AROUND THE NFL

The Raiders have signed RB JOSH JACOBS (Alabama) to his first round rookie deal worth a reported $11.9 million.  That completes the Raiders class and leaves a total of 11 drafted rookies leaguewide who are unsigned.

 

Jacobs’ signing brings the list of unsigned draft picks league wide down to just 11: Nick Bosa (No. 2, 49ers), Quinnen Williams (No. 3, Jets), Devin White (No. 4, Buccaneers), Daniel Jones (No. 6, Giants), Brian Burns (No. 16, Panthers), Deebo Samuel (No. 36, 49ers), Dalton Risner (No. 41, Broncos), Drew Lock (No. 42, Broncos), Myles Boykin (No. 93, Ravens), Oshane Ximines (No. 95, Giants) and Austin Cutting (No. 250, Vikings).

 

So five unsigned first rounders including four of the top six.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

RB MILES SANDERS thinks the Eagles backfield will be a herd without a bellcow.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Eagles have remade their running backs room after starting four different players at the position last season.

 

Darren Sproles and Jay Ajayi remain free agents after playing for the Eagles last season. Philadelphia traded for Jordan Howard and drafted Miles Sanders, who join returnees Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement and Josh Adams.

 

“It’s definitely going to be competitive,” Sanders said Tuesday on NFL Network. “That’s what I like about rooms like this. It was like this at Penn State. It was a very talented running back room. But I’m just used to that stuff — competing and making each other better. Nobody’s really going to be the star running back, I think. I think the ball’s going to be spread out a lot, and that’s what I kind of like, too.

 

“Everybody’s getting a touch in the game and then just affecting the game in any type of way. So, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”

 

Howard, a Pro Bowler in 2016, is expected to start and get his share of touches. He has 3,370 rushing yards in three seasons, with two 1,000-yard seasons and another of 935.

 

Smallwood, Adams, Clement and Sanders have combined for 1,941 career rushing yards.

 

But Sanders, the 53rd overall choice, is accustomed to waiting his turn, having sat behind Saquon Barkley for two years at Penn State. So he will prepare himself to do whatever is asked of him.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com thinks WR LARRY FITZGERALD won’t catch Jerry Rice.

 

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is likely just a few games away from becoming the second-leading pass catcher in NFL history.

 

Fitzgerald has caught 1,303 passes in his NFL career, while Tony Gonzalez is No. 2 all-time, with 1,325 catches. If Fitzgerald catches five passes a game, he’ll break the record in his fifth game of the season.

 

The all-time NFL record is 1,549 career catches by Jerry Rice. Fitzgerald, who will turn 36 next month, will almost certainly not catch Rice, whose records for catches, yards and touchdowns may prove untouchable even in this era of increased passing numbers.

 

But “second only to Jerry Rice” is a great distinction for a pass catcher, and Fitzgerald will likely earn that distinction in September or October.

 

The DB is not so sure.  Can Fitzgerald play and prosper for three more years to age 38 with the fountain of youth that is QB KYLER MURRAY?  If he averages 82 catches per year, he gets Rice’s record that once seemed unthinkable.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Hard to believe that WR TYREEK HILL and Crystal Espinal are still together.  More developments reported here by Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation after a 2014 incident with Crystal Espinal, who was then pregnant with his son. But in a recorded conversation with Espinal, Hill denied the incident and accused Espinal of lying.

 

After their son suffered a broken arm this year, authorities launched a child abuse investigation. No charges were filed, but Hill faced renewed scrutiny over the incident, as well as the recorded conversation, in which Espinal said their son was terrified of him and Hill replied, “You need to be terrified of me too, bitch.” Now a fuller version of that recording has been published by 610 Sports in Kansas City, and Hill shows no remorse over the 2014 incident.

 

“You f–king ruined my life and you lied on me in 2014. I’m still not over that. I didn’t touch you in 2014,” Hill told Espinal. “You lied on me in 2014. If you want to rewind that night, we can rewind that night, too. You was in my house. And did I pick you up and slam you? Hell no. I picked you up and put you out.”

 

Espinal then asked, “Where did the bruises come from, Tyreek?” Hill did not answer.

 

Espinal also said, “You had your hand around my neck,” to which Hill replied, “No, I did not.”

 

Hill has rarely spoken of the 2014 incident, although in 2016 he said that people “have every right to be mad at me because I did something wrong.” Given that statement, and Hill’s guilty plea, his denial in 2019 of his actions in 2014 are likely to be seen by most as a refusal to show remorse and accept responsibility for his actions.

 

The new audio is not news to NFL Justice.  NFL.com:

 

Kansas City radio station KCSP-AM released new audio clips Wednesday of the conversation between Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill and his fiancee Crystal Espinal, but NFL investigators have had access to the full audio recording for months, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reports.

 

The new audio in question centers on Hill and Espinal discussing the 2014 incident that led to Hill pleading guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation. In the audio Hill is heard denying his role in the altercation.

 

Hill met with Lisa Friel, the NFL’s senior VP of Special Counsel for Investigations, and other league officials on June 26 to answer to allegations of child abuse toward his 3-year-old son. The receiver also was expected to be asked in the interview about audio released by a local TV station in April in which Hill is heard administering threats to his fiancée and discussing using a belt to discipline his son. That audio is from the same conversation as the new clips released Wednesday.

 

Pelissero reports that Wednesday’s audio presented no new revelations from the league’s perspective in regards to its investigation. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported late last month there is currently no timetable for a ruling.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

It turns out that the future of EDGE JADEVEON CLOWNEY was one of the points of contention between Coach Bill O’Brien and departed GM Brian Gaine.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Texans reportedly won’t be signing linebacker Jadeveon Clowney to a long-term deal before Monday’s deadline for agreeing to terms on a multi-year contract with franchise tagged players. And there’s a good reason for that.

 

Per a league source, former G.M. Brian Gaine and current head coach Bill O’Brien disagreed on whether to make a long-term commitment to the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. With Gaine now gone, O’Brien’s preferred approach prevails.

 

The first player selected during O’Brien’s tenure in Houston (yes, it really has been that long), Clowney has completed his four-year rookie deal and his fifth-year option. The Texans have chosen to keep him for one more year under the franchise tag, at a tender of $15.967 million.

 

Next year, if the Texans tag Clowney again, his one-year salary will increase by 20 percent, to $19.16 million. Absent a long-term deal or a second tag, Clowney will become a free agent.

 

For now, Clowney remains caught in the downside to the rookie wage scale. Adopted in order to prevent high-profile busts from receiving money they never earn, the system that arrived in 2011 also allows teams to squat on high-level picks who pan out, keeping their major payday away from them for six or seven years.

 

Regardless, that’s the rule — and O’Brien wanted to proceed this way. With no G.M. in place, O’Brien clearly is calling the shots on this one.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

RB SONY MICHEAL says not to worry about his scoped knee.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

Sony Michel missed most of New England’s offseason program after undergoing a knee scope.

 

Will the Patriots running back be ready and available when training camp kicks off on July 24? The tight-lipped second-year star told NFL Network’s Omar Ruiz at the Gatorade Player of the Year ceremony that that’s the plan.

 

“It’s a process and it’s just something that I’m just kind of working towards,” Michel told Ruiz on Tuesday evening. “That’s the goal to be ready for training camp.”

 

Asked if his minor knee procedure was at all related to the injury that sidelined him during training camp and part of the 2018 season, Michel dismissed such speculation.

 

“It’s all part of the game. I wouldn’t relate it to last year,” Michel added. “Last year was last year. This is a whole new time. Anything can happen.”

 

Reading between the RB’s comments and recent reports about Michel’s health, it appears the Patriots back will be ready to roll later this month.

 

NFL Network’s Mike Giardi reported two weeks ago that Michel was “progressing quickly” from his offseason surgery and running at “full tilt,” spending “considerable time” rehabbing at the TB12 Sports Therapy Center in Foxborough.

 

The 2018 first-round pick established himself in a crowded RB room as New England’s go-to back during the Patriots’ postseason run. Michel racked up 336 rushing yards and an NFL-record six touchdowns during New England’s march to victory in Super Bowl LIII. He finished the regular season with as many scores and 931 rushing yards on 209 carries (4.45 YPC).

 

His status on the 2019 Patriots is unclear. New England is returning a packed backfield with Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead and James Develin. Michel’s playing time could be threatened especially by the addition of Alabama tailback Damien Harris, who reportedly had a strong spring while Michel was out.

 

Michel is eager to build off his historic postseason and does not expect a sophomore slump.

 

“Just build on those moments,” Michel said of his goal for 2019. “Build on what I’ve done. See can I raise it to another level? How much can I learn from it? How much can I take away from it to add? I think that’s what it’s all about. Just building on top and just trying to improve.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

Another award for Chris Long:

 

Former NFL defensive end Chris Long has been honored many times for his off-field work and he received another honor on Tuesday night.

 

Long was named this year’s recipient of the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award in recognition of “his commitment to giving back through strategic, multifaceted efforts.” The award was one of many given out in Los Angeles and portions of the ceremony will be shown on ESPN later this month.

 

Long donated six weeks of his 2017 salary to fund scholarships in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia and the remaining 10 weeks went to educational initiatives in St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia. He also donated a quarter of his 2018 salary to a literacy initiative and has long supported the Waterboys program that builds wells in East Africa.

 

Those efforts were recognized by the NFL when the league named Long the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2018.

 

Long announced his retirement earlier this year. He played for the Rams, Patriots and Eagles and won Super Bowls with the latter two teams.

 

 

NFL OFFENSIVE PERSONNEL GROUPINGS

Matt Bowen of ESPN.com breaks down what offensive packages each team used in 2018.

 

The way NFL teams use personnel is different from when I played from 2000 to 2006 as a defensive back. You don’t see as many old-school fullbacks with the neck rolls, digging out linebackers in traditional two-back sets. The tight end position? Much more versatility and speed there. Those guys can move. And it leads to positive matchups against linebackers, safeties or even slot corners when the big boys flex from the formation.

 

That also means the way offenses line up has changed too. Sure, we still see a ton of three-wide receiver sets. But with offenses spreading the field more than ever — and the passing game becoming more horizontal at times — the new-school approach has filtered into offensive game plans with personnel, formation and alignment.

 

Let’s take a look back at 2018 and evaluate the offenses that excelled at 12 different personnel groupings. I’ll tell you which teams ran each personnel the most and the least. And I’ll tell you which ones ran it the best — and who could dominate in 2019. Here we go:

 

How Are Groupings Labeled?

How do NFL teams identify offensive personnel on the field? It’s a numbering system that counts running backs and tight ends. One running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers on the field? That’s 12 personnel. Here’s a guide you can use:

 

            RBS     TES      WRS

00         0          0          5

02         0          2          3

10         1          0          4

11         1          1          3

12         1          2          2

13         1          3          1

20         2          0          3

21         2          1          2  the classic old-fashioned flip card formation

22         2          2          1

23         2          3          0

31         3          1          1

 

11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs)

Why it works: With a tight end on the field, offenses can pick up an extra blocker on the line of scrimmage in pass protection while adding another gap to attack in the run game. Plus, tight ends with pass-game upside give offensive coordinators another weapon in the toolbox to complement the three wide receivers on the field.

 

The team that ran it most: The Los Angeles Rams logged 955 snaps out of 11 personnel last season, ranking first in total pass attempts (539) and rushes (384). This is a staple of coach Sean McVay’s system, which features reduced sets — wide receivers aligned inside of the numbers — and pre-/post-snap misdirection to put defenders in constant conflict. And the play-action concepts are pretty slick.

 

The team that ran it best: The Kansas City Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes have to be mentioned here, as they led the league with 8.6 yards per pass attempt out of 11 personnel. But let’s go with the Rams as the pick, as they dominated in this alignment, producing a league-high 6,319 yards, 51 total touchdowns and 348 first downs, while averaging 8.4 pass yards per attempt and 5.2 rushing yards per attempt. It’s an offense that can create open throwing lanes off play-action, attack wide in the run game and create screen-game opportunities. Take a look at the play-pass concept below — from NFL Next Gen Stats — that highlights the use of the jet sweep and split-flow run to create an open window for quarterback Jared Goff to target wide receiver Brandin Cooks:

 

The team that ran it least: The San Francisco 49ers ranked last in the league in 11 personnel, running just 386 snaps, while the Houston Texans ranked 31st at 491 snaps. The 49ers are a heavy two-back team in Kyle Shanahan’s system, which mimics the core concepts of McVay’s offense.

 

21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs)

Why it works: Once considered the classic “pro” set, operating from 21 personnel gives the offense a lead blocker at the point of attack. And that extra back matters for teams that want to run downhill — that’s the fullback leading up through the hole. Plus, having two backs on the field is a tremendous advantage for teams that want to run play-action or run-pass options. That stuff is deadly when it mirrors the core run game.

 

The team that ran it most: The 49ers ran 423 snaps out of 21 personnel in 2018, leading the league with 182 pass attempts and 230 rushing attempts. Think new-school football from a scheme perspective — with an old-school look. Shanahan’s game plan is littered with misdirection, but the high usage of two-back sets allows the 49ers to maximize the ability of tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

 

The team that ran it best: It’s San Francisco, which edges out the New England Patriots. The 49ers led the NFL with 2,876 yards of offense out of 21 personnel, with 13 total touchdowns. And I love Shanahan’s playcalling. Building off the run game, he incorporates crossing routes, boots and screens that test the eye discipline of opposing defenses. In fact, Kittle saw a league-high 53 targets out of 21 personnel, hauling in 33 passes for 616 yards.

 

The team that ran it least: The Rams, who didn’t run a single snap of 21 personnel. Without a fullback on the roster, they are a heavy one-back team that uses a tight end to create a two-back look.

 

12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs)

Why it works: With two tight ends on the field, offenses can balance the defense out against odd-man fronts. And they gain an extra run gap on the edge in standard 2×2 sets. In the passing game, having two tight ends on the field with route-running skills creates multiple matchups versus both base defensive personnel and substitution-package looks in the nickel and dime.

 

The team that ran it most: The Texans led the league with 408 snaps out of 12 personnel in 2018, ranking No. 1 in rush attempts (198) and No. 2 in pass attempts (190). This speaks to their outside zone run game in 12 personnel — Lamar Miller led the NFL with 562 yards rushing — plus the play-action that allowed them to use more max-protection looks to run their deep two-man routes.

 

The team that ran it best: I’m picking the Chiefs over the Philadelphia Eagles here, but it was close. Why? I love the tight end combo of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert in Philly. But Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes tossed 13 touchdowns out of 12 personnel last season, which led the league. Plus, three of Mahomes’ top targets — Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins — finished in the top 20 of receiving yards with one back, two tight ends and two wide receivers on the field. In short, both Andy Reid and Doug Pederson can scheme up opposing defenses in this personnel grouping.

 

The team that ran it least: The Patriots, who have been heavy 12 personnel team in the past, ranked 32nd in the league with only 64 total snaps. New England always builds its game plan around the personnel on the roster, however, and it has fullback James Develin, who can dominate in the running game. The Patriots went with more 21 personnel last season to maximize the roster on the offensive side of the ball. Could we see more 12 personnel with Rob Gronkowski gone?

 

13 personnel (1 RB, 3 TEs, 1 WR)

Why it works: With three tight ends in the game, offenses can set a heavy edge (building multiple gaps), use unbalanced sets and cater to the quarterback run game. Plus, with a heavy look on the field, the play-action passing game steps up, leading to tight ends running corner routes or using delayed releases to work back across the formation.

 

The team that ran it most: The Cleveland Browns led the NFL with 145 snaps out of 13 personnel, as Freddie Kitchens used his three-tight end set in both the run and pass game. But don’t forget about the Baltimore Ravens, checking in at No. 2 with 124 snaps — a number that spiked when Lamar Jackson took over as quarterback. Jackson ranked fifth in total rush attempts out of 13 personnel (32 attempts), which points to the designed QB runs — particularly out of the pistol set — in the Baltimore offense.

 

The team that ran it best: Check out the film on the Browns. In addition to what they can do on the ground with Nick Chubb — who led the NFL with 59 rush attempts in 13 personnel — the play-action game pops. Quarterback Baker Mayfield ranked second in the league with 29 pass attempts, completing 69% of his passes. Check out the example below, courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats, of a Browns play-pass concept with Mayfield hitting tight end David Njoku on the corner route versus the Carolina Panthers. Sell the run, get the linebacker to stop his feet and make the throw:

 

The team that ran it least: The Chiefs didn’t run a single snap out of 13 personnel, opting to use 12 personnel for their multiple tight end sets. Mahomes led the league with 13 touchdown passes out of 12.

 

22 personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs, 1 WR)

Why it works: Similar to discussing 13 personnel, lining up in 22 gives the offense the ability to build more run gaps along the line of scrimmage while adding a lead blocker out of two-back sets. Plus, it forces the defense to use eight- and sometimes nine-man boxes, which creates more isolation matchups outside for the single wide receiver on the field.

 

The teams that ran it most: The Los Angeles Chargers tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers with 90 snaps out of 22 personnel. Looking at the Chargers, with fullback Derek Watt in the game to dig out daylight for Melvin Gordon, the L.A. running back checked in at fourth in the NFL with 5.3 yards per carry on 27 attempts out of 22 sets.

 

The team that ran it best: It’s close here with the Chargers, Steelers and New Orleans Saints, as all three teams have the ability to run downhill while using the pass game out of 22. But I’ll go with the Steelers, for whom running back James Conner led the league with 43 rush attempts and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 15 of a league-high 19 pass attempts with 22 personnel on the field.

 

The teams that ran it least: The Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins didn’t run a single snap out of 22 personnel. And it was interesting that Cleveland — which ranked second in 13 personnel with 153 snaps — lined up with 22 personnel only once.

 

20 personnel (2 RBs, 3 WRs)

Why it works: A personnel grouping that was mainstream during my time in the league, offensive coordinators can motion a back out to create 3×1 or 2×2 spread sets, while also stretching the defense in the run game or pulling guards against odd-man fronts. And don’t forget about the true play-action 20 personnel presents for playcallers.

 

The team that ran it most: The Detroit Lions led the league with 45 snaps out of 20 personnel, with quarterback Matthew Stafford completing 25 of 37 passes for 260 yards. But don’t sleep on the Saints or Drew Brees here. New Orleans ran 18 total snaps out of 20 personnel, with Brees completing 14 of 16 passes for 252 yards. And the veteran quarterback led the league with 15.8 yards per attempt.

 

The team that ran it best: Where do we look with Denver? It’s the run game with Phillip Lindsay. The rookie lead the NFL with 14 carries for 118 yards — good for 8.43 yards per carry — out of 20 personnel. Expect the Broncos’ offense to look different under new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who coached under Shanahan in San Francisco, but Lindsay should still get a bunch of touches.

 

The teams that ran it least: The Bucs and Eagles were two of the eight teams not to run a single snap out of 20 personnel. But that follows the same trend we talked about earlier with 21 and 22 personnel, and both clubs ran heavy one-back systems.

 

23 personnel (2 RBs, 3 TEs)

Why it works: Also referred to as jumbo or goal-line personnel, having a two-back set with three tight ends on the field allows offenses to reduce the formation in short yardage and tight red zone situations. But as we have seen in the past, creative playcallers — think New England’s Josh McDaniels here — will bring 23 personnel on the field and spread out the formation to create matchups.

 

The teams that ran it most: The Panthers tied the Patriots with 18 snaps out of 23 personnel, and that shows up often inside the tight red zone. With both teams, it creates situations to run downhill power or use the play-action game.

 

The team that ran it best: I want to stick with the Panthers because of quarterback Cam Newton. In addition to stopping running back Christian McCaffrey on the goal line in 23 sets, opposing defenses have to account for misdirection and boot with Newton carrying the rock or throwing to the tight end off play-action.

 

The teams that ran it least: Seven teams — the Rams, Chiefs, Texans, Bucs, Browns, Titans and Jets — didn’t line up in the traditional goal-line set during the 2018 season. And I’m pretty surprised with every team on that list, outside of the Rams and Chiefs — both with offenses that want to spread the field regardless of field position.

 

31 personnel (3 RBs, 1 TE, 1 WR)

Why it works: There’s an extremely small sample size of NFL teams using 31 personnel, but it can create conflict for defenders if used with misdirection and pre-snap movement to maximize running backs who can catch the ball. This allows offenses to find matchups with backs removed from the formation.

 

The teams that ran it most: Only two NFL teams — the Browns and Chicago Bears — ran more than five snaps of 31 personnel, with Cleveland checking in at 14 and Chicago at 12. This points to the ability of Kitchens and Bears coach Matt Nagy to think outside of the box to use every ounce of their rosters to find a matchup.

 

The team that ran it best: Take your pick between both teams, but I’ll go with Cleveland. Mayfield completed 5 of 6 passes for 68 yards in 31 personnel, while Chubb averaged 4.8 yards per carry on five rushing attempts. Again, it’s a small sample size, but check out this NFL Next Gen Stats animation of Cleveland running the three-level food concept, with running back Duke Johnson motioning out of a diamond backfield set and into the slot to run the corner route:

 

The teams that ran it least: Given that Cleveland and Chicago ran only a combined 26 snaps out of 31 personnel, the majority of the league has opted to keep this grouping on the bench. In fact, the next team was the Saints, with four snaps.

 

10 personnel (1 RB, 4 WRs)

Why it works: With four wide receivers on the field, offenses can spread out opposing defenses horizontally, and that allows them to put defenders in conflict with today’s run-pass option concepts. With the ability to only use six-man protection, however, the quick passing game takes precedence.

 

The team that ran it most: The Lions led the NFL with 47 snaps out of 10 personnel last season. But with Detroit hiring Darrell Bevell as its new offensive coordinator — and drafting tight end T.J. Hockenson at No. 8 overall — we should expect that number to dip significantly in 2019.

 

The team that ran it best: The Bucs will have a new offensive system in place under new coach Bruce Arians, but in 2018, quarterback Jameis Winston completed 14 of 22 passes for 230 yards out of 10 personnel. Of quarterbacks with at least 10 pass attempts with four wide receivers on the field, Winston ranked first in yards per attempt at 10.5.

 

The teams that ran it least: Nine teams — Packers, Redskins, Chiefs, Eagles, Cardinals, Texans, 49ers, Panthers, Rams — didn’t run a single snap of 10 personnel last season. If I could pick one from this group that will flip the script in 2019? Yeah, it’s the Cardinals with new coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. Spread the field and play with tempo.

 

2 QBs personnel

Why it works: Bringing two quarterbacks onto the field is all about gadget plays. When that second quarterback has the athleticism to take off an run, however, it gives the offense a numbers advantage on designed runs.

 

The team that ran it most: With Taysom Hill on the roster, the Saints ran 175 snaps with two quarterbacks in the game last season. This allowed them to take advantage of designed QB runs with Hill in the shotgun and Drew Brees split out wide. Given Hill’s versatile skill set, however, he also lined up as an H-back at times. He is a unique weapon who also shows up on special teams.

 

The team that ran it best: Stay with Hill and the Saints. This put New Orleans in a position to run the zone-read — and for Sean Payton to draw up some cool concepts. Want an example? Check out the QB crack sweep here on Hill’s touchdown run against the Redskins with Brees split out wide left, courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats:

 

The teams that ran it least: The Ravens had 56 snaps out of two-QB personnel when Joe Flacco was still the starter, allowing Jackson to come into the game. The list here is short. One team to look for in 2019? The Chargers, with rookie quarterback Easton Stick, who was productive on designed runs at North Dakota State.

 

02 personnel (2 TEs, 3 WRs)

Why it works: A personnel grouping I used to see often as a player — we called it “Joker” — this gives offenses another way to align in an empty set with tight ends on the edge to aid in pass protection. That creates a six- or seven-man line, with tight ends who can release as checkdown options or work the middle of the field.

 

The team that ran it most: The Jets led the NFL with 12 snaps out of 02 personnel last season, followed by the Dallas Cowboys (nine snaps), Bucs (six snaps) and Packers (five snaps).

 

The team that ran it best: With a small sample size here, I’d go with the Jets. Why? Use the 02 personnel to take deep-ball shots, where wide receiver Robby Anderson caught 3 of 5 targets for 106 yards and a touchdown.

 

The teams that ran it least: Six teams, including the Saints, didn’t line up one time in 02 personnel.

 

00 personnel (5 WRs)

Why it works: With five wide receivers on the field, opposing defenses can expect empty formations. But with only a five-man protection scheme, defenses can bring pressure and force the quarterback to unload the ball quickly.

 

The team that ran it most: The Steelers were one of two teams to use the five-wide receiver look in 2018, running 32 snaps and completing 24 of 30 pass attempts. The only other team to run five wide? The Buffalo Bills, with four snaps.

 

The team that ran it best: Pittsburgh is the easy choice, and the pass yards per attempt tells the story. With the Steelers averaging 6.7 yards per attempt, that tells us the ball was coming out quickly.

 

The teams that ran it least: With 30 NFL teams not even getting in a single rep of 00 personnel, it’s pretty clear the league is using multiple personnel groupings to get into empty formations. And that’s all about creating matchups with running backs and tight ends flexed from the formation.

 

 

BEST BY AGES

We love these summer spacefillers, like this from Kevin Seifert at ESPN.com wherein we are reminded that time flies as QB RUSSELL WILSON is 31 and QB MATT RYAN is 34:

 

Our ranking of the NFL’s best players at each age level serves as a reminder that the league’s best quarterbacks are also its oldest. The best defensive players are all under 29 years old. Here’s the full accounting, which utilized Pro-Football-Reference.com and was based on how old a player will be on Dec. 31, 2019.

 

Note: Projections for the 2019 season are provided by ESPN’s Mike Clay, and contract details are via Spotrac.

 

Age 21:

Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers

Clay’s 2019 projection: 47 tackles, 8 sacks – Signed through: 2023

 

We of course haven’t seen most of the NFL’s 21-year-olds on the field yet, but Bosa was the best position-neutral prospect in the 2019 draft class. Independent of any discussion about his decision to sit out most of last season at Ohio State, there is near-unanimous consensus that he will be a high-level pass-rusher as a rookie. He joins Dee Ford, acquired from the Chiefs, on a rebuilt Niners defensive line.

 

Runners-up: Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, Steelers linebacker Devin Bush and Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray all are in position to have strong rookie seasons.

 

Age 22:

Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

Clay’s 2019 projection: 2,060 scrimmage yards, 13 touchdowns – Signed through: 2022

 

After leading the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage in 2018, Barkley will enter his second season in the MVP discussion. The Giants’ decision to move on from wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and the looming quarterback transition from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones leave Barkley as the every-down anchor of their offense. He touched the ball 352 times last season. Is there any doubt he’ll surpass 400 in 2019? (To answer the inevitable question: The NFL’s post-merger record for touches in a 16-game season is 492, by the Buccaneers’ James Wilder in 1984, as a 26-year-old.)

 

Runners-up: Browns cornerback Denzel Ward made the Pro Bowl as a rookie after intercepting three passes in 13 games, and he’ll enter 2019 with a chance to prove he is a genuine No. 1 cornerback.

 

Age 23:

Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers

Clay’s 2019 projection: 101 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions – Signed through: 2022

 

His position is listed as safety, but James really is an all-around defensive beast. The Chargers smartly used him all over the field in his rookie season. Pro Football Focus charted him with 205 snaps on the defensive line, 418 in the box, 188 at cornerback (slot or outside) and 216 at safety. He could one day challenge Aaron Donald as the best defensive player in the game.

 

Runners-up: The NFL’s young stars at this age include Broncos pass-rusher Bradley Chubb, Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, Colts offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

 

Age 24:

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

Clay’s 2019 projection: 4,681 passing yards, 33 TDs, 12 INTs – Signed through: 2021

 

The reigning MVP beats out a highly competitive field after putting together one of the best seasons for a passer in NFL history. Most exciting for fans: Given the annual twists Chiefs coach Andy Reid employs, along with the NFL’s long career arc for quarterbacks, it’s reasonable to think that Mahomes has 15 more productive seasons left on the field.

 

Runners-up: Mahomes beat out Jets safety Jamal Adams, Chargers pass-rusher Joey Bosa, Cowboys tailback Ezekiel Elliott, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, Saints tailback Alvin Kamara, Colts linebacker Darius Leonard and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

 

Age 25:

Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Clay’s 2019 projection: 796 receiving yards, 5 TDs – Signed through: 2019

 

Hill’s speed, deep instincts and versatility make him a transcendent player in this era when it comes to athletic talent. Pro Football Focus credited him with 796 receiving yards on throws that targeted him at least 20 yards downfield, by far the most in the NFL in at least the past 14 seasons. Whether it is on deep throws, quick strikes in the slot or jet sweeps, Hill is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Off-field issues, most recently an investigation into injuries suffered by his child, threaten his availability for at least part of the 2019 season.

 

Runners-up: Landon Collins, who signed as a free agent with the Redskins, is arguably the NFL’s top box safety. Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper is a game-changer. So too are running backs Derrick Henry (Titans) and Phillip Lindsay (Broncos), Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter, Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones and Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt. Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey took a step back last season, but he has a chance to bounce back in 2019.

 

Age 26:

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Clay’s 2019 projection: 1,314 receiving yards, 9 TDs – Signed through: 2019

 

Thomas was virtually uncoverable in 2018, and he is on the cusp of a precedent-setting new contract. He led the league with 125 receptions and dropped only three of the 148 passes thrown in his direction, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. And he has produced incredible career numbers. He is the only player in NFL history to catch more than 300 passes in his first three seasons (321).

 

Runners-up: This age group is loaded, including pass-rushers Frank Clark (Chiefs) and Jadeveon Clowney (Texans), Buccaneers guard Ali Marpet, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, 49ers tight end George Kittle, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon and defensive linemen Trey Flowers (Lions) and Grady Jarrett (Falcons). But Thomas was the logical choice.

 

Age 27:

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans

Clay’s 2019 projection: 1,374 receiving yards, 10 TDs – Signed through: 2022

 

Both Hopkins and the Browns’ Beckham are elite, transcendent receivers. They were born five months apart, but Hopkins has appeared in 36 more NFL games and has been a far more reliable player. After four seasons of a quarterback mess in Houston, Hopkins’ productivity surged in 2017 upon the arrival of quarterback Watson. He has scored 24 touchdowns in 31 games over that period. Since the start of the 2017 season, Beckham has nine touchdown receptions.

 

Runners-up: Along with Beckham, this level includes fellow Browns receiver Jarvis Landry, Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and cornerback Byron Jones, Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley and Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.

 

Age 28:

Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

Clay’s 2019 projection: 60 tackles, 13 sacks – Signed through: 2024

 

If you strip away positional value, and thus equalize him with quarterbacks, Donald might be left standing as the best player in the NFL — at any age. Pro Football Focus credited him with 113 pressures in 2018, a more eye-popping number than his ridiculous 20.5 sacks, even though he was double-teamed on 61% of his snaps. His fanatical conditioning suggests he is due for several more dominant seasons, for which he will be well compensated. His 2018 contract extension includes an additional $26 million in full guarantees over the next two seasons, on top of the $40 million signing bonus he already has been paid.

 

Runners-up: Only Donald could overshadow Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, a first-team All-Pro in 2018 whose work is finally being recognized, and Bears linebacker Khalil Mack, who dominated during his first season in Chicago.

 

Age 29:

Zack Martin, G, Dallas Cowboys

Signed through: 2024

 

Why does Martin get the nod over teammate Tyron Smith, the Cowboys’ left tackle, as well as Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson and Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox? Martin is without question the NFL’s best player at his position, has been named an All-Pro in three of his first five campaigns and should have at least five more seasons of high-level play — and perhaps as many as eight seasons — ahead of him.

 

Runners-up: In addition to Smith, Peterson and Cox, this age also includes Steelers guard David DeCastro, Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David, Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes and Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.

 

Age 30:

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Clay’s 2019 projection: 4,330 passing yards, 34 TDs, 14 INTs – Signed through: 2021

 

This age group was one of the toughest to decide, pitting a top-five quarterback against two of the league’s top disruptors. But Luck got the nod over Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt and Broncos edge rusher Von Miller because of position value. The only player more important than a pass-rusher is a quarterback. In completing a career-high 67.3% of his passes in 2018 and throwing for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns, Luck demonstrated he is fully recovered from shoulder injuries that dragged him down during 2016 and 2017.

 

Runners-up: Along with Luck, Watt and Miller, this age group includes Falcons receiver Julio Jones, Ravens safety Earl Thomas, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

 

Age 31:

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

Clay’s 2019 projection: 3,610 passing yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs – Signed through: 2023

 

Even though he threw 22% fewer passes in 2018 as compared with the previous season, Wilson set a career high with 35 touchdown passes and a career low with seven interceptions. That performance suggested Wilson is just hitting his top-end stride as a passer. It also prompted a contract extension that included a $65 million signing bonus and locks up Wilson through his 35th birthday. Given the age trajectory of today’s top quarterbacks, Wilson might be due one more big payday before he retires.

 

Runners-up: Raiders receiver Antonio Brown, a four-time All-Pro, has something to prove in a new uniform. The Dolphins’ Reshad Jones is one of the NFL’s best safeties. The Redskins’ Trent Williams can still play left tackle at a high level. Receiver A.J. Green’s production for the Bengals remains remarkable. The Bears’ Kyle Long is among the league’s top guards when he is healthy. And Richard Sherman, entering his second season with the 49ers, is still a highly competitive cornerback.

 

Age 32:

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Clay’s 2019 projection: 55 tackles, 5 sacks – Signed through: 2019

 

With no clear-cut winner among this age group, Suh gets the nod for his durability and still-present disruption skills. He hasn’t missed a game in seven years, and his 845 snaps in 2018 ranked second among all NFL defensive tackles. In other words, his physical conditioning remains elite. Pro Football Focus credited him with 66 quarterback pressures, including the postseason, serving as a reminder that he can still wreck a play when he wants to.

 

Runners-up: Receiver Emmanuel Sanders caught 71 passes in 12 games last season, prompting the Broncos to pick up a $10 million option on his contract. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins has continued a late-career surge, earning Pro Bowl honors at age 28, 30 and 31. And Redskins cornerback Josh Norman remains a defender who must be accounted for on every play.

 

Age 33:

Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots

Clay’s 2019 projection: 1,183 receiving yards, 6 TDs – Signed through: 2021

 

Edelman faced a stiff challenge here from receiver DeSean Jackson, who remains one of the NFL’s best deep threats and has returned to an Eagles offense that caters to his strengths. It’s worth noting that the Patriots made a big play for free-agent slot receiver Adam Humphries, who presumably would have taken a chunk of Edelman’s reps and perhaps his job, but he signed with the Titans, leaving Edelman to continue playing in a scheme that favors the slot receiver and with a quarterback who loves throwing to him. Edelman had 850 receiving yards last season, and he figures to be a big part of the Pats’ aerial attack this season.

 

Runners-up: In addition to Jackson, defensive end Brandon Graham remains such a consistent and productive player that the Eagles handed him a new contract that fully guarantees nearly $25 million over the next two seasons.

 

Age 34:

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

Clay’s 2019 projection: 4,642 passing yards, 33 TDs, 8 INTs – Signed through: 2023

 

Although his performance has dipped a bit since the Falcons’ 2016 run to the Super Bowl, Ryan remains one of the NFL’s top 10 quarterbacks. He has missed only two starts in his career, both during the 2009 season. There was a time when a 34-year-old quarterback would be nearing retirement, but in this era of the NFL — and with a contract that provides fully guaranteed money into the 2021 season — Ryan and the Falcons have a multiyear horizon to make another Super Bowl march.

 

Runners-up: Safety Eric Weddle made the Pro Bowl last season in Baltimore and signed on with the Rams for 2019. Tailback Adrian Peterson, meanwhile, returned to the Redskins after putting together his first 1,000-yard season in three years.

 

Age 35:

Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens

Signed through: 2020

 

Even if he has fallen a bit from the highest level of his career, Yanda remains a Pro Bowl guard — and a likely Hall of Fame selection — who is expected to be a full-time starter in 2019. Playing on a one-year contract, it’s possible that this season will be Yanda’s last. But there is a long history of offensive linemen playing well into their late 30s. Since 1978 — when the NFL expanded to 16-game seasons — there have been 98 instances of players starting every game in a season at either guard, center or tackle after the age of 34.

 

Runners-up: The 49ers’ Joe Staley signed a two-year contract extension to continue as their left tackle. And two of the NFL’s best kickers — the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and the Lions’ Matt Prater — also will be 35 this season.

 

Age 36:

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Clay’s 2019 projection: 4,195 passing yards, 32 TDs, 7 INTs – Signed through: 2023

 

From the perspective of his 56.8 Total QBR, a measure of play in context of game situations, Rodgers had the worst season of his career in 2018 at 35. Was it a sign of injuries catching up — and a reminder that it’s historically rare for quarterbacks to play at an elite level into their late 30s? Or will Rodgers return his play to previous standards under new coach Matt LaFleur? Rodgers’ performance is one of the biggest storylines in the NFL entering this season. His most recent contract extension, signed last summer, will make it difficult for the Packers to move on — if they even wanted to — before the 2021 season.

 

Runners-up: Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who hasn’t missed a game since the age of 31, has returned for a season in new coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. Meanwhile, Frank Gore (Bills) is hoping to become one of three running backs in NFL history to rush for more than 500 yards at 36 or older.

 

Age 37:

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Clay’s 2019 projection: 4,739 passing yards, 29 TDs, 16 INTs – Signed through: 2021

 

Playing without tailback Le’Veon Bell in 2018, the Steelers asked their quarterback to carry the offense. At 36, Roethlisberger led the NFL in attempts (675), completions (452), yards per game (320.1) and — yikes — interceptions (16). The Steelers thought enough of that performance to give Roethlisberger a $37.5 million signing bonus, a sign that they view him as their starter for at least the next two seasons. Even at 37, Roethlisberger will only be the NFL’s fourth-oldest starting quarterback this season.

 

Runners-up: Pass-rushers Terrell Suggs (Cardinals) and Cameron Wake (Titans) both moved to new teams this offseason, but both can still be a force on the edge when used at the appropriate times.

 

Age 38:

Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

Clay’s 2019 projection: 4,237 passing yards, 29 TDs, 12 INTs – Signed through: 2019

 

Rivers had one of the best seasons of his career, based on QBR (71.2), in leading the Chargers to the AFC Championship Game. His passes were as accurate as ever (68.2 completion percentage), and his ability to perform under pressure remained strong. As his contract nears its postseason expiration, it’s difficult to imagine the Chargers wanting to move on just yet. They opted against drafting an heir apparent — fifth-rounder Easton Stick is more likely a multipositional player — and Los Angeles will instead enter the season with veteran Tyrod Taylor as its backup QB.

 

Runners-up: The Rams’ Andrew Whitworth remains an upper-level left tackle.

 

Age 39:

Benjamin Watson, TE, New England Patriots

Clay’s 2019 projection: 283 receiving yards, 2 TDs – Signed through: 2019

 

Runners-up: No other rostered player will be 39 years old when the season ends.

 

Age 40:

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

Clay’s 2019 projection: 4,265 passing yards, 29 TDs, 8 INTs – Signed through: 2019

 

Runners-up: Brees is the only 40-year-old rostered player at the moment.

 

Age 42:

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

Clay’s 2019 projection: 4,346 passing yards, 28 TDs, 11 INTs – Signed through: 2019

 

Runners-up: There are no others like Brady at this age.

 

Age 47:

Adam Vinatieri, K, Indianapolis Colts

Clay’s 2019 projection: 25 of 29 FGs, 44 of 46 PATs – Signed through: 2019

 

At the moment, there isn’t a single rostered player within four years of the Colts kicker. He signed a new contract after converting 23 of 27 field goal attempts last season, and he has made it clear he will consider playing in 2020 as well. If he does, Vinatieri would tie George Blanda for the oldest player ever to appear in an NFL game. At 48, Blanda attempted 21 field goals and actually threw three passes for the Raiders in 1975.

 

Runners-up: On the field, and on the list of ages, Vinatieri is in a class of his own.