For the second year in a row our Secret Superstar in Cincinnati comes from that D-line. Last year it was Geno Atkins, who lived up to our lofty expectations with a stunning second season, and this year it’s defensive end Carlos Dunlap (+31.3). After a successful sophomore run with the Bengals, Dunlap further highlighted that there is much more to pressure than just sack totals by pestering quarterbacks like it was going out of fashion.
Despite having just the single start to his name in his first two seasons, Dunlap has fast become one of Cincinnati’s best performers on defense and something of a Secret Superstar.
The Story So Far
The Bengals drafted Dunlap out of Florida with the 54th selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. Heading into the draft Dunlap was considered a first round talent, but character concerns–including a DUI arrest–pushed him into the second round.
It took until Week 10 of his rookie year for Dunlap to make much of an impact, but when he did, he did it in style. All 10 of his sacks as a rookie, and all but three of his total pressures, came in the final eight weeks of the season as he finished the year with 24 total quarterback disruptions on just 216 pass rush attempts.
His strong play to end the 2010 season led to an increased role this past year and, unlike in his rookie season, his impact was felt from Week 1. Through the first six games of 2011 Dunlap failed to record a single sack, yet (as we always say) sack numbers only tell part of the story; he also collected six hits and 16 pressures in that time. That means that on the 127 pass rush attempts by Dunlap through the first six weeks of the season, he registered either a hit or a pressure on 17.23% of them.
This all led to Week 8 against the Seattle Seahawks where Dunlap had the best game of any 4-3 DE last season. His performance graded out at a ridiculous +11.7 as he tormented the Seahawks, in particular James Carpenter, to the tune of a sack, three hits, and seven pressures.
The second half of his season was disrupted by a hamstring injury and it showed in his production as he recorded just 10 total QB disruptions in his final four games. That included the Bengals’ wild card playoff game in Houston, the only game all season where he failed to record any pressure at all.
A quick look at our Pass Rushing Productivity Signature Stat reveals two interesting points. Firstly, Dunlap ranks highly, finishing the season with a PRP rating of 13.1; fifth among all 4-3 DE’s who played at least 25% of their teams’ snaps. This Signature Stat measures pressure on a per-snap basis, showing how often a player generates pressure as opposed to just how often they sack the opposing QB.
The second thing you would notice is that of the 278 times Dunlap rushed the passer in 2011, every one of them came from the left side. While some players are used primarily on one side, he was one of only five qualifying DE’s to rush the passer from one side exclusively. This is interesting because it allows us to see who Dunlap is competing with for snaps from that left defensive end spot.
The Case For More Snaps
The other two players to see more than 140 snaps at that position were Jonathan Fanene (+0.2) and Robert Geathers (-7.0). Neither could match Dunlap’s production as a pass rusher as the table below shows:
|Name||Rush Snaps as DLE||Sacks||Hits||Pressures||PRP Rating|
With Fanene heading to New England as a free agent, that frees up extra snaps straight away and it’s hard to imagine a fully healthy Dunlap not stealing more snaps from Geathers. Cincinnati added free agents Derrick Harvey and Jamaal Anderson in the offseason, but neither has shown much production as pass rushers so far in their careers.
A year ago we highlighted Atkins as the Bengals’ Secret Superstar, the team clearly agreed as he more than doubled his snap count from 355 in 2011 to 752 in 2012. Atkins duly delivered on those extra snaps, finishing the season as our second-highest graded defensive tackle. The biggest increase in snaps for Atkins was against the run where he jumped from 63 snaps to 297. Dunlap has to make the most of any additional snaps he sees on early downs like Atkins did. In 2011 he finished the season with a grade against the run of +4.3 with 13 defensive stops so the concern isn’t that he struggled against the run, just whether or not he can maintain with an increased workload.
The 2010 Draft has already proved fruitful for the Bengals’ Defensive Line and 2012 represents a great opportunity for Dunlap to follow in his DL counterpart’s footsteps and and respond to being named a Secret Superstar.