Friday, August 9, 2013

The Top 15 Pass Rushers Of 2012

I obviously tend to have a preference for players who have significant physical advantages, as measured by the NFL Combine, as well as proven college production.  Still, it can be tricky to clearly define what we consider a successful draft pick.  While I think that 3-4 outside linebackers, and 4-3 defensive ends, should primarily be judged by their pass rushing ability, other people sometimes disagree with that view.  Fortunately, I'm not obligated to give a damn about what other people think.

In the list below, you will find the fifteen 4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers who accumulated the most sacks in 2012.  To make this as much of an apples to apples comparison as possible, the list only contains players under 275 pounds.  Once players get over 275#, they start to nudge up against the defensive tackle group.  At some later time, I will probably make a separate list just for them.  This is mainly intended to look at the physical traits of the players who are achieving a high degree of success.  Though the players on a list of this sort can vary from year to year (star players get injured, and oddballs sometimes have a big year), the overall picture tends to be quite similar.  As always, the players Kangaroo Score and Agility Score, are given in the form of how many standard deviations above average, or below, that they are compared to other players in the same position group.  Avg. TFL is the average number of tackles for a loss that the player had in his last two years in college.

Player                          Avg. TFL         Kangaroo       Agility Score       Sacks in 2012
Aldon Smith 14.5 0.525 -0.315 20.5
Von Miller 19.5 0.532 1.846 18.5
Cameron Wake 8 1.371 0.843 15
Clay Matthews 6 -0.238 1.128 13
Jared Allen 23 0.517 0.281 12
Chris Clemons          N/A -0.763                      N/A 11.5
Michael Johnson 11.75 1.864 -0.399 11.5
Chris Long 14.25 1.238 0.814 11.5
Demarcus Ware 17.25 0.759 1.529 11.5
Anthony Spencer 17 -0.215 -0.025 11
Robert Quinn 12.75 0.968 0.076 10.5
Justin Houston 16.75 1.581 0.506 10
Cliff Avril 15 0.287 0.215 9.5
Shaun Phillips 15.75 -0.290 0.893 9.5
Michael Bennett 9 0.837                      N/A 9
Average 14.32 0.598 0.568

Due to the complete lack of combine data for Elvis Dumervil and John Abraham, I left them off the list, since no real conclusion can be drawn from them.  Nonetheless, if you are interested, they had 11 sacks, and 10 sacks, respectively.

Of these fifteen, only Clay Matthews and Shaun Phillips would fall into the what I consider the high agility pass rusher category, due to their somewhat below average Kangaroo Scores.  While I believe that pass rushers who rely solely on their agility are somewhat less likely to succeed than players with positive scores in both categories, Matthews' and Phillips' Kangaroo Scores are still basically average results.  Phillips, who had the lower Kangaroo Score of -0.290, would still fall in the 49.1 percentile.  Of the remaining 13 players on the list, 12 showed at least slightly above average Kangaroo Scores (10 out of 15 scored over 0.500), which is a measure of explosive power.  While most of these twelve players, would fit in the highly explosive pass rushing group, this isn't to say that their Agility Score doesn't still play a significant role in their success.

The most peculiar player on this list is probably Chris Clemons, who has by far the worst Kangaroo Score, though we can only guess as to what his Agility Score might be.  Since the Seahawks, more than any other NFL team, is stockpiled with players who have weak physical traits, yet exceeded the computer's expectations (Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant...), I have to wonder if they are putting something into the water (other than Adderall).  I have to admit that I am fascinated by this team.  What makes Clemons even more interesting, is that he was an undrafted player, who didn't really emerge until after he had been in the league for 7 years, and been on 4 different teams.  So, while I could be disappointed that the computer was unable to spot his potential, it's not as if any of the NFL teams were able to do so either.  He is an enigma.

The computer's scores would have basically suggested that Anthony Spencer was just 'okay', since he only had average scores in either category.  For the most part, I think that is an accurate depiction of him as a player, despite his high number of sacks in this past year.  For a former 1st round pick, he was probably a bit of a reach, considering his weak measurables.  On the other hand, you have Aldon Smith, about whom the computer would have had a hard time drawing a conclusion.  While his Kangaroo Score was pretty good, this was somewhat counterbalanced by a slightly below average Agility Score.  Considering that he only started for one year in college (though it was a highly productive year), this made projecting him as a first round pick difficult.  It will be interesting to see what becomes of him, when he is no longer benefiting from playing next to Justin Smith, though I can't say that this explains all of his success.  However you look at it, Smith and Spencer were somewhat more difficult to predict, though still at least average athletically.

In the end, I just think it is interesting to see how this group, no matter how you pick it apart, is still significantly above average overall.  With an average Kangaroo Score of 0.598, and an average Agility Score of 0.568, these players aren't you average bozos.  Their Avg. TFL of 14.32, is also remarkably close to the 15 TFL standard that I generally set as a requirement for a 1st round draft pick.  I'll try to post updates of this list for future years, but looking back over the past few seasons, the results are largely the same, even if the particular names in the top 15 players vary somewhat.

As always, if people want to insist that stats and combine results don't matter, and that players succeed simply through effort, and strength of will, that is none of my business.  I'll continue to place my faith in the physically gifted.


  1. There are some players who are products of a system.... think tim jennings... he's a prouduct of a zone system and playing next to a stud in charles tillman. Clemons was the prouduct of a system. Wes welker is a prouduct of a system he's a crafty,smart,excellent route runner but he's just a slot receiver.... he's too small to play on the outside and not fast enough... especially since he just turned 32. He's overrated

    1. Clemons may be a product of the system in Seattle. I'm not sure. As I said, the Seahawks have proven to be difficult for me to explain.

      Tim Jennings is an odd duck. Physically he is fairly gifted. He is extremely fast (4.32 forty time, with a 0.16 2nd Gear Score), though there is insufficient data to judge his agility (4.34 short shuttle is rather poor). He did have a lot of turnovers and pass break ups in college. Still, 5'7" corners probably shouldn't be taken in the 2nd round.

  2. Jennings is way too short to be an outiside corner.... he goes up against marshall and johnson twice a year.... There's no denying he's a smart player who takes advantage of oppurtunitis (9 Ints last year) but he's a scheme specific corner making the prouduct of a system.... and he was drafted too highly... as for clemons Players who bounce around as much as clemmons do and have a season like he did are usually proudcust of a system.... Wes welker did nothing in miami except for return punts and being somewhat productive... with iffy QBs. QBs make the WR.... I

    1. It's hard to say whether a player is a product of a team's "system", but in general I would agree with you. In Clemons case, he has been a top fifteen producer of sacks for the last 3 years, which is somewhat unusual. Only 4 players have remained in the top 15 for the past 3 years (Demarcus Ware, Jared Allen, Chris Clemons, and Cliff Avril), so it makes it more difficult to dismiss him. Still, whether he was talented and overlooked, or whether he is a system guy, you have to give the Seahawks credit for getting this sort of productivity out of him.