Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

05 Jan 2010

Cushing Named Defensive Rookie of the Year

As we predicted in early November, Texans linebacker Brian Cushing ran away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Bills safety Jairus Byrd was a distant second.

(Ed. Note: To update the defensive stats from earlier in the year, Cushing was part of 18.5 percent of Houston defensive plays, second behind Patrick Willis. He led the league with 38 Defeats, while Willis was second with 33 Defeats. 38 Defeats is the most any player has had since Ray Lewis had 39 in 2003.)

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 05 Jan 2010

59 comments, Last at 20 Jan 2010, 3:18am by french mastiff


by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:00pm

Cushing desreve award more htna Byrd.

Offensive rookie MVp goign to be between harvin, macin, mccoy, wells and mack. center probably never going to win this awadr but maybe some smart voters give mack vote

by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:51pm

What, Darrius Heyward-Bey isn't a finalist?

Yes, that was a completely gratuitous cheap-shot. Sorry, Joe.

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 10:01pm

oh thanks for reminder. Louis Murphy worth a couple votes.
Anyone know how many people vote and if voting numbers shown? Maybe if click on artilce it shows the voting. Maybe do that latere. watching Iowa vs G tehc now. G Tech take INt to end zone. I 14, G 7

Best guess is Harvin win it but Murphy definitely got shot at some vote.s

by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 1:58pm

Just saw some stats on ESPN that says Louis Murphy was targeted 93 times and caught 34 passes. Somehow a catch rate of 36.6% seems to indicate he might just not be ROY material . . .

by Will :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 7:59pm

Why don't NFL players get dogged by PED rumors like baseball players do?


by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:03pm

theory- football fans dumber than babseball fnas. Many football fans like violence and usually are or and were pro wrassling fans so attracted to muscular men.

Basbeall fans smarter and tned to not like cheating a smuch.

by Temo :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:30pm

Why thank you, Joe.

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 10:07pm

Didnt mean people who post here. Meant general fansn that go to games dressed as women with pig noses and Ramms fans with watermelons on head and Packers fans with fake cheese on head (would be much better if Packers fans wore real cheese especially during cold gmaes, could use it for warmth like pour some cheese whix on head in parking lot. Also Browns fans dressed as dogs. These people is what other posts was talking about.
Of coruse not all football fans like wrassling and msucles, but many football fans are blockheads and and like movies with expolsions and fire and are on that mentality level

by Dice :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:04am

Yeah, to say nothing of those people that look like post-apocalyptic Road Warrior rejects. And what's wrong with liking wrasslin' and explosions? That's what makes America great! That and KSK Rex Ryan. Hopefully him and Laserface will meet in the playoffs.

by Temo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 9:12am

No, I mean I'm a bigger baseball fan than football fan. So a sincere thank you :)

by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:49pm

For the record, I abhor pro wrestling and I am not terribly attracted to muscular men. Then again, I'm a big baseball fan, so maybe I'm too smart for the WWE/muscle-head crowd.

by Eddo :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:49pm

I've posted this theory before, but here goes:

Generally, baseball involves very little strategy. Therefore, the best players are the ones who are flat-out physically better than everyone else. Albert Pujols is great because he hits the ball better than anyone else. Joe Mauer is great because he hits better than just about everyone, all while withstanding the most physically demanding position.

However, the very best football players don't just physically dominate. Peyton Manning doesn't have the best arm in the league, and isn't the strongest. However, he's one of the smartest, and makes good decisions when reading defenses and determining where to throw the ball. That's what separates him from an equally-physically gifted guy like Jay Cutler.

So, when a baseball player takes PEDs to improve physically, we view it as improvin the one way in which he can separate himself from his peers. However, football players need to do more than just be physically dominant to be great players.

Additionally, baseball players look like average people for the most part. In-shape, people, to be sure, but you don't need to be over six feet tall or able to bench press twice your weight to play baseball competitively.

The vast majority of football players, however, look nothing like someone you pass on the street. They're already much bigger, so when they take steroids, there's a tendency to see it as "just another drop in the bucket".

Note that we also view steroid use by baseball hitters as much worse than use by pitchers. Pitchers, we realize, can't just be physically dominant. Rather, they must know when to throw each pitch, and be accurate in doing so.

One last point: baseball is much more about records, and some alleged steroid users have recently broken some of the most famous records. And while baseball has evolved over the last century, many people don't realize this; therefore, any really noticeable changes, like PED use, are seen as sacrilegious. The general public is much more aware of the changes to football, so new things don't bother them as much.

(Please note that I do not share these views, necessarily; I'm just pointing out what I've noticed of the general public.)

by MC2 :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:04pm

I think the last point is the key. Baseball fans are obsessed with records and generally care much more about the history of the game than most football fans.

No one really cares if a benchwarmer or platoon player uses steroids to become a mediocre everyday player, or if a middle reliever takes steroids and turns into a decent closer. What gets people upset is the idea that a good player could use steroids to become a great player.

Baseball fans love comparing Barry Bonds to Babe Ruth and Ted Williams or comparing Roger Clemens to Walter Johnson. Steroids make those comparisons a lot harder, and that's why many fans despise them.

by Scott C :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:11am

Well, there's also the bit that baseball has had a HORRIBLE drug testing program (or none!) for too long. I mean, for the longest time the minor leagues had testing and penalties, while the majors had none at all, or few tests with test timing well known in advance. You used to hear announcers in the 90's say things like "this rookie hits for good average, and like most guys he'll 'find' his power after a couple years". So the reputation and anger there is rightfully stronger.

The NFL has had the most strict testing and punishment of any Professional sport. No grace period, suspended on first failed test, banning for life possible on multiple test failures.
Only the Olympics are more harsh on punishment.

Within 10 years there will be too many untestable performance enhancers for it to matter much though. Medical treatments for disease and the elderly (gene therapy, etc) will be used by athletes for performance. Designer steroids will be easier to make.

by Eddo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 10:44am

You used to hear announcers in the 90's say things like "this rookie hits for good average, and like most guys he'll 'find' his power after a couple years"

Your overall post is good, but the above statement doesn't really fit; it is still true, and has nothing to do with steroids. The normal career path for good hitters is to see their power slow increase over their first few seasons, as they adjust to the majors.

Just because a player improves (and eventually peaks), it doesn't mean he's using PEDs.

by Sophandros :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11:23am

I wonder if the emphasis on concussions will cause many football fans to rethink their cavalier attitude about steroids in the sport. These bigger, stronger, faster athletes running into each other will naturally lead to more damage done at contact, particularly to the brain.

And yes, I'm cynical enough to believe that it won't have an impact based on some of the moronic comments I've read on message boards concerning head injuries this year.

I'm also cynical enough to believe that steroids are more prevalent than many people would think on the high school and especially college levels, and that the NFL testing policy isn't as "big and bad" as is commonly held.

Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by patriotsgirl :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 3:12pm

I'm with you. People will stay in denial as long as possible - when McGwire and Sosa were chasing the records in 1998, I had an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment where it was obvious that at least one of them was roiding, but no one seemed to care. Indeed, it took until 2002 for some real momentum to be gained (through a, shall we say, driven IRS agent and Congress, among other things), and MLB didn't have any testing at all!

Now, the NFL claims to have a great testing program, and the only thing that keeps me from being really cynical is that it does seem to catch some people, like Mr. Lights Out (and the always-dangerous Saints kicker). But I'm still skeptical.

I'm actually even more of a cynic when it comes to the Olympics, but that's another topic altogether.

by capt. Anonymous (not verified) :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 1:33pm

This is my pet peeve arguement. If fans/media would look at baseball numbers past hr/rbi then it is very easy to compare baseball players from different eras despite the rampant steroid use of this era. I created a rough formula without putting HRs as an input to rank players that still ranks babe ruth as the greatest of all time yet ranks Sosa as below HOF level. If you guys would indulge me a bit I will list some of my findings for arguements sake.

Babe Ruth

Rickey Henderson

Ted Williams
Barry Bonds

jimmie fox
ty cobb

I figured a formula with that top 9 must not be missing much and it took me 5 minutes to put together. If I can put that formula together which includes a player from just about every decade of baseball history and gets most of the all time greats with few surprises then surely we can all drop our fixation on steroids/hr and pay attention to what makes a baseball player great.

by Eddo :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 2:10pm

While Rickey being #2 is a bit of a shock, it looks like your metric does a good job ranking raw offense.

However, if I may make two comments:

1. It looks like you didn't measure defense at all. This is 100% understandable, as defense, particularly of older players, is extremely difficult to quantify.

2. It also appears you didn't take position into account, judging by the absence of Mays and Wagner. While their offensive numbers alone may not match the ones of the guys on your list, when you take into account that they both played primarily defensive positions, their numbers look much more impressive.

by C (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:01pm

It was an easy choice... Those USC linebackers were nasty huh? Rivers, RayMa, Cushing, Matthews, and Maieva. So much for the Pac 10 weak defense argument... at least for USC.

by John (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:02pm

That's interesting: post 2, by Raiderjoe, is presented above post 1. Is RJ now a featured commenter? That would be sweet!

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:06pm

post 2 edited moments after post 1 made. popst 2 originally post 1 before I edit it.

by ammek :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 9:15am

You edit your posts? Just wow.

by ABW (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11:44am

The mystery deepens.

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 10:54pm

Had to edit post 1 (nnow post 2) beccause wrote posters by mistake. meant voters. so edited it

by Dice :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 8:35pm

Highly deserving, and I'm glad to see him win. I admit I suspected 'roids, along with Cushing being a bust, but if I'm wrong, I happily admit it.

by Rogersworthe :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:14pm

How do the Texans land Mario Williams, Demeco Ryans, Dunta Robinson (who did suck this year but usually quite good), and Brian Cushing yet SUCK on defense? They must suck at evaluating defensive personnel outside of the 1st round of the draft.

by Temo :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:33pm

The one game I saw of theirs, all of their DBs, Robinson included, looked terrible.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:41pm

Having the 20th ranked defense in the league by DVOA isn't exactly SUCK. 20th is pretty much average, and considering all of the guys you mentioned that were good this year are in the front 7, you've probably got your answer.

by MCS :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:26pm

This is probably in the FAQ somewhere but I'm too lazy to go look for it so I ask the knowledgeable a simple question.

If 2/3 of the league is above average, do we need to redefine what average is? Or is the average derived from the entire DVOA "period"?


by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 2:04pm

I believe the DVOA baseline is derived from the 4 years of 2003-2006. It's somewhat arbitrary, but at least it's consistent.

by tuluse :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 10:14pm

I thought it was a moving average based on the past 4-5 years.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 12:24pm

I can't find anywhere on the site where they clarify this. You may be right.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 1:48pm

The problem's actually been more the free agent acquisitions than the later round draft picks, many of whom have been useful contributors. This year, for example, Glover Quinn was CB 2/3 as a 4th round rookie, and did ok, while starting WLB Zac Diles was a 7th round pick in 2006. On the FA front Anthony Weaver, in particular, was a chronic bust, but the issue's more the failure in 2006 and 2007 especially to add free agents who contributed meaningfully at all. This has been getting better, however - 2008's major acquisitions were Jacques Reeves, who is serviceable, and Eugene Wilson, who has been pretty decent when healthy, while this year's were Antonio Smith and Bernard Pollard, both of whom have done very well. Really, as mentioned below, this is more about the fact that rebuilding a team from the ground up on both sides of the ball at once is a very difficult and time-consuming thing to do.

by Q (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 10:47pm

I wonder how will Mathews would have finished if he hadn't gotten injured during preseason and had been used as a starter from Week 1 as opposed to not taking over until later during the season. Pretty amazing that already Mathews is the 2nd biggest playmaker on the team behind Defensive MVP Woodson

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 1:39pm

Fair enough, but bear in mind that Cushing also missed pre-season because he was hurt and has been playing with a plethora of injuries all year long, barely practicing at all for the last month or more.

by dk240t :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 11:22pm

Texans were 20th in DVOA.

And yes, they have some good players, but other than Dunta Robinson, who just wasn't all that good this season and has never been a shutdown corner, all of their players joined the franchise since 2006. Most are young draftees, they had some free-agent safeties signed in-season this year and last year. They really only have one remotely name free agent on the whole defense and then every other guy joined the team within the last few years.

I'm not just saying they've got some new guys, I'm saying they have one guy on the whole defense, starting or backup, that was there 5 years ago.

Also, while they've turned over the whole defense, they also have completely turned over the offense. They now have a top 10-12 offense from a complete turn over with the exception of 2 players in the last 5 years (Pitts and Andre Johnson).

That's all from memory...maybe there is another player, but I don't think so.

by Rogersworthe :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:41am

Thanks for the answers. However, I would say that 20th is a bit lower than average. 19 teams better than you, only 12 worse than you. 20th ain't gettin it done.

by tuluse :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 1:02am

20th is exactly 4 spot lower than perfectly average.

How much difference do you think 4 spots makes?

by Eddo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 1:41am

How about, instead of looking at ordinal ranking, we look at Houston's actual defensive DVOA? You know, the numeric value for "[opponent]-adjusted* value over average"?

It was 5.2%, which means the Texans' defense was 5.2% worse than average. This is not a particularly bad defense, but not truly an "average" one, either.

* I'm a little uneasy with the "D" in DVOA standing for "defense-adjusted". That works when measuring a team's offensive DVOA, but isn't really accurate when measuring defensive or special teams DVOA. Does it strike anyone else as odd?

by DeltaWhiskey :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 9:57am

The average Defensive DVOA for 2009 was 2.16% with a SD of 10.79%. Statistically speaking, TEX's defense was in the average range.

by Eddo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 10:44am

Thanks for pointing this out. My conclusion was sloppy.

The Texans are likely an average-to-below-average defense.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 1:34pm

"I'm not just saying they've got some new guys, I'm saying they have one guy on the whole defense, starting or backup, that was there 5 years ago."

Four years ago, even. And he was not good this year, as you rightly say. It's not as if the team's been able to use all its resources on that side of the ball, either - you are quite right in identifying Pitts (who spent the whole season on IR) and Johnson as the only survivors on offense. The talent acquisition in the Casserly-Capers era was truly pathetic. Rebuilding a team from utter suckitude is a difficult and time-consuming process - I think Denny Green gets a lot less credit than he deserves for taking an Arizona franchise that had produced DVOA ratings of -35% or worse in three of the four seasons before his arrival to a point where they had a functional NFL talent base. If Wisenhunt had taken over the Cards in 2004, they would not have been going to a Superbowl any time soon.

by bubqr :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 6:52am

"He led the league with 38 Defeats, while Willis was second with 33 Defeats. 38 Defeats is the most any player has had since Ray Lewis had 39 in 2003"

That is quite outstanding.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 9:25am

Did Lewis (2003) and Cushing play a similar number of defensive snaps? IIRC, the 2003 Ravens defense was quite good, and the Texans defense really wasn't. Good defenses generally play less snaps than bad ones, and Cushing may have had significantly more opportunities.

by bubqr :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 10:28am

That's what I thought when writing this comment, but then the Texans had a significantly better offense too, so all in all, I'm not sure the difference is that big.

by Temo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11:34am

974 defensive plays from scrimmage for the Texans, 1026 for 2003 Ravens.

396 rushing attempts against Texans, 448 against 2003 Ravens.

by andrew :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 10:29am

General Bellichek stands before a large electronic wall display. Several other coaches are to one side of the giant readout. The low-ceilinged room is filled with quarterbacks, receivers and a sprinkling of trainers. Everyone is listening intently to what Bellichek is saying.

Bellichek: The Cushing defense is designed around a direct large-scale assault. A small slot receiver should be able to penetrate the outer defense...

Moss: Pardon me for asking, sir, but what good is a slot receiver going to be against that?

Bellichek: Well, the Texans doesn't consider a slot receiver to be any threat, or they'd have a tighter defense. An analysis of the playbook provided by Kyle Shanahan has demonstrated a weakness in the coverage...

The route will not be easy. You are required to run
straight down this lane and then slide on the turf to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It's a small hole in the zone, right below the free safety. The alley shaft leads directly to the end zone A precise pass will start a chain reaction which should go the distance.

Only a precise pass will bust the zone. The linebacker in front is tall so you'll have to lob it there on a precise timing route...

Hoyer: That's impossible, even for a robo-qb.

Brady: It's not impossible. I used to bull's-eye David Terrel back in Michigan in holes not much bigger than two meters.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11:30am

Awesome. Though I suspect most people would make Belichick Palpatine.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11:32am

Hopefully nobody will Moff a punt.

by Sophandros :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:01pm

Well done, sir.

Should we just start referring to Brian Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin?

Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by Temo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11:47am

The most telling stat:

Cushing is the seventh consecutive linebacker and the ninth in the last 10 years to be voted the top defensive rookie. Last year's winner was New England's Jerod Mayo.

It's so easy for LBs to make the adjustment to the NFL, at least compared to other positions. Then again, none of those LBs have really bombed or regressed in value since they were named defensive rookie of the year.

Kendrell Bell is really the last one I can remember who completely faded away after winning the award. Mayo, Willis, Ryans, Merriman, Vilma, Suggs, and Urlacher are all having good careers to date.

Speaking of which, offensive rookie of the years tend to go on to have good careers as well-- although if it's a RB there's an increased chance, for obvious reasons.

And even for RBs, Mike Anderson, Cadillac Williams, and Anthony Thomas were the only ones who bombed in the past 20 years. While Barry Sanders, Emmit Smith, Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Eddie George, Warrick Dunn, Clinton Portis, and Adrian Peterson all have had decent-to-great careers.

by Eddo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11:52am

Good points, Temo. And even Cadillac Williams is having an OK career.

by Temo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11:53am

Vince Young, Matt Ryan, Carl Pickens, Randy Moss, Ben Roethlisberger, Anquan Boldin, and now Percy Harvin are the only non-RBs to win ORoY in the past 20 years. Can't say any of those guys have bombed.

Obviously, the AP does a better job at picking NFL rookies than it does in baseball. (Angel Berroa, Jason Jennings, Dontrelle Willis, Eric Hinske, Bobby Crosby, Ben Grieve, and Geovany Soto all come to mind).

by bubqr :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 12:15pm

Kendrell Bell.

I watched a game of his rookie year last year, I think it was against the Browns in the playoffs(I'm not sure), and he really looked impressive, Cushing/D.Ryans/Mayo-like impressive. I can't understand how he could disappoint after that.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 1:24pm

"It's so easy for LBs to make the adjustment to the NFL, at least compared to other positions."

It's interesting that this appears to be the case despite the fact that the term "LB" covers some players with very different skill-sets and roles. Merriman and Suggs are similar to each other in what they're good at and what the team expects of them, but highly dissimilar to Mayo, Willis, Ryans, Vilma and Urlacher. Moreover, I submit that while Mayo and (especially) Willis could be highly effective in the place of Ryans, Vilma or Urlacher, Ryans and Vilma might well struggle (indeed, Vilma did) if they were asked to take on blockers in the way that 3-4 ILBs must. Cushing is the only 4-3 OLB of the group, so naturally enough his role is somewhere between those of the "elephant" guys and the tackling machines in the middle. He's a highly effective pass-rusher, whether as a blitzing LB or lined up at end in obvious passing situations, and a devastating downhill run-stuffer. He reads quarterbacks well and has good ball skills (hence the interceptions), but lacks the fluidity in coverage to go down the field with good pass-catching tight ends - certainly if you can get a slot receiver on him that's a serious mismatch. As a Texans fan, it's been an absolute joy to watch him every week this year; based on what I've seen of the others, as excellent as they undoubtedly were, Cushing deserved this award - and the Pro Bowl selection.

by Temo :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 9:23pm

Well if you look at the other positions:

Dlineman- Seem to take the longest to adjust, and it makes sense. It takes an incredibly strong body to perform at this position, and guys are usually gaining strength as they age. D-Lineman, especially interior D-Lineman, arguably don't reach their physical peak until just past their mid-20's. Most 21-23 year old just aren't conditioned to dominate at this level. Dana Stubblefield was the last interior D-Lineman I can remember who won RoY, way back when, and he was 23 years old and (as I recall) a 5 year starter in college.

The exterior lineman also are refining their pass rush skills in addition to needing to mature their bodies to play NFL-caliber ball.

CBs- This is a position where it's so easy to get burned, and you can play well on 95% of all snaps, but if you fuck up badly in the other 5%, you're screwed. You don't get those kinds of odds against you at other positions. It takes a lot of practice to play that perfectly.

Safeties- Probably easier to learn/play than CB (though the role of the NFL safety has come closer to CB over the years), but Safeties rarely have the kind of impact that makes voters want to pick them. I mean Jarius Byrd had about as dynamic a season as a safety could have, and he wasn't even close to RoY.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 01/07/2010 - 10:24am

Fair observations all. I do think it's interesting that it seems to be so much easier for rookies to have an impact as elephant linebackers than as pass-rushing defensive ends (though Peppers, for example, did have an excellent rookie season).

by french mastiff (not verified) :: Wed, 01/20/2010 - 3:18am

I think that this is really bad that Texans linebacker Brian Cushing ran away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, because i think he really deserve the award.