Three Years of Pass Rushing Productivity: Linebackers

| 5 years ago

Three Years of Pass Rushing Productivity: Linebackers

Day three in our look back at three years worth of Pass Rushing Productivity, and that means we’re moving away from those guys for whom you would consider pass rushing a primary job. After looking at edge rushers and interior defensive linemen we’re onto the linebackers (not including 3-4 outside linebackers who were looked at in edge rushers).

As is always the case, we’re not just measuring their sack numbers or total pressure but rather using the unique player participation data we collect at PFF to add a further level of context by looking at which players rush the passer the most. The formula, for those who like a bit of math, involves weighing hits and hurries as worth three quarters that of a sack, dividing that number by the number of snaps they spent rushing the passer and then multiplying by 100. Just like that you have Pass Rushing Productivity.

On to the findings.  



It won’t surprise many to hear that a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker has rushed the passer more than any of his peers, though there is something of a disclaimer in so much as Lawrence Timmons spent a portion of his three years filling in at an outside linebacker spot. Still, if you want some validation that the Steelers blitz their linebackers a lot, then you need only look a spot further down to see James Farrior in equal second, a rank he shares with Brian Cushing. With Farrior gone from Pittsburgh and Cushing relishing the opportunity to blitz in Wade Phillips’ aggressive 3-4, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Cushing and Timmons are the most blitzed linebackers in the league over the next few years.

Other names that won’t surprise are two of Rex Ryan’s favorite players in Bart Scott and David Harris in fourth and fifth, respectively, while you get an idea of just how aggressive the defense of Gregg Williams was in New Orleans. The only out-and-out 4-3 linebackers in the top group are Scott Shanle (sixth) and Jonathan Vilma (10th), though there are appearances from guys like Daryl Smith (ninth) who spent the majority of his time in a 4-3 (outside of Jacksonville’s brief flirtation with a 3-4 in 2009 and some work as an edge rusher in nickel).


PlayerTeamPass Rush Snaps
Lawrence TimmonsPIT469
Brian CushingHST462
James FarriorPIT462
David HarrisNYJ450
Bart ScottNYJ434
Scott ShanleNO411
Mario HagganDEN404
David BowensNYJ385
Daryl SmithJAX377
Jonathan VilmaNO356


Total Pressure

While Timmons may lead the way in snaps, he’s some way off Cushing when it comes to total pressure. On seven fewer snaps Cushing has picked up a remarkable 83 combined sacks, hits, and hurries. Some of this can be put down to a scheme which has freed Cushing up, but he’s one of the better players in the league in finding the quickest way to the quarterback and it shows with this number. The underrated Daryl Smith wasn’t top five in snaps, but he is in terms of total pressure, with Bart Scott and James Farrior joining him with 55 and 60 quarterbacks disruptions to their names. Elsewhere in the Top 10, Aaron Curry creeps onto the list, showing that while he hasn’t lived up to his draft slot he does have a knack for making things happen when he’s going forward (though it should be noted he spent a lot of time playing with his hand in the ground in Seattle’s nickel).


PlayerTeamPass Rush SnapsTotal Pressure
Brian CushingHST46283
Lawrence TimmonsPIT46961
James FarriorPIT46260
Daryl SmithJAX37759
Bart ScottNYJ43455
David HarrisNYJ45052
David BowensFA38545
D.J. WilliamsDEN30543
Karlos DansbyMIA31742
Aaron CurryOAK35440


Pass Rushing Productivity

But as is often the case, those in the Top 10 of total pressures are largely the product of being afforded more opportunities to rush the passer. It’s why even though Cushing leads in that regard, he only finishes third on our PRP. Instead it’s Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington who tops the charts with Desmond Bishop a fair distance behind him. 49ers fans won’t be surprised to see Patrick Willis in fourth, because while he doesn’t generate a ton of pressure, he’s not asked to. With a dominant defensive front and Willis’ own excellent ability in coverage, the 49ers just don’t need to blitz him a great deal, but when they do he’s still incredibly productive.


PlayerTeamPass Rush SnapsTotal PressurePRP
Daryl WashingtonARZ1653516.97
Desmond BishopGB2093714.23
Brian CushingHST4628314.07
Patrick WillisSF2403913.23
Sean WeatherspoonATL1512513.08
Kevin BurnettMIA1902912.76
Paul PoslusznyJAX1792812.57
Daryl SmithJAX3775912.33
Jonathan CasillasNO1672612.28
Rolando McClainOAK1572311.78
Larry FootePIT1852711.76
D.J. WilliamsDEN3054311.56
Jerod MayoNE1842611.14
James AndersonCAR2323110.99
London FletcherWAS2072810.87
Keith BrookingFA1922610.68
DeAndre LevyDET1502110.67
Nick BarnettBUF1982610.61
Chad GreenwayMIN2443310.55
Karlos DansbyMIA3174210.49


One of the more interesting nuggets out of this study comes when looking at the New Orleans Saints’ linebackers. Incredibly, they have four guys who rushed the passer at least 150 times over the past three years, with one of them featuring in the Top 10 (Jonathan Casillas) and three finishing in the Bottom 10 (Vilma, Shanle and JoLonn Dunbar). It gives you a whole new appreciation for just how aggressive they were on defense, even when it was struggling to have much of an impact. To make matters worse for Saints fans, they snapped up another guy in the Bottom 10, with Curtis Lofton an ineffective blitzer, especially when you compare him to what Sean Weatherspoon (fifth overall) was able to do. Still it could be worse, they could have Barrett Ruud rushing the passer, something that happened all that much and yielded all too little with the former Buccaneer never displaying a knack for getting off blocks or shooting gaps to disrupt the QB.


PlayerTeamPass Rush SnapsTotal PressurePRP
Barrett RuudTEN18793.88
Scott ShanleNO411254.62
Ernie SimsFA179114.75
JoLonn DunbarNO187135.48
Julian PetersonFA265185.57
Mario HagganDEN404336.44
Jonathan VilmaNO356306.74
Brandon JohnsonBLT196176.76
Brady PoppingaFA161146.99
Curtis LoftonNO256257.62


When you look at the Pass Rushing Productivity of linebackers, it’s important to note it’s very different to what defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebackers are doing. While they spend most of their time trying to beat a man, linebackers are coming on blitzes that are often designed to get them unblocked, thus giving plenty of players ‘free’ pressure courtesy of a scheme that put them in place to harass the quarterback.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a skill to it, and some players are clearly better at finding the path of least resistance–just because a player has a higher PRP number than one who lines up as a defensive end, it isn’t a sign that they should be kicked onto the line in nickel packages and let loose. Having said that, I  can sleep easy tonight, safe in the knowledge that with tomorrow will come our last look at Pass Rushing Productivity as we look at defensive backs.


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