I am going to start today’s story with a confession.
Frank T. Raines isn’t my real name.
It’s actually a pseudonym that I chose because I wanted to be able to end all of my articles with the following line:
But, ah ... the best laid plans are not always bestly laid. You see, we don’t close our articles on Field Gulls with a signature.
I mention this today because as I guide you through the roster numbers on the defensive side of the ball, you’re going to get the distinct impression that I am, perhaps, “cherry picking” the numbers to paint the Rams in a very poor light.
Because, well ... FTR.
I assure you that I am not doing any such thing. I am simply sharing the numbers ... making a few observations about them ... and maybe taking a bit of delight in the fact that, well, they seem to paint the Rams in a very poor light.
Part Four of this series looked at the numbers on the offensive side of the ball. Today we’re taking a look at the defensive side of things ... and special teams.
And, oh, is FTR going to have some fun!
Understanding the tables
A quick recap for those that may have missed the explanation in Part Four.
The first row of numbers in each table is the number of players in that position group. Pretty straight forward, right?
The second row of numbers is the total number of accrued seasons for that position group. Accrued seasons are the league’s way of awarding “experience points” which players can use to “level up” in free agency.
The third row of numbers is the maximum years of experience that the position group could have based on when each player in that group entered the league. For example, a player that entered the league in 2018 could have a maximum of 3 seasons (but might not have 3 accrued seasons - for any number of reasons).
The final row of numbers is the difference between the 2 previous rows. At some point I may draw attention to them. If I do, I’ll probably refer to them as “lost seasons”. They’re sort of irrelevant today though.
Now that you understand the tables - or at least have something to refer back to if you get confused by a table ... let’s get started!
NFC West Defensive Line groups
Last year the Rams had the league’s #1 overall defense. They gave up 362 fewer yards than the #2 team (WFT). They were #1 against the pass, #3 against the run, and gave up fewer points than anyone else.
They may have trouble duplicating those results this season.
Table 5.1: D-Linemen
Despite having the most defensive linemen in the division, the Rams have the least amount of experience. By a considerable margin. Eighteen accrued seasons, to be exact ... and that’s behind the 3rd-place team, San Francisco. The Rams trail the #1 Cardinals by 26.
I won’t dive into this too much more right now because I’m about to break the D-line group into smaller, bite-size pieces - i.e. Defensive Tackles and Defensive Ends. But I will show you the averages for each team ...
- Accrued seasons: AZ: 3.35 | SF: 3.27 | SEA: 3.25 | LAR: 1.63
- Max seasons: SEA: 4.25 | AZ: 3.88 | SF: 3.67 | LAR: 1.95
NFC West Defensive Tackles
I’ll be honest, I sort of want to give the Rams “bonus points” based on their having the reigning Defensive Player of the Year on their roster at the DT position - an award, I might add, that Aaron Donald has now won three times in his first seven seasons.
No bonus points though - because that would be “wrong” ... and because it would pull them out of the cellar and where’s the fun in that?
Table 5.2: Interior Defensive Linemen
As you can see from the table, the Seahawks are actually tied with the Rams for the fewest accrued seasons. But we have more max seasons ... and fewer players ... so we “win.”
Let’s start with the averages so we have a “level” playing field.
- Accrued seasons: AZ: 3.00 | SF: 2.86 | SEA: 2.43 | LAR: 1.70
- Max seasons: AZ: 3.60 | SEA: 3.43 | SF: 3.00 | LAR: 2.20
Now let’s dig a little deeper ...
Players with 5+ accrued seasons:
- Seattle: Al Woods (9)
- San Francisco: Zach Kerr (7)
- Arizona: J.J. Watt (10), Jordan Phillips (6), Xavier Williams (6)
- Los Angeles: Aaron Donald (7), A’Shawn Robinson (5)
Now, let’s update our remaining numbers.
- Seattle: 6 players, 8 accrued seasons (1.33 average)
- San Francisco: 6 players, 13 accrued seasons (2.17 average)
- Arizona: 7 players, 14 accrued seasons (2.00 average)
- Los Angeles: 8 players, 5 accrued seasons (0.63 average)
Number of players with ZERO accrued seasons:
- Seattle: 3
- San Francisco: 0
- Arizona: 2
- Los Angeles: 6
Circling back to our original numbers, minus all of the players with zero accrued seasons, here’s what we’re looking at division-wide:
- Seattle: 4 players, 17 accrued seasons (4.25 average)
- San Francisco: 7 players, 20 accrued seasons (2.86 average)
- Arizona: 8 players, 30 accrued seasons (3.75 average)
- Los Angeles: 4 players, 17 accrued seasons (4.25 average)
See why I resisted the urge to give the Rams bonus points for their all-world defensive tackle?
NFC West Defensive Ends
I’ll admit, I wanted us to come out ahead of the Rams with every defensive position group. And I am, perhaps, a bit disappointed that we didn’t with the Defensive Tackle. But they have Aaron Donald and we don’t so it would have been something of a hollow victory even if we’d finished alone in 3rd place.
Now we move outside though, to the defensive ends and ...
We’re #1 ... We’re #1 ... We’re #1 ... We’re #1 ... (and we done did LAPPED the Rams!)
Table 5.3: EDGEs
So ... let’s talk about how a team that wants to repeat as the #1 defense might do so with 9 defensive ends that have a total of 14 accrued seasons in the league.
And let’s talk about how 5 of those accrued seasons belong to Leonard Floyd, which leaves 9 accrued seasons for their other 8 EDGEs to divvy up amongst themselves.
Not looking good for the Rams, right?
Seattle has 4 players with at least 5 accrued seasons. That group is led by Carlos Dunlap (11) and Benson Mayowa (8), and includes Kerry Hyder and Aldon Smith (5 apiece).
Down in Santa Clara Adjacent, they’ve got Dee Ford (7) and Arik Armstead (6). Plus Jordan Willis and Samson Ebukam who are going for AS#5 this year.
The Cardinals have Chandler Jones (9), Devon Kennard (7), and Markus Golden (6).
Meanwhile, after Leonard Floyd, the Rams are headed up by a pair of players with 3 accrued seasons each - Justin Lawler and a guy who has way too many Os in his name (Ogbonnia Okoronkwo).
To close this one out, let’s look at the averages ... just for giggles.
- Accrued seasons: SEA: 3.89 | AZ: 3.86 | SF: 3.63 | LAR: 1.56
- Max seasons: SEA: 4.89 | AZ: 4.29 | SF: 4.25 | LAR: 1.67
NFC West Linebacker groups
As a reminder, the numbers that are being used in this series represent the NFC West rosters as they were on June 25th.
Having said that, let’s look at the raw numbers (including Gerry) for the NFC West’s linebacker groups.
Table 5.4: ‘Backers
As expected, since it seems to be the theme of today’s story, the Rams are in the cellar once again. But ...
Without Nate Gerry “boosting” the 49ers’ numbers, it would actually be pretty close.
San Francisco’s numbers, sans Gerry would be 7, 11, and 13.
Again though, this series is based on the June 25th snapshot so ... the 49ers get credit for a player they have since released. C’est la vie.
Let’s start with the averages.
- Accrued seasons: AZ: 2.22 | SEA: 2.00 | SF: 1.88 | LAR: 1.43
- Max seasons: AZ: 2.78 | SF: 2.13 | SEA: 2.00 | LAR: 1.86
So far, so good, right?
But there’s a fly in this ointment ...
Without tying names to numbers (for now), here are the individual accrued seasons for each of the players in each of the NFC West linebacker rooms:
- Seahawks: 9-2-2-1-0-0-0
- 49ers: 4-4-3-2-2-0-0-0
- Cardinals: 6-4-3-3-3-1-0-0-0
- Rams: 3-3-2-2-0-0-0
Before advancing, let’s first pause a moment to reflect on the fact that the 9 at the front of our list represents a single player who has nearly as many accrued seasons as all 7 of the Rams’ linebackers combined.
All hail #54.
Now, since the 49ers already cut a guy who represented the most accrued seasons in their linebacker room, let’s cut the most experienced linebacker from each of the other 3 teams and look at what we’ve got left.
- Seattle: 6 players, 5 accrued seasons, 0.83 average
- San Francisco: 7 players, 11 accrued seasons, 1.57 average
- Arizona: 8 players, 14 accrued seasons, 1.75 average
- Los Angeles: 6 players, 7 accrued seasons, 1.17 average
And, if you prefer the other layout ...
- Seahawks: x-2-2-1-0-0-0
- 49ers: x-4-3-2-2-0-0-0
- Cardinals: x-4-3-3-3-1-0-0-0
- Rams: x-3-2-2-0-0-0
For me, the second version actually paints a bleaker picture for us. Picture keeping 3 linebackers ... our numbers would be 2-2-1 (5 total). The 49ers’ numbers would be 4-3-2 (9 total). The Cardinals’ numbers would total 10 (4-3-3). Even the Rams would top us with their 3-2-2 (7 total).
Fortunately, this isn’t a likely scenario because even if I hadn’t spoiled the surprise, we all know the player that was subtracted for Seattle was future Hall of Famer, Bobby Wagner.
The 9ers lost Nate Gerry in this scenario - which ... they already released him so that one’s realistic and clearly not something that would make them lose any sleep.
The Cardinals lost Jordan Hicks. Interestingly, he’s the only Arizona linebacker that had over 1,000 defensive snaps last season, but the Cardinals are replacing him with a rookie (Zaven Collins) this season and would save an even $5M if they move on from Hicks ... At least theoretically, this one could happen.
And the Rams? Their 2 linebackers with 3 accrued seasons are Kenny Young and Micah Kiser who ... well ... let’s just say that PFF doesn’t think very highly of either of them. Opinions do, of course, vary regarding PFF’s methodology (and results), but of 183 linebackers that PFF graded last season, Young was #148 and Kiser was #152.
Honestly, I feel a bit bad for the Rams. I mean, if you were their GM, would you feel like you’d set the team up for success at the linebacker position?
- Kenny Young, 2018 R4, #122 overall
- Micah Kiser, 2018 R5, #147
- Travin Howard, 2018 R7, #231
- Troy Reeder, 2019 UDFA
- Christian Rozeboom, 2020 UDFA
- Derrick Moncrief, 2020 UDFA
- Ernest Jones, 2021 R3, #103 overall
That is the Rams linebacker group in that 3-3-2-2-0-0-0 order.
Meanwhile, the Hawks have Bobby Wagner and last year’s R1 and R2 selections written in as the starters.
The Cardinals have this year’s #16 overall pick (Collins) and last year’s #8 overall pick (Isaiah Simmons) with a number of vets to choose from at the other LB spot.
And San Francisco has Fred Warner, PFF’s #1 linebacker in 2020 and the only linebacker in the division (if not the league) who could even think to make a case for being “better” than Bwagz. And they also have Dre Greenlaw who ... ain’t bad.
But, the Rams knocked us out of the playoffs last year so ... let’s just smile and move on to the defensive backs.
NFC West Defensive Back groups
If you thought the numbers were skewed against the Rams in the first few sections ... you ain’t seen nothing yet!
Table 5.5: The DBs
The total number of defensive backs is pretty consistent across the division with either 18 or 19 on each team. But, damn, look at the difference between the 9ers and the Rams when it comes to accrued seasons. The gap is 43 seasons! And, spoiler alert, only 13 years of that gap are at the cornerback position.
Here are the averages for all the DBs across the division; we’ll break them down again when we separate the cornerbacks from the safeties.
- Accrued seasons: SF: 3.47 | AZ: 2.74 | SEA: 2.11 | LAR: 1.28
- Max season: SF: 3.84 | AZ: 3.26 | SEA: 2.67 | LAR: 1.56
If I were a Rams fan, I think that I might be a little bit concerned right about now ...
NFC West Cornerbacks
It’s not a secret that a lot of us 12s are “concerned” about our cornerback room with many clamoring for the team to reunite with Richard Sherman or to send a draft pick (or more) to the Patriots for Stephon Gilmore.
But what do the raw numbers say about our cornerback group in relation to the other cornerback groups in the NFC West?
Table 5.6: Corners
Having used the negatively-connotated version of the word “terrifying” to describe the Seahawks’ outside cornerback group on more than one occasion this offseason, I honestly expected the raw data to be a lot worse than it is.
Let’s start with the averages ...
- Accrued seasons: SF: 3.00 | AZ: 2.36 | SEA: 2.08 | LAR: 1.75
- Max seasons: SF: 3.33 | AZ: 2.91 | SEA: 2.58 | LAR: 2.25
Let’s look beyond the raw numbers though and talk about an accepted truth about offseason rosters: Teams carry “extra” players at positions they’re “concerned” about.
Which 2 teams are carrying the most corners?
Seattle and Arizona.
What do those 2 teams have in common?
Both teams “lost” both of last season’s starting outside corners.
Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar for Seattle; Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick for Arizona.
Meanwhile, the 49ers return both of their starters (Emmanuel Moseley and Jason Varrett) and the Rams return one - 4x Pro Bowler and 2x first-team All-Pro Jalen Ramsey - who just so happens to be the highest-paid cornerback in the league.
Next, let’s look at the presumed starters for each team (per ESPN’s current depth charts) - with accrued seasons and max seasons in brackets after each player’s name.
Note: ESPN doesn’t list slot corners on their depth charts, so I’m using PFF’s most-recent roster projections for that position.
- Seahawks: D.J. Reed Jr. (3,3), Ahkello Witherspoon (4,4), Ugo Amadi (2,2); totals: 9 + 9
- 49ers: Emmanuel Moseley (3,3), Jason Varrett (7,7), K’Waun Williams (6,7); totals: 16 + 17
- Cardinals: Malcolm Butler (7,7), Bryon Murphy Jr. (2,2), Robert Alford (8,8); totals: 17 + 17
- Rams: Jalen Ramsey (5,5), Darious Williams (3,3), David Long Jr. (2,2); totals: 10 + 10
Crunching the numbers, that means the rest of the corners on each roster come in with the following totals:
- Seahawks: 9 players with 16 accrued seasons, 22 max seasons; averages: 1.78 + 2.44
- 49ers: 6 players with 11 accrued, 13 max; averages: 1.83 + 2.17
- Cardinals: 8 players with 9 accrued, 15 max; averages: 1.13 + 1.88
- Rams: 5 players with 4 accrued, 8 max; averages: 0.80 + 1.6
It will be interesting to see where those numbers end up come September 1st.
NFC West Defensive Safeties
Has anyone else ever found it strange that “Safety” is both a position on a football team and the term that is used to describe a play that is whistled dead with the football in the offensive team’s end zone?
Linguistic curiosities aside, let’s look at a table.
Table 5.7: The Last Line of Defense
What stands out the most with this table?
If you said, “The Seahawks have the least amount of safeties,” then you clearly don’t like poking fun at the Rams as much as I do.
But we’ll start with your answer.
Yes, the Seahawks have the least amount of safeties in the NFC West. Two of the other 3 teams have double digits (10 each); which is 67% more than Seattle has. The Cardinals are splitting the difference between the two extremes with 8 safeties on their roster.
Okay, now let’s have some fun at the Rams expense ...
How is it that a team can have the MOST players at a given position (tied with the 9ers, yes, but still the most) and yet have the least amount of experience at that position?
The 49ers have 30 more accrued seasons in their safety room than the Rams do. Thirty! And they have the same number of players.
The Cardinals outpace the Rams by 17 seasons (almost 3-to-1) ... with 2 less players.
- Accrued seasons: SF: 3.9 | AZ: 3.25 | SEA: 2.17 | LAR: 0.90
- Max seasons: SF: 4.3 | AZ: 3.75 | SEA: 2.83 | LAR: 1.00
Think that’s bad though? Let’s dig just a little bit deeper ...
(crunch, crunch, crunch)
Number of safeties that entered the league prior to 2019
- Seahawks: 3 of 6; 50%
- 49ers: 7 of 10; 70%
- Cardinals: 4 of 8; 50%
- Rams: none ... of 10 .. 0.00%
Oh, and 6 of the 10 safeties on the Rams roster are UDFAs.
Now, before anyone objects to the narrative and/or points out that offseason rosters are loaded with inexperienced players (which is something I sort of hammered home in Part Three of this series), let’s play this out to the “most-generous” conclusion ...
If each team keeps the same number of safeties (4) and they each keep their most-experienced safeties, here are what the numbers would look like:
- Seahawks: 13 accrued seasons, 15 max seasons; averages: 3.25 and 3.75
- 49ers: 29 accrued, 30 max; averages: 7.25 and 7.50
- Cardinals: 22 accrued, 25 max; averages: 5.50 and 6.25
- Rams: 6 accrued seasons; 7 max seasons; averages: 1.50 and 1.75
Anyone else hoping that PC, SW, and RW3 take note of these numbers and dial up an above-average number of moonshots when we play the Rams this year?
Oh, and that maybe the Hawks consider finally developing a midrange game for when we play the 49ers and the Cardinals ... ?
The NFC West Specialists
It seems sort of silly to call kickers, punters, and long snappers “specialists” when just about every player on an NFL roster “specializes” in what they do. But I don’t make the rules; I just follow them ... roughly 57% of the the time.
Let’s see how our special-teamers feel about rules, shall we?
After hammering quite a bit on how inexperienced our rivals are in certain position groups, including the Rams’ shocking #s in the preceding section, it seems at least mildly amusing to end with the only group in today’s piece that has Seattle in 4th place, experience-wise.
Now, obviously, our 3 specialists are the exception to the rule. Michael Dickson is a Pro Bowl punter; Jason Myers just went an entire season without missing a field goal; and Tyler Ott is ... well, he’s a long-snapper and I don’t really know how to judge him ... but he’s awesome!
Proof that experience is perhaps ... overrated ... when it comes to specialists can be found in the fact that 2 of our 3 division rivals are carrying “extra” specialists heading into training camp.
Because I had a ton of fun at their expense in the previous section, I am going to ignore the fact that the Rams are carrying seven specialists - 2 kickers, 2 long-snappers, and 3 punters - and that they are doing so despite having a punter (Johnny Hekker) who is ... um ... significantly above-average.
Note: Johnny Hekker is a 4x Pro Bowler and 4x first-team All-Pro punter. And he’s burned us on multiple occasions with trick plays. Dude’s a legit badass.
Oh, and he’s also the highest-paid punter in the league (with Michael Dickson on his heels at #2, only $75,235 behind him in APY).
So, since I’m not going to kick sand on the Rams, I’ll instead focus on the Cardinals and their 4 specialists having a whopping 40 accrued seasons. That 10-year average trumps the 9ers by 3, the Hawks by 6, and the Rams by ... well, I said I wasn’t going to kick sand on them.
(The Rams average is 2.29; and if you subtract Johnny Hekker’s 9 seasons, it’s a mere 1.17.)
What makes the Cardinals numbers even more eye-popping is that one of their 4 specialists is a 2019 UDFA punter with 0 accrued seasons.
Their specialist room:
- Punter Tyler Newsome (0); 2019 UDFA
- Long-snapper Aaron Brewer (9); 2012 UDFA
- Kicker Matt Prater (14), 2006 UDFA
- Punter Andy Lee (17), 2004 R6, #188 overall
For what it’s worth, San Francisco’s numbers are heavily skewed by their kicker, Robbie Gould. He accounts for 16 of their 21 accrued seasons and 16 of their 23 max seasons. Their punter, Mitch Wishnowsky, was their 2019 R4 (#110 overall).
That’s all I’ve got for today.
The next story in this series is going to shift away from the experience levels of the various position groups and look at something completely different.
Until then, I’ll see you in the Comments.