No Stone Left Unturned: An Evaluation of The Aggregate Secondary

 

 

 

No Stone Left Unturned: An Evaluation of The Aggregate Secondary

David Bell

 

 

Last week, I took a look at the Linebackers. This week, I am getting the myopic vision aimed at the secondary. I mentioned in comments that I would have wished to have delayed that piece for another week with all that has happened including the trade of DJ Alexander. Here is Veach’s first mistake and the first real decision out of the gate. I dislike saying this but Alexander’s strength improvement on a 6’2″ frame was the new genre look of NFL Linebackers. I am not opposed so much to the trade, but….

 

My viewpoint about this has a single exposure – the CB opposite Marcus Peters. First, you can see among the starters that we have probably two future Hall of Fame players: Eric Berry and Marcus Peters. Both are game changers. Either is likely to make a play that wins one in the post season for the Chiefs. Together we have two players about whom there is no question of their ability nor their purpose on the roster.

So Let’s grade things out, using the construct of:

  • more than acceptable plays a significant role.
  • Acceptable – for me, this means that the player is more than a journeyman and fits the defense for Bob Sutton a role player for the defense at the very least.
  • less than acceptable — your basic journeyman or a wait-n-see’ player; a player who has yet to do much but play the position at the minimally acceptable level. Here experience is a factor, young players, or players who are fulfilling a need for a season or maybe two but will never figure into the big picture of the future. Such players are filling the need on Special Teams for example.
  • unknown — youth, players who are trying to move up skill-wise, or who are rookies or signed players. They are trying to make a team.

 

 

 

What I am not interested is the bedevilment dealing with, oh, we don’t have a pro-bowler at all 4 positions for example. My ranking takes into account the ratings of the folks  over at PFF but is not dependent upon them. It includes views from Rogue Analytics as well.

Overall, I am serious about this group of players being one of the best in the NFL. I think it is very deep. Here is my view of the groupings.

There are other crucial elements to this players list: Sorensen, for one, and I want to pay particular notice of the development over 2 years for players such as Eric Murray.

Last week I covered Linebackers, noting a weakness or exposure on the inside. As I write this piece, the Chiefs traded away DJ Alexander for Seattle LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (6-0, 230, Boston College and drafted in 2014). He had 40 plus tackles over 3 seasons with Seattle.

More than acceptable (leadership, playmaker, physical, speed)

Eric Berry (SS) – extremely versatile, playmaker, team leader, leads the way in multiple positions and especially in run support. Berry had 62 tackles and 15 assisted in run support. He had 4 interceptions, 2 TDs and 1 forced fumble. Berry plays the game and commands the rear end of the defense.

We all know who and what Eric Berry is and what to expect from him. He is highly admirable and it’s still #29Strong

 

 

Marcus Peters (CB) – extremely versatile, strong player, playmaker, showing signs of leadership. PFF him 11th among CBs. His numbers were:

Overall    Coverage   Run Defense

  84.5         84.2            83.7

 

 

These rankings cannot factor in what Peters accomplished in 2 seasons: He has the most picks of any DB in the NFL over a 2 year span. In 2015, on his first play from scrimmage, Peters had an INT v the Texans. But the basic numbers above don’t tell the whole story.

CHARLOTTE, NC – NOVEMBER 13: Eric Berry #29 congratulates teammate Marcus Peters #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs after his forced fumble in the 4th quarter against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

 

 

In 2016, Peters ranked first among cornerbacks in the AFC West in PFF’s playmaker ( Percentage of targets defensed or intercepted), Peters led all CBs and Safeties with a 19.5 percent rating.

 

To go a bit deeper, Marcus Peters had 26 passes defended, which set a KC Chiefs single season record. He only had 6 interceptions in 2016 compared to 8 in 2015. He had 45 tackles, 1 forced fumble and 3 recovered.  Those are good numbers all around. Good doesn’t say enough. Further, Peters  he made defenses choose to go elsewhere when targeting a receiver.

 

Ron Parker(FS) – Versatile, length, strong player – showing more and more signs of maturity in the game, improving run support.  In 2016 he had 52 Solo tackles, 61 over-all. His single INT is low for him. He had 3 Forced Fumbles. Ron Parker doesn’t play at an elite level but he has 2 other players in the secondary which allows him to break plays from a different view of the opposing offenses.

 

 

Parker provides a steady hand at Safety where he found his nitch. Is he going to be a pro bowler? Probably not. But he is a solid safety playing next to Eric Berry. To adjust my thinking on how the Chiefs field the defense, look for Daniel Sorensen’s snaps in this role too.

 

From the above three players of the four starting role positions, the Chiefs have the key players to play superior defense v the pass, and the defense at the 2nd level against the run, leaving basically two player positions in the secondary that are below this category. The basic roles would be the 3rd safety and 3rd CB(Nickel and Dime).  Of the greatest import here is the man in the slot and this is where I would like to see Gaines take over, last a whole season without injury.

 

Now to the meat of the matter. I am moving Mitchell to this list.

 

Terrance Mitchell(CB)in 2016, Mitchell was suddenly thrust into a larger role for the Chiefs at CB. Late in the season he had proven himself capable and played well enough to be a starter. The third year pro of 2016 must now prove it in his fourth. He must continue to demonstrate his shutdown ability and if he does, the Chiefs position is so strong in secondary defense, that it should be approaching a top 5 ranking — and certainly in my estimation, will be up in the top 10.

 

 

Mitchell has found a fit in the KC secondary and late in 2016 he proved it. As noted above, he must come out and add to what he brought to the field last year. Here is why I think he found the right defense, with the right compatriots with the right defensive Coordinator and DB coaching.

 

 

This work came from Seth Keysor. Mitchell has enough speed but is very quick and agile and has quick feet as Keysor observes. He plays well in press man coverage and played well in the zone as well. What I think happened is that he came into his own with the Chiefs. The 3-cone drill at the combine is one of the most important measurement exercises of import to linebackers and corners. He led in the 3-cone drill in 2014’s combine. It appears to me that John Dorsey and Co found the right guy and reeled him in. I am pretty confident in making Mitchell part of a stable package for corners and safeties for the Kingdom.

 

Below are the remainder of the package as I see it.The best advantage for the Chiefs is that Gaines plays a complete season and takes over the role as the 3rd starting CB for the slot. But that might be Nelson or Murray as well. The list of new-comers and other players who are invited to camp and this category is last, that Daniel Sorensen continue to develop into a playmaker. Nelson and Mitchell are players who are happening for KC.

 

When I think of hybrid, the more I see Daniel Sorensen in that role. He played up at linebacker, he did press man coverage, played zone and center-fielder for the Chiefs AND made plays.

 

Acceptable(at the very least a player, Journeyman and +, or Wait’n-see)

Daniel Sorensen (S) (JoAT)–Extremely intelligent playmaker type who is versatile enough to play LB, reads the play and the ball as well as any of the players in the secondary. Good fit for the Chiefs as a hybrid, do everything player. Clearly not as fast as other players, fits well zoned up. I regard  Sorensen as a big contributor to the overall secondary defensive effort, as a #3 CB & Hybrid and even the speed LB which is a role that he significantly fulfilled in 2016. Demonstrates leadership. 

Jan 1, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Daniel Sorensen (center) intercepts a pass as cornerback Marcus Peters (22) assists in defending San Diego Chargers wide receiver Isaiah Burse (89) during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

 

 

 

I like this player very much. He brings ball moxie and Mr. Football to the Chiefs secondary. I need to see growth  for the safety position to consider him for the higher category but one thing I am sure of: he is a student of the game, he reads plays and plays the ball and that is why he is always around it.  

 

Where I see Dan Sorensen fit is the oft unknown player who does a lot of things well. That position is the JoAT (Jack of All Trades). Think on that for awhile. With the defense behind the front three awash, Sorensen moved up and stuck his body in there. At that position he was highly quick to the ball. Then he played the corner and nickel role as well as both safety functions. I like Dan Sorensen enough to almost put him up in the first category. I will wait and see this season but i think he fits.

 

Steven Nelson (CB)Nelson played outside, inside, and slot defense in 2016. It is my view that his skill set is deep enough to be a consistent contributor to the defense I think he will compete for the CB starting role opposite Peters (along with Mitchell). With Peters and Mitchell holding down the corners, Nelson, if the situation isn’t reversed, can take on the role of the 3rd corner (slot). Nelson has to prove it in 2017 to move up, but here is the nice thing about it: I think Nelson is indeed going to have that type of season, which would mean he is getting a lot of snaps.

 

I expect KC’s secondary to rank among the top 5. Where is our question? I really have two. Can Ron Parker do more and #2 Safety? Will Phillip Gaines return from injury and play without injury in 2017? For me, if he stays healthy, the Chiefs are going to be one tough secondary.

 

What do I expect? I expect Gaines to play all season and for Nelson to build on what he accomplished in 2016. Next? I expect that Mitchell will fulfill the promise on what he did in 2016. Mitchell’s play, if it were consistent across a season’s worth of snaps, might very well move up to the More than Acceptable category. This again is a player who has to prove it. The shine was on his apple at the end of 2016.

 

Eric Murray (CB) plays strong defense and was used as a “Hybrid” DB. His contribution to the secondary showed a lot of growth in 2016. He, Nelson and Mitchell are going to provide a lot of competition for starter-type snaps for 2017. When Murray came to the Chiefs, I tagged him as well for a more hybrid role in the secondary and I think he proved the point in 2016. Again, his prove-it year to move up a notch. If Murray continues to develop that provides a very nice mix of players with which to build a very tough secondary.

 

Phillip Gaines(CB) – Gaines has shown that he can master the Slot defense and merge his talents with those of his fellow secondary defenders. The problem for Gaines? Staying healthy. This is indeed probably his year to either prove it or be released. He must perform in camp and he faces stiff competition. He is in the ‘Wait-n-See’ category for a reason. His injury problems have been a detriment to his participation and I think he must prove it, or be gone. (PFF’s ranking: 108). What I saw in 2015 told me that he could be a total fit for KC’s defense and then the two seasons each went bust with injury. Now he is being fit with the injury prone label. For Gaines, this is a make it break it type season — forgive any intended double-entendre.

Above, I have highlighted a very capable secondary. It isn’t perfect. There is no team that fields 4 or 5 all-pro DBs for the various positions. What we can say we saw in 2016 was a pretty solid secondary and with all of them mixing and matching with Sutton’s guidance, I think the Secondary will be in the TOP 5.

This brings me to the unknown factor players below.

 

Unknown Factor

This category has new guys and DJ White. . . It is not that I haven’t see DJ Play but just not enough to know what we really have. expertise than my own. He can fit both safety and corner. This one will take much more.

 

DJ White (CB/S/Hybrid) –White is more difficult for me to assess. I have him in the less than acceptable category. Doesn’t mean he can’t play, but he has shown us nothing except on S/T. Can be replaced.

 

Leon McQuay- R-USC (DB) – This is the draftee that showed well outside of the top picks in the NFL Draft. He did not get the NCAA Highlight type focus which may be a blessing. He comes into the Kingdom where his competition is very steep. We will see but he will likely make the 63 man roster at worse.

 

Others: Devaunte Bausby(DB)Gorilla—rah-rah, okay, Pittsburg St. ), Keith Baxter (DB) -Marshall); Ashton Lampkin(DB) -R-OSU; Trevon Harfield(DB) –R–SWOkla.St), JR Nelson(DB) – -DB, Montana; Steven Terrell(DB) – R TA&M; Jordan Sterns(DB) – R- OSU.

 

That concludes my aggregate view of the defensive secondary. The Chiefs have some fine players and others who are more than just S/Ts. They excel as a group with Bob Sutton’s defense but I think too little is said about the DB coaching of Al Harris and Emmitt Thomas. Those two are a big factor in the success of the DBs as a group and the reason the Chiefs have a good feed of emerging players.

 

 

 

 

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    only Ron Parker and Eric Berry played more defensive snaps than Nelson in 2016 but there is a catch also. Berry=97.2% of total defensive plays, Parker 98.2% and Nelson comes in at 90.85%….but Nelson also played in 26.12% of ST’s snaps also, Parker was in on 2.68% and Berry played no STs plays.
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      L&L observes snaps and I think Berry had 1072 in 2016. Can’t recall Parker. Parker for me is a very solid player opposite Berry. What I want to know is, who gets the other side from Peters. I am pretty confident in Mitchell. Then it leaves the slot as he notes. Gaines is probably a slot only player but Nelson is far more versatile. We’ll see how this unfolds.

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