You can never have too many good pass rushers. That’s certainly the old adage in the NFL but at some point you run out of positions to deploy them. In order to field more than a couple of talented edge rushers at any one time you need a guy who can kick inside and still bring the heat up the middle, and Michael Bennett is that guy.
Bennett was an underrated player when Tampa Bay allowed him walk this time a year ago, and somehow despite demonstrating his worth in Seattle along the way to earning a Super Bowl ring, a quick look at some other free agent rankings out there suggests he’s being overlooked once again.
Inside or Out
Bennett is an impressive pass rusher from the edge, but also has the ability to be a force from the defensive tackle spot, opening up a place on the edge for another rusher in sub-packages.
With all the talent that the Seahawks had on defense this season it was Bennett that led the team in pressure applied all the way through to their Super Bowl beatdown of the Broncos. He finished with 11 sacks including the playoffs, but also added 17 knockdowns and 51 additional hurries. He was able to lead the team thanks in large part to playing more snaps than any other pass rusher they had. Bennett could play outside on first and second down and take on an inside role on third down.
Of his 759 snaps 469 of them came on the edge of the line, but 275, or 36.2% of his snaps came when lined up inside as a defensive tackle of some kind in Seattle’s front.
That kind of versatility opens up a whole host of options for teams looking to sign him in free agency. You aren’t just adding a static pass rusher from the edge, but you’re brining in a moveable chess piece that allows you to be more creative with the rest of your roster.
Adding Michael Bennett allows you to keep a more one-dimensional, situational edge rusher because he can move inside and still be effective rather than needing to share snaps between the two players. Equally adding Bennett allows you to keep a defensive tackle that is better against the run but provides little pass rush up the middle. On run downs you get the benefit of a stout presence up the middle, but on passing downs you can take the big body off the field and replace him with Bennett’s inside rushing.
In addition to this versatility, Bennett also happens to have been the most productive of any of the free agent edge rushers available. His Pass Rushing Productivity (a measure of pressure created on a per-snap basis with weighting towards sacks) score of 13.6 was better than Greg Hardy (12.0), Brian Orakpo (11.3) and Michael Johnson (8.5) and trailed only Robert Quinn (15.3) and Cameron Wake (14.0) at his position.
The Seahawks seem unlikely to use the franchise tag on Bennett, preferring to trust their depth and allow him to test the market instead. Having found that market for his services soft a year ago, Bennett will be hoping to extract top dollar from somebody for his services after playing 2013 for $5m from the Seahawks.
It’s possible that Michael Bennett just might be a perennially underrated player, but the tape he put up in 2013 along with what he did in Tampa Bay suggests that he has earned his payday. There may be players out there with a bigger name or more attractive measurables, but Bennett is the best edge rusher in this year’s free agent crop, and has the kind of versatility to improve a defense from multiple angles.
Potential Landing Spots
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jacksonville is emulating Seattle in a lot of different ways, and Bennett would be a natural fit in their Seahawks-East defense.
2. Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons tried squeezing Jonathan Babineaux into the kind of role that Bennett excels at. With Babineaux a free agent as well, it would be a significant upgrade in the swap.
3. Chicago Bears – Chicago’s D-line was decimated last season and they ended up moving DE Corey Wooton to DT full time. Bennett would give them that kind of flexibility.
4. Oakland Raiders – Oakland is another side that could use all the edge rush they could get. They also like the ability to move players around on that line.
5. Denver Broncos – If there’s one team in the league used to moving players around by down, it’s the Broncos. They’ve done it regularly with Von Miller and also with Derek Wolfe, but Bennett would prove a big upgrade over the latter.
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