5 most improved NFL players through Week 4

Sample sizes are still very small, but some NFL players have already gotten off to a much better starts compared to where they finished in PFF’s grading system a year ago. Highlighted below are five NFL players with much higher grades through Week 4 than their marks following the 2018 season.

OT La’el CollinsDallas Cowboys

So far, Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle La'el Collins (71) has lived up to the big extension he signed before the season. (USA Today)
So far, Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle La'el Collins (71) has lived up to the big extension he signed before the season. (USA Today)
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After going undrafted in 2015, Collins earned middling grades through the first four years of his career. He didn’t push his overall grade above 70 until his 2018 campaign, and even then, he earned just a 71.2 overall, 71.8 pass-blocking grade and a 68.9 run-blocking grade. Dallas’ brass, of course, signed Collins to a five-year, $50 million extension this offseason because it knew he was capable of living up to a top-dollar contract.

And he sure has proved the Cowboys right thus far. Collins leads all offensive tackles in overall grade at 87.4 through Week 4. He ranks first in run-blocking grade (88.3) and 10th in pass-blocking grade (77.8) among his peers, as well.

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QB Lamar JacksonBaltimore Ravens

Jackson has cooled after torching the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, but the sophomore signal-caller still ranks 10th among qualifiers in passing grade (75) through Week 4 and appears to have taken a significant step forward as a passer compared to his rookie campaign. Among the 35 quarterbacks with 250 or more dropbacks a year ago, Jackson ranked 33rd in passing grade (57.1) with 11 turnover-worthy plays. He also threw the uncatchable passes at the fourth-highest rate (26.4 percent) among QBs with 100 or more aimed passes in 2018.

Again, it’s a small sample size, but Jackson has had a higher percentage of positively graded throws this year compared to last year and has improved his accuracy slightly through four weeks.

Lamar Jackson has cooled off a bit since Week 1, but the Baltimore Ravens quarterback is still showing big signs of improvement. (Getty)
Lamar Jackson has cooled off a bit since Week 1, but the Baltimore Ravens quarterback is still showing big signs of improvement. (Getty)

WR Courtland SuttonDenver Broncos

Sutton earned just 62.5 receiving grade across his 574 routes run as a rookie in 2018, ranking outside the top 80 qualifiers at his position. He caught just 42 of his 79 targets for 704 yards, 26 first downs and four touchdowns. He lost more than half of his contested-catch opportunities, dropped nine balls and averaged a dismal 1.32 yards per route run.

Now four weeks into his second NFL season, Sutton ranks eighth among the 88 wideouts with 80 or more routes run in receiving grade (81.4). Catching 22 of 28 targets for 309 yards, 16 first downs and two touchdowns, Sutton is now averaging 2.03 yards per route run, has logged zero drops and has come down with a reception in three of his four contested-catch opportunities.

LB Jamie Collins Sr., New England Patriots

Bill Belichick knows how to get the best out of Collins. A second-round pick out of Southern Miss in 2013, Collins earned 85-plus overall grades with the Pats in 2014 and 2015 before he was traded to Cleveland the following year. With the Browns, Collins watched his production plummet. In his 1,939 defensive snaps with the Browns (2016-18), Collins earned just a 54.2 overall grade.

Now, after earning a 62.3 overall grade across 1,067 defensive snaps with the Browns in 2018, Collins is back in New England and living his best life. Through Week 4, he ranks second among all off-ball linebackers in overall grade (86.4) with plus grades defending the run, playing in coverage and rushing the passer.

CB Ahkello WitherspoonSan Francisco 49ers

Among the 104 cornerbacks with 400 or more defensive snaps played in 2018, Witherspoon, a 2017 third-round pick out of Colorado, ranked dead last in overall grade (44.9) and coverage grade (39.8). He committed a whopping 13 penalties and missed eight tackles, all while allowing more than 11 yards per reception and a 98 passer rating in coverage.

Witherspoon’s 2019 campaign has been a different story. He ranks tied for 11th at his position in overall grade (77.5) and tied for 10th in coverage grade (79.3). He also leads all cornerbacks with 10 or more targets through Week 4 in completion percentage allowed (33.3) and ranks seventh in forced incompletion percentage (22.2).


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