INDIANAPOLIS — Tons of players can be considered good NFL football players, but what about the ones that set themselves apart and cash in for their teams when it really matters?
There’s a whole separate group of players that you can consider clutch, or who step up for their teams in critical situations when they need it most.
Pro Football Focus recently came out with its “2018 NFL Clutch Team,” featuring the top players in the league who came through for their teams when it mattered in 2018. The criteria is that the players must have played at least 100 snaps for their team in the fourth quarter with the score within seven points:
"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.”
“The sample size for this list — plays in the fourth quarter of games within seven points — might seem specific, but it’s meant to capture only those high-pressure situations in which the makeup of a player is put to the test. Among all players with 100-plus snaps in those situations last season, these guys came out on top.”
The Indianapolis Colts began the season 1-5 but then miraculously turned things around to finish 10-6 and make it into the second round of the playoffs, ultimately playing in eight one-score games.
You’ve got to have some pretty clutch players in order for that to happen, and that is reflected by the strong flavor of Colts players featured in PFF’s 2018 Clutch Team. Seven players, including four rookies, made PFF's Clutch Team, proving that the Colts are a tough team to take down in close games.
First up is running back Nyheim Hines, who is Second-Team behind Joe Mixon of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Impressively enough, Hines makes this team as a rookie in 2018 after having a shaky preseason dealing with drops and ball security issues. His value as a pass catcher was huge for the Colts throughout the whole season. He caught 22-of-24 passes from Andrew Luck for 158 yards (7.2 avg) and one touchdown to go with 22 carries for 69 yards (3.1 avg) for a total of 44 touches for 227 yards (5.2 avg) and a touchdown in clutch time.
Next is someone who needs no introduction because he’s been named to just about any “All-NFL” team that’s come out over the last 10 months: left guard Quenton Nelson. Here is what PFF had to say:
“In his first season, Nelson immediately made his spot among the top guards in the league known. His performance in high-pressure situations was no different. Nelson led all left guards in run-blocking grade by a healthy margin (79.0), and he was no slouch in pass protection either. Only four pass-rushers got by him on 188 opportunities.”
Nelson was far from the only Colts offensive lineman to get recognition on this All-Clutch team either, as his right guard counterpart, Mark Glowinski, is up next. Glowinski’s predecessor in the lineup, Matt Slauson, who suffered a season-ending back injury in Week 5, is PFF’s Second-Team right guard in this scenario:
“Joining his teammate from Indy, Glowinski locked down the top spot at right guard with an overall grade of 76.4 in the clutch. Similar to Nelson, he was dominant in the run game. His 76.4 run-blocking grade across 48 snaps came in tops among all qualifying right guards.”
Slauson earned the Colts’ starting right guard spot immediately once training camp began, locking it down until his unfortunate injury against the New England Patriots opened the door for Glowinski. Up to that time, Slauson was a solid contributor to the Colts’ line and an even better mentor to the Colts’ very young linemen. "Coach Slauson's" tutelage helped make Glowinski fit in so seamlessly to his spot.
Guess what — we’re still not done with Colts offensive linemen. The Colts selected Nelson with the sixth-overall pick in the 2018 draft and then went back to the well on linemen by picking Braden Smith with the 37th pick.
“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.”
Originally selected to be the team's right guard of the future, Slauson's injury caused some shuffling that resulted in Smith becoming the team's right tackle. The combination of he and Glowinski on the right side did so well that Smith made a home at tackle.
The Colts signed defensive end Justin Houston this offseason to bolster their pass rush. Although he was with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018, he made the Clutch Team and must be mentioned.
“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%.”
Houston has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and tackles for years now. If his performance in Colts OTAs this offseason is any indicator, that should continue in 2019.
You didn’t think this list would continue without “The Maniac,” did you? He could’ve made this team just for his two game-sealing forced fumbles alone. Darius Leonard becomes the fourth Colts 2018 rookie and last of seven Colts to make PFF’s 2018 NFL Clutch Team.
“Joining the ranks of first-year Colts to burst onto the scene, Leonard also excelled in the clutch, especially in coverage. His six forced incompletions led the position, and his eight defensive stops in coverage trailed only (Leighton) Vander Esch.”
Leonard burst onto the scene right away, making 19 tackles in just his second game, but it was the manner in which he made plays throughout the season that caught people's eye. He performed like a multi-year vet even though he hailed from the FCS' South Carolina State and was making the huge leap into a starting NFL role. His penchant for making big plays in the fourth quarter makes this a no-brainer.