Seahawks DE Michael Bennett is still underrated

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett doesn't often get the credit due for his play. Mike Renner explains why.

| 3 months ago
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Seahawks DE Michael Bennett is still underrated


In PFF’s grading system, we have a simple motto for pass-rushers: Pressure equals production. Sacks can be fickle. The difference between a sack, a hit, and a hurry usually has more to do with the quarterback throwing the ball than anything a defensive lineman can control. No better player exemplifies this more than Seattle Seahawks DE Michael Bennett.

By official NFL statistics, Bennett has tallied 34.5 sacks over the last four seasons. That’s 16th-most in the league over that span. In terms of pressures, though, Bennett has 292 in the same time frame. Only J.J. Watt was better. (That’s pretty good company.) Bennett is also far from a one-trick pony. He’s had a top-10 run-stop percentage among 4-3 defense ends each of the past three years, as well.

So with elite production, why doesn’t Bennett have the reputation as an elite player? 38 different defensive linemen/3-4 outside linebackers make more than Bennett on an average per-year basis, and he only signed his contract two years ago. His name won’t be uttered in the same breath as Von Miller or Justin Houston as far as edge players are concerned. In the end, it comes down to two universal biases: sack totals and draft status. If a guy doesn’t put up big sack numbers, he can’t be elite. If a guy goes undrafted—with extremely ugly combine numbers—then he can’t be elite. Both couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to the Seahawks’ defensive lineman.

Bennett’s combine numbers couldn’t be more of a red herring. He’s freakishly athletic, he just didn’t show it on one day seven years ago. There might be no one in the NFL right now better at stopping on a dime and crossing the face of an offensive lineman. All day long he swims and swats his way into the backfield as Seattle allows him the freedom to leave his gap if he thinks he can win. The play below is classic Bennett against the run. He’s lined up as a 4i (inside shade of the left tackle), and at no point on a stretch run to his side should he ever end up in the A-gap. But because he wins with such speed and has the balance to close on the ball-carrier, he makes the tackle for a loss.

MichaelBennettRamsStop

What you may have noticed in that play was that, while Bennett is listed as a defensive end, he wasn’t lined up in a position you’d traditionally expect a DE to be. This isn’t uncommon for a player whose versatility is almost as valuable as his production. Bennett actually lines up between the tackles (61.4 percent) more that outside the tackles. That’s a higher rate than Muhammad Wilkerson (53.5 percent) and J.J. Watt (33.0 percent). The result is that Seattle can deploy their full stable off edge rushers—Bruce Irvin in the past and Frank Clark this year—on opposing offenses without losing anything in run defense.

Bennett’s secret to dominating guards and tackles alike? Keeping them off balance. He has a fantastic array of pass-rushing moves that all complement each other. We saw him exploit an overextending offensive lineman earlier. He counters that below by faking the inside move before redirecting outside and easily swatting the hands away of the opposing offensive lineman. It’s a move that’s far more difficult to execute than Bennett makes it look.

MichaelBennett49ersSack

Is this the year Bennett breaks out and gets 15 sacks? Probably not. It’s simply difficult to put up sack numbers playing from the interior like he does. But he’ll be the same dominant force and anchor the Seattle defensive line. Hopefully this is the year, though, his ability gets the respect it deserves.

[More: See where Senior Analyst Sam Monson ranked Bennett in his 101 best players list.]

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Alan Botwin

    It’s a true story. With Seattle’s D utilizing players like they do, no one stands out on the stat sheet so much. But there’s alot of names on the same sheet. Bennett and partner in crime Cliff Avril are legitimate.

  • TJ Smith

    Can’t believe Malik Jackson makes so much more than him now. Seahawks always finding deals.

    What scary is Frank Clark looks like Bennett. Best defensive rookie I saw last year. Needs top get more snaps.

    • Cam

      & he’ll get them. Seattle had the luxury of being able to bring him along slowly & now with Irvin gone (& he was gone the moment Seattle drafted Clark imo) he’ll see a lot of game time.

      On a wider note, Seattle’s 2013 & 2014 draft got panned. Now they weren’t vintage by any means, but when you’re bottom in the order (or near as) & trade for players (Harvin bad, Graham to be decided) you can’t expect stellar drafts, but what people fail to grasp is that to a great extent, whoever Seattle picked they were going to struggle to make an impact (Britt & Micheal being to date the true disappointments). However if Britt can make a decent fist of center (big if I know) & Hill, Richardson & Simon stay fit long enough to grab the scheme specific starting roles (Hill passing rushing DT in which he has excelled at times, Richardson the burner WR & Simon the nickle o/s corner), then along with Willson as a decent backup TE, those two drafts don’t look so bad. Again, not great, but better than many state.

  • Paul Goode

    Ahtyba Rubin says that Bennett is the best DL he has seen play. That likely means more to MB than anything that PFF could come up with.

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