Fantasy: Defensive Ends & Pass Rushing Productivity

| 5 years ago

Fantasy: Defensive Ends & Pass Rushing Productivity

Carlos DunlapWith the regular season in the books it’s time to look back at the some of the advanced data we collect at Pro Football Focus with an eye to finding some IDP sleepers for next season, as well as players who may be vulnerable to seeing a decline in their fantasy value. Firstly we’ll cast our gaze to the Defensive Ends who, as the NFL becomes even more pass-happy, are getting more opportunities to take over a game with their big plays.


We’ll start by identifying players who may see their fantasy significance fall in 2011. Defensive Ends who recorded 7 or more sacks, but had the least amount of pressures (combined hits and hurries) are players who were productive but also somewhat fortuitous. Calais Campbell was a top 5 DE this year as he had a career high 9 sacks, but he only generated 38 pressures, 8th worst. Although you would expect the former Miami Hurricane to be an improving player in his 4th year, the 47 QBIs (QB interruptions – combined sacks, hits and hurries) he recorded from 567 pass-rush snaps means he disrupted the play on only 8.29% of his blitzes, 4th worst. I’d also be wary of targeting Campbell as an elite option next season because he plays in a 3-4 system which gives less opportunity for its Ends to rush opposing quarterbacks and has not allowed a double-digit sack performance in the 4 years we have been charting games. Having said all that, the 6’8″ and 310lbs Campbell does have a high floor due to his consistently high volume of tackles year on year in his run-stuffing role on the Cardinals D-Line, but it would appear difficult for him to reach the true upper echelon of fantasy scoring again next year with perennial top guns such as Trent Cole and Jared Allen.

Kyle Vanden Bosch had 8 sacks this season on the much hyped Detroit Lions front-4 which garnered a lot of preseason attention when they drafted Nick Fairley. The addition of Fairley to Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Vanden Bosch had many salivating at the supposed second coming of the Fearsome Foursome or the Purple People Eaters, yet none of them would reach the Pro Bowl by the end of the season. Vanden Bosch would end the season as a DE2/3 but his production was slightly misleading as he rushed the passer on 441 snaps but only had a QBI on 9.07% of snaps, 5th worst among DEs with a minimum of 7 sacks. Of his 28 hurries he charted 7 in a single game (week 14 vs. MIN), but was unable to record more than 3 in any other game. Heading into his 11th NFL season in 2012 I’d expect Vanden Bosch, who graded -11.3 this year, to start to slow down and even though his fellow Lions lineman will enable him to get advantageous one-on-one match-ups, he will find himself outside the top 40 DEs in my rankings.

Defensive Ends, min. of 7 sacks, sorted by lowest QBI%

#NameTeamPass Rush SnapsSacksHitsHurriesPressuresQBI %
1Stephen BowenWAS4387413175.48%
2Michael D. JohnsonCIN4057615216.91%
3Will SmithNO5087530358.27%
4Calais CampbellARZ5679929388.29%
5Kyle Vanden BoschDET4418626329.07%
6J.J. WattHST47471125369.07%
7Jason Pierre-PaulNYG5591614264010.02%
8Elvis DumervilDEN468127283510.04%
9Brian RobisonMIN50895394410.43%
10Antonio D. SmithHST472715294410.81%
11Jeremy MinceyJAX525811384910.86%
12Jared AllenMIN566248334111.48%
13Jabaal SheardCLV46694414511.59%
14Robert MathisIND414108303811.59%
15Justin SmithSF592714486211.66%
16Cliff AvrilDET479118374511.69%
17Charles JohnsonCAR407106323811.79%
18Terrell SuggsBLT4831410334311.80%
19Dwight FreeneyIND41388334111.86%
20Andre CarterNE4291116244011.89%

Potential Breakout Players

One of the key measures in identifying potential breakout players is looking at those who registered high numbers of pressures (QB hits and hurries), but a low number of sacks, as it shows that they only need to make a minor improvement, or receive a little more luck, in order to start racking up more impressive statistics.  By excluding Ends who had more than 8 sacks we can find players who have scope for improvement and the potential to push on into double-digit sack numbers.

Buccaneers’ Adrian Clayborn had a decent rookie campaign and recorded 8 sacks on the way to being a DE3, but we have reason to believe there is more to come. His 10 hits ranks equal 8th among 4-3 DEs and for the five weeks from week 11 to 15 he notched up a sack in each game. His 12.25% QBI (9th best) shows that he can consistently get to the quarterback when given the opportunity and compares favourably with elite pass-rushers Julius Peppers (12.94%) and Jared Allen (11.48%) which bodes well for his future fantasy production. On a young and improving defensive line with Michael Bennett, Da’Quan Bowers and Gerald McCoy there is every reason to believe that Clayborn will be capable of improving on his 2011 numbers and move toward high-end DE2 value, especially if his team mates also make strides in their development.

One player I have been especially high on and will continue to bang the drum for is Carlos Dunlap. I am actively pursuing Dunlap in all dynasty leagues and have high hopes that he will break out in a major way next season and massively improve upon his 5 sack season. Dunlap was hampered by his playing time this season as he missed 4 games over the course of the year and only saw the field for 53.3% of snaps of games he was active for, which limited his ability to be a fantasy contributor. When he was on the field he charted 13 hits, the 6th most among all Ends, despite having blitzed on only 290 plays. For comparisons sake the five players with more hits than Dunlap had rushed the passer between 139 and 306 more times than him. He was a very effective pass-rusher when given the chance causing a QBI on 16.85% of blitzes (1st), yet could only convert his pass-rush into a sack on 10.64% of QBIs, a figured that was bettered by fantasy disappointments Ray Edwards (12.12%) and Derrick Morgan (10.71%).

Defensive Ends, max of 8 sacks, sorted by highest QBI%

#NameTeamPass Rush SnapsSacksHitsHurriesPressuresQBI %
1Carlos DunlapCIN279513294216.85%
2Adrian ClaybornTB408810324212.25%
3Michael BennettTB31546283412.06%
4Dwight FreeneyIND41388334111.86%
5Justin SmithSF592714486211.66%
6Robert QuinnSL32069213011.25%
7James HallSL37064313511.08%
8Jeremy MinceyJAX525811384910.86%
9Antonio D. SmithHST472715294410.81%
10Raheem BrockSEA35535293410.42%
11Kendall LangfordMIA27002252710.00%
12Jason HatcherDAL2525614209.92%
13Lamarr HoustonOAK3513427319.69%
14Greg HardyCAR4664833419.66%
15Darnell DockettARZ56341535509.59%
16J.J. WattHST47471125369.07%
17Kyle Vanden BoschDET4418626329.07%
18Red BryantSEA3102421258.71%
19Justin TuckNYG3896621278.48%
20Kroy BiermannATL3223816248.39%

If you have any feedback or comments get in touch with me on @PFF_RossMiles

Ross Miles is a lead fantasy writer on PFF Fantasy. He contributes IDP content to the site. He was the 2011 winner of the FantasyPros IDP Expert Rankings contest for both weekly in-season rankings and also for pre-season rankings and finished second in IDP rankings in 2012 and 2015. Ross is also a member of the FSWA.

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