By JOHN SHIRLEY
Last week we explored the idea of evaluating different pass rush units like different lines in hockey or lineups in basketball. Leveraging the same participation data at SIS’s disposal, we can use similar analysis in evaluating the NFL’s most dynamic duos at each position.
To evaluate each pair, we will use SIS’s player value metric Total Points for each player while both are on the field and add them together. Total Points is used because it allows us to evaluate individual players on a play-by-play level even if they did not register a traditional stat in the box score. Total Points for this analysis will also be scaled to Per 60 Plays, which approximates per game value.
It is important to remember that the numbers here are not representing each player’s full season value. They are only representing his value on plays in which he is on the field with the other member of the duo. This is done to truly evaluate dynamic duos that play to each other’s strengths and elevate each other and their teams.
Top Wide Receiver Duos
Wide receiver is one of the positions where the argument over duos is generally most prevalent. In 2019, the race for the best duo was tight, but the Buccaneers combo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin edged out the Chargers’ Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. In third place, were the surprising duo of Davante Parker and Allen Hurns—though Parker provided most of the value when they were on the field together.
Top Backfield Duos
Many of the duos on this list are running back/fullback combos, since most teams don’t use multi-running back sets that often. One exception is the top spot Chargers combo of Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon, where Ekeler provided elite level value. Other top combos include some of the best fullbacks in the game, such as the third ranked combo of Raheem Mostart and Kyle Juszczyk.
Top Tight End Duos
The Bay Area was full of elite tight end play last season. One of the best in the game, George Kittle, teamed with Levine Toilolo to give the 49ers the top duo. The Raiders duo of Darren Waller and Foster Moreau ranked second, and will now take their talents to Las Vegas.
Top Interior Defensive Line Duos
Aaron Donald has been the top interior defensive lineman in Total Points each of the four years we have on record. So, it should surprise no one that he and a teammate, in this case Michael Brokers, ranked as the top duo. What might be more surprising is the strong showing from the second ranked duo, the Giants Dalvin Tomlinson and rookie Dexter Lawrence. Other impressive pairs include the Buccaneers Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh and the Packers Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry.
Top Edge Rusher Duos
Last season T.J. Watt led all defenders in Total Points Saved, with 77. When he was on the field with fellow edge rusher Bud Dupree, the Steelers duo was by far the best in the NFL, saving an entire point more per 60 plays than any other edge duo. The Bosa brothers helped their duos rank second and third, Joey pairing with Melvin Ingram and Nick pairing with Arik Armstead. The Smith brothers paired up to save over six points per 60 plays when they were both on the field, giving the Packers defense the fourth rated edge duo to go along with the fourth rated interior defensive line duo.
Top Cornerback Duos
Having a pair of lock down corners can cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks, and these top duos did just that in 2019. The Patriots defense was a historic pace for much of last season, and a lot of it had to do with their secondary play. Stephon Gilmore won Defensive Player of the year and when he was on the field with Jonathan Jones, they paired to give the Patriots the best cornerback duo in the league.
Top Safety Duos
Great safety duos probably depend on each other more so than any other position. Where other positions can pair two similar players together and combine for a great duo, safety duos rely on a combination of skills that need to complement each other. Though it is possible for two extremely versatile safeties to interchange roles, the best recent example of complementary players was the Legion of Boom. Earl Thomas provided the deep range and coverage ability, while Kam Chancellor provided the hard hitting in-the-box role.
In 2019, there were multiple safety duos who complement each other in close to perfect ways. The Broncos duo of Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons were the top ranked duo, combining to save over six points per 60 plays when they were on the field together. The best safety in each of the last three years in Total Points Saved, Harrison Smith, paired with 2019 interception co-leader Anthony Harris to create the second best safety duo in the league.