Since we are more-or-less at the halfway point, we are taking roses and thorns in a different direction this week, We will evaluate the top five from the previous week like we normally do, but instead of looking at the best and worst performers from the previous week we will take a look at the first half offensive and defensive MVPs.
More importantly, we will take a look at some competing narratives that need to be addressed. This is a lot of what we do behind the scenes here at Battle Red Blog and we wanted to give you a peak behind the curtain. As usual, we will use PFF scores for our analysis. Obviously, not everyone puts stock in those, but they by and large give us a pretty clear picture of what is going on.
Jerry Hughes— 81.5
Chris Moore— 80.8
Jordan Akins— 79.7
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo— 78.9
Tytus Howard— 74.9
The names are familiar by now. With the exception of Jordan Akins, all of these players have appeared here at least once. Jerry Hughes has appeared here nearly every week. That obviously gives us some idea of where we should go when we start looking at offensive and defensive MVPs for the first half.
Offensive MVP— Dameon Pierce
This one is actually a lot closer than you might think. Laremy Tunsil is a top five offensive tackle according to PFF. So, he is likely in the Pro Bowl in spite of what anyone might think of him. However, there could be no other answer here. Pierce is the fourth rated running back according to PFF. He is the odds on favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year and certainly sticks out in Nick Caserio’s second rookie class.
Defensive MVP— Jerry Hughes
There is probably no more polarizing figure here amongst the BRB staff. Some consider him a breath of fresh air and mostly a net positive. Others consider him to be a waste of time, I get both narratives. This team needs to get younger and a 34-year-old defensive end clearly isn’t that. However, it is a team in desperate need of good football players and he has been that so far with 8.5 sacks on the season. If he surpasses the 10 sack mark it’s a good season whether he is 34 or 44.
Some people like to look at narratives as competing. I look at them in layers. There is the surface area narrative that people usually parrot and it makes perfect sense until we start to scrutinize it on a more complex level. All four of these narratives can be right in some sense, but all of them are also probably wrong in some sense. The question becomes which one you put the most stock in.
Narrative One: Rookies usually don’t perform well because they are rookies.
This is a common refrain in the NFL. Rookies need time to develop and so when you are playing a lot of rookies your team is destined to fail. Seven Houston Texans rookies have played enough to qualify on offense and defense. It’s eight when you count Troy Hairston. There are so few full-time fullbacks that I have never really taken the time to track them. So, if we assume him as a regular that means there are nearly 30 players that have played enough to qualify for PFF scores. So, more than 25 percent of those are rookies. So, if the narrative holds then it makes perfect sense the team would struggle.
Narrative Two: Caserio did a great job in the draft because eight rookies are playing regularly.
This is an easy narrative. In fact, if we combine the last two drafts we will find about a dozen qualified players from those two drafts. That’s more than any other team in the league. As easy as this narrative is, it doesn’t pass the smell test. Sure, rookies can play, but it is only a good thing if they are actually good. Most of the rookies (minus Pierce) have low scores according to PFF. So, this only serves as a good thing if you buy the first narrative. The future is bright if you buy both of these narratives. If you don’t then the last two narratives become more important.
Narrative Three: The rookies are struggling because Nick Caserio picked the wrong players.
Sauce Gardner is the third ranked corner in football. He was picked right after Derek Stingley. Five corners from the first two rounds have played enough to qualify. Stingley has the fourth best score among them and he was the first cornerback taken. Jalen Pitre is nearly dead ass last amongst safeties. Two others from the first two rounds rank well above him including Kyle Hamilton who is one of the top ten safeties in football.
Christian Harris is dead ass last amongst qualified linebackers. Kenyon Green is one of the worst guards according to PFF. In fact, Pierce is the only rookie with a grade of 60 or above and that is usually the line of replacement value (or that of a quality rotational player). Obviously, we could take PFF grades with a grain of salt, but we have seen enough from these four players to know that there is something to those grades.
Narrative Four: Caserio picked the right rookies, but Lovie Smith and Pep Hamilton are not using them correctly.
This also has some merit to it. Jalen Pitre was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and played mostly in the box. Derek Stingley was a shutdown corner that was left on an island for the national championship LSU squad. Neither are doing those things nearly as much as they should be. Christian Harris never had a preseason and is only three games into his pro career. Who knows what is going on with Green, but it could be a question of bad coaching or that his skills are not being utilized.
If you polled the other 31 general managers they would probably say that all of those players were highly rated prospects that they would have taken somewhere near where the Texans did. Of course, this is when narratives become difficult to pin down. Lovie Smith has never really used corners in a ton of man coverage. So, why did you take a corner that specializes in man coverage? Sauce Gardner would have been a much better pick at that spot for Lovie’s defense.
Except, we don’t know how long Lovie is going to be coach. We can’t imagine him being there even after the 2023 season and even that is no guarantee. So, maybe Caserio was just picking the best available player regardless of style because he knows these guys will be used by a different coaching staff maybe as early as next season.
The difficulty with these competing narratives is that Caserio is in charge of all of it. He gets to pick the players. He also has had two shots at picking a coaching staff and has struck out both times. That’s all part of the recipe of evaluating his performance as general manager. Maybe he gets it right next time around. Maybe this organization continues to spin its wheels. Either way, the performance of the rookies and second year players is the most important thing for the last half of this season.