The NFL has gone high-tech. New for the 2015 season, every player has a tracker embedded in his shoulder pads that collects data like velocity, distance traveled and proximity to opposing players. Zebra Technologies is the company behind the tech, and the insights they provide are letting fans see the game in a whole new light.
Week 16 produced more impressive data, and many of the players behind the numbers were STACK athletes. Let's take a look at who popped off the spreadsheet and tell you about the training behind their performance.
All data courtesy of NFL.com
1. Slot Machine
The Jets' upset of the Patriots in Week 16 put them in prime position to make the playoffs. Their big victory would not have been possible without a stellar game by Brandon Marshall. The Jets' game plan against New England included playing Marshall more frequently as a slot receiver. Since the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall has the prototypical size of an outside receiver, he typically doesn't line up in the slot. That changed against New England. When he operated out of a slot receiver alignment, Marshall caught four balls for 63 yards and a 33-yard touchdown.
Marshall is having his best season since 2012, and his off-season diet might be one reason why. Marshall used the 21-day Fix diet program to lose 13 pounds before training camp, reaching his lightest playing weight in years. No wonder he's looking so sharp.
2. Cooking With Gas
Brandin Cooks doesn't get the shine of players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown, but he's developing into a dynamite young receiver. Cooks has recorded 79 receptions, 1,116 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns on the season, putting him in the NFL's top 15 in each category. He had a big game in Week 16, torching the Jaguars defense for 123 receiving yards, a good chunk of them coming on his monstrous 71-yard touchdown reception.
Cooks clocked 20.58 mph on the play, the third-highest speed recorded by a ballcarrier on his way to the end zone in Week 16.
Cooks is going to keep getting better. His elite speed and precise route-running make him very difficult to guard. He worked his butt off this past off-season, training with Drew Brees and Darren Sproles and performing exercises like high-intensity incline treadmill sprints.
3. Dropping Dimes
The Arizona Cardinals have a unique defensive formula. They play a stunning amount of "dime," a scheme in which six defensive backs are on the field. With the loss of Tyrann Mathieu prior to Week 16, many believed the Cardinals would back using dime in favor of other, less-DB heavy options. They were wrong. The Cardinals played dime on 68.8 percent of their snaps, up from their average of 54.6 percent through the first 15 weeks of the season.
The results were impressive, as the Cards held the Packers to 178 total yards. The Cardinals can use the dime package so extensively because their linebackers and down linemen are extremely versatile. They can swap one or two of them out and insert an extra defensive back without missing a beat. Take defensive end Calais Campbell, for example. The 6-foot-8, 300-pounder can take on double teams and play tough against the run, but he's also nimble enough to frequently put pressure on the quarterback. His versatility allows him to line up almost anywhere on the line of scrimmage and make plays. Here he is lining up over the center and splitting a double team to get a sack.
Yea, defensive ends aren't supposed to be able to do that.
Campbell finished the day with 2.5 sacks and 3 TFLs. With him up front and guys like Patrick Peterson in the backfield, putting up points against the Cardinals is a huge challenge.
Campbell's stellar blend of power and speed wouldn't be possible without his dedication to nutrition. He relies on whole grains to give him long-lasting energy, and he stays away from fast food, which can slow him down.