In the offseason, analysis articles tend to delve into the areas of the previous season with a rich depth that just isn't possible during immediate game reviews. While their advanced football metrics may be available with lightning speed, Pro Football Focus creates its best content when the year is wrapped up.
The latest iteration of PFF's 'Secret Superstar' series names Devon Kennard as the New York Giants player most worthy of that moniker. Kennard, a linebacker with just one year of experience under his belt, made an immediate impression in New York. While fellow rookie Odell Beckham Jr. was grabbing headlines, awards and uncatchable balls, Kennard was putting in a solid year of his own. Perhaps his relative anonymity to the Madden cover-boy could be attributed to an injury that took away six weeks of playing time, but regardless, once he did see the field, Kennard was ascendant.
PFF analyst Kevin Connaghan writes:
Kennard led the way statistically at outside linebacker for the Giants. He registered five sacks, and eight total pressures for a 19.1 Pass Rushing Productivity score. His 8.9 Run Stop Percentage topped the unit, as did his 0.65 Yards per Cover Snap, though that may be misleading as he was only targeted nine times. His 23 total stops to one missed tackle (when he fell victim to a DeMarco Murray stiff arm) gave him a 38.0 Combined Tackling Efficiency, which not only topped the team, but ranked third in league among 4-3 OLBs.
While his first year may be surprising to some, it's his stellar performance in light of a struggling position group that really stands out. Connaghan is also quick to point out that last year's linebackers weren't the only ones to have struggled as Big Blue have a recent undeniable history of sub-par production from this area. Thankfully, Kennard seems to have ended New York's drought and could perhaps be the first great force since Antonio Pierce retired in 2009.
So, what can we expect from Kennard in his second season? Looks like more blitzing and less coverage could be a recipe for success.
Kennard was at his best coming downfield with force, whether to fill a gap, take on a lead blocker or pulling lineman, or rush the passer, it's something he tended to do well. The Giants used that to good effect, deploying him as a pass rusher on 27.3% of his passing snaps, the highest rate among the teams LBs.
[...] Kennard isn't the finished article by any means, for a start he still needs to show his coverage can hold up under sterner testing. Of the nine passes thrown into his coverage, eight have been completed for a total of 66 yards.
Veteran Jon Beason hasn't played a 16-game season since 2010, Jameel McClain struggled as a replacement last year and Mark Herzlich is predominantly a special teams contributor. The front office added just two free-agent signings and a handful of undrafted guys to boost this group so, it looks very likely that Kennard will nail down one of those starting spots early in training camp.