Pro Football Focus has its loyal followers and its critics. Any time you create a formula that goes farther beyond normal statistics that’s sure to happen. But, at the end of the day, whether you like it or not, grading these NFL players on a play-by-play basis means that someone is watching every move they make. Even if the grades can vary slightly by the different staff members who grade them, that’s still worth noting and reading.
In 2016, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a few players who were highly praised by Pro Football Focus. The first was defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
McCoy, despite being the team’s defensive leader since he was drafted in 2010, has had his own fair share of critics since he has yet to record double digit sacks in a single season. However, there’s more to playing defensive line than just being the last one to record a tackle behind the line (a sack).
According to PFF, McCoy recorded the most quarterback pressures in a single week of any defensive tackle from the entire season in Week 7 versus San Francisco. A quarterback pressure is simply any kind of disruption on the pocket that would force a quarterback to move or be uncomfortable when trying to throw. This is often a much better representation of actual production than just looking at sacks. For example, there are plenty of times where McCoy is the first defensive lineman to break through the trench and forcing the quarterback to run away> however, this often makes the QB run into a different defensive player who actually gets the sack.
It’s a team effort to get stops behind the line, and McCoy is still the leader of the pass rushing team.
The next player who received high praise was cornerback Brent Grimes.
For a player over 30 years old, Grimes seems certainly still at the top of his NFL game.
In Week 17 against the Carolina Panthers, Grimes was given a grade that ended up being the highest grade of any cornerback in the 2016 season. He also was stellar, both athletically and with awareness, when facing double moves – routes that often get cornerback put on a wide receiver’s highlight reel.
Best CB defending the double-move in 2016 (min. three targeted routes): Brent Grimes, Buccaneers
Grimes dominated receivers on double-moves. He did not allow a single reception on five such attempts into his coverage area, giving QBs a 39.6 rating when targeting Grimes, tied for lowest in the league. Grimes had deep responsibilities on all five of his double-move targets. On one play he was the man defender, while on the other four he had deep-zone responsibilities. Grimes broke up three of the five passes on his way to earning the highest PFF grade for any corner versus double-moves. Grimes did a good job sticking to his man for a long time, as the average time to throw when he was targeted on double-moves was 2.76 seconds, 0.07 seconds above the league average.
Grimes was also the fourth highest graded corner for the entire 2016 season. It’s safe to say that age is merely just a number with the Buccaneers’ No. 1 corner.
Finally, there was wide receiver Mike Evans.
By now I’m sure you’ve heard that the Buccaneers were the only team in the NFL to not have a touchdown play longer than 50 yards last season. However, that wasn’t from lack of trying.
According to PFF, Evans, who isn’t even noted as a top deep threat receiver – though he certainly can be – led the NFL in targets of 20 or more yards.
Evans’ usage was very unique last season, and should be better used this season with the addition of wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin, as well as tight end O.J. Howard. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t see his fair share of 20-yard deep passes, too. It’s good to know the team trusts him to win all over the field.