Each year the PFF Top 101 runs after a marathon debate among the PFF Analysts. Each year some guys we individually felt deserved a spot on the list wind up missing out in an exercise of democracy in action.
In a short series of articles making the case for players that could have had a spot on the list, we’re each getting the chance to highlight a name that just missed out. Ben spoke on Brandon Boykin‘s behalf yesterday and today I’m looking at another, Muhammad Wilkerson.
It’s certainly way off base to suggest that PFF is ignorant to the abilities of Wilkerson. We had him graded second only to J.J. Watt in 2012, and a Second-Team All Pro while most people were still warming up to the suggestion that he was a pretty good player. He also ranked 14th in the 101 list from 2012. It’s safe to say the fact that Wilkerson is a pretty good player is not lost on PFF. In fact, I’d suggest we were ahead of the curve on that one.
The bottom line is that he wasn’t as effective this season as he was a year ago, and that’s despite the addition of talent around him in the form of Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison, both of whom dominated against the run in 2013.
While he was second only to Watt a year previously, this past season he was our eighth-ranked 3-4 defensive end and even in terms of total pressures could manage no better than sixth.
Supplying the Pressure
Despite that, however, Wilkerson was still an impressive performer and arguably the most consistent source of pass rush on the Jets’ defense. He led the team with 11 sacks, the same total as OLB Calvin Pace and five more than anybody else on the roster. Wilkerson also notched more total pressure than anybody else on the Jets’ defense and was only 11 shy of the combined total from the rest of the team’s defensive lineman.
Wilkerson also put up those impressive rush numbers without relying on sheer weight of opportunities. He rushed the passer 636 times, which is a lot, especially for an interior lineman, but he generated enough pressure and big plays to earn a +6.3 pass rushing grade.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Wilkerson, though, is his balance as a player. He graded positively in all areas PFF grades except penalties. If you remove his penalties from the equation (an equal mix of pre-snap flags for jumping early and roughing the passer calls), he jumps up the rankings to a comparable grade with Sheldon Richardson. Richardson was #81 on the list and was considerably more one-dimensional as a player.
Penalties are certainly not something to be ignored entirely, especially a collection like Wilkerson has amassed that are almost all poor disciplinary plays, but perhaps we are counting them too heavily against him when his play in all other facets of the game was positive?
The other positive Wilkerson has in his favor is how much he was on the field and still playing well. He played 1,067 snaps in 2013, more than any other 3-4 defensive end. That figure trails only three defensive linemen period, and two of them (the Patriots’ duo) needed playoff games to break that mark. He was on the field more than anyone else at a comparable position and was still grading positively. That every-down impact was what vaulted Dontari Poe so far up the list, but Wilkerson didn’t enjoy quite the same intangible boost to his case.
In the end…
Wilkerson certainly had support in the camp when it came to making the list, and he was one of the next men up who just missed out, but the argument against him was that his grading just didn’t stack up to the players that were making it. Though some of the analysts would have had Wilkerson make their 101 lists, the consensus came down on the side that he just missed out.
PFF is certainly a fan of Wilkerson and well aware of the kind of dominance he can show on the field, but 2013 didn’t see as much of that as 2012 did. If he can show a return to his best form in 2014 then I would expect him to vault back to the sharp end of the list, never mind merely make an appearance on it.
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