Forecasting declining players in the NFC East

Brian Solomon (McNabbOrKolb.com), Derek Sarley (IgglesBlog.com), and I did a Q & A on Reddit yesterday, and a regular here at BtB “Euler is a pimp” had a question I liked:

When predicting future success of a team we get stuck into the fallacy of only looking at the improvements a team has made and reasons that we expect specific players to play better in the new season. Undoubtedly though, you will see players that exhibit regression. Who are your prime candidates for this?

I loved the question, and offered up this analogy: It’s like if you hook up with a girl, you automatically assume that you’ll be able to hook up with her again whenever you want. In your head, there’s no way you think you’ll get turned down the next time you go in for the kill. And then you’re disappointed when you realize that the only reason she hooked up with you in the first place was because she was 8 drinks deep and sad because the guy she really liked left with someone else. (Not based on any real life events).

Derek noted that there were two different ways of looking at it:

The first is merely statistical. It’s going to be really hard for Jason Babin to notch 18 sacks this year. Not because we’d expect him to be worse or anything, but because its really hard to get 18 sacks. A lot of things have to go right for you to get there. He could play equally well, get a few worse bounces, and we’d all be “disappointed” in his 12 sack season.

The second would be actual regression, which we saw last year, of course, with Mike Vick. He actually played worse.

Anyway, I figured I’d name two candidates for each team, one player who likely won’t match their stats from last year, and one that’s a candidate to actually play worse.  Keep in mind, if a player appears on this list, they had to already have been good in the first place:

Statistical decline: Jason Babin – Pretty much what Derek said above.

Actual decline: Evan Mathis – Back in February, Brian Solomon cautioned that the Eagles shouldn’t get into a bidding war for the services of Evan Mathis:

Mathis manned that side with Jason Peters, a truly dominant force, and yet runs to the left tackle netted the third-worst mark in the league, according to Football Outsiders. When Todd Herremans lined up in that spot, directional rushing to the left was alwasy a major strength. In 2011 it became a mixed bag.

Furthermore, Mathis just never passed the eye test that a supposedly top-five-type guard might. He gave up few negative plays, but I also never found myself saying “wow” after one of his highlights. With Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews in recent years, the Eagles have had guys on the interior that could lay claim to the “dominant” descriptor. As solid as Mathis was, to my eyes he was never that.

I agree with the majority of that, and Brian happened to write it before Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles.  With arguably the best offensive lineman in the game out for the season, Mathis’ job will be more difficult.

Statistical decline: Victor Cruz – 82-1536-9.  Methinks Victor might get a little more attention in 2012.

Actual decline: Eli Manning – I really struggled to come up with someone here for the Giants.  In lieu of saying “nobody,” let’s go with Eli.  The offensive line last year was horrific at times, and Eli still played out of his mind.  I don’t see how that line will be any better in 2012, so I expect Manning to take his fair share of shots again this season. And of course, add in that the Giants don’t have anything resembling a TE that’s a threat in the passing game, and they have unproven (although intriguing) players fighting for the #3WR job. I’m interested to see if Eli can repeat his 2011 with poor protection.  I actually think he can come close, but again, this is more about how good Eli was last year.

Statistical decline: Oof, did any Redskins really even have any eye-popping stats last year? I guess we’ll go with Roy Helu here.  According to Dan Graziano of the ESPN NFC East blog, Mike Shanahan has Tim Hightower slated as the starter at RB:

If healthy, Hightower is the starting running back in Washington. Shanahan just thinks he helps the most overall, as a runner, a pass-blocker and a receiver. But Hightower is coming off that ACL tear, and that could mean early-season opportunity for Helu or Royster.

I don’t understand that even a little bit, by the way, but that’s for another day.  Anyway, more Hightower means less Helu, and there’s also Evan Royster sitting there, who is also going to get some carries.

Actual decline: London Fletcher – Well… He’s… you know… 37.  I think the world of London Fletcher, but I wonder if the right course of action was to bring him back for 2 more years instead of reaching out to any number of the free agent linebackers that were available this offseason.  I’m leaning toward thinking the Redskins did the right thing.  Fletcher is a true leader, not a fake rah rah guy.  But still… 37.

Statistical decline: DeMarco Murray – DeMarco’s YPC last season was 5.5.  He came out on fire in his first 4 starts, rushing for 601 yards on 75 carries.  Then he came back down to Earth in the subsequent 4 starts.  He won’t sniff 5.5 YPC over a full season.

Actual decline: Jay Ratliff – Ratliff is still a great player, but his decline is probably already underway.  He is easily the smallest 3-4 NT in the league, but is an incredibly strong player for his size, and has elite quickness for the position.  Still, as a NT, constantly facing double teams in the run game week in and week out, it’s probably pretty fair to say that Ratliff’s body has accumulated significant wear and tear.  It’s only a matter of time before we begin to see a sharper decline.  I don’t know if that will be this year or not, but it’s coming, and probably soon.

54 Comments

  1. My Homepage says:

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  2. ian says:

    Eagles

    actual decline: mike patterson

  3. Mstewart9 says:

    Not to minimize the contribution of Jake Ballard last season for the Giants, not to say that the Giants do not have anyone resembling a TE is premature. Last season, Ballard played 14 games and had 38 catches for 604 yards and 4 TD’s. Bennett had 17 catches for 144 yards playing very sparingly for the Cowboys behind Witten. Let’s see how training camp goes before you throw out these assumptions. Perhaps theirs another Ballard hidden among the group of TE’s waiting to be discovered or perhaps Bennett will match or surpass Ballards numbers from last season.

  4. Trueblue63 says:

    How did Eli play over his head? His stats seem in line with recent prior years.

    1. Troy O says:

      being as he had little to work with… most pressured and no run game.

    2. Talon Talent says:

      It’s probably the extra 900 yards which is not an insignificant number. His TD’s, Int’s, and fumbles were all in line with his usual performance but that 900 extra yards is probably the big factor.

    3. He did lead the league in picks in 2010

      1. Trueblue63 says:

        But that was the only year of the last 4 that he exceeded an INT rate of 3%. I’d say a rate at or just below 3% would be expected. With Manningham gone, if his replacement is stricter in their reads and routes, might drop his INT rate (Manny was notorious for wrong reads).

        I wouldn’t be surprised if JPP had his ups and downs this year. With all the publicity and his tape, he’s going to be the recipient of a whole new assortment of doubles and exotic chip packages. I expect him to adjust, but it might make next year up and down.

  5. Euler.is.a.pimp says:

    Where are my royalties?

  6. joe d says:

    how about McCoy? no way he matches his 20 total TDs….

    1. joe d says:

      then again Babin is a good candidate too… who as a better chance of matching their performance? 18 sacks for babin or 20 tds for mccoy?

  7. Mick says:

    On the Giants front, I expect Osi to begin to decline. Statistically he peaked in ’10, with the all time FF record and whatnot. Now he has more injuries, he is somewhat satisfied with his contract, and he is getting long in the tooth. Oh, and he is a one trick pony, and JPP/Tuck are both better.

    1. Ha, Livefyre almost gave me a heart attack. I’ll try to have one or the other up by next week.

  8. WeGotLinemen says:

    Ok, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Fletcher’s play dropped off a cliff this year or if he missed a lot of games through injury.

    Still, I think he has actually improved each year he has been in Washington. I thought that he was one of the best MLBs in the league last year and should’ve been nominated to the Pro Bowl, rather than getting in as an alternate. I really don’t think I am being a homer ‘Skins fan on that. I am not even basing it on him leading the league in tackles, which is often a misleading stat. He was more effective at rushing the passer last year, and with better DL play was making tackles closer to the LOS than I’d seen him do since he arrived.

    So, whilst he really should be breaking down at this point, it would only provoke the slightest of arches on a single eyebrow if science proves that he is a linebacking Benjamin Button.

    1. ct17 says:

      Fletcher killed the Giants week 1 last year. The second half, it seemed like he came on a delay blitz every time it was a pass play and the RB stayed in to block. Eli couldn’t step up. Good scouting.

  9. rage114 says:

    My vote:

    Eagles, S – Babin, I think that is a pretty good one
    Eagles, A – Disagree on Mathis because with one full offseason under Mudd, any decline will be offset with the extra work/knowledge. Instead I am going with either Patterson or Jenkins.

    NYG, S – Cruz, as stated or Eli.
    NYG, A – If Eli has a worse year, I don’t think it will be because of ability (hence putting him in the above category). I am going with Bradshaw or Tuck. Both just seem that they are one problem away from being shelved.

    Dallas, S – Murray is a good one but I am going to go with Ware. See below.
    Dallas, A – Ratlif I agree and it is because of his declining play that we might see a reduction in Wares stats.

    Washington, S – Davis. On one hand, he might be a rookie’s favorite target. On the other hand, they might go with max protect reducing his opportunities. I think they will go with max protect more in his rookie season.
    Washington, A – Fletcher as stated.

    1. I’m as big a Fred Davis fan as there is, and think he’s going to have a huge season… but I hadn’t thought about the possibility of more max protect, which makes sense. However, I think that Davis is their best option in the passing game, so I don’t think it’ll be him that they keep in to block.

    2. NYG_slater says:

      ya i cant agree on davis either…I think he might blow up. Rookie QB’s love dem TE’s. Its like their security blanky for the first few years in the league. Even if they go max protect, id be surpised if they don’t split him out ala finley in GB, or Graham in NO.

      1. rage114 says:

        I hear what you are all saying. But you have to remember that Davis was having a career year last year when he was caught with illegal supplaments.

        Davis could be the best TE in the division. Remember, I am only talking stats, not ability.

        And I don’t really fear any of their WR or RB out of the backfield.

        It seems to me that if I am a DC, I try to specifically take Davis out of the equation.

  10. brisulph says:

    I came in expecting Cruz and Eli, good to see we are connected on the logic front. Well mostly… I see Eli having less stats in a manner that is part regression to the mean and part progression to the mean for the o-line/running game. I cannot imagine the rushing being as bad as it was last year.

    1. Anders says:

      What signs do the Giants have that there running game should be better? Unless Wilson have a very good rookie year, I doubt the run game will be much better.

      1. They also drafted a blocking TE in Adrien Robinson and signed blocking TE Marty B, assuming he makes the team ;)

        Anyway, not sure how much those guys will matter. But it’s an answer to what they did.

        1. Anders says:

          I still think OL and RB matters much more than TE unless you run alot of stretch plays

          1. ct17 says:

            This could be its own topic. How well will Wilson replace Chris Johnson (aka Brandon Jacobs). They subtracted McKenzie, who was a good run blocker. They add a healthy Snee and a healthy and more experienced (with the system and teammates) Baas. Diehl moved.

            After Eli’s good year and the emergence of Cruz, it also remains to be seen if defenses will continue to play 8 men in the box.

            1. Anders says:

              I like your comment about Brandon Jacobs :)

      2. Andy says:

        A)Because it can’t get much worse
        B)There were signs of improvement late in the year (i.e. week 16 on)
        C)Giants are hoping for more O-Line cohesion, longer offseason=better blocking

        1. brisulph says:

          Anders, this man took the answers right out of my fingertips. Seriously though, that putrid ground game could not get worse, it has nowhere to go but up.

  11. Joe says:

    for the cowboys, cant argue with Rat, but I actually think that Ware will not have the stats this year that he had last…..as far as Murray, time will tell, IF (and yes a big IF) he stays healthy, and Vickers does his thing, he could “sniff” 5.0 a carry, and I would be fine with that. He will be getting the bulk of the carries….1200-1400 yards is doable

  12. Anders says:

    Also you comment on Eli, means he should be placed in the statistical decline catagory, because I doubt you mean he will decline due to age and lose of skills.

    1. I don’t think he’ll lose any skills. I just don’t think he’ll be as good as he was last year (and I don’t mean statistically). But again, that’s merely because I thought he played a little over his head. It’ll be extremely hard for him to duplicate his level of play last year, in kind of the same way it was difficult for Mike Vick to duplicate his level of play in 2010.

      1. Anders says:

        I see what you mean now. I also think his play will suffer because of Cruz and no reliable 3rd target (Dont tell Giants fans, they will call you dumb and moron for telling em they dont have anyone beside Cruz and Nicks, but Eli have always been at his best when he have 3 reliable targets.)

        1. ct17 says:

          Let us say three “talented” targets instead. Manningham had lots of talent. But if there was one thing he was not, it was “reliable”. One of the reasons Cruz became a starter so quickly is that Eli and Manny were often not on the same page.

          1. Anders says:

            For me the reliable target trough the season was a combination of Ballard/Bradshaw/Manny and Eli now lost 2 of them

            1. Sejo28 says:

              Meh, wouldn’t be the first time Eli’s lost some targets, i think it will take a while to find that reliable third guy, even though having that full offseason will help with that, but I think the guy that will ultimately step up is on the roster already

            2. giantsfan says:

              This time last year, Ballard wasn’t a reliable target either. Neither was Kevin Boss before the Giants lost Shockey. I wouldn’t worry too much about Eli and his targets.

        2. yehti says:

          what do you mean no 3rd option????? Bennett DUH!

  13. Anders says:

    For the Eagles, I think NA will decline due to age more so than Mathis, I also think Mathis will be just fine, because he was just fine before he arrived in philly, just nobody paid attention and the Bengals was still the Bungals when he played for them.

  14. nicolajNN says:

    Also way off topic, but have you considered changing the comments system?

    1. As in like bringing in Disqus or something like that?

      1. Anders says:

        I really wish there existed a comment system like the one on SBnation. Auto update and I can see new comments right away

        1. bdawk4ever says:

          LiveFyre’s is like that.

        2. nicolajNN says:

          Disqus have that as well, the site owner just need to be a paying member(it’s sort of expensive) But I noticed Igglesblitz now have semi automatic update with Disqus

        3. The SBN one is extremely sophisticated. Their entire platform is really. There isn’t any site that’s even close.

          But I’ll look into other options. Always appreciate feedback like this.

          1. Anders says:

            I dont expect a comment section like the SBN, but rather just features similar too :)

          2. giantsfan says:

            Jimmy,

            Look into talkwheel. I think it would work well with this site.

            http://www.talkwheel.com

      2. nicolajNN says:

        Yea, personally I prefer Disqus or, as bdawk4ever mentioned, LiveFyre over the default wordpress one.

        1. Yeah, originally, I wanted to make it extremely easy to comment (without making people have to log in). But maybe I have enough readers/commenters now that it’s time. I spend at least an hour or two per week deleting spam.

  15. nicolajNN says:

    I agree with most of those, not sure about Mathis I could see him go both ways. I think another player that could be a candidate in both categories for the Eagles is Cullen Jenkins, he is not young and he might lose snaps if Cox is as good as we hope.

    1. Yup, I agree. He’s a good candidate as well. McCoy got some mentions on the statistical side as well in the Q & A.

  16. KJ Brophy says:

    That thing on Mathis that Brian wrote can’t possibly be true because he’s the greatest thing on earth right now!

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