Almost all of us as Saints fans view Jonathan Vilma as the heart and soul of the Saints defense. He's the captain, arguably the best player, and I think few of you would disagree that he's the most reliable of the unit. Pro Football Focus disagrees strongly, though.
Yes, I admit, Pro Football Focus stats have been getting mentioned a little too often by me lately... but it's the off-season and Vilma's rating was bad enough that it merits discussion. In general, PFF and my grades are remarkably similar (different scoring methods, but still close in evaluating players). Then again, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are the better players on the Saints offensive line, while Jermon Bushrod and Jon Stinchcomb are liabilities at times. Still, we did disagree pretty substantially on one player and that's Vilma.
Vilma was awarded my 2010 season Saints Defensive MVP, while PFF graded Vilma as the second worst defender on the entire roster behind only Scott Shanle. Even worse, Vilma was graded by PFF as the worst MLB in the entire league. Coincidentally, Shanle was also graded as the worst OLB in the entire league. I guess the Saints linebacking corp needs some help!
So what gives?PFF graded Vilma as deficient in pretty much every single category. The area I consider him strongest in, run defense, was graded out at -7.9, which is second worst only to Barrett Ruud of the Bucs. Keep in mind 4-3 and 3-4 middle linebackers and inside linebackers are all roped into this grading together, so it's not a 100% fair comparison, but still noteworthy in that I'd never consider Vilma worse than ALL these players. In pass coverage, an area I consider Vilma decent but not great, he graded at -4.3, which was only better than 5 players. In blitzing, an area I consider Vilma serviceable if not good, Vilma graded at -2.4. Only 7 players graded worse in that department.
What really doesn't make sense to me out of PFF's calculations is that Vilma allowed a 70.5 completion %, and 32 of 50 MLB's gave up a higher percentage. Vilma also missed less tackles than 12 players despite playing pretty much every single snap this season. So how that makes him so bad in coverage and run defense, I'm really not sure. I realize evaluating a player's performance comes down to much more than missed tackles and a yielded completion %, but I've watched a lot of football and there is no way you can convince me that guys like Dhani Jones (who by the way was cut by the Saints), and Stewart Bradley are better than Jonathan Vilma. I'm sorry, but no coach in the NFL would ever take those players over Vilma - not one.
It's funny that PFF graded Vilma 50th out of 50 linebackers because the previous year they had Vilma as 28th out of 54. His GPA's from me were 2.96 and 2.98 in those two years respectively - so my perspective was that Vilma performer at a very similar rate in 2009 vs. 2010. In 2008, Vilma was rated 21st out of 46 by PFF.
The bottom line is there's a lot of really good MLB's in the NFL. Vilma is a good one too, but there's a lot of very good ones. Let's go ahead and throw out of the window that he's the worst - that notion is just ridiculous. Still, consider the top 10 graded MLB's on PFF:
Lawrence Timmons, Patrick Willis, Bart Scott, Derrick Johnson, Desmond Bishop, James Farrior, Takeo Spikes, Brian Urlacher, E. J. Henderson and Chris Gocong. If you asked me who I thought Vilma was better than out of this list, I'd say maybe Johnson, Bishop and Gocong - and that's a maybe, depending on the day. Keep in mind this list doesn't include Ray Lewis, Karlos Dansby, A.J. Hawk and some others either. Still, I think Vilma is comfortably in the top 15 at his position (including both MLB's and ILB's in a 3-4 system). For some reason that doesn't translate with PFF as he always grades out poorly, and this past year he could not have graded out any worse.
Does this information make you think less of Vilma as a player, or less of PFF as a grading system?