The problem is you can’t ignore it. So brutal was the defeat, and so deflating the disappointment of being one-and-done in the playoffs for the second time in two years, Atlanta ended the 2010 season with a very bitter taste in their mouth.
Much of the blame has been put on a pass rush that couldn’t bring Aaron Rodgers down and relied heavily on John Abraham for sacks all year. Naturally, the talk that has followed has been of the Falcons focusing on finding more pass rush in the draft, but what if they don’t? What if they already had someone on the roster who just needs to turn the consistent pressure he is getting into sacks?
What if Kroy Biermann is ready to go from Secret Superstar, to just superstar?
Before being drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, Biermann had a stellar career at the University of Montana. His 32 sacks in 52 games was the second most in school history, and his 2007 performance was so good that he was named the Big Sky Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year honor. Still, playing in the Big Sky is a world away from the NFL, and many expected Biermann’s development in the pro’s to be a slow one.
Instead, he immediately found himself getting significant playing time with a new look Atlanta team that was all about getting a rookies on the field. His rookie year of 2008 saw Biermann pick up 307 snaps (primarily in pass rushing situations) and produce 20 total quarterback disruptions – a very healthy 11.04% of pass rushing plays. It was a promising start and his game against Minnesota in Week 16 (where he destroyed Ryan Cook) offered real encouragement for his sophomore year.
It was a sophomore year that couldn’t have started much better. A two-sack performance against a Miami team with two of the best tackles in the game was a real eye opener – it left you wondering what he could achieve the rest of the season. Sadly, in his 469 other snaps, he wasn’t quite as threatening. His 30 total quarterback disruptions (8.84% of pass rushing plays) was another good figure, but lacked the consistency and growth Falcons fans had hoped to see.
Still, Biermann had improved in his run defense, and ended the year with positive ratings in every facet of his game and, overall, he finished 13th in our defensive end rankings. With Jamaal Anderson never living up to his draft stock, the opportunity was there, and the former Grizzly was about to get his chance to start.
We’ve alluded to the Falcons’ woes rushing the passer, and if there’s one stat that really hurts Biermann it’s his sack count.
Such a small number and such a misleading one. It almost suggests he was invisible and doing nothing for most of the game, when nothing can be further from the truth. You see, there was more to Biermann’s season than that memorable batted pass turned interception return against the Browns. Here was a guy who totaled 48 regular season quarterback disruptions, good enough for 28th in the entire league and just nine fewer than John Abraham. What’s more, the 11.71% of pass rushing plays he got pressure on was the best number of his young career and 33rd in the league. Those numbers may not blow you away, but that’s just behind Terrell Suggs (32nd) and ahead of Julius Peppers (42nd).
The nature of the NFL providing such a small sample size of data means sacks can often be the most misleading of stats. Take John Abraham as a case in point. In 2009, people were writing him off. He’d lost a step and was no longer to be relied upon because his sack number dried up. Now, and this is entirely to pat ourselves on the back, we wrote that Abraham was still getting pressure so there was no reason not to expect big numbers from him. Hey, presto! What happened this year?
In the same way, just because Kroy Biermann didn’t set the world alight with sacks this year, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it in him. He got an awful lot of pressure and with a bit of work on finishing, there’s no reason those hurries and hits can’t become contract-inflating sacks.
What’s more, he can play the run well. His high motor leads him into making plenty of plays, so while he may lack the ideal size of a left end like a Jamaal Anderson, he doesn’t let it hold him back. Sure he can get manhandled at times, but which defensive end doesn’t? What the Falcons have in Biermann is a guy who has performed above his draft status, and has improved with increased game time.
Whether Biermann remains a secret or gets a chance to build on his impressive 2010 (where he finished 19th overall in our rankings) could come down to what Atlanta does in the draft. Plenty of talk has them going defensive end, and for a team with few glaring holes a “best player available” strategy makes that a reasonable move. If the Falcons opt to address another area, then don’t be too surprised if Biermann’s sack figure drastically changes.
Until then though, Kroy Biermann is the Atlanta Falcons’ Secret Superstar.