Coupon God Tom Telesco has brought in some very valuable free agents in his two offseasons that have been very productive in their given roles. Now that the Chargers have roughly $29 million to spend in cap space, maybe we can expect a few "bigger" names. If that is the case, Telesco will still have to plug holes like he has in previous years by finding under the radar players that can come in and produce immediately. Kevin Grauel and I made a top 25 free agent list about a month ago. In that time, I've had a chance to watch some players that we left off and I think there are a few gems that could come in and produce right away.
In Derek's Newton case, he is a 7th round pick from the 2011 draft class. Speaking with some Texans fans, he was a player that was forced into duty before he was ready, think Mike Harris under Norv, and that led to struggles in 2012. Here is the fans direct quote for Newton's performance from 2013.
"2013 he played before he fully recovered from a knee surgery because 2 draft picks had season ending injuries before the season started. Newton’s range of motion, lateral movement and conditioning were terrible in 2013 because he wasn’t healthy."
Enter 2014, finally healthy and ready to play, Newton showed that he can get the job done at right tackle. I went through the Texans schedule and watched who I thought would be his 4 toughest tests and ended up with Buffalo, Tennesse, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Here are some things I noticed.
Speed Rush and playing in space
Any nightmares you have of D.J. Fluker getting beaten to the edge end with Newton. He has really good feet and it allows him to get depth against pass players that will try to win with speed. In the 4 games Newton only allowed 2 QB hits and 0 sacks. In this regard, Newton doesn't have any issues in pass protection.
Another trait that the Chargers value is for their offensive lineman to be able to execute in space. Both starting guards last year were very poor and that limited not only the run games success, but what Frank Reich could call. Whether covered or uncovered I didn't think Newton had any issues climbing to the 2nd level to seal off linebackers. Houston even ran a nifty counter play that asked Newton to pull all the way across the line of scrimmage and he put himself in a position to block who he was supposed to. Whether he's gaining ground or moving lateral, Newton showed he can execute in a zone blocking system.
Playing with balance and through the whistle
|Blown Block(R)||Blown Block(P)||On the Ground||QB Hit||Sack||Drive Block||Knockdown|
On the surface 21 blown blocks in 4 games seems like an awful lot. In the run game most of Newton's issues came from not sustaining blocks through the whistle. He would get to the 2nd level, get his hands on the linebacker, and block him for 2 counts then let him go. You'd like to see him play through the whistle more consistently.
The reason I chose these 4 games is because I felt like it would expose his flaws. While Newton has plus feet that allow him cut off speed rushes, once a defender gives him a hesitation move, that's where Newton struggles. He's inconsistent if he has to redirect his weight. The same can be said for his ability to move laterally. He can get down the line of scrimmage, but he'll need to do a better job of sustaining his block throughout the play. This example comes to mind.
All Newton needs to do is continue to work to Williams right shoulder, keep his head up, and he's done his job. Instead, he drops his head and Williams hits him with a nice arm over and Newton ends up on the ground. These are what most of his "blown blocks" look like. Good initially, but needs to do a better job finishing. The good news is this is coachable. His technique is shoddy, but anyone who watched King Dunlap as an Eagle would say calling his technqiue shoddy being too kind. Look at this example against Mario Williams.
Newton's punch should be him shooting his arms simultaneously straight out towards Williams. His arms look like he's trying to make a tackle and that's what leads him to being off balance. Again, very coachable, and against one of the best edge rushers in the NFL. Newton has the feet to block Williams, he only beat him 3 times in 32 snaps, he just needs to play with consistent technique. He has the power, as evidenced in the chart above by his drive blocks and knockdowns. Watch this vine of Newton driving 340 pound Brandon Williams into the ground or this vine of Newton tossing a Titan to the ground. His physical traits aren't the issue, and that's why I think Joe D'Alessandris could get the best out of Newton.
Would Newton be an upgrade?
I took this idea from Joe Goodberry and Jake Liscow, 2 contributors for Cincy Jungle. Grading players based on what you see, data that you have, with modifiers that the team values more. The highest you can score is 100 overall, or 10 for each trait. I don't expect us to agree on these grades but I think that it's valuable to share and can create good discussion.
Newton grades out to a reliable tackle who, with the proper coaching and repitition, could be even better than what he's shown. Where he excels is exactly what San Diego needs. It's not always pretty, and he's far from perfect, but he keeps the quarterback clean. At 27 years old, Newton can take over the starting right tackle position for at least another 4 years and be had without breaking the bank. With an incentive that Newton plays a certain amount of snaps, a contract for 4 years at $18 million is well worth it given Newton's play last year.