On Friday, Ben Linsey of the football analysis site Pro Football Focus published an article naming PFF’s All-Clutch Team of 2018.
Linsey narrowed PFF data to games in the fourth quarter that were within seven points and found the players with at least 100 snaps in those situations. Those with the best PFF grades at each position during those snaps made the team.
Linsey said that debates about the best clutch players usually rely only on anecdotal information.
There is often debate over which players perform best when the pressure is at its highest, i.e. which players in the NFL are the most “clutch.” These debates often rely on anecdotal evidence, such as one memorably great play in a key moment, but the play-by-play grading at PFF allows us to look at the bigger picture and take the totality of a player’s performance in “clutch time” into consideration.
Two members of the Kansas City Chiefs made the team. One of them was linebacker Justin Houston — released by the team in March and now signed to the Indianapolis Colts.
EDGE – JUSTIN HOUSTON, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS & CARLOS DUNLAP, CINCINNATI BENGALS
Second Team: Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints & Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
The run of Colts continues at the edge position, though this time it’s one of the team’s new additions that make the list. With the Chiefs, Houston was the only edge defender with 100-plus snaps to eclipse an overall grade of 90.0 in the clutch. He routinely beat his blocker as a pass rusher, notching a pass-rush win rate of 20.6%. The other first-team selection — Carlos Dunlap — did it with a well-rounded approach. He was one of six edge defenders to have both a run-defense and pass-rush grade of 73.0 or higher in the fourth quarter of one-score games.
Another Chief — right tackle Mitchell Schwartz — made the second team, behind the Colts’ Braden Smith:
Second Team: Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs
The rookie Smith makes three members of the Colts’ starting offensive line that ended up on the Clutch Team, surely making Andrew Luck a happy man. Smith allowed five pressures on 128 pass-blocking snaps, and he finished the season with a 75.1 overall grade in clutch time — first among all qualifying right tackles.
I’ll be honest: when I saw the PFF tweet promoting their article, I was sure that Patrick Mahomes would be one of the players listed. (Just so you know, the quarterbacks who made the team were Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers).
But now that I think about it, it’s not that surprising. The Chiefs left a lot of teams in the dust in 2018; many of the amazing plays Mahomes made weren’t in pressure situations. And I’m not prepared to dispute that Houston did indeed make a lot of clutch plays during the season, or that Schwartz didn’t play extremely well in the fourth quarter — or any other quarter, for that matter.
Most would argue that Brady has long been the NFL’s King of Clutch. But he won’t be the king forever. I’d even make a bold prediction that one day, Mahomes will surpass him — except for one thing: it would be lot better if Mahomes continued to play as he did in 2018, while the Chiefs defense made sure that Mahomes played so few fourth-quarter snaps in close games he wouldn’t even have enough to make the All-Clutch Team.