Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been distracted by free agency. It’s consumed us and now it’s time to go ‘old-school’ Pro Football Focus on you and delve into one of our signature stats. That stat is the first ever signature stat we created back in the summer of 2009: Pass Rushing Productivity.
A classic PFF Signature Stat that looks at how much pressure a defensive player gets relative to how much he is on the field, and what type of pressure he gets. The formula looks simple enough when you break it down:
((Sacks + 0.75*(Hits+Hurries)) / Pass Rushes) * 100 = Pass Rushing Productivity
Now let’s not waste any time getting this thing started, as we look at the premium pass rushers who make their money on the back of how much they get to the quarterback: the edge rushers.
(Note, only edge rushers who rushed the passer at least 200 times during the regular season qualified for this study. As a companion to these numbers, here’s a look at 2011′s defensive tackles from a January article on the matter. )
2011 saw an infusion of new talent step into the league and take it by storm, none more so than by looking at what some of the rookie defenders were able to do. Let’s start with Aldon Smith who led all defensive players in the league with a PRP rating of 15.36 after he picked up 64 combined sacks, hits, and hurries on just 337 pass rushes. He did this rushing solely from their sub-package and his next challenge will be keeping this up when he assumes a bigger role in the 49ers’ defense, but if he can, we may find someone to challenge Von Miller for the title of best defensive player from the 2011 NFL draft. Miller didn’t exactly fair terribly in this study as he finished 12th overall, with Ryan Kerrigan the only other rookie to finish in the Top 20.
The Usual Suspects
It wasn’t just the rookies that had it their way, with a number of performers who we’re use to seeing turn tackles into turnstiles show no sign of slowing down. In second place overall, Trent Cole isn’t a name you hear in the conversation of best defensive end in football too much, but his consistent production is near unmatched, and he once again put up a stellar PRP campaign by turning his 355 pass rushes into 11 sacks, 12 hits and 44 hurries. While Cole, who is also a tremendous run defender, is the most complete defensive end in football, it’s fair to say that James Harrison is the most complete 3-4 outside linebacker in the league. The Pittsburgh Steeler isn’t always the most beloved player, but he was fifth overall in the PRP rankings in a season that saw his opportunities to rush the passer lessened by injury. He managed just 235 pass rushes but still created 40 QB disruptions to show that when he’s on the field, he’s still got it.
That 235 number of pass rushes for Harrison’s was so low that primarily situational rushers like Antwan Barnes and Carlos Dunlap managed more attempts to get at the quarterback. Both men found it hard to see the field in their teams’ base packages, unless injury thrust them into the starting lineup or they spelled a starter. On the evidence of their 2011 seasons, this is something that both the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals need to rectify with Barnes finishing third overall, and Dunlap seventh.
Free Agent Impact
Barnes was a relatively low-profile free agent when the lockout ended, with teams not doing their homework on how well he played in 2010. That wasn’t the case with Jason Babin who repaid the faith the Philadelphia Eagles had in him by finishing fourth overall. The same can’t be said of Ray Edwards who could only finish 63rd overall as he struggled to adapt to a different defense in Atlanta. He was less productive than fellow free agents Charles Johnson (26th) and the Patriots pairing of Mark Anderson (13th) and Andre Carter (25th).
Carter and Anderson are particularly interesting as players who signed something akin to prove-it deals, and then managed to do so. That resulted in Anderson picking up a big contract with the Buffalo Bills, but hasn’t helped Carter who finds himself without a team as he struggles getting over a groin injury that ended his season prematurely. Now, what about some of the other free agents who have recently signed with teams or are still out there?
Well it’s good news for Atlanta Falcons fans who desperately couldn’t afford to lose John Abraham. Reports of his decline are greatly exaggerated, with the Falcon 10th overall in the rankings after picking up 54 combined sack, hits, and hurries on 343 pass rushes. New Titans signing, Kamerion Wimbley, was 17th overall, though it should be noted that he did so primarily rushing from the Raiders’ nickel package. There’s no evidence that he’ll be able to replicate these numbers as an every-down defensive end. For Jaguars fans, they won’t be blown away that they’ve re-signed the man who finished 43rd in this study, but will at least take solace that his rather average placing is supplemented by some excellent work in run defense.
But enough chatter, here’s the Top 20:
Pass Rush Snaps
If those were the most impressive, then which guys were operating on the opposite end of the scale? Cleveland Browns fans won’t be surprised to see Jayme Mitchell propping up the rest of the edge rushers as he picked up just 14 QB disruptions on 351 pass rushes. In fairness to Mitchell, he was miscast playing the DRE spot in Cleveland and found himself cut as a result. He wasn’t the only player you can make excuses for near the bottom of the table, with the next lowest rating belonging to Jason Jones. A destructive defensive tackle, Jones was a disaster at defensive end and will be hoping (along with the Seattle Seahawks) to put his 2011 behind him in a new environment.
Another free agent who is currently attracting a fair amount of attention is Dave Tollefson. Those five sacks seem to have caught the eye of a number of teams, but if you look at the bigger picture, you see a player who managed just 16 combined sacks, hits, and hurries on 297 pass rushes. That was the third lowest score, and it will be interesting to see what kind of deal he ends up getting if a team really has done their research.
Here’s a list of the lowest 20 PRP scores:
Pass Rush Snaps
|70||Michael D. Johnson||CIN||402||28||5.66|
|74||Jason D. Jones||TEN||374||21||4.41|
The Pass Rushing Productivity Signature Stat can never replace what our grading does (account for when the pressure occurred, how long it took, and the outcome of it), but for those who love numbers, you need look no further for a stat that has a habit of projecting which players to watch out for next year. In 2009, that was Cameron Wake; Antwan Barnes in 2010; and for 2011 … well we’ll have to wait and see, but there’s plenty of guys we’re looking forward to seeing excel with more snaps.