Secret Superstar: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Cincinnati Bengals

| 5 years ago

Secret Superstar: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Cincinnati Bengals

It’s safe to say the Cincinnati Bengals know how to rotate along the defensive line, with no less than seven players playing over 400 snaps there in 2011.

For the second year in a row our Secret Superstar in Cincinnati comes from that D-line. Last year it was Geno Atkins, who lived up to our lofty expectations with a stunning second season, and this year it’s defensive end Carlos Dunlap (+31.3). After a successful sophomore run with the Bengals, Dunlap further highlighted that there is much more to pressure than just sack totals by pestering quarterbacks like it was going out of fashion.

Despite having just the single start to his name in his first two seasons, Dunlap has fast become one of Cincinnati’s best performers on defense and something of a Secret Superstar.  

The Story So Far

The Bengals drafted Dunlap out of Florida with the 54th selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. Heading into the draft Dunlap was considered a first round talent, but character concerns–including a DUI arrest–pushed him into the second round.

It took until Week 10 of his rookie year for Dunlap to make much of an impact, but when he did, he did it in style. All 10 of his sacks as a rookie, and all but three of his total pressures, came in the final eight weeks of the season as he finished the year with 24 total quarterback disruptions on just 216 pass rush attempts.

His strong play to end the 2010 season led to an increased role this past year and, unlike in his rookie season, his impact was felt from Week 1. Through the first six games of 2011 Dunlap failed to record a single sack, yet (as we always say) sack numbers only tell part of the story; he also collected six hits and 16 pressures in that time. That means that on the 127 pass rush attempts by Dunlap through the first six weeks of the season, he registered either a hit or a pressure on 17.23% of them.

This all led to Week 8 against the Seattle Seahawks where Dunlap had the best game of any 4-3 DE last season. His performance graded out at a ridiculous +11.7 as he tormented the Seahawks,  in particular James Carpenter, to the tune of a sack, three hits, and seven pressures.

The second half of his season was disrupted by a hamstring injury and it showed in his production as he recorded just 10 total QB disruptions in his final four games. That included the Bengals’ wild card playoff game in Houston, the only game all season where he failed to record any pressure at all.


Pass Rush

A quick look at our Pass Rushing Productivity Signature Stat reveals two interesting points. Firstly, Dunlap ranks highly, finishing the season with a PRP rating of 13.1; fifth among all 4-3 DE’s who played at least 25% of their teams’ snaps. This Signature Stat measures pressure on a per-snap basis, showing how often a player generates pressure as opposed to just how often they sack the opposing QB.

The second thing you would notice is that of the 278 times Dunlap rushed the passer in 2011, every one of them came from the left side. While some players are used primarily on one side, he was one of only five qualifying DE’s to rush the passer from one side exclusively. This is interesting because it allows us to see who Dunlap is competing with for snaps from that left defensive end spot.


The Case For More Snaps

The other two players to see more than 140 snaps at that position were Jonathan Fanene (+0.2) and Robert Geathers (-7.0). Neither could match Dunlap’s production as a pass rusher as the table below shows:

NameRush Snaps as DLESacksHitsPressuresPRP Rating
Carlos Dunlap2785132913.1
Jonathan Fanene1411185.5
Robert Geathers23542115.9


With Fanene heading to New England as a free agent, that frees up extra snaps straight away and it’s hard to imagine a fully healthy Dunlap not stealing more snaps from Geathers. Cincinnati added free agents Derrick Harvey and Jamaal Anderson in the offseason, but neither has shown much production as pass rushers so far in their careers.

A year ago we highlighted Atkins as the Bengals’ Secret Superstar, the team clearly agreed as he more than doubled his snap count from 355 in 2011 to 752 in 2012. Atkins duly delivered on those extra snaps, finishing the season as our second-highest graded defensive tackle. The biggest increase in snaps for Atkins was against the run where he jumped from 63 snaps to 297. Dunlap has to make the most of any additional snaps he sees on early downs like Atkins did. In 2011 he finished the season with a grade against the run of +4.3 with 13 defensive stops so the concern isn’t that he struggled against the run, just whether or not he can maintain with an increased workload.

The 2010 Draft has already proved fruitful for the Bengals’ Defensive Line and 2012 represents a great opportunity for Dunlap to follow in his DL counterpart’s footsteps and and respond to being named a Secret Superstar.

Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon … and our main feed too: @ProFootbalFocus

| 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.

  • northleft12

    I am not sure who exactly Dunlap is a secret to these days, unless it is to casual NFL fans who basically never saw a game that the Bengals played last year. Which, unfortunately, is the majority of NFL fans. Frankly, most NFL fans have no clue who Geno Atkins is either. The media story line from the Bengals last year was Andy Dalton and AJ Green. Period.

  • Sam Monson

    Exactly. Sadly, since Dunlap wasn’t racking up the sacks the majority of the media and fans ignored him. Anyone watching closely would see what a weapon he was, and given the small number of snaps, there’s a good case to be made that he’s still flying a little under the radar. Would expect him to really announce himself in 2012.

    • Hu

      Do you think he can maintain his performance even with more snaps or do he benefited from limited playing time (staying fresh, less emphasize from other teams, etc…)? The coaching staff seems to believe the later, since they are talking of a rotation again this year.

      • Gordon McGuinness

        Personally I’m expecting, and hoping, to see them use him as much as they used Atkins last year. I still think they’ll rotate heavily along the line but Michael Johnson played over 700 snaps in 2011, can see Dunlap getting that in 2012.