As you know sickeningly well by now I'm a big fan of Pro Football Focus and the grading that they do. It offers a unique look into how the players stack up against each other across the league. In this first segment of two we'll look at how the offense did this year. In case you are curious about my same write up last season, since I do this every year, you can check it out here.
Here's how the Saints' offensive players fared in 2012:
QB – Drew Brees finished the year rated the 4th best quarterback in the league, despite what most of us would deem a down year. That's not quite 1st place, which is what he had last year, but still a very solid showing. Only Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady graded higher. I'm sure you've heard of those guys before.
WR – The best graded receiver was Lance Moore with a 12.8 rating, good for 17th best overall. Devery Henderson rated a woeful 104th out of 105 graded receivers. Joe Morgan rated 43rd and Marques Colston was 46th, both middle of the pack, so it wasn't a good year for the Saints receivers. Colston's blocking rated 103rd out of 105, and funny enough former Saint Robert Meachem had the second worst catching % in the entire league. Guess we don't miss him. I also noticed that the two longest receptions of the year (95 by Vincent Jackson and 88 by Pierre Garcon) both came against the Saints. Finally, Colston tied for the league lead with 3 fumbles. Not too impressive.
HB – After grading out as the 3rd best back in the entire league last year, Pierre Thomas only dropped one spot to 4th with a 16.5 rating. He was only behind Adrian Peterson, C. J. Spiller and Alfred Morris and was just ahead of Marshawn Lynch. That's how efficient his performances continue to be. Darren Sproles also turned in a solid year grading out as 15th best in the NFL at that position. Mark Ingram was graded 32nd out of 59 players, and Chris Ivory didn't qualify. Interestingly Ingram was rated as the 7th worst blocker, suggesting his pass protection still has a ways to go. Sproles, PT and Ingram all three tied for 1st place with no fumbles on the year, which is an unbelievable stat. A pretty solid year for the backs.
FB – After being rated the #2 overall fullback last year and the #1 blocker, Jed Collins fell to #8 overall this year. While he wasn't as good, that's still solid. He was also rated the 7th best blocker out of 25 graded players.
TE - Jimmy Graham was second overall last year but no such luck this year. He still ranked 10th out of 62, though, which is higher than I would have expected. Most of that is thanks to a huge improvement in the blocking scores from last year. He led all tight ends with dropped pass (15) and the next had five less. David Thomas graded 47th out of 62 and didn't contribute much positive.
T – Once again PFF agreed with me that Jermon Bushrod's trip to the Pro Bowl was not justified, as he came in with a rating of 44th best out of 80 players graded. Zach Strief ranked 49th though he played through injury most of the year which can explain that. After being ranked 15th and 8th last year, the drop off is significant and it's fair to say this was a poor year for Saints' edge blocking.
G – This was a solid showing as Ben Grubbs came in 7th overall and Jahri Evans came in 8th. They were both within fractions of a point from each other. That's out of 81 qualified graded players. I think it's safe to say the interior of the line carried the Saints' blocking all year long. Both players were balanced throughout with positive grades in each aspect, with Jahri Evans being rated as the 4th best pass blocker all year. He was one of twelve guards to not yield a sack all season. Evans was also rated as the #1 screen pass blocker in the entire league.
C – Shockingly, Brian de la Puente fared far better than I could have ever imagined. Indeed, he was 2nd overall in the entire league out of 36 centers. Only John Sullivan of the Vikings was better. Former Saints Jonathan Goodwin and Jeff Faine ranked 10th and dead last at 36, respectively. BDLP was solid in all areas which led to his high grade, but most impressive was that he ranked #1 in screen pass blocking.
The drop off the Saints had from the best offense in history was expected, it was going to be almost impossible to replicate that and without Sean Payton it was even tougher. I think mostly to blame is the poor performance of the receivers and tackles. Elsewhere, the Saints are still getting fantastic production out of their interior blocking, their backs, and their quarterback. Jimmy Graham needs to rebound from the slump he had this year but I see the Saints bouncing back. Still, the receiver and tackle play is a bit of a concern. Otherwise, the offense is a well oiled machine that continues to perform at a high level. With a couplesmall tweaks next year they should be still very strong. I'd like to see speed at receiver, and better depth at both tackle and tight end.