This is the second edition of my new Sunday column, where I talk about the most interesting/controversial stories of the week and put my spin on them. Last week, I defended against the criticisms on Andy Dalton's arm strength, talked about the big differences between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Benson, and covered the in-game stadium experiences that the NFL is hoping to implement this year. As I said last week, I like to put an analytical, statistical spin on things, so here we go!
+ A.J. Green was recently ranked by film guru Greg Cosell as the fifth best wide receiver in the NFL. In the comments of the article, and even in discussions among Bengals fans, some feel that Green did not deserve the spot.
They have a point, but only if you base your rankings on past numbers alone. Green had 65 receptions for 1057 yards and 7 touchdowns as a rookie. Among all wide receivers in the league, that only ranked 15th best in reception yards, 23rd best in number of receptions, and tied for 18th in touchdowns.
Definitely not close to top 5.
But the tape tells a different story. One of a physical freak, with no major weaknesses in his game, and a lot of broken records in the future.
Said of Cosell of Green:
Size matters. That leads to A.J. Green at No 5. He’s almost 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds. He does not look that big on film. He has elements of Randy Moss as a vertical receiver, with his long fluid stride, his excellent body control and leaping ability, and his soft hands. Green, much like Andre Johnson, moves like a smaller man. But he’s a smoother, more elegant athlete, a glider with deceptive separation and acceleration. His ease of movement belies his explosiveness. This year marks is his first real NFL offseason, and I would expect Green to improve significantly, particularly at the small details of the position, like beating press coverage. There’s no question Green has an elite skill set with his combination of size, movement and hands. So it’s no surprise that he’s already in the conversation regarding the league’s top wide receivers.
Cosell hits the nail on the head with every point he made. It's Green's "eilte skill set" that puts him in conversation with the best wide receivers in the league right now. Fans made cases for Wes Welker, Roddy White, Greg Jennings, and others over A.J. Green. Based on statistics, they would be right.
But, what general manager in the league would rather have Wes Welker on his team than A.J. Green? Green brings an elite deep threat ability, but he can also play every receiving spot on the field. Green can work the slot, both outside positions, and be successful on end arounds and reverses. Green can go deep, Green can go short, Green can go across the middle.
He does a have a few small weaknesses (such as technique and penalties), which I addressed in the training camp preview for wide receivers, but those are far from major problems, and can easily be fixed with repetition and time.
What he showed on tape last year basically eliminates the possibility that Green could be a one year wonder. The only way that could happen, is if injuries should strike. But, Green doesn't have a long injury history.
And, as far as that numbers argument goes, he'll probably win that side of the argument too in 2012. For what it's worth, Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio recently said that "1500 yards and 15 touchdowns is realistic" for A.J. Green's sophomore season. I went with a far more conservative estimate, projecting 1200 yards and 9 touchdowns, but obviously I'd be happy with either.
The biggest thing working against Green right now is the fact that defenses will be keying in on Green in every game. You really can't leave Green alone in a one on one situation. Until the rest of the wide receivers/ tight ends step up and show that they deserve some attention too, Green will get double coverage.
+ That brings me to my next point, which is the concept of the wide receivers by committee. We said earlier this week that the committee concept, first written about by our Joe Goodberry back in May, is gaining steam. With the talent on the team at wide receiver, no one stands head and shoulders above the rest, and each one brings a different, unique skill set. That's why they will probably go wide receiver by committee this year.
Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson wrote this telling little paragraph about offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden's expectations for Armon Binns and Brandon Tate, who are apparently neck and neck for the starting spot so far.
If it is going to be running back by committee, it sounds like Green's supporting cast is also going to be a group effort. Tate has never caught a ball as a Bengal and Binns has never taken a NFL snap, but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden came out of the spring talking about how Tate possesses stretch-the-field speed and the rangy 6-3, 210-pound Binns stretches to make those tough possession catches.
I agree wholeheartedly. Brandon Tate is the second best non-AJ-Green deep threat on the team, and that's why I think he has a very good shot of making the team. To draw the safeties away from Green, you need a guy streaking down the field who can gain separation and catch the ball. Brandon Tate is that guy. He's never been asked to do much as a receiver, but he can definitely be a good deep threat. He averaged an insanely high 20.2 yards/reception in college. In his only time at wide receiver in the NFL, he averaged 18.0 yards per catch. A.J. Green, one of the best deep threats in the league, averaged only 16.3 yards/reception last year.
Of course, Tate's average is helped by the fact that he didn't run other types of routes, like A.J. did last year. In Tom Brady's 2010 offense, almost all of Tate's catches came from deep and intermediate throws down the field. He wasn't asked to run shorter routes much at all. Tom Brady hardly even looked at Tate, unless he was streaking past a safety. In fact, Tate was on the field for 552 snaps that year, and only received 43 targets. It's really hard to even watch film on Tate because it's just so boring.
So, Tate is untested running other types of routes. That's where Armon Binns comes in. Binns wasn't bad as a deep threat with the UC Bearcats, but he probably doesn't quite have the second-gear speed to beat NFL-level defensive backs.
He'll be much more effective as a possession receiver, working intermediate and shorter routes. In OTAs so far, Binns has looked more explosive than the scouting reports said he was (he went undrafted in 2011), and I especially like the way he comes out of his breaks. He gets his hands up quickly, and since he's 6'3", it's very hard for defenders to make a play on the ball. Binns and Green look like trees when they are out there on the field together. That's why I project Binns to start as the number two receiver in week one. Sprinkle in some Tate and Marvin Jones on the outside, while Sanu and Shipley and Gresham work the middle. That works to everyone's strengths the best.
I get more into detail on this subject when the second part of the wide receiver preview (containing both Tate and Binns) is released on Monday afternoon.
+ Lastly, the Browns used a freaking second round pick on wide receiver Josh Gordon this week in the NFL's supplemental draft.
That's right. They used a second round pick on a guy who reportedly failed three drug tests in college, and only has 43 career receptions.
But, while it's easy to bash, it makes the Browns offense a lot more scarier to me. I think people are underestimating the Browns this year, particularly their offense.
Josh Gordon is a very incredible physical talent. Physically, he's comparable to Michael Floyd and Justin Blackmon, the top two receivers taken in last year's draft.
His character concerns and his complete inexperience as a route runner are his two biggest drawbacks. Though I think the Browns definitely took Gordon a round or two early, his potential as a wide receiver in scary.
The Browns now have promising young talent at the skill positions, and their defense was ranked tenth best in the league last year, thanks to their second-ranked pass defense.
The reason the Browns (4-12) lost so many games last year was because teams ran all over them. They always lost the possession game last year because they couldn't stop teams from ramming the ball down their throats, and their offense of Colt McCoy and their long list of sidelined running backs and inexperienced receivers couldn't move the ball consistently.
This year, the Browns have immediately upgraded their backfield with the additions of quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson. Both are considered some of the most pro-ready prospects of last year's draft class. Weeden would have been taken earlier than 22st overall pick if he wasn't turning 29 this October. Their wide receivers need to get a little more experience under their belt, but they have a lot of young, promising talent between sophomore Greg Little, the aformentioned Josh Gordon, and rookie playmaker Travis Benjamin.
They are weak on the offensive line, where they will probably be starting a second round rookie Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle, and 2011 fifth rounder Jason Pinkston at left guard, who graded out horribly there last year. Their right guard Shawn Lauvao wasn't too good either, with a position-leading 11 penalties called and 7 sacks allowed last year. Their offensive line may be the biggest weakness of their entire team.
The addition of former Bengals defensive end Frostee Rucker helps their run defense a lot, but losing 2011 first round defensive tackle Phil Taylor to an offseason pectoral injury doesn't. Elsewhere on defense, Joe Haden is one of the best young cornerbacks in this league, but they lost one of their starting safeties in free agency, Mike Adams. I don't think their pass defense will take a significant dropoff, but someone else needs to help out defensive end Jabaal Sheard with getting to the quarterback. Sheard had nine sacks as a rookie last year. Lastly, their special teams always brings it with return man Josh Cribbs.
So that's my offseason analysis of the Browns. They really aren't as a bad as every power ranking list seems to have them. They will definitely be in a lot of games this year, and I think they can surprise some people. We are 5-1 against the Browns in the last three years, but don't forget how close the games were in 2011. In week one, the Bengals had punted five straight times and were down 17-14 with four minutes left in the 4th quarter until they quick snapped it to a wide open A.J. Green. They were down 17-7 to the Browns at halftime in week twelve, and they kicked the go-ahead field goal as time expired.
Of course, they're still the Browns. I think we'll still handle them. We match up with their weaknesses well. But, they may take down the Steelers/Ravens a time or two.