Thursday, July 30, 2020

Guest column: Yanda among all-time greats

·         By Tim Hollett Guest columnist
 2 hrs ago | July 30, 2020

At Marshal Yanda’s retirement ceremony, it was announced that he will be introduced into the Baltimore Colts/Ravens Ring of Honor.
He will be the 21st member honored that includes 19 players, one coach and one owner. The Colts have nine players, eight of whom were enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Ravens also have nine players, three of whom are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Marshal was mentioned by the Ravens as the all-time best guard in Baltimore history. He is also the only guard of the 19 players in their Ring of Honor.
What an honor it is to be selected as the best at your position in the history of your team.
I believe these 20 players are the top-2 players at their position in the history of their NFL teams: Green Bay quarterbacks Bart Starr and Brett Favre; Chicago Bears running backs Walter Payton and Gale Sayers and linebackers Dick Butkus and Brian Urlacher; St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams running backs Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson; Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers Jack Lambert and Jack Ham; San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young; Dallas Cowboys quarters Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach; New York Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson; Minnesota Vikings wide receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter; Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Johnny Unitas.
All of those 20 players were enshrined into the Hall of Fame expect for Manning, who should be enshrined in 2021.
I can remember watch all 20 of those athletes play over the years. To put Marshal Yanda in this group as an NFL team’s all-time greatest position player is a tremendous honor.
The NFL 100th anniversary team is the greatest team ever assembled. Seven guards were selected to that team. Marshal earned more Pro Bowls than two of these Hall of Fame guards.
Marshal has played the game right. He is old school, blue collar, tough, disciplined, a great leader and great teammate. He lets his action speak for themselves.
Believe me, Canton has been watching the last 13 years. Welcome home Marshal.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Detroit Lions training camp preview: Trey Flowers leads new-look defensive line

Updated Jul 26, 2020; Posted Jul 26, 2020

Detroit Lions defensive lineman Trey Flowers (90) looks on in the fourth quarter of their NFL game against the New York Giants at Ford Field in Detroit, on Sunday, October 27, 2019. The Lions won the game, 31-26, and are now 3-3-1 on the season. (Mike Mulholland | Mulholland |

We still don't know definitively what training camp will look like due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the Detroit Lions are expected to arrive in Allen Park next week and MLive is kicking off its annual camp preview. Today: Defensive line. Previously: Running backs | Wide receivers | Offensive line | Tight ends | Quarterbacks

Roster locks: Trey Flowers, Danny Shelton, Da'Shawn Hand, Julian Okwara, Romeo Okwara, Nick Williams

Competing: Austin Bryant, Kevin Strong, Frank Herron, Jashon Cornell, John Penisini, John Atkins, Olive Sagapolu, Jonathan Wynn

Notable departures: Snacks Harrison, A'Shawn Robinson, Mike Daniels

Breakdown: To say Detroit’s defensive line failed to meet expectations last season would be a massive understatement. The Lions spent $90 million on Trey Flowers and added Mike Daniels to a group already featuring Snacks Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson and Romeo Okwara. Instead of continuing its ascent into the league’s elite, the group fell to defensive depths not seen ‘round these parts since 2008.

What went wrong? Well, that's a question that will garner you more than a couple of answers.

Trey Flowers, Mike Daniels and Snacks Harrison struggled to get things rolling, while Da’Shawn Hand couldn’t get or stay on the field. Flowers continued to improve as the season progressed, but he was a man fighting on a revolving door without much help coming from the second level or other side.
Lions coach Matt Patricia’s defense rushed only three men on 26% of plays, which was fewer than any other team in the NFL. The Lions also blitzed fewer than anyone else (12% of plays). Detroit lined up in its base defense 19% of the time, while most of its formations were in the nickel (45%) and dime (34%). Detroit seemed to fail to adjust to its crumbling roster and results, as the defensive line was left on an island to create pressure. This data comes from Warren Sharp’s preview for the upcoming season.

The Lions won 24% of their pass rushes, which was by far the worst mark in the NFL. Detroit’s defensive line ranked 23rd against the run and 31st against the pass, according to Football Outsiders.

Even with all of that said, Flowers was still outstanding last season. Maybe not as good as some were expecting for $90 million, but he was still really good. Flowers was at his best when the year was already in shambles. The 26-year-old looked like a different player from Week 7 on, picking up six sacks in nine games after working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery. His personal pass-rush win percentage of 20.7% was fourth in the NFL, trailing only Za’Darius Smith, Aaron Donald and Joey Bosa.

Flowers finished one spot behind Jadeveon Clowney in PFF’s pass-rushing marks, and behind Nick Bosa in terms of stuffing the run for those wondering how he stacks up. He ranked among the top 10 edge defenders in pass-rush productivity and led the way in run-stop percentage while finishing 19th overall among edge defenders per the analytics site.

Flowers was far and away Detroit’s highest-graded interior/EDGE defender as the only one with double-digit forced hurries and quarterback hits. His seven sacks tied (now Cardinals) linebacker Devon Kennard for tops on the team.

Now, the team moves forward banking on the likes of Hand and Austin Bryant to bounce back from injury-riddled campaigns. Hand appeared in only three games, while Bryant was limited to four and 133 snaps. Hand’s return from injury would have been one of the primary focuses under typical camp circumstances in the coming weeks, as the darling of Pro Football Focus could be one of the keys to flipping the script.
Bryant was a fourth-round pick and comes with some versatility off the edge, but a shoulder injury kept him off the practice field for most of the year. He’ll now look to develop and find a role without a preseason.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn and Patricia are also banking on Danny Shelton to fill Harrison's spot in the middle of the line. The best argument for the former first-round pick doing so is that he turned in his best season in New England's system after mediocre play with the Browns.
Shelton racked up three sacks and 18 pressures, while ranking 58th against the run among interior defenders per PFF. That’s better than Harrison (70th) or any other Lions defensive lineman or edge rusher finished.
Nick Williams was another free-agent addition, coming over on a two-year deal from the Chicago Bears. Williams went into last season as a 29-year-old without a sack to his name but racked up six while taking advantage of his first consistent playing time. He appeared in only two games in 2018, but then logged a career-high 532 snaps last season.
Another aspect we’ll miss from a typical camp and preseason setting is watching the development and deployment of rookie Julian Okwara.
The Lions took Julian Okwara, the younger brother of defensive end Romeo Okwara, out of Notre Dame in the third round. The 6-foot-4, 250-plus pound pass rusher was considered a first-round prospect by many, but broke his leg late in the college season and missed the scouting combine. He had five sacks in nine games and pressured the passer 32 times on 202 pass-rushing snaps.
Pairing him next to his older brother was a wise move for the field and locker room, with Romeo Okwara just one year removed from a career-high 7.5 sacks in 2018. If the two of them can form a solid rotation on the other side of Flowers with Hand moving up and down the line, this unit could far exceed expectations.
For the Lions and Patricia to turn this thing around, they're going to need players like Hand, Bryant, and Julian Okwara to bounce back from injuries while getting consistent production from Shelton and Williams.
The Lions opened the season with eight defensive linemen last year, and might be wise to enter 2020 with even more after watching the trenches fall apart. John Penisini and Jashon Cornell were the sixth- and seventh-round draft picks. They will compete with Kevin Strong, John Atkins, Olive Sagapolu, Jonathan Wynn and Frank Herron for depth positions.
Strong, Atkins, Herron, and Wynn saw live reps last year, with the former making the roster as an undrafted free agent. Strong will have to hope his progress from last year will be enough to keep him in town while the NFL pushes forward with fewer opportunities for fringe players.
Flowers is a cornerstone player, no doubt about that. The fact that this defense was as bad as it was while he was as good as he was last year is concerning when looking at all the young, unproven faces around him.
In an ideal world, Hand and Bryant stay on the field while Julian Okwara arrives as the disruptor many pictured him as this time last year. Shelton and Williams will also need to prove their respective breakouts aren’t blips on the radar as the new-look defensive line will need them to fill holes as the rookies and those coming back from injury get up to speed. The talent and scheme familiarity are there. It’s just a question of whether or not it can come (and stay) together.
Roster projection: Trey Flowers, Danny Shelton, Da’Shawn Hand, Julian Okwara, Romeo Okwara, Nick Williams, Austin Bryant, John Penisini, Jashon Cornell

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Best of the Black and Gold: BHGP Ranks the Greatest Tight Ends of the Ferentz Era

With tight ends this good, who needs wide receivers?
By MattReisener  Jul 24, 2020, 6:31am CDT

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

This offseason, Black Heart Gold Pants is undertaking the unenviable task of ranking the greatest players of the Kirk Ferentz era. From 1999-2019, we’re emptying the memory banks, popping in the highlight tapes, and embracing the controversy as we try to determine who stands out as the best of the best. We’ll start by ranking the top five players at every position group before moving on to the top 25 players regardless of position. Rankings are based on college performance and do not take professional success into account.
Iowa football has become a veritable tight end factory under head coach Kirk Ferentz. Between the runaway NFL success of George Kittle, the long and productive career of Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Dallas Clark, and the two Hawkeye tight ends selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft (the first time one school has ever accomplished this feat), Iowa has established a reputation for producing productive college players and top-flight NFL draft prospects at this position. At a time when more and more schools are abandoning the pro set in favor of spread schemes, Iowa regularly deploys two-tight end packages and finds creative ways to incorporate these players into their offense.
Picking the best tight ends of the Ferentz era is a challenging proposition, but we gave it our best shot. The absence of “The People’s Tight End” George Kittle may raise a few eyebrows but remember that this list is based on college feats, not success at the professional level.
5. Brandon Myers (2005-2008)
In another life, Myers might have spent his whole career stuck behind Tony Moeaki, one of the most talented tight ends in program history whose college career was constantly derailed by injuries. Instead Myers was given a chance to play major snaps during Moeaki’s frequent stints on the injured list, and he more than made the most of those opportunities. A first-team All-Big Ten selection as a senior, Myers caught 34 passes for 441 yards and four touchdowns and parlayed a strong 2008 campaign into a solid NFL career.
Myers was not the most athletic tight end to come through Iowa but was arguably the most technically sound. The Prairie City-Monroe alum showed great hands, was an able run blocker, and was one of the best route runners I’ve seen at the tight end position. Myers was an absolute weapon on third down due to his ability to adjust to defensive coverages and find holes in opposing zones and became a real security blanket for Ricky Stanzi when the Hawkeyes went to the air. Myers may not have had the recruiting pedigree of some of his fellow Hawkeye tight ends, but he was one of the top players at his position as a senior and is more than deserving of a place on this list.
4. Scott Chandler (2003-2006)
Scott Chandler began his Iowa career as a wide receiver in the shadow of his older brother Nathan, Iowa’s starting QB in 2003. By the end of his tenure in Iowa City, the not-so-little brother had established himself as one of the best tight ends in program history. Despite never earning above second-team All-Conference honors, Chandler was consistently excellent over the course of his Hawkeye career, finishing with 1467 yards and 10 touchdowns while establishing himself as one of the most dangerous red zone weapons in college football as a senior.
Chandler’s imposing 6-7 frame made him an absolute matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs. He had wide receiver ball skills and fantastic hands, both of which helped him produce a spectacularly memorable juggling catch against Iowa State.

Chandler's 117 career receptions rank first in program history among tight ends, and from 2005-2006 he was consistently one of the most dangerous receiving weapons in the country at his position.
3. Noah Fant (2016-2018)
Noah Fant was a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. A 6-5, 232lb with 4.5 forty speed, Fant looked like he was designed in a lab to obliterate existing notions of what was possible at the tight end position. Fant could torch defensive backs deep and outjump/outmuscle anyone in the red zone. These skills helped Fant pull in 19 touchdown receptions over his three-year career in Iowa City, easily the most of any Hawkeye tight end and the fourth most in program history. BoilerHawk pointed out that nearly one out of every four of Fant’s catches produced a touchdown, which is absolutely incredible.
Fant never lived up to his potential as a blocker and the coaches often struggled to find the best way to operationalize his unique skillset, particularly once his running mate and co-first-team All-Big Ten choice T.J. Hockenson emerged as legitimate #1 option. Still, Fant’s production over the course of only three seasons (78 catches for 1083 yards) is undeniable, as were the impressive highlights he produced during his time in the black and gold.

Watching Fant beat Ohio State's star defensive back Jordan Fuller deep and absolutely embarrass Nebraska in 2017 are some of the most exciting highlights Iowa has produced in several years and speak to Fant's exceptional and unique talent and his place on the pantheon of Iowa's all-time great tight ends.
2. T.J. Hockenson (2017-2018)
T.J. Hockenson only played for two years at Iowa, and only spent one season in the starting lineup. But when you produce on the level of Hockenson’s sophomore season, it’s tough to argue with his inclusion on this list. In his All-American Mackey Award-winning season, Hockenson pulled in 49 catches for 760 yards and six touchdowns and produced arguably the most dominant season of any tight end in program history.
Hockenson was a true every down player at tight end who excelled as both a blocker and a pass catcher. His soft hands and incredible leaping ability made him impossible to cover on passing plays, and his physical, hard-nosed blocking made him a legitimate asset in the running game. His breakout performance came as a redshirt freshman when he scored two touchdowns against Ohio State, while his evisceration of Indiana the following year solidified him as one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the country.

Had he returned for his junior season, Hockenson likely could have contended for the top spot on this list. As it stands, however, he will have to “settle” for a #2 ranking.

1. Dallas Clark (2000-2002)
Dallas Clark played three years at Iowa and spent one of those seasons as a reserve linebacker. For Clark to have established such an unimpeachable legacy in such a short time speaks to just how dominant a player he was at the tight end position. Clark burst onto the scene in 2001 with his 38 catches for 539, but eviscerated all expectation the following year, earning Consensus All-American honors and winning the Mackey Award while catching 43 passes for 742. Clark was our unanimous pick for the #1 spot, and the superlatives from my colleagues speak to exactly how dominant he was as a collegiate tight end:
“A legend among heroes. He did it all at Iowa and outdid that as a pro. No doubter in my view.” – JpinIC
I wanted to ‘hot take’ Noah Fant in the top spot but Clark’s two-year career at tight end is unassailable with a career 15.3 yards/reception.” -BoilerHawk
"Part of one of arguably the best Ferentz era team and has one of the most memorable moments of that season." - tnels20
The "memorable moment" mentioned above came in the form of two plays against Purdue in 2002 which remain among the most iconic of the Ferentz era.

Iowa has produced several elite tight ends, but it was a no-brainer to put Clark at the top of this list.

Popular Posts