Pass Rushing Productivity: The Story So Far

| 6 years ago

Pass Rushing Productivity: The Story So Far

The sack stat. Also known as the bane of my existence.

Every day I get emails or tweets where someone references how many sacks a player has as the sole reason why they deserve recognition. It’s like a sack is the only way a pass rusher can impact a game, forgetting how pressure also impacts the decision-making and accuracy of a quarterback.

Now pressure doesn’t guarantee a negative play like a sack, but look at it this way: Aaron Rodgers completes 76.1% of passes when he isn’t pressured, and completes “just” 54.4% when he is. It’s a universal truth for all QBs that getting pressured makes them far more inaccurate.

So we devised our own pass rushing formula back after the 2008 season. Given that we are the only people to break down how many times a player rushes the passer we felt the best way of figure out the most productive pass rusher was to use that data, along with our sacks, hits and hurries counts, to give us a magical figure known as Pass Rushing Productivity. A simple formula that looks something like this:


Sacks + 0.75 (Hits + Hurries)/ Number of Snaps Rushing The Passer * 100


That’s enough math for now. Shall we get to the interesting stuff and look at the pass rushers who have gone after the QB at least 200 times?


Leading the Way

If you had to guess the most productive pass rusher in the NFL on a per-snap basis, who would be the first guy you think of? Some of you may go for Dwight Freeney (17th), others may look at those with the big sack numbers like DeMarcus Ware (11th) or Jared Allen (43rd). You’d all be wrong because actually the most productive pass rusher in the NFL is Carlos Dunlap. On 202 pass rushing attempts he’s picked-up just three sacks, but a staggering 11 hits and 24 hurries. Granted most of this has been in the Bengals sub-package defense so he’d afforded more opportunity to pin his ears back, but that shouldn’t discount from what he has done.

Dunlap, with his 15.47 PRP rating, has narrowly held off the challenge of rookie sensation Von Miller who is third in the league in total pressure (55 combined sacks, hits and hurries) and second in the PRP rankings. What makes Miller’s score all the more remarkable is how heavily weighted his pressure is towards bringing the QB down. His 29 QB knockdowns (hits and sacks) are six better than the man in second place in this regard (Andre Carter). These numbers add a lot of statistical evidence to what we’ve been saying since Week 1; Miller is a special talent.

The two men with the most QB disruptions in the NFL, Chris Long and Cameron Wake, join Dunlap, Miller and Trent Cole in a Top 5 short of the established names that have become synonymous with this list. Players like last years’ leader Tamba Hali (20th) and the man with the best rating between 2008 and 2010 John Abraham (12th) aren’t far off the pace, but they’re having to contend with a new class of rushers looking to make an impact. That includes plenty of rookies featuring in the Top 25, with Miller joined by the excellent Aldon Smith (10th), relentless Ryan Kerrigan (18th), and often-overlooked Robert Quinn (21st). Let’s take a look at the overall Top 25.


The Most Productive 25 Pass Rushers

RankNameTeamPass RushesTotal PressurePer Pass RushPRP
1Carlos DunlapCIN2023818.81%15.47
2Von MillerDEN3025518.21%15.15
3Trent ColePHI2314318.61%14.94
4Cameron WakeMIA3115618.01%14.55
5Chris LongSL3516117.38%13.60
6Kamerion WimbleyOAK3245316.36%13.19
7Brian OrakpoWAS2594316.60%12.93
8Jason BabinPHI2724416.18%12.87
9Clay MatthewsGB3635414.88%12.26
10Aldon SmithSF2383615.13%12.18
11Demarcus WareDAL3324914.76%11.45
12John AbrahamATL2433313.58%11.01
13Chris ClemonsSEA3484914.08%10.99
14Antonio D. SmithHOU3194112.85%10.66
15Clark HaggansARI2303113.48%10.65
16Andre CarterNE3534512.75%10.48
17Dwight FreeneyIND2763613.04%10.42
18Ryan KerriganWAS2913813.06%10.31
19Osi UmenyioraNYG2162812.96%10.19
20Tamba HaliKC3023812.58%10.18
21Robert QuinnSL2182712.39%10.09
22Cliff AvrilDET2953612.20%9.66
23Adrian ClaybornTB2853411.93%9.65
24Terrell SuggsBAL3554312.11%9.51
25Rob NinkovichNE2332812.02%9.44

While the rookies are making a name for themselves, it’s interesting that after Dunlap, you have to go a long way to find the next second-year player, and that’s a defensive tackle in the shape of Geno Atkins in 34th spot. Atkins is the fourth-ranked DT/3-4 DE on the list, with Cullen Jenkins leading all defensive tackles after picking up six sacks, seven hits and 18 hurries on 271 pass rushes. Yet it’s Antonio Smith who is dominating the interior linemen stakes with a 10.66 PRP rating that is good enough for 14th overall. It’s overlooked just how big of a success story Smith has been for the Texans this year, with his impact felt by many a quarterback. Here are the Top 15 interior pass rushers:


The Top Interior Defensive Linemen

RankNameTeamPass RushesTotal PressurePer Pass RushPRP
1Antonio D. SmithHOU3194112.85%10.66
2Cullen JenkinsPHI2713111.44%9.23
3Justin SmithSF4495211.58%9.19
4Geno AtkinsCIN2973210.77%9.01
5Darnell DockettARI3713910.51%8.56
6Jonathan BabineauxATL200199.50%7.75
7Ndamukong SuhDET329319.42%7.37
8Ray McdonaldSF367349.26%7.29
9Marcell DareusBUF278258.99%7.19
10J.J. WattHOU318299.12%7.08
11Calais CampbellARI385338.57%6.95
12Richard SeymourOAK350308.57%6.86
13Tommy KellyOAK343298.45%6.85
14Amobi OkoyeCHI256218.20%6.35
15Karl KlugTEN258207.75%6.30
16Henry MeltonCHI323257.74%6.27
17Kevin WilliamsMIN310247.74%6.21
18Haloti NgataBAL303237.59%6.19
19Dwan EdwardsBUF240187.50%6.04
20Randy StarksMIA246187.32%6.00

Down at the other end of things you get an understanding of just why the Browns benched Jayme Mitchell. Only Dave Tollefson has a lower rating for a defensive end, and he has spent a fair bit of time playing inside as part of the Giants’ “four aces” package. Perhaps one of the more notable names on the list is Jason Jones, who, after dominating inside, has struggled to make much of an impact at defensive end. Perhaps that’s just part of playing in Tennessee, though, with Dave Ball fairing even worse than the man he spells. On that note, next up are the 20 least-productive pass rushers at all positions.


The 20 Least Productive Rushers

RankNameTeamPass RushesTotal PressurePer Pass RushPRP
1Jarius WynnGB24372.88%2.16
2Domata PekoCIN20162.99%2.61
3Tyson AlualuJAX325113.38%2.62
4Vaughn MartinSD20673.40%2.79
5B.J. RajiGB377143.71%2.85
6Chris CantyNYG22783.52%2.97
7Ryan McbeanDEN23393.86%3.00
8Ziggy HoodPIT324123.70%3.09
9Barry CofieldWAS280113.93%3.30
10Stephen BowenWAS300134.33%3.33
11Alan BranchSEA230104.35%3.37
12Brandon MebaneSEA241104.15%3.53
13Brian PriceTB20394.43%3.57
14Vince WilforkNE413194.60%3.63
15Terrell McclainCAR257124.67%3.70
16Dave TollefsonNYG208104.81%3.85
17Jayme MitchellCLE229114.80%4.04
18Sedrick EllisNO348205.75%4.45
19Phil TaylorCLE219135.94%4.68
20Corey PetersATL225146.22%4.78

Now, numbers without context can be taken too literally. These numbers do not take into account how quickly a pass rusher got pressure or even if he got it unblocked. For that more intelligent data, you’ll need to look at our pass rushing grades where a defender who beats a man in 1.8 seconds to get a sack, earns a significantly higher grade than one who picks up a clean up sack when the quarterback scrambles out of the pocket. These numbers have plenty of worth in pointing us in the right direction of the best pass rushers in the league, but they have limitations.

Not something that either Carlos Dunlap or Von Miller appear to have when it comes to making life tough for quarterbacks.


To find out how your favorite players are doing contact @PFF_Khaled or @Profootbalfocus and they’ll get back to you with the goods



  • johnny_s

    Ziggy Hood, nor any Steelers DL, are supposed to rush the passer.

    • Mojo111

      Then why are they on the field for passing downs?

      • johnny_s

        They occupy the OL so people like Harrison, Woodley, Timmons, and Farrior can make plays. They only rush the passer when we drop everyone else into coverage.

        • Neil Hornsby

          So when Keisel picked up his 3 sacks, 2 hits and 12 pressures it was an accident? A fluke? Or wasn’t he following instructions?

          • johnny_s

            My assumption is that he probably picked up those sacks on 3 and 4 man rushes.

  • sgtrobo

    wow. 7 of the bottom 10 “least productive pass rushers” are DL in a 3-4. How shocking.

    • Mojo111

      If you were making the point 3-4 linemen are not expected to excel in rushing the passer, it would only be fair to note that 6 of the top 10 Interior Defensive Linemen are 3-4 DL.

  • Rabbit

    May I have the rational behind Wilfork’s 413 QB pressures? I realize he plays tons of snaps, but still, he’s not a pass rusher.

    • Khaled Elsayed

      You’d have to ask BB – it’s something I’ve never really understood because Wilfork has always been a guy who has played a lot of snaps, even in nickel defenses despite rarely generating pressure.

      • Rabbit

        How is “pass rushing opportunity” defined by PFF?

        • Khaled Elsayed

          That he goes after the passer. The Pats aren’t dropping him into coverage all that often

  • snowman88

    are you guys going to post the pass rushing productivity signature stat to the premium members

    • Rick Drummond

      Hi Snowman, yep, we’re planning on adding this and other defensive stuff at some point, just can’t give an ETA quite yet. Keep an eye out and we’ll certainly announce it when it comes.

  • filmstudy

    Good article, KE.

    Is Pernell McPhee treated as an interior lineman for these purposes? He wold have been near the top of that list with 5 sacks and 18 hits/pressures in 204 pass rushes.

    • Khaled Elsayed

      He missed the snap count criteria (six of his pass rushes were nullified by penalty) – he’ll make the final list (assuming he rushes the passer four more times), but only Antonio Smith has a higher rating of guys who rush from the interior. He’s been a revelation and think an article may be due. If he’s healthy I’m already predicting a big 2012 (and his 2011 has been noteworthy already).

      • 52decletzu

        Any idea where McPhee would rank after another awesome performance Sunday? He is definitely way over 200 rushes at this point.

  • FootballFan

    Hey Khaled, big fan of the website. Just wondering, are you guys ever going to do an article on Madden ratings? Donny Moore has no idea what he’s doing.

  • uppercut

    I know it’s not fair to, in hindsight, criticize who your team drafted based on how guys who were still available turned out (especially this early) — but I’m feeling that way (Chargers). It’s debatable whether we needed a DL or OLB, but purely with pass-rushing outside rushers get more pressure than inside rushers (of same relative caliber) just based on the nature of the position. Kerrigan & Quinn both make the top 25 pass-rushers while Liuget has only registered pressure on 5.8% of his rushes (in the few snaps he does that, after not playing inside-nickel much, despite being drafted to improve that)….and stinking against the run on top of that. Maybe he’ll turn into something good in the future, but SD wasn’t so good or bad so to be able to take a project, they needed an instant impact player. Hopefully our GM will be jettisoned and someone who doesn’t think they’re smarter/sneakier than everyone else takes over.