GLENDALE AZ - DECEMBER 12: Runningback Tim Hightower #34 of the Arizona Cardinals stands on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Denver Broncos at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 12 2010 in Glendale Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Broncos 43-13. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
For the past couple of seasons, the media in particular has been very high on Arizona Cardinals running back Tim Hightower for his ability to do some of the little things that running backs should do to stay on the field, like picking up the blitz. Also, Beanie Wells has been maligned for his so-called inability or non-desire to block.
Pro Football Focus has continued its focus on pass blocking and specifically in one article focused on running backs in their blitz pickup. The stats will surprise you.
What we find is that side-by-side stats show that Hightower and Wells are about equals in effectiveness in pass blocking.
Hightower was one of the top 15 backs in pass blocking snaps with 119 on the season. However, he was in the bottom 15 in effectiveness, the 11th worst among his peers with a 6.3 percent pressure rate (nine total pressures -- sacks, QB hits, pressures). In 2009, he was a little better, logging 111 pass blocking snaps and allowing six total pressures for a rate of 5.4 percent. However, that rate in 2010 does not even come close to the top 15 at running back.
Beanie Wells did not have as many assignments. He was called upon for pass protection 30 times in 2010 and allowed two total pressures. That rate would be 6.6 percent -- very similar to the supposedly good blocker in Hightower.
Now, 2009 for Wells was a different story. In 23 assignments, he allowed four total pressures, as 17.4 percent rate, or in other words, terrible. So he had a bad reputation prior to 2010.
So, as has been documented, Hightower did run the ball effectively in 2010, but he was one of the worst in fumbling, dropping passes and pass blocking. Why is he lauded for doing the "little things"?
While Wells declined a bit in pass catching (no drops to 12 receptions in 2009 and two drops to go with five catches in 2010), his pass blocking efficiency markedly improved. The sample size is small, but it compares to what Hightower did. All of this and the fact that Hightower is currently not under contract, I think it is time to no longer assume that Wells is the reason for the Cardinals drafting Ryan Williams.
The motivation was more than likely because of Hightower, his 2010 issues and his lack of contract. Even though he might be a "Whisenhunt guy," I no longer would be surprised to see him on another team this season.