News & Analysis

NFL Week 5 Mailbag: Answering questions on Giants' Andrew Thomas, the Houston Texans' next head coach, the 2021 safety class and more

It’s that time of the week again. You ask, and I answer, then we all enjoy some football. As always, I appreciate all the questions and tried to get to as many as I could.

I love, love, love the 2021 safety class (check out my preseason rankings here). There are pretty much two key things at the position that can separate guys: versatility and range. You have to have one of those to be a quality safety in the league, and there are a number of guys who do. I think it’s a much better class than we saw in 2020, with some other names sure to make their way up boards.

At the top of the PFF board right now is TCU safety Ar’Darius Washington. He’s undersized but is off the charts instinctually. I think he can be a Tyrann Mathieu-esque chess piece for a defensive coordinator.

The first trade that popped into my mind was the Colts trading Jerry Hughes to Buffalo for Kelvin Sheppard back in 2013. Not necessarily in the compensation sense, but more so a team giving up on a player prematurely just to see him develop into an elite option for the other team. After 33 pressures in three years with the Colts, Hughes had 59 in his first season with the Bills.

For the Bills, it’s difficult to blame them for recouping their draft capital on someone who was a backup lineman at the time. They obviously wanted immediate help for young quarterback Josh Allen to see what they had in him and spent a lot in free agency prior to the 2019 season.

The trade brings up a good topic that is the learning curve for certain positions. PFF's Timo Riske wrote a great article about this topic and found that offensive lineman rarely hit their stride before Year 3 — the year Wyatt Teller is in right now. Giving up on a player prior to then, unless they’re completely unplayable — which Teller was not — seems ill-advised. That doesn’t mean starting them but rather continuing to invest in their development.

As a man without a girlfriend, the opportunity to have your picture taken simply does not present itself that often. When I get a good pic with the short hair, we’ll change it.

The gap is large and widening by the game. Lawrence is playing damn near perfect football at the moment, and more importantly, football that will translate to the NFL. He’s consistently on time, in rhythm and going where the coverage dictates. His 94.5 overall grade through three games is even higher than Burrow’s 93.0 through three games last year. Add in that arm talent, and I believe the gap between him and Justin Fields on the PFF board is far greater than Fields and Trey Lance.

I will shout this one from the rooftops all season long: GREGORY P. ROMAN.

This 5-foot-8, 255-pound (according to his Wikipedia page) stud can scheme an offense with a mobile quarterback better than anyone else in the NFL. What he did with Colin Kaepernick, Tyrod Taylor and now Lamar Jackson has been nothing short of incredible.

They have pieces that are good enough to score far more points than they have so far, and Roman would get that done.

Vita Vea was, by a comfortable margin, the best nose tackle in the NFL through the first four weeks. He was not only a rock against double teams against the run — the Bucs have only allowed 58.4 rushing yards per game this season — but he was also was the league’s best pocket pusher. His 12 pressures through four weeks were the most of any full-time nose in the NFL, and he added four more on Thursday night.

I’d say pretty much all the rookie corners. You can see their heads spinning out there. Noah Igbinoghene, Trevon Diggs, Jeff Gladney, Jeffrey Okudah, Michael Ojemudia and Damon Arnette have all given up over 200 yards through the first four weeks (with those first three guys on pace to give up over 1,000). Confidence and comfort level is massive at a position like corner, so giving these guys a chance to breathe could work wonders for them.

I’d say it is. It’s important to remember that receivers rarely hit the ground running, and especially so with no offseason. When you have the WR5 (Justin Jefferson) leading the NFL in yards per route run (3.7), two other guys on pace for over 800 yards and six more on pace for at least 500 yards, I’d call that successful. You’ll also see the usage and target share for each increase over the course of the season, so I’d say they look the part at this point.

I would say invest in a good haircut. Going to Supercuts and thinking you’re going to have good hair just by the products you use is like investing all your money in skill positions and completely ignoring the offensive line — it's bound to fail.

The most concerning thing with Thomas is that things that really shouldn’t change from college to the pro, like punch timing and relationship angles, look off. His down-to-down consistency in those things looks way out of whack.

If there is a silver lining for Thomas, it’s that he’s almost certainly reworked his sets this past offseason, and it’s carrying over into this fall. At Georgia, he almost always took angle sets and would set super shallow knowing he was athletic enough to adjust in time to push speed rushers past the quarterback.

That’s not going to fly against the speed in the NFL. As such, he’s been getting more depth and still not 100% on his landmarks with a number of oversets. He’s also been asked to vertical set far more, and you can tell he’s not quite comfortable with it yet. The good news is when everything comes together, his punch is still deading as hell, and the agility to mirror is still there. It’s just going to take some seasoning.

They have to, right? Gambling is the next fantasy in terms of driving interest in the NFL. I know that my friend — who knows damn near nothing about football (I hope you’re reading this Lightning) — live bets every primetime game just because he can. Promoting that in not-so-subtle ways like holding the draft in Vegas can only help the NFL.

At the moment, the 2021 tight end class reminds me a lot of the 2019 linebacker class. That might not make any sense whatsoever, but let me explain.

That 2019 linebacker class saw Devin White go No. 5, Devin Bush go No. 10, Jahlani Tavai No. 43 (something I still can't believe), and then no one else in the first two rounds. Basically, there were two guys with skill sets you weren’t going to find anywhere else in the draft. That’s how I feel about Florida’s Kyle Pitts and Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth. If you want a field-stretch and move guy, Pitts is in a class by himself. If you want a complete inline guy, Freiermuth is in a class by himself. So just the way the 2019 linebacker class saw a run on the two early, I expect that to be the case in 2021.

Offensively, this is pretty much a wash in my book. The Seahawks have more explosive receivers, while the Packers have far and away the better pass-protecting offensive line. What sways this for me is the defensive side of the ball (sorry, George and Eric). The Packers have two elite pass-rushers (Kenny Clark and Za’Darius Smith) as well as the highest-graded corner in the NFL (Jaire Alexander). The results haven’t been great, but the talent its there. The Seahawks have two solid box players in Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams, but they also have no pass rush (31st in pass-rushing grade even after facing the Dolphins OL) and weak corners. Give me Green Bay’s chances of figuring it out.

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