I so wanted to name this article ”Why Shane Ray Sucks, ” but positivity won out. Rest assured though I will certainly get to my thoughts against the former first-round pick.
We are all familiar with the theory that a good secondary helps a pass rush succeed and vice versa. I am a big believer that this must be taken into consideration when scouting players, as well as when free agents move to different teams. The scheme and the DC who is firing the missiles from sidelines also matters a ton.
In early February I posted an article titled “Double-Digit Sack Conjecture.” Within this article, I brought forth a new statistic idea where you would count the time it takes from snap to sack. I think this could help emphasize the best pure pass rushers. If you break it down into seconds that can easily mirror three, five and seven-step drops.
Historically speaking it is likely the bullet train known as Lawrence Taylor would be near the top in this category. This is just a mere shot in the dark, but I don’t think it unreasonable to think that L.T.’s average could have been much worse than four seconds flat. This number would undoubtedly be affected by a player’s weight, and Taylor played most of his career just shy of 240 pounds, while sack monsters like Reggie White and Bruce Smith tipped the scales at 290 and 265 pounds respectively.
This is also an LB versus DL thing. Only one of the top 10 all-time sack leaders (Kevin Greene, 247 pounds) spent the majority of his career playing linebacker. The game has evolved as such that now six of the top 10 active sack leaders have mostly played linebacker, yet only four LBs have led the league in sacks over the past decade. The last was Justin Houston in 2014 with 22 sacks. Houston, Taylor and Derrick Thomas are the only LBs to have 20+ sack seasons.
It should be noted that sacks only became an official stat in 1982. So you Deacon Jones truthers can just calm down and continue counting his “sacks” on old grainy film strips. It was the aforementioned Taylor, and New York Jet Mark Gastineau’s play that prompted the NFL to pay closer attention to the damage they were inflicting.
So why do defensive linemen (especially defensive ends) traditionally get more sacks than linebackers? Many factors come into play here. The main reason is that a DE’s main objective is to get after the QB. Yes, they also have to set the edge but usually a mere second or two after the snap, the choice of the play being either a run or a pass is clear. Linebackers have a lot more responsibilities, like coverage and containment. Linebackers are also told when and where to rush. Defensive tackles generally get fewer sacks than DEs because they are often heavier and slower. They can also be asked to occupy more than one blocker to help the edge players.
No, I am not trying to discredit any of the players who have well over 100 sacks. Most of the top sack guys likely have their fair share of coverage or accidentally aided sacks, that is why their totals are so grandiose. This is also why I think that counting seconds from snap to sack is important. It is equally important to note is that after a certain point/number of steps the sack is the quarterback’s fault for not making a decision. The talent in the opponent’s secondary comes into play here, as well as scheme and the style of defense.
In writing my “Conjecture” article I really took notice of the Washington Redskins DT/DE Matt Ioannidis. He was actually the inspiration behind this stat idea. Last year, he accomplished his sacks with such swiftness I had to time them. He recorded his 7.5 sacks of 2018 with an average of 4.25 seconds. That means even if your QB is making a three-step drop Ioannidis was in his mug 1.25 seconds later.
Von Miller is one of our top current pass rushers. So just for fun, I counted the number of seconds it took him to get his first dozen career sacks. The average was 4.58 seconds. Now I am not saying Ioannidis is going to be miles better at sacking QBs than Miller, this was just an experiment. Ioannidis has 12 sacks in 38 games. Meanwhile, Miller has a stout 98 in 120 career games.
The coverage versus explosion idea has been rattling around in my head since watching the famed Shane Ray as a prospect at Missouri. It seemed to take forever to watch Ray’s 14.5 junior sacks. That total is what elevated Ray into a first-round draft pick. This was despite Ray being cited for marijuana possession just days before the NFL draft. I dubbed Ray the “coverage sack king” as I thought his NFL production would be nothing like his historic year for the Tigers. While I was waiting for the sacks to happen, Ray’s Mizzou teammate Markus Golden was creating havoc off the other edge. We all have those moments when you watch a player and somebody else pops off the screen. Golden just seemed to have more thunder and force about him, even though Golden had just 14.5 sacks total while at Mizzou and Ray had 14.5 in one season.
Golden was drafted in the second round (58th overall) by Arizona. Ray was taken in the first round (23rd overall) by Denver. He would have likely a been a top 15 pick before the Mary Jane incident. So far in their NFL careers as OLB’s Golden has 16.5 sacks (in 35 games) and Ray has 14 (in 49 games). Golden also an additional 2.5 sacks (in 11 games) as a defensive end. So yes, of course, I was right. Another stat that I hold dear, is QB hits. A sack counts as a QB hit. What is also counted within this total is every other time you smack that QB. Ray has 33 career QB hits compared to Golden’s 42. That stat might be more important than actual sack totals. A sack is a sack but a hit is also hit and they both inflict pain.
When free agents move to a different team we cannot just assume that they will keep up their same yearly sack average. There are special cases like Reggie White, Kevin Greene, Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, Khalil Mack etc. “Special” talent supersedes scheme and flashes because it is special! However, there are far more cases of guys moving to another squad or scheme and not succeeding at all.