The Fillability Index is our annual look at each team's off-season acquisitions and departures.
We continue today with the NFC South, which, contrary to rumors of its demise, remains a part of the NFL despite a dreadul all-around performance in 2007. The division was a league-worst 3-13 in non-conference games last year, while division champion Tampa went just 9-7 and was quickly bounced at home in the wildcard round of the playoffs. If this were the English Premier League, the NFC South would have been relegated to the SEC, and the Georgia Bulldogs would be the favorites to capture the conference crown.
The Fillability Index is the best way found anywhere in the seedy underworld of online football analysis to measure the off-season moves of each NFL team. Its brilliance is found in its simplicity: we size up each team based upon their statistical strengths and weaknesses last year, as measured by their rankings in all of our Quality Stats, and then determine whether they made the necessary off-season personnel moves to shore up those weaknesses.
Pretty simple. Yet nobody else does it.
So on to the Index.
(Index Key: Bend = Bendability Index; Score = Scoreability Index; PYPA = Passing Yards Per Attempt; DPR = Defensive Passer Rating; OHI = Offensive Hog Index; DHI = Defensive Hog Index; Big Play = Big Play Index; Relativity = Relativity Index; ST = Special Teams)
ATLANTA (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
RB Michael Turner (San Diego)
S Erik Coleman (New York Jets)
K Jason Elam (Denver)
DE Simon Fraser (Cleveland)
TE Ben Hartsock (Tennessee)
DB Von Hutchins (Houston)
DL Rashad Moore (New England)
DT Kindal Moorehead (Carolina)
C Alex Stepanovich (Cincinnati)
CB DeAngelo Hall (Oakland)
TE Alge Crumpler (Tennessee)
RB Warrick Dunn (Tampa Bay)
LB Demorrio Williams (Kansas City)
TE Courtney Anderson (Buffalo)
QB Byron Leftwich (Unsigned)
TE Dwayne Blakley (Tennessee)
S Chris Crocker (Miami)
CB Omare Lowe (Seattle)
CB Lewis Sanders (New England)
1 (3) Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College
1 (21) Sam Baker, OT, USC
2 (37) Curtis Lofton, LB, Oklahoma
3 (68) Chevis Jackson, CB, LSU
3 (84) Harry Douglas, WR, Louisville
3 (98) Thomas DeCoud, S, California
5 (138) Robert James, LB, Arizona State
5 (154) Kroy Biermann, LB, Montana
6 (172) Thomas Brown, RB, Georgia
7 (212) Wilrey Fontenot, CB, Arizona
7 (232) Keith Zinger, TE, LSU
Falcons Fillability Overview
The loss of Michael Vick before the 2007 season – and apparently for good – was not felt in its impact on Atlanta's passing game. Nosiree, Fido.
The loss of Vick was felt in its impact on the ground game. The Falcons rushed for 5.47 yards per attempt in 2006 – a mark good enough for second best in the Super Bowl Era and fifth best in NFL history
. Vick led the way, with an amazing 8.45 YPA (123 rushes for 1,039 yards), the greatest single average in NFL history, breaking Bears rookie Beattie Feathers' previous record of 8.44 YPA set way back in 1934.
Without Vick, Atlanta's ground game stumbled overnight to mediocrity, averaging 3.95 yards per attempt last season, barely making the NFL' Top 20 of 2007, let alone the NFL's top five of all time that they boasted in 2006.
With all that said, Vick was not a pro-caliber passer – and finding a top-notch passer means everything in the NFL, no matter how effective the ground game. And that search fell woefully short last year – as the firm of Redman, Harrington & Leftwich combined for 18 TDs and 15 picks and averaged a paltry 5.48 Passing Yards Per Attempt (believe it or not, as bad as that mark was, it was only three one-hundredths of a yard less than the 5.51 per-attempt average of the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants with Eli Manning).
So, to that end, the Falcons made one of the boldest moves of the draft, grabbing former Boston College star Matt Ryan with the third overall pick in the draft. It was a selection that surprised every draft "pundit"
– except for the Cold, Hard Football Facts and those folks who had actually watched the Atlanta passing game struggle last year.
So Leftwich, one of the prize young QBs in the NFL just two years ago, is gone and perhaps out of football in the Not For Long League. Redman is No. 1 on the depth chart, followed by Harrington. But it's a job that should go to Ryan before long. After all, as CHFF readers learned over the weekend, Redman and Harrington have combined for a 30-56 record in their collective NFL careers (though Redman has accounted for just 10 of those starts). Clearly, the future is with Ryan.
(In the race to elevate Ryan, though, it's worth noting that the leading candidate for the coveted "Jumping the Gun Faster than any Other Media Outlet in 2008 Award" is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has already declared that Ryan has "proven" himself to his teammates
after one part of one exhibition game. Nice work, AJC!)
The Falcons are also remaking the franchise at positions other than quarterback. Three of the biggest names from the team over the past several years are now gone, including DeAngelo Hall, Alge Crumpler and Warrick Dunn. Coupled with Vick, this crew represented the heart of the Falcons franchise for most of the 21st century. Now they're all gone.
But radical turnover is what happens, and is probably what's needed, when your team tumbles to 4-12 and suffers the personnel and coaching humiliations that the Falcons endured last year. The decision to buck the "pundits," put the Vick Era behind them and draft Ryan (yes, as recently as a couple months ago, folks, the "pundits" stupidly expected the Falcons to wait on Vick) was one of the key moves of the off-season for any team. Coupled with the fact that Atlanta dumped many of its past big stars, and picked up a potential gamebreaker in former San Diego running back Michael Turner, shows that the Falcons are committed to starting over and putting the sordid recent past behind them. And that spells progress.
Atlanta Fillability Grade: B
CAROLINA (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
WR D.J. Hackett (Seattle)
WR Muhsin Muhammad (Chicago)
DE Tyler Brayton (Oakland)
OG Milford Brown (St. Louis)
CB Ricardo Colclough (Cleveland)
S Terence Holt (Arizona)
LB Landon Johnson (Cincinnati)
RB LaBrandon Toefield (Jacksonville)
OG Keydrick Vincent (Arizona)
DT Darwin Walker (Chicago)
DT Kris Jenkins (New York Jets)
DE Mike Rucker (Retired)
OT Mike Wahle (Seattle)
QB David Carr (New York Giants)
WR Drew Carter (Oakland)
WR Keary Colbert (Denver)
RB DeShaun Foster (San Francisco)
C Justin Hartwig (Pittsburgh)
S Marquand Manuel (Denver)
DT Kindal Moorehead (Atlanta)
LB Dan Morgan (New Orleans)
1 (13) Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon
1 (19) Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh
3 (67) Charles Godfrey, CB, Iowa
3 (74) Dan Connor, LB, Penn State
5 (141) Gary Barnidge, TE, Louisville
6 (181) Nick Hayden, DT, Wisconsin
7 (221) Hilee Taylor, LB, North Carolina
7 (241) Geoff Schwartz, OT, Oregon
7 (250) Mackenzy Bernadeau, OG, Bentley
Panthers Fillability Overview
The Panthers found themselves in a tricky situation this off-season.
Clearly, the team's great statistical weakness last year was an offense that ranked 30th in Passing Yards Per Attempt. But that's what happens when your top quarterback, Jake Delhomme, undergoes Tommy John surgery and the offense is put in the hands of:
- David Carr, he of the .291 career winning percentage Carrs, and
- Vinny Testaverde, whose 131-year-old body was defrosted from a cryogenics warehouse in Arizona to start six games for the Panthers last year.
So, with a healthy Delhomme set to return this year, the Panthers made few other efforts to shore up the passing game. Oh, sure, they picked up a couple free-agent wideouts, including old friend Muhsin Muhammad. The last time we saw Muhammad in a Panthers uniform (2004), he was catching a Randy Moss-esque 93 passes for 1,405 yards and 16 TDs. But the Panthers also lost two of their major contributors at wideout from 2007, as well, so that WR exchange doesn't necessarily indicate a step forward in the passing game. Clearly, the hopes are that Delhomme alone will improve that dreadful aspect of Carolina's game from 2007 (and he'll attempt to do it without star wideout Steve Smith for the first two games – Smith was suspended after a training camp fight).
So Carolina's off-season efforts went elsewhere, and it looks like they failed in the biggest area: shoring up a group of Defensive Hogs who were among the worst in football last year (24th in our Defensive Hog Index). Longtime front-four stalwarts Kris Jenkins (Jets) and Mike Rucker (the golf course) are both gone. The Panthers picked up only marginal players to fill in along the Defensive Hogs, such as DE Tyler Brayton, who wasn't even a fulltime starter last year with the Raiders, let alone with a real NFL team.
Third-round draft pick Dan Connor could prove to be another in a long line of a great linebackers out of Penn State. But Carolina waited until the sixth round to grab a defensive lineman in the draft.
All in all, there's hope for the passing game with the return of Delhomme and Muhammad. But it's hard to see the Defensive Hogs improving with just two proven starters along the front four (Julius Peppers and Maake Kemoeatu).
Carolina Fillability Grade: C-
NEW ORLEANS (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
TE Jeremy Shockey (New York Giants)
LB Dan Morgan (Carolina)
CB Randall Gay (New England)
QB Mark Brunell (Washington)
DE Bobby McCray (Jacksonville)
CB Aaron Glenn (Jacksonville)
OG Matt Lehr (Tampa Bay)
LB Jonathan Vilma (N.Y. Jets)
C Jeff Faine (Tampa Bay)
K Olindo Mare (Seattle)
LB Matt McCoy (Tampa Bay)
LB Brian Simmons (Unsigned)
CB Fred Thomas (Unsigned)
1 (7) Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC
2 (40) Tracy Porter, CB, Indiana
5 (144) DeMario Pressley, DT, North Carolina State
5 (164) Carly Nicks, OT, Nebraska
6 (178) Taylor Mehlhaff, K, Wisconsin
7 (237) Adrian Arrington, WR, Michigan
Saints Fillability Overview
We've talked about this ad nauseam with our pal Gerry V. on 99.5 WRNO in New Orleans
the past few weeks, but it's worth repeating for you, the loyal CHFF reader: the Saints pass defense was so pathetic last year even the orphans of Calcutta felt sorry for it.
New Orleans was dead last in Defensive Passer Rating in 2007. The Saints surrendered a league-high 32 TD passes – hell, the Dolphins were a sickly 1-15 and twice faced the record-setting aerial assault of Tom Brady last year, yet they allowed a mere 28 TD passes in 2007 (nine to Brady, 19 to everybody else).
The Saints defense countered those 32 TDs allowed with just 13 picks, while surrendering 7.87 yards per pass attempt, also the highest mark in the league.
Don't discount the impact this pass defense had on the Saints last year. The performance of the pass defense was the main difference between the conference-title contender Saints of 2006 and the sub-.500 Saints of 2007.
New Orleans made some efforts in this area, adding veteran defensive backs Randall Gay and Aaron Glenn. Gay is a solid nickel-back type and a sure tackler. But he's not the type of guy to build an improved pass defense around. Glenn has 14 NFL years under his belt and is well past his prime, but should at least provide some veteran leadership – for those of you who value those type of intangible contributions.
The pass defense should get some help up front from stud No. 1 draft pick Sedrick Ellis out of USC. He's already considered one of the strongest players in the NFL, which should help immensely if the league ever awards points for the bench press and the clean & jerk. New Orleans also grabbed cornerback Tracy Porter out of Indiana in the second round.
The big off-season acquisition of tackling machine and former Jets MLB Jonathan Vilma should go a long way toward improving several aspects of the defense. They desperately need the help.
The Saints also struggled immensely to produce Big Plays on either side of the ball last year. Their total of 40 Big Plays was among the lowest in the league, and their net -16 performance on the Big Play Index was 29th overall. It's amazing that a team with Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush and Marques Colston would struggle so mightily to produce game-breaking plays.
The addition of Vilma and Ellis on defense should at least make that unit more capable of game-changing plays. Second-round-pick DB Porter, meanwhile, has speed and was often used as a punt returner at Indiana. So perhaps he can provide a spark to a defense that desperately needs it – and a special teams unit that ranked No. 29 on our Special Teams Index last season.
Not a bad off-season for the Saints. But unless the big-name players started producing big-time Big Plays on both sides of the ball, the team could struggle again in 2008.
New Orleans Fillability Grade: B
TAMPA BAY (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
DE Marques Douglas (San Francisco)
RB Warrick Dunn (Atlanta)
C Jeff Faine (New Orleans)
DB Eugene Wilson (New England)
TE John Gilmore (Chicago)
LB Leon Joe (Buffalo)
TE Ben Troupe (Tennessee)
LB Teddy Lehman (Detroit)
DE Jimmy Wilkerson (Kansas City)
LB Matt McCoy (New Orleans)
QB Brian Griese (Chicago)
FB Mike Alstott (Retired)
CB Brian Kelly (Detroit)
TE Anthony Becht (St. Louis)
OG Matt Lehr (New Orleans)
QB Bruce Gradkowski (St. Louis)
RB Michael Pittman (Denver)
DE Greg Spires (Oakland)
C John Wade (Oakland)
LB Jeremiah Trotter (Unsigned)
1 (20) Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas
2 (58) Dexter Jackson, WR, Appalachian State
3 (83) Jeremy Zuttah, OG, Rutgers
4 (115) Dre Moore, DT, Maryland
5 (160) Josh Johnson, QB, San Diego
6 (175) Geno Hayes, LB, Florida State
7 (238) Cory Boyd, RB, South Carolina
Buccaneers Fillability Overview
The 2007 Bucs were fairly consistent across the board in our Quality Stats, with an average rank of 12.1 in our nine indicators that's consistent with a 9-7 division winner.
Tampa was stout defensively. In fact, they were clearly the NFC's top defensive club
in 2007 (though a schedule filled by weak offenses from their own division and the NFC West helped boost their status). The offense, though, was no better than mediocre in most areas, from its No. 12 ranking in Passing Yards Per Attempt, to its No. 14 ranking in our Offensive Hog Index, to its No. 18 spot in Scoreability, our measure of offensive efficiency. The Bucs were better in each comparative defensive category (Defensive Passer Rating, Defensive Hog Index and Bendability Index).
Clearly, the offense needed more work in the off-season. But they didn't get too much of it.
Jeff Faine represents a big upgrade at center over 2007 starter John Wade. But the other "big" acquisitions were RB Warrick Dunn and QB Brian Griese, both of whom can probably count on their better days being behind them. The top offensive draft pick, WR Dexter Jackson, came out of a 1-AA school, Appalachian State. Granted, the Mountaineers are the two-time defending champs at that level, beat Michigan in the Big House last year and produced more draft picks in 2008 than many 1-A schools. But it's unreasonable to count on any 1-AA receiver to provide instant acceleration to the offense, unless Jackson proves to be the second coming of Jerry Rice out of Mississippi Valley State. But predictions that bold have bankrupted many a high roller.
The relative lack of effort to bolster the offense, coupled with the fact that the offense remains in the hands of the efficient (13 TD, 4 INT last year) but itinerant (five teams in six years) dinosaur QB Jeff Garcia does not give a lot of hope that the Bucs will field an offense this year that could drive them deep into the playoffs. Consider that Garcia is just four months younger than "old man" Brett Favre.
Tampa Bay Fillability Grade: C-