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J.R. Sweezy will improve the Bucs' running game

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JR Sweezy has played in the NFL for four years with the Seattle Seahawks. He has been a full time starter in his last three years. This past offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have signed free agent Sweezy to replace retired Logan Mankins. In Sweezy, the Bucs are investing in a three year starter at offensive guard, but he has only played right guard. Sweezy will be playing left guard in Tampa, protecting QB Jameis Winston's blind side.

Just how big of a gamble was the acquisition of Sweezy?

Logan Mankins
Tampa Bay, 2014 -2015
Year Age Team Games Games Started AV
2014 32 TB 16 16 6
2015 33 TB 15 15 9
AV = Approx. Value

JR Sweezy
Seattle Seahawks
Year Age Team Games Games Started AV
2012 23 Sea 13 3 2
2013 24 Sea 15 15 8
2014 25 Sea 16 16 9
2015 26 Sea 15 15 8
AV = Approx. Value

Using Approximate Value (AV), acquiring Sweezy would not be a huge drop off.  Granted, those AV numbers were as a right guard (RG). Right guards are more known to be road graders than pass blockers. Since the Bucs have a right handed throwing QB, Sweezy will be needed to become an effective pass blocker since Sweezy will be transitioning to the left guard (LG) position.

Pro Football Focus (PFF) does not like Sweezy at all.

Ouch. Scathing.

On a tangent, I follow hockey and hockey prospects for the Anaheim Ducks. Years ago, the Ducks drafted an offensive defenseman late in the first round. For two consecutive years in juniors, Shea Theodore had negative plus/minus ratings of -36 and followed by -24. A plus/minus rating is a metric that measures goals scored while a player is on the ice. Goal scored for your team when a player is on the ice results into a plus one; goal scored against your team you are on the ice is a minus one. Doom and gloom seemed to appear for most Duck fans about drafting a defenseman who cannot defend.

So I looked at Theodore's junior league team to inspect how terrible this offensive defenseman was. In those two years in his junior team, Theodore was the third leading scorer for the team. When a defenseman is your third leading scorer, then one can assess the lack of quality depth at the forward position and this defenseman can score! Yet, back to those negative plus/minus ratings, in both years, everyone on the team had high negative plus/minus ratings, except for the new people that were traded late into the season. This simply means the whole team sucked and it was not just one player.

After his drafted year, there was some new blood in the junior system. Theodore led the whole team in scoring and was one of the few players with a positive plus/minus rating. In fact, he led the team with the highest positive plus/minus rating.

The Anaheim Ducks' scouting department was correct in drafting a defenseman with negative plus/minus ratings above 20 for two consecutive years in juniors. The talent was there, but the team he was on was not so talented.

Now, let us look at Seattle's offensive line production using Football Outsiders' metrics.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks
OL Rankings, 2012 to 2015
Run Blocking Pass Blocking
Year Team Run Block Rank RB Yards Power Success Stuffed Stuffed Rank 2nd level (5 - 10 yds) Rank Open Field (10+ yds) Rank Rank Sacks Adj. Sack Rate
2012 Sea 4 4.83 70% 15% 1 2 8 20 33 7.20%
2013 Sea 9 4.03 49% 19% 15 13 23 32 44 9.60%
2014 Sea 4 4.62 78% 17% 6 4 11 24 42 8.70%
2015 Sea 4 4.44 71% 18% 5 15 12 30 46 9.00%

Seattle has been consistently very good at run blocking and consistently not so good at pass blocking for four years, three of which where Sweezy was a full time starter. Not once has the Open Field metric ranked higher than the run blocking rank. This means the offensive line made the running back look good, as per Football Outsiders explanation that can be found at their website. Take a gander at the stuffed rankings for 2014 and 2015, they are great rankings. For stuffed rankings, first overall ranking means they gave up the fewest running back stops at the line of scrimmage or behind the line of scrimmage.

Last year, 2015, was the first year under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter for the Bucs, who is now the Bucs' head coach. The Bucs also re-signed Pro Bowl and All Pro running back Doug Martin, probably meaning to maintain a similar running offensive approach. So here is another chart to show where the Bucs ran to last season as well as four years worth of where Seattle ran towards.

Rushing Area Percentages
2012 - 2015, Seattle and TB
Year RB Carries Rank Team RB Carries Left End Left Tackle Mid/ Guard Right Tackle Right End
2012 5th Sea 430 9% 24% 41% 21% 4%
2013 8th Sea 402 9% 25% 37% 18% 11%
2014 10th Sea 389 6% 16% 52% 16% 9%
2015 9th Sea 384 5% 16% 56% 17% 6%
6th TB 401 10% 13% 51% 14% 11%

Tampa Bay and Seattle are alike in running up the gut (Mid/Guard stat). The Bucs already have Ali Marpet at right guard.  Acquiring Sweezy will help continue to run inside the tackles or even increase it. Run blocking at the NFL level is a known commodity for Sweezy.

What about pass blocking for Sweezy? Seattle has had poor pass blocking in all four years Sweezy has been there. The query is, "How exactly does this help Tampa in pass protection?" Let us not look at Sweezy, but rather coach Koetter.

Dirk Koetter
OL Rankings, 2012 to 2015
Run Blocking Pass Blocking
Year Team Run Block Rank RB Yards Power Success Stuffed Stuffed Rank 2nd level (5 - 10 yds) Rank Open Field (10+ yds) Rank Rank Sacks Adj. Sack Rate
2012 Atl 24 3.69 39% 23% 27 26 21 8 28 5.10%
2013 Atl 24 3.91 63% 21% 25 25 14 7 44 5.90%
2014 Atl 14 3.98 67% 21% 20 24 17 11 31 5.10%
2015 TB 9 4.86 71% 20% 13 13 1 14 27 5.80%

Koetter has had good pass protection in the four recent years. Only recently has Koetter had a good run blocking corps. In 2014, Atlanta lost several starters on the offensive line and yet still produced well enough in pass blocking. Then in 2015, the Bucs had two rookies and a replacement at right tackle to begin the season. During the season, Tampa also lost its starting center. And yet look at the production in pass blocking, fewer sacks than all three years in Atlanta with a rookie quarterback as well!

Pass Blocking Ranking Comparison

Pass Blocking Comparison
Koetter vs Seattle
Koetter's OL Pass Protection v Seattle OL Pass Protection
Pass Blocking Pass Blocking
Year Rank Sacks Adj. Sack Rate Rank Sacks Adj. Sack Rate
2012 8 28 5.10% 20 33 7.20%
2013 7 44 5.90% 32 44 9.60%
2014 11 31 5.10% 24 42 8.70%
2015 14 27 5.80% 30 46 9.00%

The table above shows a quick comparison of pass blocking. Can Sweezy be the only reason Seattle's pass blocking was terrible?  Can Mankins be the only reason why the Bucs' offensive line was good last season?

Signing a known road grader with NFL experience will help maintain or improve the run blocking. Last offseason with the Bucs, many fans did not know what to expect from our offensive line. Here is an article from last season talking about Koetter and the offensive line:  Promising Pass Protection. That was written before RT Dotson fell to injury in the first preseason game. In retrospect, Koetter did his magic with the Bucs' offensive line in his first year with the Bucs.

Under Koetter, I believe Sweezy will not be a huge detriment. Plus, it has only been four years playing offensive line for Sweezy, to which he is still improving.  Koetter has done wonders with less talents for the past two years. The gamble is not about Sweezy because he is the known commodity - a road grader with upside. A question should be how well can our coaches improve Sweezy in pass defense, especially if they do not have to teach run blocking as much? The gamble was by the front office that Koetter can mold Sweezy's pass defense. Do you trust Koetter and the offensive line coaches to maintain or improve the offensive line play?