Yesterday, Daniel Jeremiah submitted this question to the rogues of Twitter:
Which NFL team is built the best up the middle?— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 27, 2019
An interesting way at looking at a team, for sure. One of the most common answers ended up being the Eagles — though there were more than a few teams whose names were thrown into the mix.
Eagles or Falcons.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) June 27, 2019
Wentz/Howard/Kelce/Cox AND Jackson/Brown/Jenkins
I'm good either way https://t.co/Z3cmPUJcfH
Dallas (if Frederick healthy)— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) June 27, 2019
Eagles https://t.co/EOty9vwdhN— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) June 27, 2019
Worth taking a deeper dive into? I say so.
The most popular answers I saw were Atlanta, Los Angeles (Chargers), Dallas, Cleveland and Philadelphia. I also think the Jets are a sneaky fun group to consider, but we’ll table them for now.
I’ll rank the five players at each position and tally up the scores, doubling the value for QBs (arbitrarily), so as to assign more positional value to that spot. It’s an inexact science, but the conversation is more important than the actual content.
It’s a talented list, but we can quickly place Wentz above both Dak Prescott and Baker Mayfield — he’s proven more over his short career than Dak has, as we’ve covered on BGN Radio many, many times, and Mayfield had a strong finish to 2018 but still needs more reps until he’s a known quantity
I do struggle to put Wentz above Matt Ryan, who I consider to be the top QB in this group. Philip Rivers is a bit of a closer conversation in terms of who’s better in the year 2019, but with Wentz still rehabbing from injury, I’m gonna give Rivers the benefit of the doubt for now. Both are definitely Top-10, maybe Top-8 QBs in the league.
I’m sure there are those that are upset that I’m not DEVALUING running backs the way I’m boosting the value of QBs, but hey — this is just an exercise. Calm down and eat your Wheaties.
The best back here is clearly Ezekiel Elliott, and the worst is probably Jordan Howard/Miles Sanders, whoever ends up starting for Philly. I don’t really know who to call the starter in Cleveland — Kareem Hunt or Nick Chubb — and that would change the rankings slightly, but I’m going to err on the side of Chubb, as Hunt’s situation with the league is tenuous at best, and there’s no reason to take reps away from Chubb given his performance last year.
Unfortunately, that puts Chubb below Devonta Freeman and Melvin Gordon — which, again, is the trickiest battle here. It’s easy to forget how good Freeman was in 2016-2017 before he lost the 2018 season to injury, but I think I’m still gonna edge Gordon, who — while he has his own health problems — has steadily improved in Los Angeles.
It might not be as easy to remember each team’s starting center, so to run through ‘em real quick.
Eagles: Jason Kelce
Falcons: Alex Mack
Cowboys: Travis Frederick
Chargers: Mike Pouncey
Browns: JC Tretter
Okay, here’s what I know. I know Jason Kelce is the best, and that’s probably with a bit of bias, but the dude is a back-to-back First-Team All-Pro center, so I feel comfortable with this one.
I also feel comfortable calling Travis Frederick the second-best. He wins differently than Kelce — power instead of quickness — but he’s consistently aggressive, lockdown, and productive when tasked with opening gaps. If he’s healthy, he’s No. 2.
JC Tretter, who’s a good player, is a tick below Alex Mack and Mike Pouncey — I think he lacks their elite physical traits. Between Mack and Pouncey, I’ve been impressed with Pouncey’s play outside of Miami for sure — but I still think Mack is the more consistent player, with more elite traits.
I know LA fans will be upset, and rightfully so — but watch Mack execute reach blocks for the Falcons and tell me otherwise.
Note: I’m quickly sensing that the Browns may not belong yet on this list.
There was no guidelines given in terms of calculating the tandem of DTs as opposed to just the top ranked interior defensive linemen, so I’m just going with one player.
The Cowboys are in the clear weakest spot here, and the Chargers are second. Both lack a truly elite standout starter (Tyrone Crawford v. Corey Liuget) and are hoping for instant impact from high draft picks (Trysten Hill v. Jerry Tillery). Things could shift in a year, but they don’t have anyone who can match with the Top 3 players here.
And again, Larry Ogunjobi (or Sheldon Richardson, your call honestly — I just think Ogunjobi is a better player) is a strong young player and franchise building-block, but he can’t be put up against Fletcher Cox and Grady Jarrett.
And once again, Grady Jarrett is a franchise cornerstone who helped power the Falcons’ Super Bowl run — but for all of his penetration strength, he’s no Fletcher Cox. There’s only one dude who Fletch would have lost to, in this exercise.
Grabbing the best off-ball linebacker I can find here and not really committing myself to a MLB designation on the depth chart — though for the most part, these fellas are all their teams’ signal-caller and MIKE by usage.
The Cowboys and the Falcons are at the top of the list, with Leighton Vander Esch and Deion Jones. Browns are once again cellar-dwellars — not because Joe Schobert is bad, but because he’s just Joe Schobert. I know some folks have love for Denzel Perryman in Los Angeles, and I’ll allow that he’s improved over last year, but I still don’t think he’s as quality a starter as Nigel Bradham is for Philly.
And as much as I love Deion Jones, I can’t put him above Vander Esch, who was shockingly dominant as a rookie. Jones just has too many gaps as an undersized coverage player, despite all his strengths.
Last but certainly not least, safety. Thank God I’m only doing one of each, because the Chargers have about four starters at safety. As it is, I’ll match Derwin James up against the Cowboys’ Xavier Woods, Falcons’ Keanu Neal, Browns’ Damarious Randall, and Eagles Malcolm Jenkins.
Cowboys and Browns, once again, the bottom two. Woods is a promising young player, and Randall was a great addition that filled a need, but neither could be described as consistent, reliable, locked-in-to-their-position starters at this point in their careers. I prefer Randall to Woods.
Are we ready to say Derwin James is better than Keanu Neal and Malcolm Jenkins? I don’t think I am, though it is tempting. James made a strong push for DROY as a safety — which rarely happens — but Neal and Jenkins have both been as good (or better) for longer.
And between the two, I will take Jenkins. Neal is a hammer in the middle with great presence against the run, but he doesn’t match Jenkins’ coverage versatility and value as a captain and veteran.
It was tight there at the end, but call the Falcons the best team up the middle in the league — just by thaaaaat much.