Eric Berry: What He Brings To The Team
By Frank Leggio & Laddie Morse
After his performance in recent games, I started thinking about the value Eric Berry brings to the defensive backfield and the Kansas City Chiefs overall. As a result, I decided to team up with Laddie Morse to take a look at Berry and see if we can put this into perspective.
We will be breaking this down into three sections; the numbers, his leadership, and relative comparisons to his player group.
First up, let’s start with his performance from Combine to current via a look at the numbers.
Combine, 2010 Stats
Bench Press – 19 reps, tied for 8th in 2010 (Kevin Ellison 32 reps – 2009)
Vertical Jump – 43 inches, #1 since 2006
40 Yard Dash – 4.47 seconds, tied for 15th since 2006 (TJ Green 4.34 – 2016)
Broad Jump – 130.0 inches, 7th since 2006 (Eric Reid 134.0 inches)
Looking these over it seems that Berry was one of the overall better performers in the combine. A couple of these could be seen as contributing to his ability to intercept passes (vertical jump and 40-yard dash) and close on the opposition to make tackles (40-yard dash, bench press, and broad jump).
Career Statistics (Per Pro Football Reference)
Pro Football Focus 2016 Season Rankings at Safety
– 8th best safety in the league with a 85.6 Overall Rating
– 5th best coverage safety with a 85.9 rating
– 20th best run defense safety with a 81.1 rating
– 10th most snaps amongst safeties
– 2nd best season (89.6 in 2013 was best)
I was a little surprised by these stats based on him being higher on the coverage and lower on the run defense within his position group. I would have thought the other way. His combined stats place him in the Top 10, showing he is fairly well rounded. He is also closing in on his best season record.
Pro Awards / Honors
- Four time Pro Bowler (2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)
- Comeback Player of the Year 2015 (for kicking cancer in 2014)
Berry has been recognized multiple times (4 of 6 opportunities, with the 2 times he missed being the seasons he tore his ACL and was diagnosed with cancer) as a top player in the league. It is fairly tough to earn this once, so earning it every year (accounting for his injury/illness) is phenomenal.
Top off the 4 Pro Bowls with being out of football for most of a year fighting cancer to come back and earn one of these trips to Hawaii and you get Comeback Player of the Year. That must have been a no brainer in the voting.
Historical Rankings- 10 Best Safeties of All Time as rated by Sports CheatSheet
- Ronnie Lott (63 INT, 5 TDs, 17 Fumble Recoveries)
- Ken Houston
- Paul Krause
- Ed Reed
- Troy Polamalu
- Larry Wilson
- Emlen Tunnell
- Steve Atwater
- Willie Wood
- Yale Lary
Hall of Fame
With the Top 10 shown in green and the Hall of Fame shown in blue, we can see the recorded stats on this group, as compared to Berry. The stats in grey were not captured for these players. I have also added a line for Berry that shows what his stats would extrapolate to, if he plays the average number of games of the group.
A quick look shows Berry would have more tackles than Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, and Aeneas Williams. He would have more sacks than everyone except Rod Woodson (who played 60 more games) and Troy Polamalu (tied, but Troy played fewer games). Passes Defensed is less than Ed Reed and tied with Polamalu (again, fewer games), but way more than Aeneas Williams and Rod Woodson (even with them having way more games).
Where Berry falls short is in the turnover department. At his current pace, he isn’t in the same league for number of INTs or FRs, but he has done a lot more than most with the ones he did get. He has returned 1 of every 3 INTs for a touchdown, compared with 1 of every 11-13. He also gains a lot more yards per INT than the rest of the group, 26.5 vs about 16, and FR, 12 vs 6.5.
So, while Eric Berry is in the upper echelon of the safeties in the league (probably since it began), he still isn’t quite Top 10 or HOF level yet. If he puts together several more seasons on par or better than his best season to date, then maybe he will be.
“Berry has a supreme blend of strength and athleticism for a defensive back. One of college football’s most productive players during the last three seasons. Is a very smart defender who displays outstanding instincts. Has a tremendous range when playing the run or pass. Very aggressive coming up in run support. Has the leadership qualities to mold into a future team captain.”
“Not many areas of concern with Berry. Front offices must check shoulder surgery. Only possesses average size for a safety at the next level but plays bigger than his listed measurables.”
“He was a possessed man,” Marcus Peters said. “He wasn’t gonna stop. He was gonna score, one way or another.” on Eric Berry coming out of half time in the Carolina Panthers game.
“He kind of lives by ‘If you want some, come get some,'” coach Andy Reid said. “I mean, that’s what he lives by; that’s how he handles practice. He’s out there every day. He doesn’t miss practice; he doesn’t miss workouts. He’s going to challenge every play. That’s his mode. He doesn’t care if it’s practice; he doesn’t care if it’s a game. That’s what he does and guys like that. I think, in a simple package, that’s what he’s all about.” – Interview in 2013
“I hate saying you expect that from him, but he just wills himself like no other,” coach Andy Reid said. “You saw that when he defeated cancer; you saw it here.
“That’s just his mentality. It’s unbelievable.” after the Carolina Panthers game.
As A Mentor
“I just told him to be smart,” Berry said after the game. “That was a big play that we made. It was a great play, so clutch, so on time. The punt, luckily it was five yards. It could’ve been 15 yards. It could’ve put us in a bad situation. I want to get him to think further in the moment. I want him to think about the consequences of what happens after that. He did a great job of getting the ball. I was so glad it was a five-yard penalty and not a 15-yard penalty because that could have shifted the game even more. We always talk about accountability. It’s not about yourself. He says that to me all the time. We’re out there for each other. Sometimes you have to put yourself to the side and do it for your teammate.”
As I read through those quotes, I could see how Eric Berry inspires confidence in his teammates and coaches. He sets an example for the highest level of play and, when he doesn’t see it, he takes it upon himself to lead by example and peer coach his teammates.
Players like this become the secret sauce in a championship run. They make the impossible possible. The two games where the Chiefs came back from 17+ point deficits reminded me of the team across the parking lot during their 2015 championship run. Several times they seemed to be down and in an impossible situation only to pull out the victory. In post game interviews you would hear how one player or another did something to fire up the team and start chipping away with the small ball game. Let’s hope Berry and some of the other team leaders are ready if we make it to the playoffs.
~ ~ ~
When Frank approached me about teaming up to write a piece on Eric Berry I was thrilled. The last time I teamed up with another writer was to debate Stacy Smith, Reach, on the subject of whether or not the Chiefs new ILB Nico Johnson was a good choice. While I might concede that Stacy won that debate… I won the argument… and the Chiefs lost out in the long run. Hopefully, between Frank and myself, we can say what needs to be said about one of the Chiefs best Safeties ever, Mr. Eric Berry.
Eric Berry’s Weaknesses
Let’s begin with Eric Berry’s weaknesses. This is a short list and really the only weakness he has is, covering taller WRs and TEs. Many will cite his work against Antonio Gates as an example as the glaring hole in his game but the reality is, no one does well when covering the future Hall of Famer Gates. There are times that the Chiefs other Safety stays in coverage while Berry trolls like an extra linebacker.
Eric Berry’s Strengths
While you might think Eric Berry’s skill set begins and ends with his ability to stop the run, I’d say his football proficiency begins with his intuition. You can scan back over one game after another and read storylines like: “Berry sniffs out the play,” or “Berry blows up the runner in the backfield” or “BE gets there before the ball carrier.” Sometimes his ability to read a play is just plain spooky, as if he’d memorized the other team’s gameplan or had a headset connected to the other team’s OC.
No one can deny Berry’s athletic prowess. There are times he’s able to get small and squeeze through a hole between linemen then make a play. ILB Derrick has this ability but Berry often seems to make his play at the opportune moment.
Eric Berry is equally skilled as a tackler as he is a big hitter.
Comparing Berry to Other Chiefs Safeties
When you look at the overall contributions of the Safeties that John Dorsey has brought in like Quintin Demps, Kurt Coleman, Tyvon Branch, Husain Abdullah as well as the long-term deal he gave Ron Parker you’d be hard pressed to say the Chiefs fear they won’t be able to find a “good enough” replacement. Why would they want to pay Berry more than twice the amount they are paying Ron Parker? It’s hard to justify, even with all the upside of Berry’s character and inspiration. Of course, all bets are off if Berry has a pick-6 to win the Super Bowl. In that case, how do you not pay Eric Berry?
Comparing Berry to other Chiefs Players
This next offseason John Dorsey has some hard decisions to make: does he find a way to keep both Eric Berry and Dontari Poe? The Chiefs philosophy appears to be “build up front” first and foremost and fill in around that. In that case, Berry appears to perhaps be the odd man out. However, many think that Dorsey drafted DL Chris Jones to be Dontari Poe’s replacement in the event that Poe wanted to max out a contract because handing out Max deals to any player is not what Dorsey seems to be about.
In the long run, it appears that Dorsey has hedged his bets with Jones and gives him a bit of leverage in the Poe negotiations.
Reeling in Both Poe and Berry
It would seem obvious that the Chiefs would like to keep both Poe and Berry but even if they could do that, it may be unlikely that they do since it would tie up too many dollars in those two spots. My prediction is that even though Eric Berry is a transcendent player, he’s the odd man out.
The 2017 Draft
Recently, Connor Rogers wrote a post for fanragsports.com called, “2017 NFL Draft is loaded with
Playmaking Safeties” in which he said,
“There has been a drought in recent years for NFL franchises trying to find playmaking safeties through the draft. The last great class was in 2010, which included Eric Berry, Earl Thomas, Devin McCourty, T.J. Ward and Kam Chancellor (not a bad haul for the Seahawks). While over half a decade has passed, it’s looking like the 2017 class could be a great year to add help on the back end.”
Connor Rogers lists five safeties to focus on: Jamal Adams out of LSU, Jabrill Peppers from Michigan, Malik Hooker of Ohio State, Justin Evans- Texas A&M and Budda Baker at Washington State. I’m familiar with all of them and although Baker is the only one without the ideal size to be a playmaking safety, you would be wrong about him to assume he won’t be very good in the NFL as one publication compares him to the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu.
Knowing what we know about all the different safeties that John Dorsey has brought in so far, it should take no one by surprise to see the Chiefs take a safety in the first two rounds of the upcoming draft, especially if he can project one of these five outstanding safety prospects to one of his picks.
Post-Win in Denver
Someone commented that Eric Berry willed the Chiefs to victory in Denver. His show of big hit pure consistency of hitting may draw him a penalty or two from the league but he clearly set a tone by making players pay when they crossed the middle of the Chiefs defense. While I’ve stated above that Berry may be the odd man out, it’s difficult to think about Eric Berry wearing another team’s uniform at any time in the future. However, Tony Gonzalez was last seen wearing a Falcon on his helmet and if a future hall of famer can do it… I guess Berry can too. In any event, it will be painful if it happens.
Let us know what you think Chiefs fans.