Daily Focus: Why Michael Bennett is a top-20 NFL player right now
Why Seattle's star DE is right to want a bigger contract. Plus, what to make of the J.J. Watt injury news, and the Broncos' QB situation.
Daily Focus: Why Michael Bennett is a top-20 NFL player right now
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Why Michael Bennett is a top-20 player in the NFL right now: With Olivier Vernon and Von Miller signing huge deals this offseason, the deal Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett signed back in 2014 looks even better for the Seahawks. The four year, $28.5 million deal looked good for the Seahawks at the time, but given the current market value, it’s even more of a bargain. Bennett noted something to that effect this week, stating his desire to be paid more in line with his peers at the position.
At 90.2, Bennett had the fifth-best player grade among edge defenders in the NFL last year. Only Kansas City’s Justin Houston, the Giants’ Olivier Vernon and Denver’s Von Miller, all of whom have signed huge deals recently, and Oakland’s Khalil Mack, who will surely be signing his own big-money deal within a couple of years, graded higher.
Bennett has consistently been among the very best players in the league over the past five years, grading well both as a pass-rusher and against the run. Last season he produced 11 sacks, 17 hits and 63 hurries on 572 snaps as a pass-rusher, including the playoffs. Our pass-rush productivity stat looks at how many pressures a pass-rusher produces on a per-snap basis, with weighting towards sacks and hits. Bennett posted the third-best mark among 4-3 defensive ends last year, the fourth year in a row he has ranked in the top 10.
He’s not just a top pass-rusher, though, as has graded very well against the run, too. Our run-stop percentage stat takes into account the percentage of plays in run defense where a player records a tackle resulting in a defensive stop, giving a better indication of production against the run than tackle stats alone. Bennett’s run-stop percentage was the sixth-best of any 4-3 defensive end in the NFL last year, with Bennett ranking in the top 10 here in each of the past three seasons.
It’s that level of consistency that makes Bennett so good for the Seahawks. They have been able to rely on him being among both the most productive pass-rushers and run defenders at his position in each of the past three seasons, and they get that for a little over $7 million per year. Considering what the top pass-rushers in the league get, that’s an absolute bargain for Seattle.
All of this doesn’t even take into account Bennett’s versatility, with the Seahawks using him across the defensive line and in various sub-packages. Bennett saw 565 of his 943 snaps last year lined up inside the tackles, and played another 37 of his snaps in a two-point stance. If you use the matchups tool in our player grades package, you’ll see that while Bennett starts at defensive end in the Seahawks base defense, when they go into their nickel defense you’ll find him lined up on the interior of their defense.
There has been talk that Bennett might hold out of training camp to get a new deal, and his agent had success with that tactic with former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch before. Given the difference in contracts between Bennett and guys like Miller and Vernon, you can’t really blame him for looking to get more value out of his deal, and, as much as it is never ideal to pay a player more, the Seahawks would be wise to keep Bennett happy and pay him for what he is: a top 20 player in the NFL right now.
What to make of the J.J. Watt injury news: Houston Texans fans will have had a short panic with the news that J.J. Watt had to have back surgery, though the team expressed optimism that Watt will be ready for the start of the regular season. Any missed time, or even a drop-off in his play, would be a huge loss for the Texans, especially when you consider just how good he has been over the past four seasons.
2015 was a down year by his standards, and he still had a player grade of 95.7, second to only Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald among interior defenders last year. In just a five-year career so far, Watt has racked up 85 sacks, 151 hits and 195 hurries, adding 44 batted passes as just another way to disrupt opposing offenses. He’s produced the highest pass-rush productivity rating among 3-4 defensive ends in each of the past four seasons, and his worst season in that regard was his rookie year, when he finished fourth. Watt has been the best player in football over the past four seasons, and the Texans will be hoping he’s good to go at 100 percent when the season begins.
How Eugene Monroe graded during his NFL career: After being released by the Baltimore Ravens earlier this offseason, following the team drafting his replacement in Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft, left tackle Eugene Monroe announced his plans to retire. We have graded ever one of Monroe’s 6,018 snaps since the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted him out of Virginia with the eighth overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft.
Monroe graded positively in five of his seven seasons in the league, but did struggle, both with injuries and his performance, in the past two seasons. That being said, Monroe would have had the 22nd-highest player grade among offensive tackles last year if he’d played enough snaps to qualify, so he is retiring at a time when he could be an upgrade for several teams in the NFL.
He gave up two sacks, a hit and seven hurries in 206 pass-blocking snaps last year, which gave him the 17th-best pass-blocking efficiency rating among offensive tackles. Our pass-blocking efficiency stat takes into account the number of pressures given up on a per-snap basis, with weighting towards sacks and hits giving a better indication of how good a player is in pass protection than sack stats alone. Looking around the NFL, it’s surprising that teams like the Chicago Bears didn’t make a stronger push to sign him. The Bears are currently slated to start Charles Leno Jr. at left tackle, with him having a disappointing player rating of 39.7 last year.
Mark Sanchez can play as well as Peyton Manning did last year: One of the narratives this offseason has been that the Denver Broncos can’t repeat as Super Bowl champions because they are downgrading at quarterback. While that would have been true last season, it’s not really true this year, given just how much Peyton Manning struggled in his final season in the league. Manning was 32nd in the league last year with a player grade of 56.8, and it’s clear that the Broncos won the Super Bowl in spite of his poor play, as opposed to because of him. Manning actually graded negatively in the Super Bowl, but it didn’t matter given how well the Broncos’ defense played.
Mark Sanchez looks likely to be the starter for the Broncos, and while he is never going to be a top quarterback in the NFL, his player grade of 69.4 in limited work last year was actually better than Manning’s. His career grades aren’t as encouraging for Broncos’ fans:
However, it’s worth noting that he’ll be playing in a quarterback-friendly system in Gary Kubiak’s offense. More importantly, the Broncos were able to win a Super Bowl with Manning struggling heavily last year, and now that Von Miller is signed to a long-term deal, ending even the remote chance that he would hold out into the season, any doubt about how good their pass rush should be in 2016 has been put to bed. The Broncos might not repeat as Super Bowl champions, but it’s unlikely that their quarterback situation will be any worse in 2016 than it was in 2015.
(PFF Fantasy Insight: Brandon Marianne Lee ran through the quarterback battles (including Denver) from a fantasy perspective. Whether the new Broncos’ QB is better or worse than the guys they had last year, the new starter should be better on the deep ball, which should help Emmanuel Sanders.)
Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.