One of my favorite projects to follow each year is Bleacher Report’s NFL1000, a scouting endeavor that tasks evaluators with watching every snap of every team on every week of the NFL season, and grading them accordingly. The project is not without controversy - the qualifications of these scouts range from high school coaches to former NFL players and area scouting directors, and everything in between - but it’s fun to get a look into the football world outside our New Orleans Saints.
So of course it’s something I turn to when the Saints add new players through free agency. Here’s what the NFL1000 team had to say about every one of the Saints’ signees (and one big potential addition):
Carolina Panthers FS Kurt Coleman, ranked 25/45
It was a rough year for Coleman in coverage. He lacked range and recognition, and too often he would be late getting to a route. If he was in position, it wasn’t often he’d make a play. However, he had just enough splash plays throughout the season to help his grade. The 29-year-old looked better the closer he was to the line of scrimmage.
Where the Saints ranked: Marcus Williams 11/45
About as expected, Coleman graded out as a middle-of-the-road talent. I do think he can turn in a better 2018 with better talent around him - he was asked to babysit too many underachievers in Carolina last year. It’s also worth noting he sprained an MCL in his knee, which greatly limited his range on the back end.
Philadelphia Eagles Slot DB Patrick Robinson, ranked 4/35
The best cornerback on a top-three defensive unit, Patrick Robinson had a career year despite his age (30). He was lights-out over the first half of the season, then struggled slightly over the remaining several weeks. But his positioning was above average, and his ball production was terrific as a result. He stepped up in run defense as well.
—NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton
A first-round pick of the Saints in 2010, Robinson is one of many players whose careers have been extended because they have the specific skills required for slot performance. He matched his career high with four interceptions, showing an impressive knack for locking down receivers in man coverage on angular routes, and he’s able to react to his reads quickly, giving him a natural spacing edge when jumping routes. Robinson also has a great sense of his place on the field, allowing him to shine in coverage against picks and crossing routes where less experienced cornerbacks might get caught up in the wash.
—NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar
Where the Saints ranked: P.J. Williams 28/35
I wasn’t kidding yesterday when I called PRob one of football’s best slot defenders, and the NFL 1000 scouts agree. These guys put in the work to watch game film every week of the season and came away impressed by PRob’s efforts. It looks like he returns to New Orleans a much-improved player.
New York Jets MLB Demario Davis, ranked 25/70
Demario Davis joined the Jets again after a year in Cleveland and had a revival of sorts. The Jets overperformed as a team, as did Davis individually. He isn’t an ideal coverage defender and is at his best as the counter to another player. If Davis can be an underneath zone defender, he’s got enough to continue starting. The issue is when he’s isolated in man coverage, where is technique is sloppy downfield and exposes poor flexibility. As a run defender, Davis wins with leverage and geometry, and he matches angles well as an interior and edge defender.
Where the Saints ranked: Manti Te’o 50/70, A.J. Klein 31/70
My takeaway from their evaluation is that Davis is at worst a lateral move from Klein as the starting middle linebacker last year, and at best someone who can flourish when put in the right position. The Saints love blitzing their linebackers and devoting most coverage responsibilities to their defensive backs, so Davis looks to be in a good spot.
Houston Texans QB Tom Savage, 41/47
In what foretold a major storyline of the 2017 season, Tom Savage was sacked six times in just one half of football in the season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Some of that was due to the athletic defense, but Savage was deliberate on many of those plays, to a fault. He was benched heading into Week 2 for rookie Deshaun Watson, but returned to action following Watson’s season-ending ACL tear. However, the flaws remained. If Savage wants to truly develop into a capable backup, or even more, he will need to improve his processing speed in the pocket and make better decisions with the football.
Where the Saints ranked: Drew Brees 4/47
As I’ve said elsewhere, Savage is only here to push Taysom Hill for the backup job. That’s something that Hill should win handily given Savage’s issues as a pocket passer, but there’s still many months to go before we find out for sure. And what if something crazy happens and the Saints draft Baker Mayfield?
Miami Dolphins OL Jermon Bushrod, 61/83
Jermon Bushrod is a perennial underachiever who just can’t figure out how to win reps despite his impressive length, play strength and athletic ability. His hand technique is poor, as he’s often swinging his arms all over the place, and his inability to have his hands up and ready at the point of attack causes him to lose way more reps than he should.
Where the Saints ranked: Andrus Peat 40/83, Senio Kelemete 34/83, Larry Warford 21/83
Bushrod was purely a left tackle when he played for the Saints, though he occasionally lined up as a sixth man in unbalanced sets before winning that starting job. It’s what the Dolphins signed him to do, too, but Bushrod’s shortcomings became glaring without Drew Brees and his stellar pocket presence. Since then he’s moved inside the guard, and started every game last year before a season-ending foot injury. He’s back in New Orleans as a probable-downgrade from Kelemete, who got plenty of action as a versatile reserve.
Just for fun, let’s look at what the NFL1000 scouts had to say about a big name the Saints are hosting on a free agent visit today:
Miami Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh, 9/104
Ndamukong Suh has a massive frame with good length, thickness and muscularity at 6’4”, 305 pounds. The eight-year veteran has rare power and the explosiveness to deliver massive jolt at the point of attack. Suh’s a good run defender who shows elite flashes. He’s also capable of snapping blockers’ heads back and controlling and collapsing their frame prior to shedding into adjacent gaps.The Nebraska product sniffs out screens quickly and is rarely fooled with misdirection. He has long arms, which help him win his opponent’s inside shoulder and walk his foe into the QB’s lap with regularity. Suh has effective arm-over and hump moves to counter. However, he shows inconsistent pad level and effort, particularly against combos, and will get moved down the line of scrimmage easily once he gets pushed laterally. The 30-year-old is a strong wrap-up tackler but periodically coasts in pursuit.
—NFL1000 DT Scout, Brandon Thorn
Suh isn’t quite the pass-rusher he was at his apex in Detroit, where he was just about unblockable when faced with a single offensive lineman. But he’s still one of the best run tackles in the league, and when he puts it together, he can still beat guards with a forceful bull rush to get to the quarterback. He’s lost a millisecond of quickness over the years, but 90 percent of the Suh we once saw is still good enough to play at a Pro Bowl level. The question for him as he heads into his 30s is how willing he’ll be to compensate for any physical decline with refinements in technique.
—NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar
Where the Saints ranked: David Onyemata 42/104, Tyeler Davison 41/104, Sheldon Rankins 29/104
What do you think about what the guys at Bleacher Report had to say?