Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Why Brandon Marshall's “bet” with Antonio Brown is a long-shot: Jets WR Brandon Marshall and Steelers WR Antonio Brown may be having a friendly bet that involves a Porsche and a Rolls-Royce based on which player finishes with more receiving yards, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Brown topped Marshall by over 300 yards in 2015, and has recorded more receiving yards in each of the past three seasons. But beyond pure receiving yards, who is really the better player?
Marshall has long been one of the better wideouts in the league, despite his numerous team-changes. He has topped 1,000 receiving yards in eight of the past nine seasons, and earned a positive overall grade in all 10 seasons in the league. Over the duration of his career, he has averaged 2.12 receiving yards per route ran—a solid figure given the timespan. One thing that has always set Marshall apart from most other NFL WRs is his blocking. Blocking ability of receivers is generally given very little consideration, but it is an underrated and under-appreciated skill that can make a difference in both the screen-pass and run games. The one area that Marshall has struggled a bit in his career, though, is drops; he has 109 to his name as a pro, for an 11 percent drop rate (he recorded just the 53rd-best drop rate in the league last year among 85 qualifying receivers).
As for Brown, the Steeler has grown into arguably the best receiver in football right now. Brown has led all wide receivers in receiving grade for each of the past three seasons, and this past year, had the highest receiving grade in the 10-year PFF era. Brown is not just a product of high playing time, either; he has ranked in the top-10 among wide receivers in yards per route run each of the past three years. His career drop rate is also less than half of Marshall’s.
Marshall is a great receiver who can do things most other cannot, But even at his peak earlier in his career, he has not had the level of production and impact that Brown has shown the past two years. Brown is not only the better player right now, but he really should be considered the best receiver in the league.
Drew Brees still an elite NFL quarterback at age 37: Drew Brees said yesterday that he believes he can continue to perform well into his 40s. At age 37, and after two losing seasons for the Saints, some believe that the veteran is already on the decline. He might not be quite the player he was a few years ago who was putting up ridiculous numbers year-in and year-out, but the team’s lack of success has far more to do with the defense than any decline in Brees’ performance. Brees continues to be among the best quarterbacks in the NFL, with an 87.6 overall grade in 2015 that ranked fourth among quarterbacks. Brees’ has always been known for his accuracy, and his adjusted completion percentage of 77.2 percent last year still ranked seventh in the league. On deep passes 20+ yards downfield, he jumps to second-highest as one of two players at over 50 percent. When not under pressure, Brees had the second-best passing grade out of all quarterbacks. His 11 interceptions were also his fewest since the 2009 Super Bowl season. Brees will start to decline more at some point in the future due to Father Time, but for right now, he is still performing at the level of the top-10—or higher—quarterbacks in the league.
(PFF Fantasy Insight: Mike Tagliere thinks Brees is a slam-dunk fantasy option over Ben Roethlisberger this season. A lot of Brees' 2015 value was tied up in his huge Week 8 game against Eli Manning and the Giants, but he did finish 2015 as the No. 6 fantasy quarterback despite missing a game.)
How Vikings' defense has improved during Mike Zimmer's tenure: After leading the Vikings to their first NFC North crown since 2009 in just his second season as head coach, Mike Zimmer's contract was extended yesterday by Minnesota. The positive effect Zimmer has had on the team since taking over is evident, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Despite moving on from impact players like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, the defense has steadily improved during Zimmer’s tenure. Harrison Smith has become the best safety in the league since Zimmer’s arrival, and Everson Griffen went from an effective role player to a solid starter who has had his best two seasons under the current head coach. While other teams hit and miss on top draft picks, the Vikings have been hitting consistently, as Zimmer has been getting great performances out Smith, Anthony Barr, and Sharrif Floyd. They still have work to do as a team, but the recently-extended HC has the organization headed in the right direction.