking schemes for every snap he's played in the league. Of course, his first two seasons in the league weren't just notable for the relatively low sack total when compared to Suh (who, due to going second and third overall in that draft, will forever be compared against each other throughout their football careers) - it was that McCoy failed to finish the season in both years, going on injured reserve in Week 14 of his rookie campaign and in Week 9 of 2011.

BUCS Kick Off Party
P: theSuperStar
Despite the mounting whispers amongst the Tampa Bay media and fanbase of the dreaded 'b' word, his teammates still stood by McCoy, even voting him a defensive captain for the 2012 season. He rewarded their confidence with not only the first full 16-game season of his career, but one of the best defensive tackle performances across the league last year. While the sack total was still lower than draftmate Suh, his five sacks paint only a tiny portion of the overall picture. When you pop on the film, you cannot ignore his skills, particularly the truly elite burst McCoy has off the snap - as quick a reaction and as powerful a shot into the backfield as you will see in the NFL. The former Sooner wreaked utter havoc with his constant penetration of the offensive line, causing mayhem and disruption in the backfield, tearing blocking schemes asunder and forcing running backs and quarterbacks into the arms of his fellow defenders. Playing the pass is only part of the defensive tackle's job;the story of the Bucs' run defense going from bottom-5 for three years straight years (finishing dead last in 2009 and 2011) to the best run defense in the NFL last year really does begin and end with McCoy - without him, there's no way the run D even sniffs the top ten, let alone finish top of the pile.

Coming off his first Pro Bowl season, and more importantly, his first appearance in the TPL100, 2013 promises huge things for McCoy. Any Bucs fan will tell you, there were a huge number of plays (even when Schiano dialed in his over-complicated, never-effective blitz schemes, or his dreaded third-down three-man-rush) where McCoy was literally half a second away from sacking the quarterback - a half-second was often attributable to the truly appalling secondary play throughout the year, allowing receivers to come completely free and giving quarterbacks no need to ever hesitate or look beyond their first two reads. That story changes with Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson in the fold. Opposing QBs will have to hold on that ball for half a second longer - the half second longer it will take for McCoy to bring them to the ground. As long as he is able to remain healthy, 2013 can easily, easily be the year McCoy over takes Suh as the best defensive tackle from the 2010 draft. (GS)

86. Kam Chancellor, SS, Seattle Seahawks (TD = 67, PG = 75, GS = --)
2012 Ranking: --

P: Mark Runyon | Football Schedule
I don't think it's going out on too much of a limb to call the Seahawks defensive secondary the best in the NFL, and Kam Chancellor is a huge part of this. He's only 3 years into his professional career, but already he has established himself as one of the best Strong Safeties in the league, having gained his first start in 2011, and playing well enough to get voted to his first Pro Bowl in the same year. 4 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles were highlight stats, but he also finished second on the team in tackles (97), demonstrating that unlike many of the marquee safeties in the league today, Chancellor is the definition of a strong, box safety. He recorded a career high 101 tackles in 2012 too, and over 16 games was graded as only missing a total of 9 tackles, an outstanding 92% tackle success. His bone-crunching style earns him a lot of fans in Seattle, and his new 5-year $34million contract extension shows that he can count the front office amongst them.

It's also testament to the respect he garners off the field that after just 3 years in the league he was part of a senior band of players who rallied a team meeting at the end of May to discuss the Seahawks continuing apparent issues with PEDs. If the 'Hawks wish to continue their lofty ambitions in what is now the toughest division in football, they'll need Chancellor to continue his awesome form on the field, and bring the young guys into the fold with his respect off the field (PG).

85. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins (TD = 65, PG = --, GS = 76)
2012 Ranking: --

P: Keith Allison
Another player who's injury makes him difficult to place in our rankings. Robert Griffin III was everything Washington expected in his rookie year and more, leading them to a division title for the first time since 1999. His 65.6% completion rate and 27 total touchdowns were mightily impressive, and under normal circumstances he'd probably be higher up this list but after suffering the second serious knee injury of his career in the playoff game with Seattle there are big question marks surrounding his 2013 campaign.

Griffin suffered a sprained LCL in a game with Baltimore during the regular season and his play afterwards was limited and noticeably worse, and no doubt aided the eventual ligament-explosion that happened in January. Without the constant run threat of RG3 the weaknesses of the Redskins passing attack around Griffin we far more glaring. If that's the guy Washington get's in 2013 then a repeat trip to the post-season is going to be unlikely, and not everyone is Adrian Peterson when it comes to ACL recovery.

However, Dr. James Andrews has been very upbeat in his reports and Griffin is making all the right noises about being ready by week 1. Should that be so, the Redskins have a great chance to get back to the playoffs thanks to Griffin's play-making legs and electric arm, but they may have to scale back the running part of Griffin's game to protect both him and their massive investment. (TD)

84. Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens (TD = 59, PG = 80, GS = -- )
2012 Ranking: --

Our second offensive lineman of this year's list is also one of the most versatile to make our top 100, having spent time at both guard and tackle for the Ravens in his six years in the league. A tough, physical run blocker who also holds up strongly at the point of attack in pass protection, Yanda presents a key mixture of aggressive play with durability, missing only two games in the past four seasons. It would be fair to assume that the presence of #73 in front of him is a huge source of comfort for Joe Flacco, as the starting offensive line has often been in a state of flux, with coaches trying different line ups to try and keep the quarterback up right. The one constant has been Yanda, whose leadership was rewarded with being named a captain for Super Bowl 47.

Marshal Yanda
P: Keith Allison
Yanda's name may not be one of the first to come to mind when thinking of the top linemen in the league, but that speaks to the old adage - the better an offensive lineman does his job, the less you hear the commentators say his name. Yet, his talent has not gone unnoticed, with Yanda being named a second-team All-Pro the past two seasons as well as making Hawaii in both those years. With Matt Birk's retirement, Yanda is now the de facto leader in the trenches for Baltimore, and with the defending Super Bowl champions' defense undergoing huge transitions, it will be on offense that the Ravens need to forge their identity going forward - and Yanda will be at the very forefront of that new identity. Technique, raw talent, durability and the intangibles to inspire his team mates to name him a captain to lead them onto football's biggest stage, as long as he gets over the injuries that have held him out of minicamp, Marshal Yanda is poised to take his place amongst the elite linemen in the NFL. (GS)

83. Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TD = --, PG = 94, GS = 45)
2012 Ranking: --

Vincent Jackson | Tampa Bay Buccaneers
P: Football Schedule
The bad taste Vincent Jackson's 2010 holdout left in the mouth has all-but been forgotten after two good 16-game seasons in 2011 and '12. His final year with the Chargers was enough to earn him a Pro Bowl alternate spot, recording 9 TDs and over 1100 yards in his 3rd 1000+ yard season in a row (excluding his massively shortened 2010), but didn't do enough to sneak him into the TPL100 then. Now with the Buccaneers, however, VJax finds himself at #83 in our ranks, the same number he wears in Tampa. In what was a difficult season for the Bucs, Jackson continued to show his outstanding on-field ability, setting career highs for yards (1384) and receptions (72) as well as breaking his single game receiving record (215 yards) and his longest TD (95 yards) vs the Saints in week 7. Unfortunately for him, even those numbers weren't enough to win that game, and the Bucs fell to a disappointing 7-9 by season's end. At 30, Jackson's career may not have too many years left despite the 4 years remaining on his current contract, so he'll be determined to guide Tampa to their first playoff berth since the 2007 season. Will the QB situation be enough to help him do that, or is it the only thing stopping him from recording 1500 yards and 10+ TDs in a season for the first time in his career? 2013 will hold a lot of answers. (PG)

82. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (TD = 61, PG = 99, GS = 100)
2012 Ranking: --

a 3rd sophomore quarterback! Andrew Luck was the only one of the young QB's to be ranked by all of us, even then it was a close thing.

While the team around him was undoubtedly poor, Andrew Luck's rookie season did something almost unimaginable, it lived up to his pre-draft hype. Throughout his 2011 campaign with Stanford and all of the pre-draft coverage, Andrew Luck wasn't just touted as the next No. 1 pick (a hard enough title on it's own) but as the next Peyton Manning or John Elway. And by draft day it was like his bust was already in Canton. Not only that, but he came into a team that had been a miserable 2-14 and had released Peyton Manning to make room for him. If that doesn't weigh heavy on you then you're not of this world.
P: Mark Kortum

Luck's raw passing numbers last season don't appear great, or even begin to justify the hype. Just a 54.1% completion rate, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. It doesn't really leap off the page at you and scream "82nd best player in the NFL!!!", but one of the key things to look at is attempts. Andrew Luck attempted a rookie-record smashing 627 passes. That's good for 14th in ANY single NFL season. Only 7 QB's have ever thrown the ball more in one year. Add in Luck's sacks and scrambles and he dropped back over 700 times in his rookie year! All those passes also ended up giving Luck a rookie record 4,374 passing yards in 2012. That's an awful lot of work, and speaks volumes of the lack of support he got from the ground game (Indy managed a woeful 3.8 yards a carry, which is boosted by Luck's own 4.1ypc average), and the position his defense put him in most weeks.

And yet, the 2012 Colts went 11-5 and made the play-offs. They were 3-2 in games vs other play-off teams and a staggering (and almost entirely unsustainable) 9-1 in games decided by 7 points or less, all while their head coach was away fighting leukemia. All of which points to Luck's talent and seemingly unflappable nature.

Andrew Luck's stats might not match those of Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III in 2013, but he passes the eye test every week, and at some point those stats should match the obvious talent. The Colts made acquisitions along the offensive line to try and get Luck better and more consistent pass protection, while they didn't splash the cash on top level talent or have the chance to draft one of the big three OT's, the 2013 version of the Colts offensive line should give Luck a better chance to shine. If they do then who knows how high he could be next season. (TD)

81. Lance Briggs, OLB, Chicago Bears (TD = 91, PG = 67, GS = 99)
2012 Ranking: 69

P: Mike Morbeck
When Lovie Smith left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2000 to take the defensive coordinator role in St. Louis, he took with him the scheme that had been devised in Tampa by Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin. Four years later, Smith became head coach of the Chicago Bears, again bringing the Tampa Two with him. Of course, one of the most vital components of that particular defensive scheme is the weakside linebacker, and Smith , then the linebacker coach, had the prototype for the position down in Florida in Derrick Brooks. Few would have thought he'd be able to find a linebacker who could do (almost) as good a job in Chicago for the Bears' edition of the Tampa Two - but he did: Lance Briggs.

Briggs has been somewhat unfairly overshadowed by the man playing next to him, Brian Urlacher, but without doubt the outside linebacker has been just as important to the dominant defense the Bears have had since Lovie Smith came to town as any other defensive player. Briggs' play has not only been characterised by the toughness to take on lead blockers without fear and the eye to find gaps in the offense to thunder into the backfield and take down ball carriers, he's also been tough from a durability standpoint, missing only four games in his entire 10-year NFL career. A three-time All-Pro, Briggs made the Pro Bowl for seven straight seasons beginning in 2005 - a streak that was ended last year. So why did Briggs not get his trip to Hawaii this year, and more importantly, why did he fall twelve spots down the rankings? The answer has more to do with the continuing improvement of other players than a particular winding down of Briggs' talent - yet that is a problem. Where others are moving forward, Briggs is staying still; one of the key skills of the weakside linebacker in the Tampa Two is speed, being able to knife in and make a beeline for the ball carrier while the front four occupy the offensive line. Briggs will turn 33 during the 2013 season, and time waits for no man. Even though the former Arizona Wildcat returned two interceptions for touchdowns last year - a personal best for him, and the first time since 2005 he had a pick-six - it was clear that, even in a year when the Bears defense as a whole was utterly dominant, Briggs wasn't quite as fast as he once was, and that is the difference between a run being stopped for a three-yard gain, and a run being stopped for a three-yard loss. Now with Brian Urlacher gone, Briggs has been charged with playcalling on defense - and though he undoubtedly has the football brains for the role, it's another thing that can make him just that split-second slower.

To top it all off, Briggs is not only without Urlacher for the first time in his career, but also without Lovie Smith for the first time since he was a rookie. How will the change in defensive scheme effect a player who has already appeared to peak? His natural talent and eye for the game will unquestionably keep him a starter in the league for a few years yet, and he'll no doubt be a solid linebacker for at least the upcoming season, but his time amongst the league's elite is coming to a close. (GS)

That does it for this segment of our Top 100. We're now 20 players in. If you think we've ranked a player too high or too low please leave a comment or hit us up on twitter (@PullingLinemen) or find us on facebook and we'll endeavour to reply either on said social media site or in our wrap-up mailbag!

- The Pulling Linemen

1 comment:

  1. I was expecting some guys on this list to be higher, and some guys not to feature (more that it's hard to narrow it to 100 then anything), wouldn't have many issues so far really, nice work.