How does 3000 yards sound? - Jamie Squire
The Vikings offense is described as a run-first first offense, which could explain why receivers aren't jumping at the chance to play in Minnesota.. But the Vikings ran fewer than 50% of their plays on the ground. Sounds like a problem in need of a solution.
The Minnesota Vikings have one of the best running back corps in the league. With an All-Pro fullback and an emerging H-back who could be even better at lead blocking, along with two of the best run-blocking linemen in the league.
So when you have Adrian Peterson toting the rock, Jerome Felton plunging through a line carried by John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt and Rhett Ellison at the second level, what do you do? Apparently you run at the fifth-highest rate in the National Football League (according to the data at Pro-Football-Reference).
Given that the Vikings had some of the worst quarterback play in the league, along with the most mediocre receiving corps outside of Miami, one would think they would have been a little bit more committed to the run.
They still did well enough to make it to the playoffs, on the back of one of the best running seasons ever produced by a running back in the National Football League.
So, how do they make it better?
Bill Belichick has consistently operated on a principle of emphasizing strengths and hiding weaknesses. That doesn't mean refusing to shore up problem areas, but designing plays around what the team can do.
And if the Vikings are the best running team in football, what better way than to shift to a real run-first offense. The most pass-happy teams will fling the ball through the air 65 percent of the time. If the Vikings were to flip the equation, they would not just be harkening back to the dead ball era of football.
In 1971, 54% of all plays run from scrimmage were runs. In 2012, it became 43%. In 1941, it was 64%.
But that doesn't mean the NFL has slowly been moving towards a more pass-happy league. It has historically been cyclical: in 1961, half of all plays were pass plays. Between the '40s and the '70s, the NFL found that advancing the ball through the air was the optimal strategy, then for some reason stopped.
Between 1984 and 2012, where run/pass balance was nearly identical, teams once again looked towards the run game in order to win. In between, there was a slight regression towards more run-happy play.
Brian Burke at AdvancedNFLStats has produced this graph demonstrating the progression of running and passing in the NFL:
While the rule changes and the 1983 quarterback class have accelerated and seemed to have made permanent the prevalence of passing offenses in the NFL, there's always opportunity to change.
While defensive linemen have gotten heavier over the years, so have interior linemen. More to the point, offensive linemen have gained size at a rate fare faster than the people they block. Since 1970, linebackers have grown 5% while guards have grown 20%. Defensive tackles have grown 15% and offensive tackles have grown 19%.
It's time to punish defenses for preferring finesse to power.
With that in mind, the Vikings are in a perfect spot to test the NFL's commitment to stopping the pass. Their offense and personnel will need to adjust, but they've created a situation perfect for them to readjust the NFL's defensive paradigms. When teams have been placing an emphasis on nickel corners, the Vikings will be forcing teams to play 5-person fronts.
So, how do the Vikings move to an even more run-oriented offense?
They could take lessons from the past, of course. And who better to preserve the hallmarks of our great American past time (sorry, baseball) than our hallowed military institutions? Army and Navy—along with Georgia Tech—run an extremely efficient flexbone offense with option plays, power runs and screens to keep defenses honest.
But beyond the simple flexbone or double wing that you see high schools run, the offenses at these institutions are much more complex—you won't see the wedge, for example, on every play.
The quarterback is lined up in the pistol (four yards back) with the halfback just a few yards further back. Alternatively, the quarterback can line up under center with the halfback only four yards from the line of scrimmage. The slotbacks (SB) will occasionally act as tight ends and engage in zone blocking—this makes it no different from a normal running set.
In other sets, the slotbacks will motion across the formation and can be ready to take handoffs, especially on option plays where the QB will decide between himself, the halfback or the motion slotback. There are also plays without a true "triple option" that become pitch options—the quarterback and the halfback will roll out to the weakside while the motioning slotback will move towards the strong side of the play. The QB makes two decisions: one on whether or not to keep the ball instead of giving it to the slotback and roll out with the HB, and (if he keeps the ball) whether or not to pitch the ball out.
Here's Georgia Tech abusing Miami with it:
There are any number of runs that can come out of the formation, but those are the base plays. The wide receivers will generally block downfield, but will also release on different plays in order to find space when the quarterback rolls out. The playside receiver will have to improvise the route, but will normally run an out, while the far side receiver should drag in.
The slotbacks will release like any other running play, but can turn into pass catchers at a moment's notice.
The best part about the offense are the counters. Consider the rocket sweep:
Then its counter:
What a way to put playmakers in space. Because the rocket sweep occurs faster than its cousin the jet sweep (something you see as a standby in the Wildcat), you don't need a speed demon to put a playmaker in space. Orwin Smith is projected to run a 4.56 40, for example.
The Vikings don't need to invest in a single offensive set in order to maintain a strong running game, however. They could bring back, for example, the Maryland I—a set with two lead blockers and a halfback or two halfbacks and a fullback, depending on the flavor of the I. The other two skill players are tight ends snug against the line.
Running sets out of the Maryland I will also give the Vikings the opportunity to motion into or out of wishbone, inverted wishbone/full house, and jumbo sets.
What's interesting about this is that you can either play to have two lead blockers, run multiple routes out of the backfield or engage in some very clever counters. For example, a fullback could lead, with the next two running backs countering out away from the fullback. Lead blockers going in two directions could also provide the offense with some deception, despite the offense's reputation for power.
Having a tight end like Kyle Rudolph is very useful, because they can become primary pass targets, given that Rudolph has the capability of lining up outside or in the slot. Splitting the tight ends out and moving a fullback in-line (say Rhett Ellison was initially the lead blocker, then moved inline, you'd have spread the defense out a little bit—sometimes worth more in the run game than simply having the most blockers).
But make no mistake, it's hat-on-hat football. We're punishing defenses for preferring finesse, remember?
The Maryland I transitions well to the Wishbone given that the personnel can be the same. One halfback mereley moves to one side while the other takes a step back and moves to the other.
The wishbone is designed to enable an option-based offense, working off of principles developed in the original triple-option veer offense. Even without a running quarterback, there are a number of option principles the Vikings would be able to implement in the Wishbone and Maryland I—reading during a handoff to one halfback produce a pitch for the other halfback, for example:
Here, the quarterback reads the middle linebacker (who goes unblocked in this play) to determine if he's chasing the halfback running the sweep or the dive. If the Mike pulls out, the ball goes to the halfback running behind the fullback. If the Mike crashes down, the quarterback pitches outside. The default option is to run up the gut, so that the fullback can be fully utilized as a blocker. The option would act as a constraint on the original play.
They could just as easily do this in a zone-blocking run as well.
Here, the fullback and the strong side halfback—likely the faster of the two—will run a stretch run to the outside. The quarterback will read the safeties to see which way they bait themselves. If both move to playside action, then the quarterback retracts the ball at the mesh point and spins out to pitch it to the weak side halfback, who is running a counter to the outside. Again, the sweep is a constraint play against the base play of the stretch run to the weakside.
You can even run some of the same plays out of the three base formations the Vikings would be using in this plan, like a basic veer.
In each of these cases, the quarterback is reading the defensive tackle above the playside guard. The guard moves up to take on the strong-side linebacker while the defensive tackle goes unblocked. The first option is to the halfback going underneath the defensive tackle. If the DT hones in on the halfback, the quarterback will pull back and pitch it to the outside runner.
In the flexbone variant of this play, the slotback might begin his motion before the snap starts in order to get to the edge faster. This should pull the defense away from the halfback going up the gut.
There are any number of plays that one can describe with these offenses, but the point is that these three sets are specifically designed to leverage power in the running game by matching blockers to blockers. Here, the attempt was to combine power football with deception. Teams that have a tendency to run also have the tendency to inject variety into their run game, and this is no different. Not only will the Vikings have the ability to crowd the point of attack at any gap, they'll be able to leverage their own tendencies against defenses.
The fourth base set will be the inverted wishbone, which is also called the "full house" formation and the diamond formation.
The primary philosophical switch from the wishbone to its inverted variant is sacrificing options for versatility. This sacrifice is not nearly so large with running fullbacks, something the Vikings might want to employ slightly more regularly.
But what it loses in deception as a result of sacrificing some option plays, it gains in creating confusion—the defense cannot cheat to one side or the other, even with a tight end on the field to signal which side is the "strong side" given that excessive defensive adjustment will give the offense a big numbers advantage in blocking.
Here, the offense has forced the strong safety into the box and has walled off every defender except the free safety in the backfield. The FS is frozen because it doesn't know whether or not to follow the decoy lead fullback (who takes on the strong safety) or the actual lead fullback (taking on the middle linebacker):
And of course, there are plays that emulate the veer and other options. One great advantage to this formation is how often one can pass out of it because of how it stacks the box. While the Maryland I clogs things up and complicates routes, the inverted wishbone is spaced out enough to flood zones and set receivers free:
The tight end and halfback are flooding the flats while they and the strong-side fullback are hoping to force the free safety to stay home. The split end is running up the field, either dragging a corner (if so, the weak-side fullback is free to catch on the wheel route) or challenging a deep safety—which is likely a strong safety that has to turn around and play catch up as a result of entering the box.
The strong-side fullback will enter the seam both to challenge the free safety (and prevent him from dealing with the split end) and to draw a linebacker. At the break, the fullback comes back in order to create a checkdown for the quarterback.
Both the wishbone and inverted wishbone also have the opportunity to create interesting zone runs, with one fullback cleaning up the back side of the play on the edge and the other one leading or motioning a fullback to stand pat behind a guard to create two lead blockers.
And of course, you can run the bastardized veer (so-bastardized because the quarterback isn't running) I drew up above:
The pitch will be to the trailing fullback if the read of the defensive tackle leads to crashing down on the halfback. The quarterback will be dropping back to meet the halfback in order to give him time to pull back and pitch should the defensive tackle target him. More often than not, the halfback will have an advantage, especially because it will be Adrian Peterson.
Finally, the last base personnel set will be designed to optimize the Wing-T, an offense Christian Ponder ran in high school, before switching to a spread offense.
The Wing-T was developed as a way to implement the complex blocking schemes of the Single Wing offense (the modern version of which is the Wildcat) with the versatility of the T—an offense responsible for the most lopsided game in NFL history.
Here, the Wing-T will of course draw upon its historical strengths—isolating receivers because of coverage, a shifty wingback to change the run game and using power at the point of attack, but it will also draw lessons from the I-bone developed at Colorado and Nebraska in the early '80s.
The advantage here is that it provides the deception, versatility and complex blocking concepts of the Wing-T while still providing the deception of an option-based offense. More than that, it also disguises the offensive intentions more because the running back can attack anywhere on the line, as opposed to the other 'bone formations, which limits a running back to one half of the line.
The offensive innovations Nebraska installed in their I-bone offense included more versatility from their linemen, including pulling guards and tackles to complicate traditional attacks against zone schemes and option offenses. Because linebackers will read the guards on inside options or zone runs, it also gives the halfback an advantage because the fullback will be blindsiding him from another angle.
These should provide passing options, because the tight end can split out. In this case, the tight end on the field should be a pass-catching tight end, because his blocks won't be nearly as critical and the Wing-T needs a few pass-catchers on the field in order to enable the offense. The wing back will be the checkdown option, and should also be capable of jet sweeps in order to keep the defense on edge.
The philosophy of all of these sets is to "run to set up the pass, which will set up another run."
The offense has a number of base plays, the majority of which are runs. The constraint plays will include play-action passing to split ends and tight ends, options to pitches and sweeps on the outside, triple-option plays with the quarterback ready to run and passes to flood zones, in order to force defenses into man coverage.
The final advantage to all of these similar, yet diverse, formations is that the Vikings already implement a lot of the blocking fundamentals for offensive linemen, anyway. In fact, the demands of the Vikings offensive linemen are somewhat unique, matched only by the complexity of the San Francisco 49ers, the Atlanta Falcons (which does some crazy stuff with their linemen on both sides of the ball), the 2012 Bills, and the late-season Seahawks (one of many reasons the NFC West run game is going to be fascinating this year).
This is one reason I could be very wrong in my somewhat vocal criticisms of overpaying Phil Loadholt—there might not be many right tackles who have fully absorbed this complex system or can meet all of the demands in the run game, given its versatility.
This approach has some unique roster requirements. The key to the offense is to take advantage of defensive sets that are willing to sell out against the run by flexing out of the base formation and putting three eligible receivers on the line. That will require versatility from the tight ends and pass-catching capability from most of the running backs.
They wouldn't entirely eschew receivers, of course. The Wing-T set and both versions of the Wishbone are built to have receivers on the field. Ideally, each receiver would also be able to take spot duty running out of the backfield—the offense will rely heavily on motions to disguise intentions, and occasionally, the receiver will line up to take the pitch outside.
In general, the Vikings will need four running backs—three to take a significant amount of carries, although the first two will handle most of the load. The offense is expected to run around 600-650 times over the course of the season. Generally, the top running back will be expected to take 330 carries, the second running back around 150 and the third running back around 100 times. Receivers, the quarterback, fullbacks and tight ends will be asked to take runs every so often, perhaps 30 or so times in a season.
Either the second or third running back should possess speed to provide a change-of-pace and prevent defense from responding to the option with assignment football, The base zone blocking scheme should complicate that anyways. Even in power/man blocking schemes there are ways to get around this, including using the versatile and quick slotbacks and tight ends in different ways on similar plays.Changing who they block will make assignment football difficult for defenses.
With those four running backs, the Vikings will need one primary fullback and two H-backs. The fullback will be expected to lead block and be ready to run routes out of the backfield while the H-backs will be expected to do that as well as block in-line and even run a limited set of routes off the line of scrimmage, including short curls, leaks into the flat and drag routes underneath the defense. The H-backs will occasionally be asked to run.
The Vikings, in addition to the H-backs (who would be listed as tight ends), need two tight ends, one of whom should take significant snaps. At least one H-back and one tight end should be comfortable performing receiver duties at a moment's notice,
With that, they should roster four receivers, only one of whom will take significant snaps. The Vikings should be willing to put at least three on the field at once, but that should be rare.
The fact that they can score from range with Blair Walsh should make this offense productive, even if it isn't potent.
So how do they do it?
Before filling out the roster, the Vikings need to understand that the defense will need to complement the offense. That means they need to continue the philosophy of limiting the total number of possessions and preventing quick-strike big plays. They might even need to sacrifice their ability to defend the run to some degree in order to prevent offenses from doing to them what the Vikings offense won't be able to do in return.
The Tampa-2 philosophy is perfect for this, as it is designed to force offenses to move down their list of progressions to short gain options. Still, that means the Vikings will have to invest much more in their defense in order to make this an effective strategy. With fewer total possessions, the Vikings will be subject to a greater degree of variance and chance in terms of their likelihood to win-random events are much more likely to help determine the outcome of the game in games with eight possessions than games with sixteen.
And that means no mistakes and very few big plays.
Given that the positions the offense will need to fill (fullback, H-back, running back, tight-end, low-tier receiver) all come later in the draft or for much cheaper value, the Vikings should focus on acquiring talent for the defense at the top of the draft.
They should even consider rotating a nose tackle and under tackle to create a more potent pass rush, which would of course require that the Vikings get impact players at both of those positions.
Let's assume that the Vikings don't get Greg Jennings or Brian Urlacher as has been rumored for the past day. In such a scenario, their free agency strategy would look to grab a backup middle linebacker, a generic receiver who can play on the outside for cheap, a backup swing lineman to compensate for the likelihood of gassed linemen or injuries, a speedy running back, and a backup corner back.
Knowing that this won't stress the cap space the Vikings have left (these are all cheap options), I'm not going to go through the trouble of calculating salaries.
The WR options are simple. A person like Ramses Barden or Danario Alexander can unquestionably be a threat on the outside, and should be assured of a 1,000-yard season as the only real receiving option on the field. They don't necessarily have to be fast, they simply have to be a mismatch against single coverage and able to pluck the ball from a wide catching radius.
The passing philosophy on this offense will move away from WCO-style passes to more of a Run'n'Shoot, adapting to the defense on the field and changing routes on the fly. It will challenge Christian Ponder more, but it will wreak havoc on defenses expecting the run (more than timing-oriented offenses will).
My ideal backup linebacker in this situation is Brad Jones, who should be had for cheap. While I don't think he's a Tampa-2 style 'backer, I do think his range in coverage is impressive (and surprising, considering he was a 3-4 OLB for most of his career). He can step in for the drafted middle linebacker who will be tasked with leading the defense in his first year with the Vikings.
The Vikings will also select a cornerback in the draft relatively early, so picking up a backup in free agency is a higher priority than an impact starter. I'm targeting Captain Munnerlyn because of his slot coverage skills. He's not a world-beater in the slot, but neither is he a huge liability. He was a bad starting corner for the Panthers, but most of that was on the outside. In the slot, he allowed an incredibly low 0.87 yards per cover snap (average is about 1.3) and a passer rating of 75.5 (average is above 90). He should come cheap because of all of the problems he has had at Carolina as a starting corner.
The backup swing lineman I'm targeting is Tyronne Green, who has NFL experience at all five positions on the line (because the Chargers line can't not get hurt). He's not amazing, but neither is he bad. Historically a somewhat better run blocker than pass blocker, he should fit right in. The ability to play LT, LG, C, RG, and RT at a pinch would make him extremely valuable to have on the team, and his talent ceiling should make him cheap, too.
The running back I'm targeting is Chris Rainey, who is in a buyers market and won't command too much. His speed/weight ratio is slightly better than average, but that's irrelevant—I'm just looking for raw speed and college production. He has both of those, so he's welcome aboard. He should get a contract commensurate to an RB2, because he'll get that kind of use, even as the third RB on the depth chart.
He's also very familiar with complex offensive running systems because of his time at Florida, and provides both pass-catching and running capability (he played WR one year at Florida).
The draft will have to be managed well given the sea-change of the offense, but it still shouldn't be too difficult given that all of the important positions on the offense will be of low draft value and can be had for cheap.
The first step is to trade the Vikings' #23 and #102 to San Francisco for their #34 and #61. San Francisco will likely want to move up as they cannot reasonably retain all of their draft picks. This gives the Vikings one first-round pick (#25) and three second-round picks (#34, #52 and #61).
At pick 25, the Vikings should choose Alec Ogletree. After souring on him in December and once again after a DUI, I've warmed up to him again, especially because the Vikings need to have rangy linebackers on their defense with this approach. He's one of the most physically capable players in the draft and very explosive. He also has extremely good instincts in coverage (the fact that he's a former safety shows) and can fly sideline to sideline. If he is a little less adept in the run game, so be it. The Vikings can do enough in the run game to compete head on with any team that wants to outrun them, especially with Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson.
He certainly has character concerns and even lied to GMs in the interviews at the combine, but only so much talent can be had at the draft.
At pick 34, the Vikings should choose Johnthan Banks, who has fallen in a lot of mock drafts, not because of his play but because of the strength of Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Trufant in the postseason workout and all-star circuits. Banks isn't the perfect Cover 2 corner, but is still the best cornerback on the board regardless of fit. If Xavier Rhodes or Desmond Trufant fall here, they would be better because they are more versatile and can play zone systems to a better degree. Banks will get by on the strength of his ball skills, as he can locate the ball very well and high-points it. He's very disciplined and can stay with receivers, often predicting the route patterns they run as a result of his excellent time in the film room.
The biggest benefit to Banks will be his ability to redirect receivers to the inside, as he is a very physical corner. He can play press very well and recovers well, too.
Given that those corners might be available at 23, you might question the decision to trade down, but the Vikings can get a lot of value at 61, so it's well worth it.
At pick 52, the Vikings can Jon Jenkins to operate as a nose tackle. Jenkins has fallen since December, again because of the rise of players like Kawann Short, Sheldon Richardson and Shariff Floyd. Jenkins operated in a 3-man front in Georgia, but also played the 1-technique a lot in college. While I have warned about selecting defensive tackles out of the wrong scheme, I do think that Jenkins has the tape to play the 1-gap defensive tackle the Vikings need at the nose.
Jenkins has lost weight (359 pounds at the Senior Bowl and 346 pounds at the combine) and might continue to lose more, which means he could very easily gain the stamina that has been the primary issue people have had with him. I do not have a score for Jenkins as he did not do any combine workouts (except bench press: 30 reps), but I do like what I have seen.
With the 61st pick, the Vikings will select Bennie Logan, 3-technique defensive tackle from LSU. Williams is aging and soon to go, so it makes sense to find a defensive tackle in a great class then struggle to develop one a year from now. Logan has length, quickness and an extremely powerful lower body. He uses his hands well and finds himself in the backfield constantly. With good awareness, he can get to a runner quickly if the play changes and has good lateral quickness. He has a good array of pass-rushing moves.
Concerns about his upper body strength have been in some part allayed by workouts (he had 30 reps, although this is more a test of stamina than strength), and I don't think it is a huge issue given his technique. He would mostly be used to back up Kevin Williams or play in a Wide 9 set on passing downs. He has a tentative (depending on his 20-yard and 10-yard splits) score of 4.37, which means I should ignore his measurables for the most part.
Ryan Swope is next at pick 83. He's been a riser because of his combine results, but I've always been high on him. To save myself the work, I'll quote myself:
It just so happens, however, that his best games were against the toughest opponents, including an 11-reception, 111-yard performance against Dee Milliner and Alabama. As the number one receiver for Tannehill the year earlier, many expected Swope to excel, but a dropoff from 1207 yards to 809 is disappointing.
Nevertheless, he's worth a look because of his incredible quickness, especially at the breaks. While his straight line speed is usually not the fastest on the field, he can get in and out of breaks with surprising agility and develop separation from cornerbacks before they know what happened.
He's dangerous after the catch, too, and can take a screen pass to the house as well as anybody-something the Vikings well know the value of.
He's also a willing blocker, so that's pretty great. Swope scored the highest athleticism score of every player I have the full numbers of (although when Goodwin's full numbers come in, he'll outscore Swope), which is a green light to pick him ahead of the traditional consensus on value.
With the fourth-round pick (hard to number without knowing the compensatory pick landscape) that they have left, Alvin Bailey will come off the board. More of a run blocker than a pass protector, Bailey is perfect for this offense. He'll either develop for one year or replace Johnson right away, but there's no question that he's a mauler. He knocks people around and moves very well in space. He misses sometimes, but that can be improved with situational awareness.
The fifth-round pick will select Kyle Jusczcyk, fullback from Harvard. Jusczcyk has experience as a tight end and is a surprisingly good route-runner. He doesn't have top-line speed (4.8 40, which shows up as such on film), but he's always getting separation, even on WR routes. He can set up his defenders by angling his shoulders but dips out and explodes a little bit out of the break to create passing windows only he can get to. More than that, he's a crushing blocker.
For me, the choice was between Zach Line, fullback from SMU or Jusczcyk, but I chose the latter because of his capability out in space. Line is equally versatile, but it is more as a ballcarrier, where he generates very impressive burst without having buildup for acceleration (he's an old-school fullback). Line is a much less accomplished blocker than Jusczcyk, but is still very good. Lonnie Pryor and Tommie Bohanon were choices here as well, but I have not seen Lonnie play and think Jusczcyk is a shade better than Bohanon.
And of course I picked a fullback. It's a Vikings mock. Jusczcyk fulfills the FB/TE role in the offense, and will be critical to keep teams honest, as he'll also motion out to receive quite a bit. He's an important H-back to have on the team.
In the sixth round, I'm picking up Knile Davis, who drops because of his worrisome injury history. He has the second-highest score ever recorded in Football Outsiders' "Speed Score" metric, which is the most ridiculously predictive metric I've ever come across. He blows the 2013 draft class away with this sort of score, and can be an important cog in the offense, who will compete for both a spot as a slot/wingback and third RB with Chris Rainey.
Besides his speed, he has impressive size (5'11" 227 pounds) and is an extremely capable pass catcher out of the backfield. He's improved his pass blocking as well.
The first seventh-round pick will go to Brandon Bishop, a safety out of NC State (what a secondary they had—David Amerson, Earl Wolff and Brandon Bishop are all draftable prospects this year). He'll be a good special-teamer who has the intelligence and athleticism to develop into a starter. He has very good range and speed, and reads defenses well. He can adjust coverage in response to what he saw the week before on film and very rarely bites on fakes (route fakes, play fakes, etc.). He is excellent with the play in front of him and can break down tackles very well.
The Vikings value versatility in their safeties and Bishop has that, having played both the free safety and strong safety spot at times at NC State. He can navigate traffic as an SS and looks downhill. Like Sanford, he is always trying to rip the ball loose.
He has a lot of sloppy technique issues that need to be corrected, especially with his hips, but that is why he is a developmental prospect.
The second seventh-round pick is going to an OLB/SS hybrid Kenny Tate from Maryland. He's got range and athleticism, but needs to build up strength if he wants to play OLB. He's extremely fluid and capable, and can fly around if need be. He understands coverages and almost never bites on play-action passes or route fakes. He's got good coverage skills, and can play man or zone with the best of the college athletes. He's extremely tenacious and attacks the ball or ball-carrier. He can read the quarterback extremely well and has the ball skills to pick.
Against the run, he's been relatively inconsistent as a tackler, but improved his form in a significant way late int he season. He doesn't hold back when plugging against blockers and can shed more than his size would imply. He also takes excellent pursuit angles.
UDFAs: RBs—Robbie Rouse, Rex Burkhead, Stefphon Jefferson, Orwin Smith (obviously); DBs—Ray Ray Armstrong, Nigel Malone, Greg Reid; TEs—Phillip Lutzenkirchen; H-Bs—Taimi Tutogi; WRs—Dan Buckner, Chad Bumphis, C—Curtis James; OGs—Blaise Foltz; Ts—Dann O'Neill, LaAdrian Waddle, OLBs—Jake Knott, Alonzo Highsmith; ILBs—Tom Wort, Will Compton; DEs—Quanterus Smith, DTs—Quinton Dial, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Scott Vallone
Look, the Falcons bring in 23 UDFAs a year. Time for us to do the same.
Going into camp, this is what we have:
QB: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
SE: Jerome Simpson, Danario Alexander, Dan Buckner, Greg Childs, Chris Summers
FL: Jarius Wright, Ryan Swope, Ramses Barden, Chad Bumphis
SB/WB: Joe Webb, Knile Davis, Ryan Swope, Chris Rainey, Orwin Smith, Robbie Rouse
RB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Chris Rainey, Rex Burkhead, Stepfhon Jefferson, Knile Davis, Robbie Rouse, Joe Banyard
FB: Jerome Felton, Rhett Ellison, Kyle Jusczcyk, Taimi Tutogi
TE: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Phillip Lutzenkirchen, Kyle Jusczcyk, LaMark Brown, Taimi Tutogi
LT: Matt Kalil, Dann O'Neill
LG: Alvin Bailey, Charlie Johnson, Tyler Holmes
C: John Sullivan, Joe Berger, Curtis James
RG: Brandon Fusco, Stephen Peterman, Blaise Foltz
RT: Phil Loadholt, LaAdrian Waddle
RDE: Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, Quanterus Smith
UT: Kevin Williams, Bennie Logan, Christian Ballard, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Scott Vallone
NT: Jon Jenkins, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Quinton Dial, Scott Vallone
LDE: Brian Robison, D'Aundre Reed, George Johnson
SLB: Chad Greenway, Larry Dean, Alonzo Highsmith
MLB: Alec Ogletree, Brad Jones, Audie Cole, Tom Wort, Will Compton
WLB: Erin Henderson, Kenny Tate, Marvin Mitchell, Jake Knott
LCB: Johnthan Banks, Josh Robinson, A.J. Jefferson, Brandon Burton, Nigel Malone
RCB: Chris Cook, Captain Munnerlyn, Bobby Felder, Greg Reid, Nick Taylor
SS: Jamarca Sanford, Robert Blanton, Ray Ray Armstrong
FS: Harrison Smith, Brandon Bishop, Andrew Sendejo
K: Blair Walsh
P: Chris Kluwe
LS: Cullen Loeffler
KR: Joe Webb, Chris Rainey, Knile Davis, Danario Alexander, A.J. Jefferson, Dan Buckner, Robbie Rouse
PR: A.J. Jefferson, Chris Rainey, Knile Davis, Robbie Rouse
That turned out to be 89 people instead of 90, but I'm OK with that. Pick your favorite UDFA. I got Colby Cameron.
What's interesting is that this running offense is being made with pocket passers, but Christian Ponder can still run on occasion. We'll keep him protected for now, but the offense will run with any of the quarterbacks anyway. Like I said, Ponder will be given a few, not many, triple option runs to work with. He ran 0.04 slower than Cam Newton at the combine, and we've seen him scramble.
The biggest criticism of this approach will be a lack of big plays and an inability to come back from behind. Georgia Tech and the Navy have both overcome this. GT has converted 54 percent of its 3rd-and-long situations, ranking second in all of FBS. They rank at the top of ACC in plays of 20+ yards. When Adrian Peterson leads the country in runs of over 15+ yards (40 of them, which is 16 more than second-place Alfred Morris).
If your first objection is that teams will put 10 in the box, please stow it away. I know that. Peterson did just fine against stacked boxes, and this offense is specifically designed to punish teams who do that by shifting into the single-wing and placing the H-back and TEs on the line. All of the TEs have WR route-running experience, as do most of the H-backs. The slot/wingbacks all have route-running responsibilities on their resume as well.
This offense will just motion out of your objection.
And if it doesn't, screw it. We're bigger than you.
We don't need no stinkin' receivers.