Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

05 Nov 2010

FO Mailbag: Best Defensive Players

I guess this isn't a mailbag, but a "tweetbag," as the question came from Twitter.

@DeanList: Please help settle debate. Rank Revis, Polamalu, Matthews. Anyone else we are missing in a list of top defensive players right this minute (not career).

I figured this would be a fun discussion thread, so rather than give my own list, I polled the FO staffers and came up with a comprehensive list. We did rank Revis, since we were thinking about how well guys play when healthy, which Revis hasn't been this season. The answer we came up with was Troy Polamalu. Look at the difference between last year's Steelers and this year's Steelers. However, our number-two guy wasn't even in the question. Defensive tackles just get no love, but the Ravens defense revolves around Haloti Ngata. Ben Muth's answer listed Ngata as the first, second, third, and fourth best player (Polamalu was fifth). This was our comprehensive list:

Troy Polamalu
Haloti Ngata
Darrelle Revis
Nnamdi Asomugha
Clay Matthews

We also had votes for Trent Cole, Ndamukong Suh, DeMarcus Ware, Dwight Freeney, Ray Lewis, and -- Bill Barnwell is always the contrarian -- Jonathan Babineaux. I'll add that while he has to do it for more than a half-season to be considered the toppermost of the poppermost, Jason Jones is kicking ass and taking names in Tennessee.

Feel free to discuss and argue in ye olde discussion thread.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 05 Nov 2010

109 comments, Last at 21 Jan 2011, 4:14pm by Paul78

Comments

1
by ammek :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 12:29pm

Look at the difference between last year's Steelers and this year's Steelers.

It always surprises me what methods are used to rank players when there are no viable stats available. On defense, the most popular method is, "the unit looks great when X is healthy, not great when he isn't; ergo, X is the difference". This argument has been made for Albert Haynesworth, Bob Sanders and Shawn Merriman, among others, in recent years. None of those players, now, seems so herculean, but the Titans, Colts and Chargers have all emerged from their dips in form, and are again among the top defenses.

I think it's about as useful to compare DBs to DTs as it is to compare an RB with an OG.

Dick LeBeau is more valuable than any player.

2
by OmrothYes (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 12:43pm

Has it been pointed out that it really isn't the 10 most *dangerous* things you can do in bed? That list would be a lot more esoteric.

6
by Myran (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 1:17pm

I like the advertisement too. I can't click the link from work for some reason, so I haven't read them yet.

39
by Ewout (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:23pm

The links are not worth clicking away from the picture for.
I realize that doesn't say much about the links, by the way.

15
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:21pm

If it's the most dangerous mistakes you can make in bed then it should really include things like brewing napthene palmitate while lighting matches or shaving a kodiak bear.

29
by DavidL :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:54pm

I can't imagine a situation in which I end up shaving a kodiak bear in bed by mistake.

36
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:09pm

But surely you can agree that it would be a mistake?

53
by TBW (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 7:25pm

But you can imagine a situation where you intentionally shave a Kodiak bear in your bed ?

81
by DavidL :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 11:26am

Nobody ever specified my bed.

89
by Bobman :: Sun, 11/07/2010 - 2:10am

Because he/she was unhappy with your Brazilian wax job???

Now you have a n unhappy, hot-waxed, razor-burned, 900 lb carnivore on your new sheets--and your wife (Bonny) is due home in 45 minutes!

Danger, Will Robinson!

60
by B :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 8:57pm

Don't tug on Superman's cape. Don't spit into the wind. Don't mess around with Leroy Brown.

79
by Theo :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 5:39am

Don't get involved in a land war in Asia, in your bed.

87
by Raiderjoe :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 11:26pm

A guy would ahve to be realy drunk to forget he is a man. But if Tori Black in bedroomm maybe goodo idea to forget on purpose, that way T. Black show you how you are man.

90
by Bobman :: Sun, 11/07/2010 - 2:11am

Unless she takes one look at you and says "You forgot again! You are hopeless..." and walks out. I'd hate that, for several reasons, and it would be all my fault.

101
by Anonymouss (not verified) :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 2:19pm

that's not actually a picture of tori black, it's shawna lenee. not that anyone cares

105
by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 10:06pm

Has poster been watchign porn?

3
by spenczar :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 12:56pm

You have angered Patrick Willis.

People don't live to make that mistake twice.

7
by Jimmy :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 1:18pm

It wouldn't suprise me to learn that Willis is playing through injury this season but still he isn't mentioned but Ray Ray gets a plug. That torch got passed at least two seasons ago.

23
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:40pm

I don't think he's injured, it's more that there aren't any other players in the back seven that have stepped up to take some attention away from him (pretty disappointed about that) and the rather pathetic offense leads to the entire defense spending too much time on the field.

Also the niners scheme doesn't make any accommodation for strong-side or weak-side on defense. The middle linebackers are more like right-middle and left-middle and they think of their safties as left and right too. I can see the rationale behind it, you give fewer clues to the offense and adjustments are easier to different formations but I do wonder if they should be more willing to scheme around Willis, who is by far their best player. It can't help that the symmetry breaks down on the defensive line where Sopoaga and Smith have very different skill sets.

21
by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:35pm

Agreed. I'd also put Brian Orakpo on the same level as Willis and Clay Matthews.

4
by Shattenjager :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 1:07pm

I like Muth's answer.

Of course, I'm a Broncos fan. I don't know what a great defensive player looks like.

22
by Kibbles :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:36pm

He looks like Champ Bailey circa 2005-2006.

38
by Shattenjager :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:18pm

I'm just going to leave this at "I disagree."

77
by tunesmith :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 4:40am

Ngata appears to be a super nice guy, too.

5
by Jimmy :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 1:17pm

While Polamalu is an awesome player they also missed Aaron Smith last year (and from now on this year). We shall see if losing Smith again hurts them.

Whilst I think Clay Matthews is an excellent player and should be near the top of the list for 'players you would want to build a franchise around' (he is after all one fo the genetic mutants that are the Matthews family), I am not sure he is amongst the best defensive players in the league just yet.

Also Julius Peppers should be in the conversation, he is a monster pass rusher and plays the run better than just about any DE in football at the moment. He also plays both sides, drops into coverage well and makes extraordinarily athletic plays for a 300lb man.

14
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:17pm

I think that that should say, "plays the run better than just about any 4-3 DE in football".

27
by Jimmy :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:50pm

I don't.

32
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:01pm

Playing the run as a defensive end in the Bears' one gap scheme from a seven technique position just isn't the same as playing the five technique in a two gap 3-4.

8
by ag101 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 1:19pm

Troy Polamalu is ridiculously overrated. What kind of asinine logic is "look at the difference between last year's Steelers and this year's Steelers" ?

As if the Steelers have been living in a vacuum the last 2 years - with & without only Polamalu. I mean, is he this overrated because he's a Steeler? Or is it the commercials?

He isn't even the best player at his own position or on his team.

10
by Jeremy (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 1:45pm

Eric Berry has better stats this year than Troy Polamalu does...

9
by E :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 1:27pm

At the level he's playing right now, Justin Tuck has to be in the conversation. Maybe not #1 overall, but definitely top 5. I'd probably have him at #3 after Polamalu and Ngata.

This season Tuck has added elite run defense to his already strong pass-rushing skills. He continuosly stops RBs for little-no gain or negative yards. And that includes guys having great seasons like Arian Foster and Chris Johnson (before garbnage time). Having watched all 7 Giants games, I think there's no question that the two reasons they've gone from awful to #1 in DVOA is (1) improvement/health of Tuck and (2) subtraction of CC Brown.

12
by SonOfDad (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 1:59pm

Actually, this year, Tuck is the second best DE on his team. Umenyoria is really having an incredible season and was just named the NFC DPOM for October.

16
by thendcomes :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:22pm

Is that a joke? I have to believe you're joking. There are a dozen reasons I can think of off the top of my head as to why our defense has improved, and Tuck's improved play is not one of them. He was our best defensive player last year too.

(1) Fewell coming in is important. Buffalo had a top 5 defense with him last year and are now dead last without him.

Healthy players! (2) Phillips (3) Boley (4) Canty and (5) Webster.

(6) Cofield and (7) TT have really stepped it up, (8) Osi is back to form, and (9) Goff is exceeding expectations.

Signed (10) Rolle.

If you want to include the absence of particular players as contributing factors, then (11) CC and (12) Pierce.

11
by Fahad (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 1:58pm

You left out Ed Reed. I am most disappointed.

19
by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:32pm

Meh. The second-best safety in the league is LaRon Landry.

24
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:45pm

Landry. Somebody earlier said Orakpo. 2 years ago, everyone would have said Haynesworth. #22 in DVOA with such players (including DeAngelo Hall, who really playing good for real, guys!) Oh, Washington: all of the "big names" and none of the production...

35
by Sjt (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:08pm

He probably lost points for playing in only one game so far. And in that game his defense gave up 37 points to the Bill (though he did play well).

83
by the K :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 2:13pm

Yeah Reed was definately not the problem there. The Ravens probably would have lost the game without the plays he made.

13
by jmaron :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:05pm

given the recent NFL TOP 100 - I think it would be interesting to see FO's top 100 done the same way. Each FO writer getting a ballot and then sum the rankings.

The NFL Network top100 was what you expect - tendency to over rate players from the top teams.

Or a smaller list - say top 20.

78
by hbh_uk :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 5:22am

I second this motion: I'd love to see that list.

109
by Paul78 :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 4:14pm

Paul Lucas 3rd it

17
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:28pm

Personally I've thought that Ngata has been a beast for a few years now, I think that nobody would be mentioning Ray-Ray without him.

Matthews over Ware already? Really?

Suh has been simply amazing so far, he might be the second best DT in the league already. I've never seen a player like him in twenty years.

18
by CDB (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:31pm

I recall people comparing him to Dorsey and indicating he was overhyped at Nebraska.

The guy is truly amazing. He's the best DL prospect since Sapp. He's just an absolute freak of nature.

20
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:34pm

I think he's going to be a much more complete player than Sapp if he stays heathy, better run defender.

37
by dbostedo :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:14pm

I also seem to recall a lot of people saying they'd never seen a DT like Suh in college, including Dorsey. I guess you'll usually hear both sides for any college player, but based on my memory, most people were way higher on Suh than they ever were on Dorsey.

25
by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:46pm

Post removed (redundant)

26
by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:48pm

Justin Smith is the best 3-4 DE in the league, he puts Aaron Smith to shame.

N. Suh is perhaps the best 4-3 DT in the league--and the Lions defensive line is as good as Tennessee's IMO. Once the Lions get a couple linebackers and a safety this offseason, that's a playoff team next year.

DeMarcus Ware is having an off-season, if he's not on the downside of his career already. I was watching the Cowboys-Jaguars game on NFL Rewind the other day, and Ware was getting ABUSED by Jacksonville.

Trent Cole is also having an off-year, from what I've seen, though I haven't watched many Eagles games. The best 4-3 DE this season is Julius Peppers, and I don't think anyone else even comes close, not Justin Tuck, not even the guys in Indianapolis. The man has been ON FIRE this year.

28
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:52pm

I'd be with you as far as Detroit in the playoffs in 2011, if only Stafford still didn't so freakin' iffy. I thin they've have a decent record next year, but if he doesn't improve, he's going to start costing them games and inching towards "bust that sinks a half-decent team."

Also, Cole is far from having an off year - he's basically the only thing keeping a very inconsistent defense together. And don't get me started on "those guys in Indy" and their crappy sack rate, completely invisibility against the run and being above average players on a mediocre defense.

31
by tuluse :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:59pm

if he doesn't improve, he's going to start costing them games

Like every young QB who isn't Dan Marino?

40
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:24pm

Next year he will be in his third season. He if doesn't get better (and plays at the level he has played this year) he will cost them games. Let me look up and see how many good QB's were still playing terribly in their 3rd year and costing their teams games on a regular basis... Gosh, you're right: Marino the only example of QB who was even average by their 3rd year in the league!

A year and a half in the league and Stafford is still playing terrible. This wouldn't be so conspicuous if his back-up, an unimpressive journeyman who couldn't steal the starting job from Alex Smith, hadn't played at an above average level. The excuses of "he's young" and "it's the team around him" will not fly much longer...

44
by nw (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 4:19pm

Given that Stafford has played 5 quarters of football this year, how do you have enough information to have such a strong opinion of his 2nd year? terrible? He didn't play well in the first half last week, but he did pretty well in the second half. A little early to judge his 2nd season.

And Hill did not play as well as you seem to think. No better than league average.

51
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 6:58pm

I;m going by FO's numbers: Stafford is a pretty ugly -7.0% DVOA. Hill is 10.5%. Hill's DVOA neighbors are Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman & Carson Palmer. Stafford's are Alex Smith & Jason Campbell.

I agree it is way too early to write Stafford off... but if he continues to play at the same level into next season, it's going to be an Alex Smith in SF situation, which I can't imagine any Lions fans would be thrilled to have happen... But there's plenty of time for him to keep developing and playing with a good team as it comes together is a great place for a young QB to be...

56
by tuluse :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 7:36pm

Stafford hasn't played nearly enough this year to make any reasonably judgement about what level of performance he has achieved.

Claiming that a QB with less than 20 starts needs to improve his performance is not really interesting or insightful. You could claim the same thing about all but a handful of QBs in the entire history of the NFL.

59
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 8:03pm

Fair enough. But isn't Stafford's development the main issues in terms of Detroit's future? And hasn't he been bad thus far?

Also: all but a handful of QB's? Please provide any evidence of what you are saying or at least clarify it? Do you mean Jamarcus Russell types or Kevin Kolb types? Do you mean that every Qb should be given more than 20 starts to determine if they are good enough to play at the NFL level? What's line you're drawing?

Listen, I know you don't like me and have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the things I write, but what are you even trying to say? That Stafford needs more time, case closed? Don't you think it's a lot more complicated than that? Or do you mean that his performance up to this point is irrelevant? Just curious what you think quaifies as deep and meaningful and I'll try to keep within your very advanced parameters for brilliant discourse.

73
by tuluse :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 2:32am

I don't dislike you at all. You're making some lazy criticisms, which I find fault with. Your claim that Stafford needs to improve is true for most QBs, especially young QBs.

If you want to provide meaningful commentary compare him to other QBs of similar age and experience. Just throwing out "he needs to improve" isn't all that useful. How much does he need to improve? Has he shown signs that he is improving? How far behind the curve is he (if any)?

As for your question about how many games it takes to decide, I think it's a function of how bad the QB is. If he's really terrible, you cut your losses sooner, if he shows signs he might be good, you stick with him longer. Stafford has been bad, but he hasn't been cover your eyes terrible.

107
by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 11/09/2010 - 3:32pm

Stafford was at least as good as Sanchez last year, on a -much- worse team, playing behind one of the worst OL's in the league rather than the league's best offensive line (which NYJ was last year), overall, and admittedly IMO. In addition, Stafford has been in and out of the lineup with injuries, and has played a lot of time with a shoulder that was less than 100%.

I think he is likely to be at least as good an NFL QB as Sanchez going forward, and potentially a lot better. Sanchez' ceiling is pretty much Chad Pennington due to arm strength; Stafford's is higher. Does Stafford have room to, and need to, improve? Absolutely. But being able to produce without targeting Calvin Johnson more than four times (for 13 yards) is a big step forward. He kept Detroit in the game against a trendy (if idiotic) Super Bowl pick, the Jets. That's better than anyone could expect.

33
by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:02pm

You're probably right. He was dominant against the Packers; I remember being very impressed with his playing the run as well as the pass, but then he was invisible against the Redskins (thank you, Trent Williams!) Those are the only Eagles games I've actually seen this year.

43
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:35pm

Gah, that Redskins game was the low-point of the Eagles' season in about a hundred different ways, though. A load of crappy performances, top-to-bottom.

That all said, I'm not sure I would rank Cole as one of the top defenders in the league. I guess I have too many memories of watching a future Hall of Famer like Dawkins play to be quick to elevate "really, really great" players to "awesome, best in the business" status.

34
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:07pm

Freeney and Mathis might not play the run like a 1970s defensive end but they're not supposed to. They do what their coaches ask them to do and do it very well, Jason Taylor played in a very similar manner but with better DTs clogging things up inside him.

48
by James-London :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 5:38pm

Jason Taylor was a far better run defender than Freeny or Mathis as a 4-3 end, and it's not even close.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

54
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 7:28pm

My point is that I can remember an interview with Taylor when he was with the dolphins where he said that his job on run plays was just to get wide, stay wide and make sure that nobody got outside him, as long as he did that he had done his job by funneling the play back to the inside. I think that Freeney and Mathis are being asked to do the same thing. Basically there is only so much anyone can observe without knowing what the players are being asked to do. If the Colts were unhappy with the way they played the run they'd have probably corrected it by now.

58
by tuluse :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 7:39pm

Actually, no Freeney and Mathis rarely keep contain. They just rush up the field, and if they run into a RB they'll tackle him. You'll notice there are often huge holes off tackle where the respective ends have vacated their gaps.

Your other point is important though, it's the clear the Colts don't care or actively encourage this behavior.

92
by Bobman :: Sun, 11/07/2010 - 2:23am

There are times they are told to contain and it's pretty obvious (partly because they're standing still, partly because the OT assumes he'll use their momentum and just nudge them out of the way--he's unprepared for them to pull back and stand still), but as you said, not only do they generally run upfield, they do it as instructed. If Freeney happens to spin inside and the RB is there, sweet. If he bull- or edge-rushes and the RB cuts up-field early, oops. At least he stopped a sweep.

91
by Bobman :: Sun, 11/07/2010 - 2:20am

I think that's debatable. And it's not just stats--in fact it's hardly stats, but pocket pressure for Freeney. In the last four seasons, they lost playoff games simply because he was injured. Billy Volek subbing for Rivers picked them apart four years ago with Freeney on IR (and Mathis limping) and Brees was roughly 20 for 23 in the second half of the SB last year (compared to the first half when Freeney got pressure). He only had one sack, but his disruption profoundly changes the opposition's offense.

100
by Monkey Business (not verified) :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 11:57am

"Those guys in Indy" are Pro Bowlers, and probably the fastest defensive ends in football. They both have to be consistently doubled. There was a play during the Philly game yesterday where the Eagles had three guys on Freeney.

They're not run stoppers. They're not supposed to be. They stop the run on the way to the QB.

These guys are franchise leaders in sacks and forced fumbles.

Ask any Colts fan if they'd rather have Haynesworth, Cole, Peppers, Suh, or anyone else playing DE, and I'm pretty sure the answer would be "Nope".

102
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 4:18pm

Well I don't think Haynesworth or Suh would make very good ends. If you gave them the choice to switch Mathis for Peppers or Cole, and they chose no, they aren't very good talent evaluators.

46
by ArchnerdUW :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 4:44pm

There is no way that Justin is better than Aaron in the battle of the 3-4 Smiths. I don't really know how else to put it.

49
by drobviousso :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 6:02pm

maybe if you assume Smiths gimpy wing....

57
by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 7:38pm

I don't mean it as a knock on Aaron; I live in Colorado and always try to cheer for hometown talent. There was a super bowl Steelers team where 3 out of the front 7 starters on defense went to College in state, so that was pretty cool. Maybe I'm discounting his past seasons too much, but I always come away from a game feeling way more impressed with Justin. Maybe he's just a "flashier" player, but I can't remember any 3-4 end who gets sacks like that.

76
by Jerry :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 4:29am

The thing about Aaron is that he doesn't make a lot of plays, including sacks, but that he does a great job of controlling gaps and eating blocks so that the guys behind him can put up impressive stats. He's the kind of guy who Dr. Z would have loved to support for the Hall of Fame, but opposing lineman and coaches will have to rave about him to get him in.

None of this is meant as a knock on Justin.

82
by ArchnerdUW :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 2:13pm

I can see your point on that. Didn't Justin come from a 4-3 in Cincy? I think it is clear that he is the more developed pass rusher. But the things that Aaron does to enable other players to make plays and in the run game he is almost unblockable. I agree with the poster below, a Dr. Z kind of guy. Justin is a good player as well. I would just prefer the non-injured version of Aaron to build my 3-4 D. Doesn't make me right...

85
by spenczar :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 4:44pm

Yeah, I think we can leave it at "they are both really really good."

30
by Jimmy :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 2:58pm

On reflection I do still think the best pure pass rusher in the league is Dwight Freeney. His run defending isn't all that good but he is still an absolute terror going after the QB. He can whip really good LTs and that is rare.

41
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:25pm

If he's such a great pass rusher and doesn't play the run (and has a good pass rusher on the other side of his line), then every year he should have more notably more sacks than anyone else in the league. There's no excuse for him to be very good at rushing the passer and terrible at everything else because plenty of players are just about as good as him at rushing the passer and also very good at playing the run. Freeney is Derrick Thomas type who is insulting to bring up in "great player" conversations.

45
by Xao :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 4:31pm

That's some fantastically shallow analysis you've got there. It's like you've never stopped to consider schemes, gameplanning or other personnel. I don't know that Freeney is one of the best defensive players in the league, but you certaintly haven't laid out a compelling case against him.

If that's what you're going to bring to the table, perhaps you should lay off Barnwell for a while.

52
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 7:07pm

Listen, I've heard all of the "it's the scheme, it's what he's asked to do" arguments and they are completely unconvicning. The fact is this: there at least a half dozen players in the league who produce as many sacks and hurries as Freeney every year and, on top of it, those players have 3 or 4 the amount of run stops and defeats. Every year, there are at least six players who do as much as Freeny and then a lot more on top of it: sorry, they do more on the field, period. And there's even the circumstantial evidence that if asked to do as much as Tuck or Cole, Freeney would fail to produce at their level as far as sacks/hurries.

There are several DE's who produce as much as him on the field and several he does not do nearly as much as. It's simple.

Also, a post in which he calls Jonathan Babineaux the best defensive player in the league might not be the most opportune time to defend Barnwell.

63
by SackSEER :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 10:02pm

"The fact is this: there at least a half dozen players in the league who produce as many sacks and hurries as Freeney every year and, on top of it, those players have 3 or 4 the amount of run stops and defeats."

I don't have handy numbers for hurries, stops, and defeats, but this claim is demonstrably untrue as to sacks. As a necessary exercise for SackSEER, I have the sack numbers through year five for every edge rusher drafted since 1999. Of those over 200 players, only two: DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen had, or are on pace to have, more sacks than Freeney over this time period.

Freeney may be a one dimensional player, but that one dimension is so hella good that it has to be reasonable to at least include him in the conversation as one of the top defensive players in the league. Not to mention that there is a whole lot of economic evidence in the form of player contracts that the particular skillset that Freeney does have (terrorizing the quarterback) is more valuable by several factors than the one that he does not (holding the point).

-----------
Yes, SackSEER has become self-aware.

65
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 10:52pm

So the main argument in Freeney's favor IS longevity? Also, I'm assuming 1999 is the year Freeney came into the league, which makes the comparison too convenient in his favor: how many top DE's started in 1999, ended their careers in around then, etc. - and how are you determing "on pace?" For instance, Cole didn't come on until his third year in the league. Of course, based on a 5 yeard sample containing only 3 good years, he's not "on pace." But anyway, my claim is not that as many people have sacks totals over their career comparable to Freeney, but that in any given year, he's part if a group of six or seven top rushers in terms of his numbers - he's not demonstravly better than everyone else in the league at rushing the passer and generating sacks. His career totals are higher, but his yearly average is not other-worldly - how often has he even led the league in sacks?

Agreed that rushing the passer is more valuable than holding the line - but my point is that it's very possible to do both. In fact, every year a bunch of players do it. Players who get as many sacks as Freeney, but also total higher numbers of stops and defeats and even plain old tackles. And glad you brought Allen he was main example last year against Freeney: his run-stop numbers are much ridiculously better than Freeney's that it was silly to compare the guys. Never looked at Ware's numbers, but if they're anything else most otehr pass rush specialists in the league, they blow away Freeney's number.

Freeney has done it for a long time. There's plenty to be said for that. That's valuable. But best defensive player in the league? He really should be able to make a claim to "best defensive player this year," which none of these numbers make. Or do you think Curtis Martin is the greatest RB of all time?

Here are thos numbers, past 3 years:
Freeney Sacks: 13.5, 10.5, 3.5 Defeats: 20, 14, 10 Stops: 25, 23, 17
Allen Sacks: 14.5, 14.5, 15.5 Defeats: 27, 25, 32 Stops: 43, 41, 62
Cole Sacks: 12.5, 9. 12.5 Defeats: 23, 29, 31 Stops: 49, 59, 56

Even comparing Freeney's best to the other's worst, he still doesn't produce. He's roughly as valuable as a pass rusher and half or a third as valuable in otehr capacities...

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by SackSEER :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 11:21pm

First, your assumption in your first paragraph is false: Freeney entered the league in 2002.

You also seem to misunderstand my post. The metric is sacks within the first five years of play. There have been several sets of players in that sample who have those full first five years. Unsurprisingly, several edge rushers have had careers that spanned more than five years, so Freeney is more than just a compiler.

Your argument that Freeney is somehow less valuable because he consistently registers double digit sack seasons rather than a few mediocre seasons paired with a few eye-popping ones seems silly to me. Comparing Freeney to Curtis Martin is a real stretch.

I'm not sure what your table at the end proves, other than that Freeney has comparable recent numbers to other top pass rushers in the league. Also, the question is not who "has been best over the last three years" but who is the "best now." Given Freeney's history as an excellent and consistent pass rusher, and the fact that he is having a strong season which puts him ahead of both Cole and Allen in sacks thus far (especially Allen, who is having an awful, awful season by his standards), I think it's reasonable to have Freeney in the conversation as one of the league's top defensive players at this moment.

For the record, I would put DeMarcus Ware ahead of Clay Matthews. His sack numbers for his career to-date are a crazy high outlier.

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Yes, SackSEER has become self-aware.

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by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 11:30pm

In any given year (not over the course of a career), there are several people who do everything he does AND MORE. It's simple.

I'm not saying his own value in terms of sacks is low: it is obviously amojng the best in the league regularly. But there are six or seven players every year who produce as many sacks while also providing far more run support. It's a fact.

Therefore, the only argument in Freeney's favor is longevity. But "best in the league?" How can you even argue that?

EDIT: I also just re-read your post and now I have now idea what the numbers you are citing mean. "Sacks within the first five years?" James Harrison and Lamar Woodley might have some complaints about the value of that measure...

Also, he's behind Cole in sacks this year. Guess that's not in the magic database yet.

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by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 11:32pm

One more question and I hope I don't seem snide because I'm really interested: how is SACKSEER doing thus far with 2010? I am sorry to say its Brandon Graham projection seems thus far prophetic...

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by SackSEER :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 10:53am

Reading your response, I still suspect that you may be confused about how I measured Freeney in my example. Re-read the SackSEER article. It's the exact same metric. Sacks in the first five years. If you're quibbling with the metric, Woodley scores quite well and James Harrison went undrafted, which is one of the reasons that it's tailored to judge high round picks.

I still find your compiler argument unconvincing. Find a player at any position who is consistently the statistical leader year in and year out. Jim Brown gets mad props for leading the league in rushing in several consecutive years because such year by year dominance is so rare. Of course Freeney won't meet that standard because it's nearly impossible.

I don't consider Asante Samuel the best cornerback in the league, but I would consider him one of the best and behind the very players that you list for precisely the reasons that you mention.

Nobody is arguing that Freeney is the "best in the league" but only that he is "one of the best in the league." Even then, FO put him on the honorable mention list along with Trent Cole, whose inclusion makes your whole point about mixing up Freeney's and Cole's 2010 sack totals in my "magic database" ring a bit hollow. I think that Freeney is right where he belongs on that list, and I'm not sure why you're objecting to his placement so strenuously.

As far as SackSEER, it's still very early, but its basic tenet about this draft class is true thus far: no Freeney's or Cole's. I agree that Graham's projection is pretty close. Its success has been dampened somewhat by the Colts' curious decision to put Hughes on the inactive list for most of the season. Time will tell if it's because the Colts are eccentric or Hughes is just not very good.

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Yes, SackSEER has become self-aware.

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by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 11:22pm

Or let me put it another way: would you consider Asante Samuel the best CB in the league? Why not? He has a very specific skill set (getting interceptions) and over the past few years ranks among the best in the league in terms of that one particular skill, pure interception stats, he's one ot the top (he might even be the top, for all I know.) His team doesn't ask him to do run support, they just ask him to bait opposing CB's into throwing his way. Sometimes he gives up big plays as a result., but more frequently he does exactly what is asked of him in this extremely narrow capacity.

But of course you wouldn't call him the best CB in league. Because much more complete players like Charles Woodson, Darrelle Revis & Nnamdi Asomugha exist. They do everything Samuel does... and more. It's that simple. People would treat you like a lunatic if you insisted Samuel was the best in the league at his position (let alone best defensive player in the league.)

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by Bobman :: Sun, 11/07/2010 - 2:35am

Where's the forced fumbles line item?

Getting the ball back for your team is more valuable than a sack, and a bit more valuable than a pressure even if it leads to an INT (because of field position). Freeney already has a strip-sack lead to a teammate's TD this season--that's probably worth 3-4 regular sacks.

In Freeney's down sack years, he tends to have very high pressure numbers, and over the past 5-6 years, he's #2 in FFs behind his teammate, Mathis. I want the ball back in Manning's hands more than I want to force Phil Rivers into 3rd and 15.

Add in pressures and hits, and double and triple teams (opening up the field for teammates much the way a giant blocker-hogging NT is a great boon for LBs--see the Ngata/Lewis discussions above). Freeney's game is a LOT more complete than you are giving him credit for. Also add in false starts and holding penalties. (Okay the last one is a joke, since holdig is no longer a penalty in the NFL.) A holding call against the LT blocking Freeney negated a McNabb TD a couple weeks ago--that "hold" was worth four points, but doesn't show up in your stats above.

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by Yaguar :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 1:46am

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/RfexS

Forced fumbles since 1980. Freeney should hit the top of this list sometime in 2011 or so. The few players above him only did so in about twice as many games.

86
by Scott C :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 6:44pm

Uh, number of sacks alone is useless.

Player A might have 10 sacks, but play against mostly 1-on-1's with a tackle and rarely play against double teams.

Player B might have 10 sacks and be schemed against with all sorts of frequent double-teams and extra protection.

The on the field production of the latter is MUCH higher than the former. The former is probably getting sacks because a better pass rusher is drawing the pass protection attention away from him.

Freeney consistently has offenses scheme against him in pass protection, and frequently has offenses scheme to run at him.

From a pass protection production standpoint, he not only has amazing per-year averages. But like others that are that good at pass rushing, he is schemed against all the time. I agree that the others near his pass rush prowess are all better run defenders. But few are also very good run defenders, most are average.

Talking about any one guy doing better in one year is an empty, worthless, analysis. So what? They probably weren't schemed against for half of such a breakout year, and without multiple years of success, it could be a statistical fluke.

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by BigCheese :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 3:29am

See Idonije, Israel.

- Alvaro

55
by tuluse :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 7:33pm

Those players aren't producing the fumbles that Freeney produces, they aren't in scheme where they line up in the exact same spot every play and never blitzes, they haven't been injured which lead to the end on the other side--who generally looks good--becoming a complete non-factor. Are they even the same players every year or is a few guys having one hit wonders?

I agree with Xoa, your analysis is lazy.

61
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 9:08pm

But I've heard all this before and the fact remains that there are several players in any given year who play DE who produce as much as Freeney in terms of sacks and hurries and far more in terms of run support. Excuse me if I don't buy the whole "but they WANT to have a mediocre defense, don't care in they rank in the bottom third of the league in sack rate and don;t care that their run defense is terrible." That's fine - but someone needs to start producing evidence of Freeney's greatest that isn't simply "he has a lot of sacks and forced fumbles"... because several players every year DO JUST AS MUCH AND MORE. You can blame his scheme for the holes in his game, but that doesn't make him a great multidimensiol player like, Tuck, Cole or Jared Allen (every year but this one.)

And comparing him to all-time greats like Strahan and Taylor is just... what would convince you they're better? It's not that they equal his pass rush stats and surpass him but a GIGANTIC amount in rush defense stats like stops and defeats. How about the simple logic of "a guy who pins his ears back and rushes on every play SHOULD have more sacks and hurries, so he need to REALLY dominate those categories to be impressive." Give me a made-up analysis that isn't "shallow." I'm curious what would convince you. Help me out: YOU make the argument that, say, Reggie White is better than Freeney and let me know what the deep, profound components of the argument are. (and I hope you have something up your sleeve less shallow than "Reggie White played longer.")

74
by tuluse :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 2:34am

I have no problem with anyone claiming Strahan and Taylor are better players than Freeney.

However, you claimed there are 5-6 ends who are better than Freeney on a year-to-year basis. I find that hard to believe.

42
by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 3:26pm

As a ravens fan, it's been obvious for several years that ngata is the most valuable player on that team after flacco. The weird thing about him is that he's playing in a scheme that doesn't flatter his talents with statistics. His play allows players around him to put up great numbers though because offenses are limited in their ability to run on the ravens. He's never struck me as THAT important on passing downs though. He's an acceptable pass rusher from the 3-4 right end position, but it's just not what he does. And in a league where passing offense is king, it makes his value harder to estimate. On the one hand, he's really not improving your pass defense that much from his ability to rush the passer. On the other hand, his ability against the run means that you can cheat other players against the pass with less concern for being caught by surprise by a running play. Similarly, I'm sure freeney's insane personal ability against the pass has a very large positive impact on the colts run defense because they don't need to worry about having to blitz, allowing them to dedicate their linebackers and safeties to staying alert and tracking down ball carriers.

64
by Alternator :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 10:40pm

With respect to Indy...what the hell are you trying to say? The Colts are EPICALLY terrible against the run, in large part because they abandon it in favor of the pass rush. If you're trying to claim that Freeny is a net strength on that run defense, you're basically saying that the rest of the team is playing at a junior varsity high school level.

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by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 10:59pm

my position is that the indy defense may be geared to stop the pass and not to be very good against the run, but I'm saying that their run defense would probably be a lot worst without freeney. i mean they've got craptacular defensive talent, tiny linebackers, tiny defensive tackles. it'd be a miracle if they weren't bad.

67
by chemical burn :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 11:14pm

They're already #29th in DVOA - how much worse could they get?

75
by KyleW :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 4:20am

Lots worse. The actual DVOA percentage is far more relevant than the ranking.

47
by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 5:12pm

I'll reply later with my choices once there has been more discussion. I'm also doing this as an "at their position" list, because the best 3-4 MLB (which is Patrick Willis) is less valuable than the best 4-3 DE.

In no particular order, the contenders:

Troy Polamalu, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora (sp?), Mario Williams, Nnamdi Asomugha, Shaun Phillips, DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews, Ndamukong Suh, Trent Cole, Lawrence Timmons.

98
by BigCheese :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 3:34am

Seriously, no Julius Pepper¡ What does the man have to do to at least be considered alongside Tuck (whom I think he's outplaying). I know he can't play against the Bears' O-Line like Tuck did to pad his stats, so what else?

- Alvaro

50
by drobviousso :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 6:06pm

Any other Steelers fans out there think Timmons, not Polamalu, is the best defender they are putting on the field right now?

62
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 11/05/2010 - 9:34pm

Not Steelelrs fan but think also Timmson best dfeender Steelers right now.

Nadamakakong Suh best rookie deffender. maybe best DT after Ngata.

N. Asomugha best cornerback league.

99
by Theo :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 7:44am

Here!

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by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 11/09/2010 - 6:20pm

First! You'll note above I included Timmons and not Polamalu.

I'm not a Steelers fan, but Timmons is a great player, and Polamalu is a safety.

84
by Nick W (not verified) :: Sat, 11/06/2010 - 2:27pm

If he could just catch some of the picks he has dropped, I think he'd be getting press as one of the CBs in the league. Bartell has consistently shut down some of the best WRs in the league. This year Larry Fitzgerald was targeted 15 times against the Rams and made only 3 catches. Calvin Johnson was targeted 8 times against Bartell and made only 3 catches.

Ronnie B is one the best in the game.

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by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Sun, 11/07/2010 - 12:45am

it's funny when you think about it. the guys we associate with being the best defensive players tend to be incredibly good at one special thing, and sometimes they're good at other related things. Like ware and freeney and peppers are ferocious pass rushers. As football critics, we talk about these things as though they were the measure of what makes a player good or valuable or the best. How valuable is it for a player to be multifaceted though? We get a lot of really interesting talk about offensive players who allow a team flexibility and how important that is. Teams with standard two tight end sets and teams with running backs who are great pass blockers or receivers so you don't tip your hand. How important is that sort of thing to the defense? obviously you'd rather have bruce smith than jason taylor, but how much would you rather?

94
by Bobman :: Sun, 11/07/2010 - 2:38am

Every time I see Willis's name I think about Jon Beason, who really impressed me in the few games I saw his rookie year (were they rookies the same year?)

Can anybody tell me if he's lived up to his potential?

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by Michael Huber (not verified) :: Sun, 11/07/2010 - 11:10pm

Justin Tuck has to be in the discussion. He plays the run and pass equally well. He played hurt all year last year. He is a difference maker that has to be accounted for on all plays. His versatility, toughness and productivity is tough to ignore.

103
by bigsnack (not verified) :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 5:07pm

I am steelers fan. Love the troy pick and agree with it. thought harrison should be in the running. Ngata is a BEAST and I wouldn't have been upset if you picked him first. The most agile big man I've ever seen...

104
by bigsnack (not verified) :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 5:10pm

One more thing to support troy: Prior to this year he has been in the league for 7 years. Been healthy enough to start 16 games in 3 of those years. In those three years the steelers have won 2 SBs and gone 15-1 in the other one with a AFCCG appearance. In the other 4 years they've missed the playoffs 3 times and lost in the first round the other time...

106
by Jordo (not verified) :: Tue, 11/09/2010 - 11:57am

Honestly Freeney and Mathis have Peyton and the Indy offense to thank for all the sacks. After all most teams have abandoned the run by the third quarter against Indy in hopes of scoring quick. A good offense is a pass rushers best friend, because it forces an opponent's offense to pass the ball. Freeney is one of the best best PASS RUSHERS in the league, along with Mathis. I think the argument being made is he is not one of the better defensive ends. Pass-rushing isn't the only prerequisite to play the position, and often times Freeney and Mathis put themselves out of a play based purely on how wide they line up of the Tackle. Without a prolific offense, I honestly believe both of these guys may not even be household names, or just thought of as what they acutally are, great pass rushers with limited other skills who are dominated on run downs.