RSP Writers Project Q&A: Chase Stuart, Footballguys, Football Perspective, and Pro Football Reference


Can Peyton Manning add years to Anquan Boldin’s career? Chase Stuart hopes so. Find out more about his RSP Writers team below. Photo by Michael Wifall.

Chase Stuart took an aggressive, offensive approach to the Rookie Scouting Portfolio Writers Project, spending $93.5 million of his $150 million salary cap on his offense. Can’t say I blame him. He has a nice mix of young skill talent and veteran grit and his dollar cost averaging for his offensive line could pay off.

Although his defense has some clear weaknesses, he also has talented players that should do a good job of playing aggressive football when Stuart’s team has a lead. If this team gets behind early it could be problematic, but I can see how this offense is set up for this team to go 10-6, even in a tough division.

Learn more about Stuart’s team below as the writer at Footballguys.com, Pro Football Reference, and (his new blog) Football Perspective provides an engaging take on the RSP Writers Project.

Describe your offensive system.

Kendall Hunter is becoming a perennial favorite of the RSP Writers Project. Photo by Wunderlich Photography.

The offense will be a hybrid of what the Manning Colts did combined with some elements from the offenses in New England, Green Bay and New Orleans.  The base set would be three wide receivers with a tight end – Graham and Cruz on the inside, Boldin and Smith on the outside – and Hunter in the backfield.

Delanie Walker will get his fair share of playing time, as Manning likes the two-tight end sets and we won’t keep Graham in to block all that often.   With Walker helping to give Manning extra time, Manning will be able to isolate Cruz, Graham or Smith on any given play.  In running situations, we can bring in Vladimir Ducasse as a sixth lineman or Matt Mulligan.

Blocking Schemes, Bread and Butter Plays, and Pivotal Players in the Scheme:

The offense runs through Peyton Manning and he is the offense.  Everyone else is replaceable, but Manning will be the quarterback and de facto offensive coordinator.  For the long-term, whichever quarterback that replaces Manning will be pretty lucky to have Jimmy Graham and Victor Cruz to throw to.  They’re two of the most difficult players to cover in the NFL.

Coordinators and Coaches:

The goal is to recreate the elite passing offenses that we’ve seen in Indianapolis, New England, Green Bay and New Orleans.  In Indianapolis and New England, I’m not so sure there is a coach we can identify as the man behind the success as much as the quarterback.  But I’d love to have Mike McCarthy or Sean Payton or Tom Clements on my coaching staff, and obviously I’d take Belichick no matter what team I had.  Mike Leach would be another great fit, but honestly, having Peyton Manning and Tom Moore is probably all I would need.

Describe your defensive system.

A vote for Mike McCarthy. That’s a surprising first. I expected more people to want him as a coach. Photo by Elvis Kennedy.

I envision the 4-3 defense playing a blend of the Tampa-2 that Dungy brought to Indianapolis along with the more exotic Baltimore/Ryan scheme.  The Tampa-2 worked well with the Colts thanks to Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and the hope is that Shea McClellin, Aaron Maybin and Vinny Curry can provide a similar level of pass rush.  But the Colts never had the talent in the secondary that this defense has – Eric Berry, Morris Claiborne, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and Kyle Wilson – which will enable us to play more man coverage.   In the event that we don’t have an elite pass rusher, we will need to have more creative blitzes, and in that case, we’ll be fortunate to have more talented defenders in the secondary.  I consider Wilson a starter as a nickel corner, as the defense will probably play nickel more than anything else.

Claiborne and Berry are the anchors of the secondary, although the unit couldn’t excel if any of the five members of the secondary didn’t possess strong pass coverage skills.  Phil Taylor is the key to the front seven; when healthy, he’ll make the job easier for every other defensive linemen, who will keep our linebackers free to make plays.

Defensive Coordinators and Coaches:

Rex Ryan or Rob Ryan would both be good fits.  I’d love to bring back Tony Dungy just because I think he’s an excellent defensive mind.  Ditto Mike Tomlin.

Where do you believe your offense is vulnerable in terms of system and personnel and what specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?

Obviously the offensive line is less than stellar.  However, what I have done is avoided having any obvious holes on the line.  While none of the starters cost more than $5 million per year, none of them cost less than $4.5 million per year, either.  I believe a balanced offensive line is more important than the individual parts.

Offensive linemen are nominally offensive players, of course, but on pass plays, they play defensive roles.  They retreat, and they block, preventing the aggressors from reaching the quarterback.  They’re gatekeepers, and the key to an effective gate is more about the strength of the weakest link than the strongest one.  Defenses will attack my offensive line, but I don’t believe there’s any obvious weakness for opposing defensive coordinators to focus on.  If you have $25 million to spend on your offensive line, the smartest move in my opinion is to evenly distribute that money, and that’s exactly what I did.

Where do you believe your defense is vulnerable in terms of system and personnel and what specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?

The linebackers are the weak spot of the defense, but I anticipate having five or six defensive backs on the field frequently.  The run defense could also be a weak spot, but the thinking is Taylor by himself can really help shut down the running game.  Against run heavy teams, Cody will be playing a significant role, and the hope is that Heyward or “MTV” can develop, too.

Who are your stars and why did you invest so much in them?

Stuart considers CB Mo Claiborne a future star. Photo by Crawford Orthodontics.

Peyton Manning is the key.  With an elite quarterback and competent weapons, you can just about pencil your team in for the playoffs.  With Jimmy Graham and Victor Cruz, I’ve got one player who ranked in the top three in receptions and one in the top three in receiving yards in 2011.  Those three can form the cornerstone of the offense for the next three-to-five years.

On defense, Taylor is there as the man who can support all the run-stopping responsibilities on his massive shoulders.  Eric Berry and Maurice Claiborne are young and dynamic members of the secondary and would help anchor my pass defense.  With an excellent offense, being able to protect the lead and shut down opposing passing attacks is paramount.

Name some of your offensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.

Between Nate Davis and Colt McCoy, the hope is one of them can replace Manning in a few years.  LaMichael James could be a starter as quickly as 2012.  T.Y. Hilton may take a couple of years to develop, but he could easily become a starter as Boldin is phased out of the offense.

Name some of your defensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.

Stuart and I also share an affinity for CB Kyle Wilson’s potential to develop into a good NFL starter. Photo by Marianne O’Leary.

On the defensive line, Cameron Heyward has the potential to be an every down starter in this league.  I also think Cody has significant upside as a run-stuffing tackle.  It’s hard to get a read on Aaron Maybin, but he could certainly blossom in an excellent pass rusher, which will make him extremely valuable even if he never starts a game.  In the secondary, I am excited about the prospect of Kyle Wilson as a nickel corner, but he will be a starter within a couple of seasons.

Which of your starters or significant situational contributors on your rosters do you believe would be on the roster bubble in 2013?

For age reasons, Anquan Boldin and Ike Taylor may not last long.  At the linebacker position, I’ve invested so little in them that any of the starters could lose their job due to poor performance, and would anticipate hitting that position early in the 2013 draft.

What was the most difficult part of the selection process for you?

I attacked the offense first and then the secondary, leaving little money left for my front seven.  I really wanted to grab Phil Taylor, but it left me extremely low on resources for the rest of my starters.  As a result, finding three linebackers and the other defensive tackle was a struggle.

I also couldn’t decide exactly what wide receivers would excel in my Manning-style offense.  Cruz did much of his damage in the slot last year, and I was a little concerned that he would excel as a number one wide receiver on my team.  But the thought of replacing him with a similarly-priced but less explosive player didn’t appeal to me.

Based on your roster what type of playing facility would you want as your home stadium (describe the facility as outdoors, indoors, turf, grass, climate)?

Like the Saints and Colts, I’d like to play indoors and on turf.  Obviously the Patriots and Packers have managed to create high-flying pass offenses outdoors, but I don’t think that is ideal for my passing offense.  Considering the speed of my defense – including McClellin, Maybin, Claiborne and Berry – I think a dome suits them best, too. And remember, the Packers have won only one home playoff game since 2003.  The Patriots won two home playoff games last year, but weather wasn’t a factor in either game, and New England hadn’t won a home playoff game since ’07 prior to last year.

Name three risky personnel selections on offense and explain why (talent, off-field, age, injury, fit, etc.).

I’m not sure if Kendall Hunter is a starting every down running back, which is why I invested heavily in backups Pierre Thomas and LaMichael James.

Obviously Jonathan Martin is a low-end left tackle, and one could argue that protecting your star quarterback who missed all of last season should have been a priority for this team.

I spent $93.5 million on my offense, presumably quite a bit more than the average person.  For that reason, I shouldn’t have too many risky starters, and I don’t think I do.  If forced to make a third pick, I suppose Manning is the choice. Due to age and injury history, it’s risky taking him over spending an extra four million on Brady.

Name three risky personnel selections on defense and explain why (see above).

By spending only $55.5 million on defense, I should have more risky personnel selections on defense, and you could quibble with any of my front seven picks.  I spent $7 million on Taylor, who is coming off of an injury.  My other three starters on the defensive line are all rookies, which may not jive with an offense that’s been built to win now. McClellin, Crick and Curry look like good picks, but they’re obviously unproven.

All three linebackers come with questions.  Hawk has been inconsistent his whole career, and was part of a terrible defense last year.  Hill and McClain played well last year, but are not elite players and do not have long histories of success.

Name a few players you really wished to add, but couldn’t find the room due to the restrictions of the salary cap or the fit within your team’s system.

I would have liked to have gone with Brady, Brees or Rodgers, but decided to roll the dice with Manning due to salary concerns.  Tyron Smith would have been a great player to add, but I just couldn’t justify so much money at one position on the offensive line.  I started this with the idea of having Darren Sproles, but $6.5 million for a committee running back just wouldn’t work.  On defense, building around Haloti Ngata would have been great, but I was forced to settle for Phil Taylor.  I would have liked to have had at least one elite coverage outside linebacker, but there just wasn’t enough money in the budget for that.

Which players on your team would you have added even if they cost more than the listed price?

An elite quarterback was necessary for the offense I wanted to run.  I took Manning because he was cheaper than the others, but there was no way I wasn’t going to grab an All-Pro type.   Otherwise I mostly looked for value.  I thought Jimmy Graham and Victor Cruz were good values, but I wanted to make sure I gave my quarterback some elite options.  But in the NFL, almost everyone is replaceable, so I really wouldn’t reach for anyone.

How do you think the makeup of your roster and distribution of your resources illustrates where your philosophy breaks with NFL conventional wisdom?

NFL conventional wisdom is a funny thing, as I’m not sure if it even exists.  But I suppose if I told people that “offensive lines and defenses are overrated, it’s all about the skill position players” that I would be mocked as a fantasy geek.

The truth is, individual players on offensive lines and on defense can be overrated.  As a Jets fan, I watched Darrelle Revis have a magnificent season in 2009, shutting down every wide receiver and help the other ten members on defense.  He was the reason the Jets ranked #1 in nearly every major defensive category that season.  Then, in the AFC Championship Game, Manning torched the rest of the Jets defense, as Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie combined for 18 catches for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns.  If there’s a weak spot on your defense, an elite quarterback will find it.  Even two great corners can be neutralized if you have poor safety play.  So my philosophy is not necessarily to find stars on defense, but to avoid having duds.  For me, it’s not as much about finding players to build around as avoiding to play guys that opposing quarterbacks will target.

The same is true on the offensive line. The Jets have three Pro Bowl caliber players, but an awful right tackle made the entire unit mediocre.  Good defenses can scheme to attack your weakness on the line.  One star defensive player or offensive lineman isn’t that valuable, in my opinion.  They’re the classic “whole is greater than the sum of their parts.”

On the other hand, one star offensive player, like a quarterback, can be a huge difference maker.  Combined with Graham and Cruz, and I have the foundation for an elite passing offense.  That might break with conventional wisdom, but it’s how I would manage this salary cap.

How much of a priority did you place on special teams, considering the restrictions of the salary cap? How would you rate your special teams unit?

Almost none.  I took Wallace Wright and James Ihedigbo because they can be good in punt and kick coverage, but also because they simply filled the roster spot.  I wanted good returners, and LaMichael James, T.Y. Hilton and Ted Ginn fit that bill. But individual kickers and punters are pretty meaningless to me in the grand scheme.  Special teams can be important, sure, but the problem is that special teams performances are wildly variant from year to year.  I’d much rather have a good special teams coach and have him figure out the rest.

Here’s a quick test: name the kicker, punter, and special teams stars on the ‘60s Packers, ’70s Steelers, ’80s ‘49ers and ‘90s Cowboys.  That’s what I thought.

Hey Chase? Roy Gerela, brother! Photo by Danny O’Neil.

Categories: RSP Writers ProjectTags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 comments

  1. Well, this is certainly a team that doesnt lack intrigue. Very interesting. Couple things that definitely stand out here and its definitely unique and has a certain flare to it.
    1) I’m all for the spend big on offense theory that goes back to Bill Polians model with Peyton Manning and his Colts. It might not be readily apparent at first, but thats basically a trend alot of teams these days are now following these days. The advancements in the game have made it so thats most beneficial to invest and try to generate top players at key offensive positions. Bill Belichick has quitely realized this the past decade and shifted the focus of the team. You see the same thing with the Detroit Lions who are basically replicating the Colts model from the past decade. The Green Bay Packers have really gone full throttle on this, creating a plethora of offensive talent while supplying Rodgers with plenty of attention up front and basically building a defense around a few stars and a bunch of not so stud type players if we’re being polite. The Saints have done this also. In general the trend youll notice now are the teams with the core of supreme offensive talent are the ones who have repeated success and the teams that rely on defense, special teams, running the ball and minimizing their QBs impact need everything to break right(think turnover difference injuries—–San Francisco and the Jets to name a few) tend to be the ones that come and go and dont have lasting success. This is a bit of a generalization; the Steelers will be everybodys quick counter to that and thats fine but the point still stands that if you can have your choice of doing whatever you want to build a team(and your not stuck in a position of trying to change a team thats been a defense oriented unit for so long like a lot of GMs are), then you take the chance to stockpile offensive talent.
    2) The receiving core is fascinating because the trio of Victor Cruz-Jimmy Graham-Torrey Smith is a deep threat trio, but presents problems vertically in 3 different ways. You have the seam physical monster in Graham whos still learning how to play and will attract rolling coverage everytime he goes up the seam and whos perfectly comfortable being flexed out as a receiver. Hes the jump ball threat people think of when they think of deep threats. Then you have Victor Cruz, the slot demon who can provide vertical threat with supreme acceleration and change of direction ability operating out of option routes from the slot. With him the entire field is a threat and with his route running and ball tracking skills hes about the only slot receiver in the NFL who truly demands bracket coverage(that includes Wes Welker your not bracketing Welker in a traditional sense when all his work is before 15 yards from the line). Then theres Torrey Smith, the burner and the go route specialist, “taking the top off the defense”. He’s limited with what he can do right now and theres no gurantee he fully develops(people just like to assume raw receivers will develop into far more complete players as they get older, doesnt always happen like that at all), but hes the type of player wholl cause every opposing coordinator fear because it takes too much out of your gameplan to consistently double and rotate coverage towards him, itll leave you too vulnerable in other areas and hes the third best option on this team—not the best use of resources, so your essentially forced to give him matchups hes capable of exploiting. He wont always do it but your at this teams mercy. He can be completely rendered for 85% of a game but 1-2 plays with him can turn everything. Your always at his mercy. Theres potentially a fourth deep threat with TY Hilton a good develomental prospect and I think Anquan Boldin could carve a few more years out of his career by being rendered a slot type receiver playing with a QB who can maximize slot receivers(think timing, anticipation, communication, basically what Peyton Manning has strived at his whole career and the type of things Joe Flacco can be a little inconsistent with)
    3) The decisions Chase has made here with his RBs also I think are the direction RB is heading towards in todays game. Its not necessairly a position of significantly declining importance, its role has just changed. Theyve become spatial players, chesspieces that can be used in a multitude of ways and the key with them is they can attack every part of the field. Thats why running back option routes have been a staple of the league for so long and why teams have really started amplifying the different number of ways to get them the ball. The direction towards the quicker scatbacks also allows them to run out of spread formations(so your not giving away anything about your play call before the snap) and dictate opposing personnel. He has a very solid trio with potential to work with here. Hes got 3 very good slot options, a true burner outside and then these explosive toys that can do a variety of things and attack every part of the field and play in any situation. Any offense with Peyton Manning is going to face alot of subpackages. These are exactly the kind of RBs you want for those situations because these players DEMAND attention by there very nature since they have so much open space and get tend to get the ball significantly more than any receiver.
    4) Its rather interesting how this defense was built; through corners and a hell of a prospect at safety in Eric Berry. The hope here is that young players can develop to form a pass rush. But its a very very risky appraoch because if McClellin and Curry dont develop(and these arent sure fire top 10 picks so its a very real possibility) then a defense built around a young secondary, no pass rush and what Chase admitted might be a bit shaky of a run defense is going to have problems. I’m not sure pass rush is the area in a 4-3 defense to be banking on unproven risky commodities in. Maybe in your case it might have been the best way to go, but its worth looking at closer.
    5) Furthermore this is a defense banking on 3 rookies with Caliborne, McClellin and Curry at absoultely crucial positions. And Eric Berry is also a bit of a prospect considering hes only had 16 games in the league. Thats 21.5 committed to 4 prospects at huge positions. And then the highest paid player on the unit Phil Taylor is another prospect who frankly didnt have a particuarly good rookie season which makes it up to 28.5(I’m really surprised with the Taylor selection. To spend 7 on someone who wasnt particulary good as a rookie and wasnt a top 20 pick…..ehhh. If you want a dominant defensive tackle up front there were many other options that are the best case possibility for Phil Taylor at a few dollars more.) If your not gonna spend that much on a defense its generally a good idea to go with young cheap prospects that have potential to be worth much more than there price tag. But the word cheap doesnt apply here with these prospects. Your banking on them to develop to their full potential. Thats always a risky proposition. Maybe the best way to go when you arent going to spend much on that side of the ball(or maybe not I’m not sure its up for debate) but rather risky.
    6) I raved about hte possibilities on offense earlier but let me throw out one caveat; theres no real X isolation receiver capable of consistently winning on the outside or if you want to really use cliches “being the true no 1 receiver”. We already talked about Torrey Smiths limitations. Jimmy Graham is a tight end, sure he can flex out and play snaps as a receiver, even an X isolated receiver in a 3X1 distirbution, but hes still a tight end whos more on the raw side. Victor Cruz is far and away his best in the slot. He can play outside but thats not his niche and he isnt someone whos at his best trying to beat one on one coverage outside or being the focus of opposing game plans(he was largely taken away for long stretches in the playoffs once he started getting consistently bracketed). Anquan Boldin is also at his best in the slot. There are tight ends who run better than him; he doesn’t strike me as a guy Id want to ask to win one on one matchups outside. All these receiving optiosn have some limitations and have to be manipulated. Theres no receiver who is comfortable being isolated or really having to win on the outside consistently and against coverages focused at them. Peyton Manning can help camoflauge there weaknesses but only to a point and hes not the long term option at QB.
    7) I also liked the selections at RBs but i Don’t like the price tag. 11 for 3 RBs, none of whom strike as real feature RBs and who all have limitations. Hunter and James are both still relatively unproven in a way and theres a reason Pierre Thomas has never been a starter and that within teh past year the Saints signed Darren Sproles and traded away a first round pick to move up to get Mark Ingram. Its an expensive investment. There valuable players, but is the spot worth 11 on commodities with real question marks? I’m not sure that might have been the best use of money and if your going to spend 11 on RBs I might be inclined to spend big on one like a McCoy or Ray Rice and use a few dollars left over to get a respectable backup like a javon Ringer, Chris Ivory or Bernard Scott. Just something to think about.
    8) Last thing and this is the one real question I have. You say this is a team built to win now in your Ike Taylor comment. But look at how many unproven commodities you have at key positions. Your WR group is very young and while theyve all had success, your banking on all of them probably improving. Your LT is a rookie with question marks. Your key cogs on defense are almost all unproven(Taylor, your 2 pass rushers, Claiborne and to a lesser extent Berry). Is that really the direction of a team built to win now? The thing is, if Peyton Manning is your QB, you have to be in win now mode given his recent past and age. Its just that the way the defense is built and other positions like LT, RB and to a lesser extent WR, that this is a rather risky way to approach to win now with. I think the strategy here is value; to get guys that exceed their price tag in a few years, especially on defense. The thing is that few years it might take them. Rookies with Pro Bowl potential usually dont play like pro bowlers there rookie year, if at all. Thats the only real question I have is the direction of the team and the plan long term with Peyton Manning really probably going to be around for 2 and at hte absolute most 3 years. This offense is so dependent on him it needs a good predecessor and I’m not sure Id want to put faith in Colt McCoy to be that guy. All in all though, very interesting, definitely some good ideas put in place and some ideas that I wouldnt have thought of. Well done and a good read for sure.

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