Welcome to Miami; How Branden Albert Fits with the Miami Dolphins
The 2014 NFL off-season officially began Tuesday, and as I reported Sunday afternoon, the Miami Dolphins wasted no time setting the tone by coming to an “agreement of terms” with former Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert.
#Dolphins team source told me the team has parameters set on a Brandon Albert deal, and are now moving on to other targets— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) March 9, 2014
Now that Dolphins and left tackle Branden Albert have officially met at the alter, it’s time for Dolphins fans to see what new general manager Dennis Hickey has invested in. I did this by charting every Brandon Albert snap in 2013, and counting whether he “won” or “loss” on every possession. To separate myself from ProFootballFocus.com (PFF - subscription required), which counts strictly the result of the play, I counted how he won and where he won, which is similar to how a pro scout looks at how to attack the weaknesses of a player. It is important to remember that my grading is tougher than PFF’s, because they grade because I’m considering all factors. It would be too easy to sit back and look at the raw statistics and judge Albert (the raw data is pretty good, and available down below).
How I Evaluated
On most plays, the defensive end will attack the offensive lineman using a variety of moves. Throughout the game, it is important for the defensive player to mix up their moves to keep the offensive man off-balance and guessing. As important as athleticism is, a great technician can wreak havoc when in 1on1 situations, and that goes for players on each side of the ball. To see how Albert held up against his man, I counted how many snaps he won, when the offensive play required Albert’s performance, and when the edge player actually rushed (instead of showing rush and dropping back in coverage).
To help break down the strengths and weaknesses of Albert’s game, I looked at how he handled speed rushes, to each the left and right side. If you’re looking at Albert from behind, and inside rush would likely be an inside spin or a stunt from the defensive lineman. An outside rush is when the edge player is trying to bend the edge and get to the quarterback from pure agility.
I also looked at power moves, to the left, right and middle. The most common power move is the bull rush, where the Albert needs to have a strong base and anchor his lower body and keep his hands active.
Finally, I counted the run plays that went inside and outside of Albert’s gap. If Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles or Knile Davis decided to bounce outside on a designed inside run, I judge how well Albert protected the inside run. Let’s take a look at the results.
As we all know, the Dolphins had terrible pass blocking from 2013 starters Jon Martin, Tyson Clabo and Bryant McKinnie. Their inability as a group to keep quarterback Ryan Tannehill upright severely limited the playbook and big play ability. Brandon Albert doesn’t need to be a Hall of Fame quality player to be an improvement, but merely an average to above average player.
For a man that’s 6’6’’ and 310 pounds, Albert handled pure speed rushers well. He faced premier speed rushers often, including stars Von Miller, Jason Paul-Pierre and Robert Mathis. The results were much better than I expected, as he won an 81% rate between inside and outside speed moves. Remember, not every “loss” leads to a sack or even a QB hurry. It tells us that over 80% of snaps, Albert smothered the pass rusher. That equals to about 1.7 “losses” per game in 2013, which is very good.
Examples of Wins
Above is how Albert wins against Von Miller. Albert uses his long arms and impressive quickness to initiate contact and kick-shuffle backwards, keeping Miller far from his quarterback, Alex Smith.
Here, Albert has stuffed a spin attempt by Jaguars defensive end Andre Branch. I saw this a lot throughout 2013, as Albert re-directs rushers with incredibly strong hands and great hand placement.
DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys had a terrible game against Albert, and this screenshot shows a little bit why. Ware tries to bend the edge, but Albert retreats so quickly that he pushes him around the pocket and doesn’t let him disrupt Smith’s movements.
Examples of Losses
Albert seemed to be surprised of the defensive alignment of the defense, and Sen’Derrick Marks takes advantage with an inside rip move. Albert usually transfers weight pretty well, but here he was credited with a loss due to the assignment confusion.
Albert did well vs. Von Miller, but here Miller got the best of him with his explosive first step. Albert showed poor footwork and nearly crosses his feet while trying to get to Miller. The result of the play is a QB hurry.
|Speed Left||Speed Right|
The tallies speak for themselves. Although I haven’t charted the Dolphins 2013 starters totals, my educated guess says that they lost on over 35% of snaps due to stiffness and being slow. Albert is a significant upgrade here.
The Dolphins play a lot of power rushing edge players every year. For example, just within the division are Kyle and Mario Williams, Quinton Coples, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. So, does Albert make the grade?
Examples of Wins
Remember the Dolphins week seven loss against the Bills? The one where Mario Williams dominated Tyson Clabo to force a strip sack at the end? I know it’s painful, but Albert demonstrated throughout their matchup that he’s more than strong enough to anchor and push another 300-pound freak athlete well out of the play. Just a reminder, Williams is a $100 million dollar man, and Albert played very well.
DeMarcus Ware is another premier power pass rusher, but Albert dominated efforts like the one above by keeping his hands active and not letting Ware too close to his body. By not letting Ware convert speed to power, Albert handled him well the entire game.
I love having a lineman that is willing to pancake a guy. Sure, it’s not a 1on1, but Albert takes his shot and help a teammate out. Give me a tackle with a mean streak and I’ll be happy every week.
Examples of Losses
This isn’t really a loss due to skill, and this wasn’t normal for Albert, but his awareness and missed assignment came free at the snap. This was likely due to poor communication, but Albert’s man did get a free jump off the snap because of this mistake.
|Power Left||Power Middle||Power Right|
With an extremely impressive win rate of 94% in 2013 on power moves, and especially on bull rushes, Albert has proven himself to be a great technician against the pass rush. In this aspect, Albert represents a tremendous fit with the AFC East and the Dolphins needs.
The biggest concern from Dolphins fans that I’ve heard this week about Albert’s on-field play was about the run game. What I found on film was a strong, athletic player with a great mean-streak and the ability to get to the second level most of the time. Although he’s no Walter Jones when run blocking, he’s a solid player.
Examples of Wins
Let me just explain what you’re looking at here: a 310-pound man is 15 yards down the field to block in the run game. This wasn’t just a one-time thing from Albert either. He plays hard on every snap, and I saw this at least once a game from him. This is tremendous athleticism and effort at it’s finest.
Albert seals the block above on an inside run, leading to a nice gain by the running back. Albert uses good leverage and quick feet to earn a win on this play.
|Outside Run||Inside Run|
Overall, Albert is a good run blocker in 1on1 situations. Often, the design of the run play and gap assignment has more to do than the individual, but I believe that over 70% is an adequate, if not better, mark. In a zone-blocking system, Albert will benefit even more when run blocking.
I’ve provided the data that Pro Football Focus has accumulated from the 2013 season, and you’ll find that Albert was tied for fourth in pass blocking efficiency, ahead of the fan’s favorite target, Ravens LT Eugene Monroe.
Above is Albert’s 2013 season PFF total grades. These marks were good enough to be the 18th ranked LT, and that would’ve been better if not for one bad week with penalty grades.
Overall, I believe the Dolphins are signing a player that is still an upper-tier left tackle. The key for Branden Albert is to stay healthy, but his on-field talent suggests to me that he is the best free-agent lineman in this class. Although younger players are getting paid a little less, every free agent has their own baggage, and all get overpaid, so fans need to be happy that new GM Dennis Hickey was able to fill the biggest hole on the team with the best possible player.
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