Today we move on to part two of our Q&A session with Football Outsiders, who graciously answered several of our burning questions about the Green Bay Packers. Remember to check out their annual Football Outsiders Almanac, which is chock-full of statistical goodies and analysis about every team in the NFL.
One item in the Almanac’s analysis of the Packers, which was written by former FO staffer Cian Fahey, caught our eye, so we wanted to see just why Ted Thompson was drawing criticism for refusing to change his ways when most of us at APC saw this offseason as being a sign that he actually had embraced free agency more widely. Here’s the exchange with FO Assistant Editor Vincent Verhei, with some discussion between each portion of his response.
APC: The analysis in the Almanac spent a lot of time criticizing Ted Thompson’s draft-heavy approach, and said that “outside of the draft, (Martellus) Bennett represents the only real effort the Packers made to get better this offseason.” However, they actually signed veterans at the positions that were widely viewed to be needs prior to the draft. Do you feel that Davon House, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Lance Kendricks are just bodies, or can they actually help the Packers in a meaningful way this season?
Well, let's look at these guys one at a time.
* Davon House finished the season as Jacksonville's fourth cornerback last year. He started the first four games of the year, playing 218 defensive snaps, but was benched for Prince Amukamara and played only 54 snaps in the next 12 games. He didn't play enough to qualify for our cornerback tables, but he had a 22 percent success rate (forcing an incomplete pass or short reception) in coverage, allowing 10.9 yards per pass. None of the 87 corners who did qualify had a worse success rate, and only one gave up more yards per pass. We didn't devote a ton of space to him in the book because it never occurred to us he would be a starter. It's a terrible sign that Jacksonville didn't want to keep him as a fourth corner, but he might end up starting in Green Bay.
This analysis is striking, in that it looks only at House’s 2016 and ignores any impact of scheme or his past success. In 2015, House’s first season with Jacksonville, the Jaguars played primarily press-man coverage and House had by far his finest season as a pro. Starting all 16 games, he recorded four interceptions and a whopping 23 pass breakups, while allowing a passer rating under 80 into his coverage (per Pro Football Focus).
Yes, House struggled mightily in Jacksonville last season and was benched early in the season. However, he has been vocal about the Jaguars’ switch to zone coverage as being a problem for him. Luckily, his return to Green Bay is a return to the man scheme that made him a sought-after corner two years ago. For those reasons, there is more than ample reason for optimism about House’s ability to become a solid starter once again.
* Ricky Jean Francois played about 25 snaps a game the past two seasons in Washington. He's a useful rotational lineman, but not a game-changer, and no better than the guys Green Bay had there last year -- this looks like a lateral move.
This is fair enough analysis. RJF will likely replace Letroy Guion’s rotational snaps in the base defense and on early downs, and despite Guion’s ranking as the 285th-best player in the NFL on one writer’s hilarious list of the best players in the NFL, it’s tough to make a case that he was any sort of a game-changer. RJF probably isn’t at this point either, but isn’t asked to be, as he should at least be decent option as a fourth lineman behind Mike Daniels, Dean Lowry, and Kenny Clark. I argue that this is still meaningful.
* As for Lance Kendricks, remember Jared Cook, the tight end Green Bay had last year and then dumped in favor of Martellus Bennett? Cook and Kendricks were teammates with the Rams for three years, and in those three years Cook averaged 37.2 yards per game, compared to 16.6 for Kendricks. Kendricks might be a better blocker than Cook, but he's literally less than half as productive as a receiver, and is at best a third tight end behind Bennett and Richard Rodgers in Green Bay.
I feel that this analysis overemphasizes what Kendricks does or does not bring to the table as a receiver. While contributions there will be nice, it’s likely to be his blocking and positional versatility that will be more critical to the offense than his receiving stats. Kendricks may well be the third option as a receiver, but I would bet that he still sees more snaps than Rodgers because of his versatility.
Stay tuned for more from our Q&A throughout the week, and be sure to check out the 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac, available here.