Free Agent Profile: Ndamukong Suh
The NFL hasn’t seen a defensive tackle of Suh’s caliber hit free agency since Albert Haynesworth. Undoubtedly the crown jewel of the free agent class after the tagging of Justin Houston, Suh has produced at a high level since Day 1. The second overall pick in 2010 has tallied 31 more pressures than any other defensive tackle since he entered the league and he’s collected the second most run stops over that same period of time (108).
The only problem for teams courting the defensive tackle is that production on his level doesn’t come cheap. Haynesworth was able to swing a seven-year, $100m deal back in 2009 when the salary cap was at just $123m. This year it will be over $143m.
A holdover from the old rookie payscale, Suh is coming off of a contract that already paid him over $12m annually and ended with a cap hit of $22.4m last season. With those numbers in tow, it’s hard to imagine the former Lion taking any less than the current high-water mark at the position, Gerald McCoy’s seven-year, $95.2m deal signed in October.
If you’re looking for weaknesses in Suh’s game, you won’t find many. His pass rushing prowess has been well documented since he led all interior linemen in sacks his rookie season with 11. What hasn’t been as feared over the years is his undisciplined run defense.
He’s always been disruptive, but early in his career he had a bad habit of washing himself out of plays with his over-aggressiveness. The good news is that that player has evolved. He’ll still fire off the ball, but his awareness has improved by leaps and bounds.
The play below from Week 5 this year is a perfect example. On the play, Suh wins the backside B gap from the snap. The difference from previous years is the wherewithal to not attack the running back, but instead attack the offensive lineman. This allows Suh to maintain not only the right tackle’s inside gap, but his outside gap as well and make the stop on the play.
It’s disciplined play like this that gave Suh a 15.7 bump up in his grade from 2013 to 2014 (+3.9 to +19.6). In 2013 the Lions allowed 99.8 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry and those figures dropped to 69.3 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry last season. The emergence of Ziggy Ansah aided, but the team was also without Stephen Tulloch for the majority of the season.
Besides the obviously attractive feature of elite level play, Suh also offers scheme diversity. He’s been touted as a prototypical 3-technique in a 4-3 ever since college, but that wasn’t even his main position last season. Instead Suh’s primary role was actually left defensive tackle where he would bounce inside and outside of the right guard depending on the formation and defensive call.
Of his 924 snaps last season 381 came from guard to guard (2-tech, 1-tech, 0-tech), 482 were in the B gap (3-tech, 4i-tech), and 61 came outside of that (4-tech and greater). Suh’s immense physical traits allow him this versatility.
At just a shade under 6-foot-4, he has the length (33.5 inch arms) and explosiveness (1.59 second 10-yard split) to go toe-to-toe with tackles outside, along with the strength (32 combine reps and 35.5 inch vertical) to hold up to double teams inside. 3-4 or 4-3 shouldn’t really make much of a difference with Suh’s attributes.
The stats don’t quite paint the picture of an utterly dominant defensive tackle, but they do outline Suh’s two most desirable features: consistency and durability. He’s been in the Top 10 for Pass Rushing Productivity in all five seasons, finishing in the Top 5 the last three, with a high of 10.2 in 2013. Against the run he started off slow with a Run Stop Percentage of 6.0% from 2010-2012. Over the last two seasons, though, that number jumped dramatically up to 9.1%.
While those are both rate statistics, Suh also ranks highly in bulk numbers because he’s yet to miss a game due to injury in his career (missed two due to suspension in 2011). The defensive tackle has been durable all while carrying one of the heaviest workloads at the position. He’s averaged 894 snaps over the last five seasons, the second-highest over that span (Dontari Poe), with a high of 1,000 (2010) and a low of 772 (2011).
Any profile of Suh, though, would be incomplete without bringing up his history of dirty play. The impending free agent to has been fined $216,875 and lost $187,294 in wages due to on-field incidents over the course of his career according to the Detroit Free Press. The most recent transgression came in the NFC North title game and almost earned him a playoff game suspension.
This erratic behavior hasn’t won over many fans as he routinely is placed atop ‘Most Disliked Players in the NFL’ lists. Any team signing him will have to deal from the possible PR backlash from fans, even though there are zero locker room concerns following the veteran around. As is usually the case, though, fans are quick to forgive when the player is producing on the field.
So what are you really getting with Ndamukong Suh? The parallels to Haynesworth are uncanny, but Suh’s done nothing to suggest a downturn in performance upcoming. Another similar, and more favorable, comparison could be made with Mario Williams. Williams signed a six-year, $96m deal in 2012, and has been largely the same player despite the change in scenery and heavy snap counts.
I have little doubt about Suh’s continued production; it just comes back to the age-old dilemma of how much is too much for the 28-year-old defensive tackle?
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner