Inside the Numbers - Week 1
Last season, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones got off to an excellent start, tallying 12 sacks in his first 12 games. And through his first 12 games, the Rams’ Robert Quinn took down opposing quarterbacks 13 times. Based solely upon the sack totals, one would think the two 4-3 rush ends were virtually identical in value, and their ADPs suggested as much. But while Jones finished with only 13 sacks in 19 games (including playoffs), Quinn tallied 19 sacks in 16 games, and there was plenty of good reason to expect things to play out that way.
For the 2013 season, Jones posted a -2.3 PFF rating, including -4.4 on the pass rush. Meanwhile, Quinn posted a league-best 74.6 PFF rating, including +62.3 on the pass rush. Equally stark in contrast, Jones participated in a league-high 1,142 snaps (teammate Rob Ninkovich was second with 1,114), while Quinn played in 849 snaps (15th overall amongst 4-3 ends). Over the course of the season, Quinn’s combined sacks, hits and hurries (91) far surpassed Jones’s (73), especially when measured as a percentage of snaps. Quinn pressured the quarterback on 10.7% of the snaps in which he played, while Jones got to the quarterback only 6.4% of the time. Needless to say, the high snap count (exhaustion) coupled with the low PFF rating and pressure percentage makes it clear that Jones’s late-season fade was entirely predictable.
Of course, team play is also a factor on the IDP side, and it makes Quinn’s performance all that more remarkable. Given the relative performances of the two teams – the Patriots were 12-4 and finished in first place in their division, while the Rams were 7-9 and finished in last in their division – the numbers are skewed even further in Quinn’s favor. While Jones was getting the opportunity to go after opposing quarterbacks passing from behind, Quinn was facing opponents who were regularly running out the clock in the second half, most notably the run-heavy 49ers and Seahawks.
Looking ahead to 2014, it’s reasonable to expect continued greatness from Quinn. As for Jones, the upgrades the Patriots made in their secondary – Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner – combined with the returns of Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork and the addition of Dominique Easley via the draft – should enable Jones to have a much easier time of things. Given how substantial those five additions will be to what was a decimated Patriots defense in 2013, it’s quite reasonable to expect Jones to up his sack total into the high teens, especially if he returns to the promising form he showed in 2012 (+8.9 pass rush rating in 752 snaps).
This preseason, we saw some very promising performances from other defensive ends. Here are five guys to watch, all of whom could emerge as very valuable IDP options in the future…
1) Margus Hunt, Cincinnati Bengals
At 6’8″ and 280 pounds, Hunt has the size to wreak havoc on the edge, and though he was known best for his effective kick-blocking in college, it’s a good bet that he’ll get a fair number of passes-defensed (for leagues that track it) now that he’ll be starting in place of the departed Michael Johnson (Tampa Bay). Playing across from Carlos Dunlap, Hunt won’t be drawing the lion’s share of the blocking attention, and it will be interesting to see whether one year of seasoning was all he needed to emerge as a bona fide NFL starter. This preseason, Hunt finished second amongst all 4-3 DEs with an 11.1 rating (including 6.7 on the pass rush).
2) Damontre Moore, New York Giants
Moore shined on film coming out of college, demonstrating top-tier pass-rushing ability even when going against some of the best offensive lineman in the SEC. Last year, he mostly sat on the bench, playing in only 136 snaps. But with Justin Tuck relocating to Oakland, the opportunity is there for Moore to earn snaps opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. The prospects for the Giants aren’t great in 2014, with their offense looking subpar, but if Moore plays in over 800 snaps, it’s a good bet that he’ll register 10-12 sacks in his first full season of duty.
3) Ethan Westbrooks, St. Louis Rams
If it wasn’t unfortunate enough for Michael Sam that he landed on a team with Robert Quinn and Chris Long entrenched as the starters, the preseason performance of Westbrooks sealed his fate. PFF’s top-rated preseason 4-3 DE, Westbrooks played so well that Sam had virtually no chance to steal that spot, especially given Sam’s limited special teams experience. Much was made of the politics surrounding Sam’s release, but that he didn’t make the Rams really should’ve been expected. It’s fair to say that Sam couldn’t have possibly landed in a worse position. As for Westbrooks, the future looks bright, and it’s probably only a matter of time before he surpasses William Hayes and/or Eugene Sims. For those in dynasty leagues, he might prove to be worth stashing, because he’s certainly given himself substantial motivation to make it as an NFL player.
4) Dion Jordan, Miami Dolphins
There might never be a better time to pick up the post-hype pass-rusher from Oregon. Jordan’s disappointing rookie year left many pundits attaching the “bust” label to him, and the four-game suspension he’ll be serving to start the 2014 season will further suppress his value. But while Jordan’s first-year results certainly weren’t good, it’s still way too early to give up on the third overall pick in the 2013 draft. Jordan played well in the preseason, finishing quite strong (+4.8 rating in Miami’s final two preseason games), and he’s a strong bet to emerge as a very solid IDP option in the second half of the year.
5) Cornellius Carradine, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have made it common practice to draft injured players, leveraging their depth of talent and surplus of picks to take chances on players who otherwise would have gone off the board much earlier. Carradine has the potential to be the best of the lot, a terrific pass rushing 3-4 DE who could start pushing embattled starter Ray McDonald for playing time sooner rather than later. Carradine did a nice job getting to the quarterback in the preseason, with his best performance coming in the final game against Houston. Aldon Smith is suspended for the first nine games, and strong play from Carradine could spur head coach Jim Harbaugh to mix up the defensive looks to include more four-man fronts. Carradine’s no guarantee to play much in 2014, but for those in dynasty leagues, Justin Smith’s age (34) and McDonald’s legal troubles could combine to give Carradine some terrific long-term value.