Reading the Defense - Offseason Report - Part 2
By Jene Bramel
July 19th, 2010

I planned to use the second RTD installment of the summer to breakdown early ADP data and discuss how a disciplined tiering process can help focus your draft strategy. However, since there isn't enough IDP ADP data yet to breakdown and Sigmund Bloom and I have started a series of articles that take an in-depth, position-by-position look at tiering strategies for 2010, I'm taking this in a different direction.

Although I often write fondly of defensive football as the ultimate team sport and freely admit that it's dangerous to rely on individual statistics to make conclusions, I still think it's fun to play with the numbers and consider what they might mean when taken in proper context. Over the years, I've found a few interesting rate stats that can help tease out players who might be on the verge of a breakout or who have just had a big season that has them overrated for the upcoming year.

I thought it'd be fun to highlight a few of them this year and make some predictions for the 2010 season after considering them in their proper context. If you're more of an intuitive, subjective IDP owner, stick with me. The third and final installment of the offseason series will all but ignore the statistical side of the hobby as I use David Dodds' From the Gut platform as a jumping off point to argue some of my strongest opinions on the upcoming season.

Tackle Opportunity

The Tackle Opportunity metric is a favorite of mine and a rate stat I've been tracking in this column since 2007. After finding myself frequently arguing that a poor tackle week from a stud linebacker was often nothing more than a week of very poor opportunity and specifically looking for an answer for Keith Bulluck's extremely slow start that season, it made sense to look for a way to quantify that opportunity in an easy to use way. Tackle Opportunity allows us to do just that. It adds rush attempts, pass completions and sacks to total every play from scrimmage in which a solo tackle could have been made each game.

Tackle Opportunity per game can be used in lots of ways. During the season, a single game result can be compared to historical averages to show whether a player's poor tackle output may simply have been the result of poor opportunity. Team averages can also help with matchup decisions as the year progresses and sample sizes become more meaningful. Team averages after a few games also sometimes highlight important outliers, e.g. a team that has had much less than expected opportunity and should be expected to see its opportunity improve (and vice versa).

Looking at the outlier teams after the season has ended is also a good way to see whose tackle numbers may have been a fluke (either high or low) and pinpoint players who are likely to be over- or undervalued the following season. That's where I'll start our tour of defensive rate stats.

2010 Team Tackle Opportunity

Rk
Team
Pass Comps
Sacks
Rushes
Tackle Opps
Opps/Game
1
Indianapolis Colts
372
34
467
873
54.56
2
Buffalo Bills
295
32
535
862
53.88
3
Cleveland Browns
313
40
506
859
53.69
4
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
301
28
529
858
53.63
5
Detroit Lions
371
26
458
855
53.44
5
Kansas City Chiefs
302
22
531
855
53.44
7
Oakland Raiders
259
37
548
844
52.75
8
Chicago Bears
341
35
467
843
52.69
8
St. Louis Rams
315
25
500
840
52.50
10
Tennessee Titans
404
32
402
838
52.38
11
Seattle Seahawks
374
28
428
830
51.88
12
San Francisco 49ers
352
44
426
822
51.38
13
Jacksonville Jaguars
345
14
458
817
51.06
14
Philadelphia Eagles
354
44
413
811
50.69
15
Washington Redskins
314
40
449
803
50.19
16
New Orleans Saints
330
35
435
800
50.00
17
Atlanta Falcons
335
28
433
796
49.75
18
Denver Broncos
298
39
458
795
49.69
19
Arizona Cardinals
346
43
402
791
49.44
20
Carolina Panthers
305
31
450
786
49.13
21
San Diego Chargers
326
35
422
783
48.94
22
Baltimore Ravens
306
32
435
773
48.31
23
Houston Texans
344
30
396
770
48.13
24
New York Giants
314
32
423
769
48.06
25
Miami Dolphins
281
44
435
760
47.50
26
Cincinnati Bengals
318
34
399
751
46.94
26
Dallas Cowboys
344
42
365
751
46.94
28
Minnesota Vikings
341
48
357
746
46.63
29
Pittsburgh Steelers
319
47
372
738
46.13
30
New England Patriots
300
31
398
729
45.56
31
New York Jets
259
32
420
711
44.44
32
Green Bay Packers
294
37
371
702
43.88

Before we start delving into that table, let's add a little historical flavor. Over the past seven seasons, the average team Tackle Opportunity per game has been 49.60 with a standard deviation of 2.81. Over those seven seasons, the highest tackle opportunity belonged to the 2007 Lions, who had 56.69 opps/gm, and the lowest tackle opportunity belonged to the 2004 Steelers, who had only 41.69 opps/gm. If you consider an outlier team to have a tackle opportunity per game of +/- a single standard deviation, we should think of any team with a Tack Opp of 52.41 and higher or 46.79 and lower as a potential outlier.

Even if you have a love of statistics, all that math starts to obscure the bottom line and the true point of the metric. The small difference in per game stats and standard deviation makes this metric look like much ado about very little. But when you consider that the defense with the league's best opportunity last year had 171 more opportunities – over ten more chances on average each week – to make a tackle than the defense with the league's worst opportunity, it's clear that there are some predictive powers to be found here.

What caught my eye from last season's tackle opportunity averages:

  • The Colts, while usually providing themselves more opportunity than most very good teams, should still drop back on this list next season. Both Gary Brackett and Clint Session may have trouble topping 90 solos if that happens.
  • The Buccaneers had three linebackers with 80 or more solo tackles. Unless they're opportunity remains high and skewed toward rush attempts (61.66% last year ranked fourth overall and 6% more than the league average), something has to give there. Although he's a very solid all-around player, it's likely that part-time SLB Quincy Black's tackle numbers will drop significantly this year.
  • Fewer than half of the Titans' tackle opportunities came on rushing attempts last year. Stephen Tulloch still managed 94 solo tackles despite playing just 77% of his team's defensive snaps and being surrounded by veteran OLB and safety talent and two strong tackling corners. If Tulloch earns an every-down role this season, he's seemingly a lock to finish in the top ten linebackers in tackles. Cortland Finnegan is a solid run supporting cornerback, but a regression toward the mean in pass completions allowed could limit his upside.
  • Conventional wisdom argues that a defense switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 front will have growing pains. Not the Packers, who afforded themselves the worst tackle opportunity in the league last year. Only six defenses have had worse opportunity since 2003, and a large number of outliers among worst tackle opportunity saw at least a small regression toward the mean the following season. The Packers' depth chart doesn't have the look of an all-time great defense, so it's a safe bet that there's room for improvement for Nick Barnett, who had just 81 solos and was eased in slowly after having reconstructive knee surgery in 2008.
  • At first glance, the Jets' poor team tackle opportunity would suggest that there's lots of room for David Harris to improve on his 82 solos from a year ago. But almost 60% of those opportunities were rush attempts and the Jets were just a little below average in rush attempts faced. With the New York defense projecting to be just as good and possibly better than a season ago, it's hard to project a big jump in tackles for Harris this year.
  • I'm going to beat this drum all summer long. Be ready for a big rebound year from DeMeco Ryans this year. The Texans' team tackle opportunity was below average last year and they were fifth worst in the league in rush attempts faced. Ryans had more competition for tackles last year than ever before (Brian Cushing, Bernard Pollard, Zac Diles and Dunta Robinson). He still put up 93 solos. A deeper look into the Texans' tackle opportunity is even more reassuring. 52 of Ryans' solos came during the final eight games of the season – when the Texans' average tackle opportunity was over 51 per game. Push the Texans back toward historical norms just a bit and we might see Ryans back over 100 solos this year regardless of his surrounding cast.

Percent Of Team Solo Tackles

This is a metric I like to use regularly during the season and review closely after the season as a way to assess how active a defender is, what his true range might be and what kind of an impact his supporting cast may be having. It's not as in-depth as the metrics quoted by Football Outsiders, which consider passes defensed, forced fumbles and other plays in their percentages, but it functions in much the same way. For my money, calculating the percentage of the total team tackles made by each team's linebackers and safeties brings the most value, but it can be done for any position.

Fellow IDP staffer Larry Thomas, who puts together the amazing IDP Spreadsheet full of useful matchup stats during the season, has compiled a huge database of these percentages from last season. He's planning to do a detailed analysis by position later this summer, so I'll leave the tables and most of the discussion for him while making just a few critical observations of my own.

What caught my eye from last season's Percentage of Team Solo Tackles data:

  • We've made much of the rise of the interchangeable safety and the decline of the in-the-box hammer in recent seasons, but there was a mini-renaissance of sorts at the safety position last year. Four strong safeties finished in the top 25 last season. Three of them – Bernard Pollard, Brian Dawkins and Tyvon Branch – had at least one stud linebacker in front of them competing for tackles.
  • Between 2003 and 2007, it was very rare to see a linebacker make more than 14% of his team's solo tackles. Only Zach Thomas (twice), DeMeco Ryans and Patrick Willis did so over a full season. But we've clearly entered into the era of the linebacker with respect to making tackles. Seven linebackers (Willis, Beason, Lofton, Morrison, Laurinaitis, Williams and Ruud) made at least 14% of their team's solos last year over a full 16 game season last year. Three more (Posluszny, Jackson and Davis) did so while playing 12 games or fewer. That's not likely to continue over the long term. Be ready to temper expectations for the less-than-elite talents on this list (Morrison, Laurinaitis, Jackson and Posluszny) when their surrounding cast improves. For now, only Morrison looks to be at serious risk of a drop-off this season on the strength of this argument.
  • Find a player with a below average team tackle opportunity number but high percentage of team solo tackles and you've got a potential breakout candidate on your hands. This season, look out for Michael Boley (13.6% of team solos, 24th overall team tackle opportunity in 11 games), Nick Barnett (13.1% team solos, 32nd overall opportunity) and Jerod Mayo (12.7% team solos, 30th overall opportunity) as smart risk-reward plays.
  • Similarly a player with an above average team tackle opportunity number and low percentage of team solo tackles is a prime candidate for a regression in solo tackles. This season, temper your upside expectation on players like Gary Brackett (9.8% team solos, 1st overall opportunity) and Geno Hayes (11.2% team solos, 4th overall opportunity).

Pressure Percentage

We've all felt the frustration of seeing our stud defensive lineman close in the pocket and get his hands on the quarterback only to see the quarterback wriggle away somehow. We've all thought at one point or another that our guy could've, should've, would've had X number of additional sacks if not for those last moment Houdini acts. I think there's little question that pressuring the quarterback is a repeatable skill. I think it's logical to assume that consistent pressure correlates with higher sack totals. In much the same way that a minor league hitter who has a good doubles rate projects to improved power numbers as he matures, a defensive lineman who pressures the quarterback regularly has a good chance to have consistently high sack numbers in the future.

The availability of game charting data from internet outlets like Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus and some improvement in pressure data from the NFL team stat crews has provided defensive junkies with some interesting data on the league's pass rushers. Using a player's sacks, hits, hurries and pass rush snap count from Pro Football Focus, I've put together a rate stat that shows how often a defensive lineman pressures the quarterback. Since "Percentage Of Pass Rush Snaps In Which a DL Sacks, Hits Or Pressures The Quarterback" will put everyone to sleep before the good part of the story starts, I'm calling this metric Pressure Percentage.

2010 Pressure Percentage (DE with min 125 pass rush snaps*)

Rk
Player
Tot Snaps
Rush Snaps
Sacks
Hits
Press
Press Pct
1
 Dwight Freeney
709
469
15
14
47
16.20%
2
 Ray Edwards
974
563
13
25
43
14.39%
3
 Robert Mathis
734
493
10
14
44
13.79%
4
 John Abraham
703
421
6
12
39
13.54%
5
 Brian Robison
262
200
5
7
15
13.50%
6
 Leonard Little
570
289
7
11
19
12.80%
7
 Stylez G. White
592
319
8
11
21
12.54%
8
 Jared Allen
1073
631
16
15
45
12.04%
9
 Chris Clemons
213
158
4
3
12
12.03%
10
 Julius Peppers
806
446
10
10
33
11.88%
11
 Trent Cole
1031
585
14
21
34
11.79%
12
 Calvin Pace
921
402
9
3
35
11.69%
13
 Jacob Ford
445
284
6
13
14
11.62%
14
 Antwan Odom
289
193
8
4
10
11.40%
15
 Justin Smith
977
585
6
16
44
11.28%
16
 Andre Carter
979
532
13
16
29
10.90%
17
 Shaun Rogers
569
305
2
8
23
10.82%
18
 Charles Johnson
450
264
4
2
22
10.61%
19
 Jason D. Jones
245
165
4
4
9
10.30%
20
 Victor Abiamiri
340
215
3
5
14
10.23%
21
 Osi Umenyiora
663
382
6
14
19
10.21%
22
 Jason Hunter
527
245
5
4
16
10.20%
23
 Mathias Kiwanuka
730
425
3
14
26
10.12%
24
 Dewayne White
375
230
0
3
20
10.00%
25
 Adewale Ogunleye
735
401
6
8
26
9.98%

*Data from Profootballfocus.com

For brevity, I'm listing only the top 25 players in this article. 198 defensive ends were credited with at least 125 pass rush attempts according to the charting data at Profootballfocus.com. It's also worth noting that playoff snaps are included in the Pro Football Focus data set.

To provide some context for these percentages consider that, on average, offenses dropped back 35.4 times per game last season. A defense end with a Pressure Percentage of 8.5% is making an impact play in the pocket three times a game on average, and an end with a 10.0% PP is impacting the pocket a little over 3.5 times a game. A little more than 50 defensive ends with at least 125 pass rush snaps put up a PP of 8.5% or more.

What caught my eye from last season's DL Pressure Percentage figures:

  • There are a few interesting young players in the top 25. Chris Clemons was effective in a limited role in Philadelphia last year, continuing a three year trend of strong situational play. He could have nice upside in the expanded "Elephant" role Pete Carroll has him slated to play as camp begins. Jacob Ford doesn't project quite as well as William Hayes (who ranks 55th with a respectable 8.5% PP) in run support, but was consistently good in pass rush last year and would be a good add if his playing time increases. Another Titan, Jason Jones, was also disruptive in the pocket and could be on the verge of a breakout season. The Lions' Jason Hunter deserves mention as well.
  • I've been high on Everette Brown as a Trent Cole in the making as I think he'll be a very effective all-around end in time. But it Charles Johnson that ranks highly on this list (as he also did in 2008), which gives a little credence to the offseason speculation that it will be Johnson and not Brown who's more likely to play every down in Carolina.
  • It was also reassuring to find many of the breakout candidates hanging around the 8.5% plateau, notably Kroy Biermann, Matt Shaughnessy, Chris Long and the aforementioned Hayes and Brown. Those outside that admittedly arbitrary threshold include Cliff Avril, Connor Barwin and Lawrence Jackson. None finished with a PP above 7.5% last year.
  • Among 3-4 ends, Justin Smith sticks out like a sore thumb with a gaudy 11.28% PP on the strength of 44 quarterback pressures. He continues to rightfully be considered an elite DL2 with upside despite the roadblocks the 3-4 DE position faces for statistical production.
  • There might be an important caveat in the data, highlighted by players like Dewayne White and Kyle Vanden Bosch who run up high numbers of quarterback pressures but don't convert them into sacks. In a younger player, such a disconnect could arguably be due to technique and a sign that big numbers are on the horizon if his defensive line coach can teach him to flatten his pass rush after beating the tackle and explode through the quarterback. In a veteran, it might be a sign that the motor and pass rush savvy are there but the finishing speed is gone. It's a trend worth tracking as the metric develops.

Next, let's give a little love to those big play leaguers among us and look at the OLB and ILB groups.

2010 Pressure Percentage (OLB with min 100 pass rush snaps*)

Rk
Player
Total Snaps
Rush Snaps
Sacks
Hits
Press
Press Pct
1
 Cameron Wake
167
134
7
6
20
24.63%
2
 DeMarcus Ware
1096
617
15
19
61
15.40%
3
 Lamarr Woodley
1030
391
14
15
31
15.35%
4
 James Harrison
1032
420
10
13
34
13.57%
5
 Matt Roth
371
164
5
3
14
13.41%
6
 Elvis Dumervil
880
419
17
7
31
13.13%
7
 Tamba Hali
1105
448
9
13
36
12.95%
8
 Aaron Kampman
520
212
4
12
11
12.74%
9
 Anthony Spencer
1113
526
9
29
27
12.36%
10
 Clay Matthews
919
421
11
14
26
12.11%
10
 Tully Banta-Cain
725
355
10
10
23
12.11%
12
 Clark Haggans
973
348
6
9
27
12.07%
13
 Brian Orakpo
922
341
12
9
18
11.44%
14
 David Bowens
998
261
6
11
12
11.11%
15
 Manny Lawson
852
327
7
10
19
11.01%
16
 Mario Haggan
652
109
1
3
7
10.09%
17
 Kamerion Wimbley
1021
387
7
8
24
10.08%
18
 Shaun Phillips
909
356
7
9
18
9.55%
19
 Brad Jones
404
201
4
5
10
9.45%
20
 Jason Taylor
828
341
8
4
20
9.38%

*Data from Profootballfocus.com

What caught my eye from last season's OLB Pressure Percentage figures:

  • Cameron Wake's sample size is a fraction of that of a full time player like DeMarcus Ware or Tamba Hali, but his situational pass rushing skills would seem to be off the charts based on this metric, which show that Wake at least knocked down the quarterback one out of every four times he rushed the quarterback. If he earns a larger role in Miami this year, he's worth a long look as a priority upside target in big play leagues.
  • Clay Matthews was a pleasant surprise in Green Bay last year. He's already well up his steep learning curve, but this data set suggests that he may yet have some room to improve. The same can be said for Brian Orakpo, who will rush the passer as his primary duty this season and the more focused role could do wonders for his PP.
  • Shawne Merriman ranks 28th of 33 OLBs with 100 or more pass rush snaps, with a total of just 22 sacks-hits-pressures in 298 snaps. There's still hope for a rebound in his second season after reconstructive knee surgery, but he's falling off the charts rapidly.
  • Young upside hopefuls Robert Ayers and Larry English weren't very impressive as OLBs go, managing just 8.7% PP figures each. Both need to show something soon if they're to have any fantasy value in the future.

2010 Pressure Percentage (Top 20 ILB in pass rush snaps*)

Rk
Player
Total Snaps
Rush Snaps
Sacks
Hits
Press
Press Pct
1
 Bart Scott
1147
216
1
12
12
11.57%
2
 David Harris
1158
208
8
7
10
12.02%
3
 James Farrior
1033
185
4
3
16
12.43%
4
 Scott Shanle
1130
173
0
0
8
4.62%
5
 Jonathan Vilma
1203
169
2
9
11
13.02%
6
 Scott Fujita
669
153
1
7
9
11.11%
7
 Daryl Smith
980
149
2
3
22
18.12%
8
 Lawrence Timmons
816
145
7
4
14
17.24%
9
 Karlos Dansby
1165
143
1
5
7
9.09%
10
 Brian Cushing
1025
128
6
8
11
19.53%
11
 Nick Barnett
994
124
4
1
14
15.32%
12
 DeMeco Ryans
1054
123
1
5
6
9.76%
13
 Ray Lewis
1155
122
4
6
8
14.75%
14
 Patrick Willis
1116
117
4
5
4
11.11%
15
 Will Witherspoon
816
110
1
0
5
5.45%
16
 Mike Peterson
1038
109
1
1
5
6.42%
17
 D.J. Williams
1047
107
4
3
10
15.89%
18
 Gary Guyton
874
106
1
7
8
15.09%
19
 Bradie James
1011
105
3
3
7
12.38%
20
 Aaron Curry
742
99
2
10
6
18.18%

*Data from Profootballfocus.com

I modified the ILB table to rank players by the number of snaps they rushed the quarterback rather than the percentage of snaps they made a play in the pocket. For big play fantasy purposes, I think the number of opportunities given an ILB is as or more meaningful than his snap count. Again, it must be noted here that the data are skewed a bit by including playoff snaps. Still, even the roughly pro-rated number rush snaps of the Jets' and Saints' ILBs would put those players well into the top 20 overall.

What caught my eye from last season's ILB Pressure Percentage figures:

  • It's no surprise that the ILBs who had the most pass rushing opportunity played for teams that zone blitz frequently. The top eight players on this list played for teams that zone blitzed on at least 8% of their snaps last season (according to Football Outsiders), and that doesn't include Dallas or Green Bay, two teams coached by coordinators that are known to be aggressive with their linebackers.
  • Brian Cushing had the best PP figure of any player with at least 100 pass rush snaps and his 19.53% was better than the most consistent rush 3-4 OLBs. It's very difficult to see that figure remaining so high as tape on Cushing makes its way around the league.
  • How efficient is the Pittsburgh pass rush and the playcalling of coordinator Dick LeBeau? The Steelers led the league in the percentage of plays in which they rushed five defenders last season, but were well back in the pack in the percentage of plays in which they rushed six and/or used a zone blitz (again according to Football Outsiders). But all four of their linebackers rank highly in this metric, with PP figures ranging from James Farrior's 12.43% to Lawrence Timmons' 17.24%. Both OLBs had PPs over 13.5%. The Steelers were bringing five defenders on most plays but were extremely effective at getting to the quarterback. Cowboys' linebackers were also efficiently effective.
  • Aaron Curry's 18.18% PP shines a promising light on what appeared to be a rookie season of struggles. Don't count him out as a big play performer in the mold of a younger Julian Peterson or Marcus Washington just yet.
  • Many players who didn't make the top 20 ILBs by pass rush snap count had interesting findings. Curtis Lofton didn't have a sack all season but was credited with 92 pass rush opportunities. E.J. Henderson, who has always been a key player in Leslie Frazier's aggressive mix of two deep coverage and zone blitzes, had 60 pass rushes in 12 games and a Pressure Percentage of 23.33%. Derrick Johnson had a similar impact in his nickel role. And somehow Barrett Ruud managed only two quarterback pressures in 51 pass rush attempts for a PP of 3.9%

"In The Box" Factor (DB)

With the ever-increasing number of teams moving toward an interchangeable safety philosophy, the tried-and-true strategy of targeting big, in-the-box safeties to anchor your defensive back roster has become obsolete. Still, there will be safeties that have increased opportunity because of how aggressive they're used in their defensive scheme. Knowing those players and those defenses can help you mine value as DBs come off the board in your draft.

Again, the team stat crews and Profootballfocus have provided the counting stats to help tease out the most successfully aggressive defensive backs. The table below totals all plays made behind the line of scrimmage, including sacks, quarterback hits and hurries and tackles for loss. I'm calling the result the "In the Box" Factor. Ideally, this Factor would include all tackles made within five yards of the line of scrimmage as well, but that data isn't yet readily available. Even without those numbers, however, I think this data set can still be useful.

Top 20 Defensive Backs 2010: "In The Box" Factor

Rk
Player
Snaps
Sacks
Hits
Press
TFL
ITB Factor
1
 Roman Harper
1186
3
5
12
11
31
2
 Adrian Wilson
1181
3
5
8
11
27
3
 Jim Leonhard
1194
4
3
9
9
25
4
 Charles Woodson
1045
2
2
6
9
19
5
 Kerry Rhodes
1109
1
4
10
2
17
6
 Ronde Barber
1059
2
2
3
9
16
7
 Brian Dawkins
951
0
2
7
6
15
7
 Louis Delmas
954
1
3
4
7
15
9
 Antrel Rolle
1124
2
2
6
4
14
9
 O.J. Atogwe
761
1
4
5
4
14
9
 Michael Lewis
848
1
3
6
4
14
9
 Eric Weddle
880
3
1
3
7
14
13
 Michael Mitchell
217
1
3
5
4
13
14
 Eric Smith
424
0
2
8
2
12
14
 Brandon McGowan
737
0
5
4
3
12
14
 Sean Jones
621
1
2
6
3
12
17
 Mike Adams
705
2
1
6
2
11
17
 Nedu Ndukwe
951
1
4
2
4
11
18
 Quintin Mikell
1178
0
3
5
2
10
18
 Jordan Babineaux
1090
3
1
3
3
10
18
 Tyvon Branch
1051
1
0
3
6
10

*Data from Profootballfocus.com and NFL.com

What caught my eye from last season's DB "In the Box" Factor:

  • Most IDP players know that Adrian Wilson is one of the most active strong safeties in the league. Those who have seen Roman Harper over the past seasons know that he wasn't too far behind before last season. But Gregg Williams significantly amped up Harper's opportunity around the line of scrimmage last year – and Harper responded. Three sacks and 17 hits and pressures of the quarterback and a tie for the league lead in TFL by safeties should cement Harper in your mind as one of the three or four safeties worth reaching for a little early in your redrafts this summer.
  • Adrian Wilson continues to be a high impact player in the box. With Karlos Dansby gone, Gerald Hayes losing a step in coverage and range and the Cardinals' offense likely to struggle, increased opportunity should combine with a high ITBF to put Wilson in line for a big season.
  • Even though most of the FBG staff have him ranked as a low-end DB1, there still seems an undercurrent of concern among us (and a lot of veteran IDP leaguers) that Louis Delmas isn't ready for primetime yet. The difference between Delmas' ITBF of 15 and, say, DaShon Goldson's ITBF of 8 seems minor, but I think it may be significant. Delmas should be more comfortable in his second season and he looks like a Bob Sanders without the kamikaze risk to me. I think he's the cream of the FS crop this year and see 75 solos and a sizable handful of big plays in his very near future.
  • The presence of three New York Jets' safeties on this list isn't too surprising, given Rex Ryan's mix of zone blitz and 46 concepts in his hybrid defensive calls. Jim Leonhard would be a better pick if the Jets' tackle opportunity was even just average, but this note isn't meant for the 2010 season. It's a trigger to remind yourself at a later date that Ryan's defenses in Baltimore and New York have really never had an impact strong safety talent. If and when the Jets draft a player with real two-way potential to play SS, there's top ten upside to be found in the scheme.
  • The sample sizes are small and the storms may never organize, but I see two potential hurricanes brewing out at sea. Michael Mitchell had a major impact in his role as the third safety in the Raiders' big nickel package – 13 plays behind the line in 217 snaps – and may be even better in the box score than Tyvon Branch was a season ago if he ever earns the starting SS gig. And the presence of part-timer Brandon McGowan in the top fifteen again underscores that the Patriots' SS job is a powder keg waiting to blow when the right player surfaces. McGowan had the nose for the ball to take advantage briefly last year, but it's Patrick Chung that you'll want to move on when he wins the job.

Isolated Solos (DL)

Isolated solos (solo tackles less sacks) has always been a favorite metric of mine to find up-and-coming potential among defensive linemen. Eyes-on analysis of their burst at the snap, pass rushing technique and how well a player uses his hands and lower body in leverage at the point of attack provides much needed context, but a high isolated solo count is a quick way to find players who know how to win at the line of scrimmage.

A table with a straight ranking isn't particularly useful here so we'll save the bandwidth and simply pull a few selected targets for comparison. Lots of 3-4 defensive linemen without any pass rush chops will run up Isolated Solo counts of 35 or more, so we'll ignore them here as they'll rank highly, but will rarely hold the consistent statistical value we're looking to find. Instead, you'll want to scan the lists for part-time players, particularly young and developing talent, who have raw counts in the 20-30 range, suggesting that they're able to disengage and make a non-sack play at least a couple of times per game. Those are the players who have 40-45+ solo tackle potential and can become the elite of the elite as their pass rushing ability develops.

Isolated Solos and Snaps Per IS (selected DL)

Player
Snaps
Solos
Sacks
Iso Solo
Snaps / IS
Derrick Harvey
416
44
2.0
42.0
9.90
Kroy Biermann
499
38
5.0
33.0
15.12
Tim Crowder
534
37
3.5
33.5
15.94
Kyle Moore
155
9
0.0
9.0
17.22
Matt Shaughnessy
409
26
4.0
22.0
18.59
Lawrence Jackson
540
28
4.5
23.5
22.98
Jason Hunter
527
27
5.0
22.0
23.95
William Hayes
682
31
4.0
27.0
25.26
Chris Long
823
33
5.0
28.0
29.39
Cliff Avril
681
27
5.5
21.5
31.67
Everette Brown
401
15
2.5
12.5
32.08
Charles Johnson
427
17
4.0
13.0
32.85
Connor Barwin
369
12
3.5
8.5
43.41
Michael Johnson
365
10
2.5
7.5
48.67

*Data from Profootballfocus.com and Footballguys

Combine Isolated Solos with Pressure Percentages for those young linemen that haven't declared themselves yet and you can find the diamonds in the rough before anyone else. Like a lot of individual stats, it's not perfect and it's not foolproof. But this metric has helped to identify players like Trent Cole (33 Isolated Solos as a rotational rookie), Aaron Kampman (27 projected IS before his breakout year), Ray Edwards (29 projected IS in 2007 and 31 in 2008), Justin Tuck (29 IS in 2005). None of those players were drafted in the first or second round, none were considered slam dunks before their breakout years and all of them were on the waiver wire at some point early in their careers in dynasty leagues without deep rosters or available well outside the top ten defensive linemen drafted in redraft leagues before the seasons that put them on the map.

With the snap count data from Pro Football Focus, it's easier to compare the potential of those players with fewer snaps. Using the idea that an Isolated Solo of 20-30 corresponds to a player who's making a non-sack play twice a game, a player with a Snaps per IS count of 30-32 or better (teams usually face an average of 60-65 offensive snaps per game) is also worth considering. As comparisons, consider the Snaps per IS count of elite two-way ends like Jared Allen (35), Mario Williams (30.7) and Trent Cole (26.6).

I think all the players on the list above are worth following, but I'm most interested in seeing if guys like Biermann, Crowder, Moore, Shaughnessy and Hunter can maintain their promising pace over a larger workload. Using the IS and PP data in conjunction, Biermann, Hunter and Charles Johnson would seem to have the best all-around potential, with Shaughnessy, Hayes and Long on their heels. It should be interesting to see how the players on this list develop this year.

That's the last of the advanced statistics for this summer's series. I'll take a 180 degree turn toward the philosophical next time with the pre-camp version of the IDP From the Gut. That won't be the end of the RTD column this summer, though. I'll be writing a blog of running updates on all the key happenings on the defensive side of the ball in the IDP Forum and adapting it into an RTD preseason update, and revising and updating the guide to NFL defenses for Footballguys and the Fifth Down blog at the New York Times. Add that to regular contributions throughout the preseason to the IDP Roundtable podcast on the Audible and a handful of IDP redrafts in the coming weeks and it's shaping up to be a busy and exciting summer.

As always, thanks for reading. Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to bramel@footballguys.com.

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