Numbers. They can jump out at you and make an immediate impact. When you see that Roman Harper ended the year with 7.5 sacks, you can’t help but think wow. After all, defensive backs aren’t meant to produce that many sacks.
But numbers without context are just part of the picture, and with all due respect to the Saints’ safety, his sack numbers don’t tell the whole tale. A blitzing defensive back is likely to generate bigger sack numbers based purely on the number of times they blitz, so before praising Harper we need to look at how often he rushed compared to his peers and the results they all produced.
That’s where our Pass Rushing Productivity study comes in pretty handy. It looks at how often a player rushes the passer to see how productive they are by using the simple formula:
((Sacks + 0.75*(Hits+Hurries)) / Pass Rushes) * 100 = Pass Rushing Productivity
So let’s see how the defensive backs did in 2011.
By sheer number of rushes, nobody went after the passer as much as Harper’s 121 blitzes. In fact, this number was almost 40 blitzes more than the man in second place, Charles Woodson, who rushed the passer on 83 occasions. They were two of only five defensive backs to be sent at least 60 times, with the others being Eric Smith of the Jets, Tyvon Branch of the Raiders, and Yeremiah Bell of the Dolphins.
Here are the 10 defensive backs who rushed the passer more than any other, interesting for having three New York Jets on the list.
Pass Rush Snaps
Highest Percentage of Rushes
In fairness, Harper may have the most rushes but he does also play an every-down role, so he’s bound to have more opportunities than some others. If you look at how often players rushed the passer as a percentage of how often they were in on passing plays (only defensive backs who were on the field for at least 100 passing plays were considered), Harper drops to third with Donald Strickland leading the way after blitzing on 19.92% of his passing plays. That was slightly higher than Atari Bigby (19.42%) and Harper (19.39%) who were some ways ahead of Jarrett Bush (16.74%) and LaRon Landry (14.23%), rounding out the Top 5.
Here’s the Top 10:
Pass Rush Snaps
Pass Rush %
Before unveiling the most productive pass rushers, let’s look at which players generated the most pressure. Harper leads the way with 17 total QB Disruptions, four more than recently-retired Brian Dawkins. Those two men are followed by Landry, Woodson, Bell, and free agent Chris Crocker who ended the season with 10 combined sacks, hits, and hurries.
So what does this mean for Pass Rushing Productivity? Well, looking only at defensive backs who rushed the passer at least 30 times (only 29 defensive backs did so in 2011), Dawkins comes out on top with a PRP score of 23.86, edging out Landry who finished with a 22.22. Following next were the Cincinnati duo of Chris Crocker (third) and Reggie Nelson (fourth), while Quintin Mikell was at least an effective pass rusher in his debut year in St. Louis.
As for Harper, he wasn’t even the most productive pass rushing defensive back on his own team, with his score only placing 15th while Malcolm Jenkins slotted sixth overall, turning 40 pass rushes into nine quarterback disruptions.
Here are the Top 10 most productive pass rushing defensive backs from 2011:
Pass Rush Snaps
This piece isn’t intended to lambast Harper. He was a key part of Gregg Williams’ defense, helping the Saints overcome their lack of pass rush from their front four and making plays that impacted the quarterback. It’s just to add some context and illustrate why some numbers aren’t necessarily what they seem–a necessary step in order to better compare and appreciate players and their performances.