That doesn’t sound right, but it’s what the experts at Pro Football Focus have concluded based on a statistic they call pass rushing productivity (PRP), which is formulated like this:
Sacks + 0.75 (Hits + Hurries)/ Number of Snaps Rushing The Passer * 100
The idea, of course, is that a great pass rusher can’t simply be measured by how many sacks he records. And while it’s not breaking news that sacks are probably a tad overrated, a lot of people will still have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea that Carlos Dunlap, who has three sacks this season and 12.5 in his career, is the league’s most productive pass rusher.
Now, there should be an asterisk for Dunlap, because he’s a sub-package player who’s typically on the field in passing situations and off the field in running situations. And that was also sometimes the case earlier in the season for Von Miller, who ranks second on the PFF list.
After Dunlap and Miller are Trent Cole, Cameron Wake and Chris Long. Few would dispute their spots in the top five. But the league’s top two sack leaders — DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen — didn’t make the top 10. In fact, Allen was ranked all the way down in the 43 spot.
In terms of sheer pressure, no one has applied more of it than Chris Long, who has a combined 61 sacks, hits and hurries this season. But Long has also rushed the quarterback more than almost anyone in the league.
I appreciate what Pro Football Focus has done here, but I’d like to see how much the numbers would change if they were to give less weight to hits and hurries. There’s a reason why the same elite group of players lead the league in sacks every year. As author Khaled Elsayed noted, Aaron Rodgers’ completion percentage drops from 76 to 54 when he faces pressure, but it’s zero percent and lost yardage when he takes a sack.
So is a hurry really worth 75 percent of a sack? Or, put differently, is getting four hurries the same thing as getting three sacks? I have a hard time believing that’s the case, but I’m not about to challenge these football geniuses.
I talked sacks and pass rushing with Elsayed today. Here’s our conversation…
Are sacks the most overrated statistic?
It’s definitely one of them. It’s probably not as overrated as the tackle stat, but it can definitely be quite misleading.
Explain why the tackle is more overrated…
A tackle can be made 20 yards down the field or after a first down has already been given up. So it’s not necessarily a good play — it’s the kind of bare minimum you should be getting a lot of the time. So having big tackle numbers doesn’t necessarily equate to making a lot of good plays.
A lot of the same players are at the top of the league in sacks every year. Is that also a trend with PRP?
You tend to get the same guys near the top on a year-by-year basis. John Abraham’s always someone who’s been at the top or around the top. Same with Dwight Freeney, James Harrison, and DeMarcus Ware has always been there or thereabouts. So it does tend to equate to people who get more sacks being quite high on the list, because if you’re getting more sacks you tend to be getting more pressure. It’s just that there’s a bit of a gap there sometimes.
Jared Allen’s sack numbers are huge but he’s 43rd on your list. Why is he such an anomaly?
I think him and Jason Pierre-Paul are both lower down than their sacks would probably suggest. He’s just a closer, Jared Allen. He’s someone who when he gets to the quarterback he knows how to take him down. And he’s probably benefited quite a bit from going up against weaker tackles. I think he went to work on Levi Brown, but the last two weeks when he’s faced better tackles he hasn’t really done anything. I think against Will Svitek he didn’t get anything on him at all. And against Jared Veldheer he only drew one penalty and picked up another pressure. So he’s probably not the elite pass rusher like, say, Dwight Freeney, who can take over a game. But he’s got that kind of motor. And he plays a lot of snaps as well — someone like Dwight Freeney is rotated quite a lot, whereas Jared Allen rarely comes off the field, which is quite rare for a defensive end.
I always thought that Jared Allen may have benefited more than we believed from the presence of Ray Edwards. And we’ve seen Robert Mathis with Freeney in Indy and Anthony Spencer in Dallas with Ware. Do you think complementary pass rushers are a big factor?
I think it’s overplayed to a degree, because you don’t get as many double-teams as people would like to believe there are. A double-team does happen on occasion, but you’ll probably find it happens more on the inside and especially on running plays than in pass protection. I think the average NFL team will leave maybe five, five-and-a-half guys on every pass play — they’re normally sending their skill position players out. So I do think it’s overplayed to a degree.
You weight a hit or a hurry as essentially 75 percent of what a sack is. I feel that number might be a bit high. Have you done the calculations at lower or high numbers? And why’d you arrive at .75?
When we started this it was a bit of a round number and it was weighted more towards sacks. But what we’ve done is looked at our grading — so we’ve looked at all the times that someone’s got a hit or a pressure or a sack and we’ve created grades. We have a grading scale so a sack isn’t necessarily worth the same as a hit or a pressure. You can get a hit that’s worth more than a sack, because it’s all about the time or how quickly you beat someone to get that. So we looked at the average of what a hit and a pressure came to and compared that to a sack and it was roughly 75 percent of that.