Preseason football is the NFL equivalent of purgatory, being intermediately slotted above training camp scrimmages, but not quite as entertaining (or meaningful) as regular season games. Still, fans, coaches, and players alike can draw plenty of useful information from these nearly-football contests, especially in the evaluation of players at highly-competitive position and of those on the fringe of making the 53-man roster.
Unlike the regular season, the “numbers” at the end of the game can be somewhat misleading. Snap counts, the caliber of surrounding talent, and the level of competition are constantly in flux throughout the game, making direct comparisons between players difficult, if not impossible, without a trained eye and more advanced metrics.
With that in mind, we turn our attention to Pro Football Focus, one of the most reputable sites for advanced statistics and players grading in the NFL. Like with any semi-subjective form of analysis, the experts at the site are certainly not “prefect” in their weekly evaluations of players. However, taken with a grain of salt, their grades are about as close to “fair and objective” as you’ll find anywhere in the world of NFL personnel analysis.
So, using their Week 1 evaluations as a reasonable metric for performance, how did some of the “key” St. Louis Rams fair against the Saints?
Top Receiver- Kenny Britt (+0.7)
Interestingly enough, Kenny Britt grades out as the top skill player, primarily based on his +1.0 blocking grade, which was the highest among any receiver in Week 1. Statistically speaking, Alex Bayer was the leader for the Rams, hauling in five receptions for 71 yards, including 58 after the catch.
Top Running Back- Tre Mason (+0.3)
Tre Mason compiled some solid tape on Friday, finishing as the top graded running back on the Rams after recording 51 yards on 15 carries. More impressively, Mason was a top league-performer in a number of areas in Week 1, including 3rd in yards after contact (37), 10th in missed tackles (2), and 5th in blocking (0.4 grade). In a highly competitive backfield, performances like Friday are the only way to steal extra reps in practice.
Top Offensive Lineman- Joe Barksdale (+1.2)
Despite playing only 19 offensive snaps, Barksdale graded out tops among the St. Louis Rams offensive lineman, ranking 13th overall in Week 1 among offensive tackles. His grade was built on solid run blocking, an area that he was not overly successful in last season. Rams rookie left guard, Greg Robinson did not fair as well, finished with an average -0.4 grade. Ironically, Robinson finished with a slightly positive grade in pass protection, despite being charged with one sack allowed in the game. However, as we eluded to in our “quick thoughts,” the sacks was more the result of poor communication than poor blocking.
Top Defensive Lineman- Ethan Westbrooks (+4.2)
While most of the NFL world have never heard of Westbrooks, they should view him as Michael Sam’s largest competition for a spot on the 53-man roster. The undrafted rookie out of West Texas A&M recorded two hurries, three tackles, and two defensive stops on Friday night, helping him rank as the top 4-3 defensive end in the opening week of the preseason. Star rookie, Aaron Donald, managed a mere -0.1 grade from Pro Football Focus for his efforts, recording no tackles, but finishing with two hurries in 38 defensive snaps.
Top “Back-Seven” Player- EJ Gaines (+1.6)
As expected, the former Mizzou Tiger ranks tops among the St. Louis Rams second- and third-level defenders, following a standout performance against the New Orleans Saints. Gaines played nearly as many snaps in the opener as any defensive back in the league, finished the game with six tackles, two defensive stops, and allowing a spectacularly-low 8.2 yard average on receptions in coverage. Marcus Roberson (+1.3) was also impressive in his time on the field, recording three tackles, two defensive stops, and only nine total receiving yards in 26 coverage snaps (43 total defensive snaps).
Tags: St. Louis Rams