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.
Describe your offensive system.
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.
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?
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.
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.