By Alex Kozora
Clearly, there are players that enter each year more under the microscope than others. Ones expected to make that leap and provide a substantial impact from one year to the next. One Pittsburgh Steelers player that will be examined closely in 2014 is outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.
You don’t have to be Greg Cosell to figure out how mightily Jones struggled as a pass rusher during his rookie season. Some circumstances didn’t favor the rookie, but one sack, which came against a running back no less, in 406 opportunities isn’t going to cut it. Entering year number two, the pressure for Jones to produce is immediate. So how do 3-4 edge rushers in the past compare from their first season to their second season?
Dating back to the 2004 NFL Draft, I compared the first and second year sack numbers of outside linebackers taken in the first round, 19 players in all. The data is below.
|Player||First Year||Second Year|
*Graham missed most of 2011 recovering from a torn ACL, the 5.5 sacks are reflected in 2012 instead
It’s certainly not harmful to include the outside linebackers that were successful right away and plenty appear on this list. Of the 19, 52.6% recorded 6 or more sacks in their rookie year. 26.3% of them reached double-digits.
But that isn’t terribly helpful in determining Jones’ potential success. Instead, it’s simply telling you what you already know; and that is it was quickly evident those guys could get after opposing quarterbacks.
It’s astounding to see the lack of “middle” ground here. Ten linebackers had six or more sacks their rookie season; the rest had three or less.
So what about the players that didn’t put up gaudy sack numbers? That’s what is important here.
Of the ones in that latter category, here’s how their second-year sack numbers improved from their first.
Ingram: No Change
Maybin: No Change
Gholston: No Change
It’s worth pointing out that both Melvin Ingram and Larry English suffered injuries in their second years, as a torn ACL limited Ingram to four games and a foot injury resulted in English playing in just eight.
Even if you were to prorate English’s numbers and give him six, the overall numbers are not promising for Jones. No linebacker that had fewer than three sacks during their rookie season had more than 5.5 in year two. And that’s even on a technicality since Brandon Graham was really in his third year.
No outside linebacker increased his sack total by more than 2.5 sacks and again, that was Graham. It’s obviously not a hard cap, but using that figure as a guide, history says Jones could struggle to surpass 3.5 sacks in 2014.
There are some caveats here, however. Jones has the benefit of playing full-time starting snaps, something I’m not so sure the rest of the group had. Nick Perry logged just 368 snaps on defense in 2013, though injuries also played a factor with him as a foot injury limited him to 11 games.
The sample size is small making generalizations difficult, especially when factoring in the injuries.
Sacks are also a fickle number that aren’t the sole indicator of a pass rusher as knockdowns and pressures can be just as effective.
Even poor numbers in the second year doesn’t seal a player’s fate. Anthony Spencer put up decent numbers from his third year on before breaking out in 2012 with 11 quarterback crunches. Jerry Hughes found the light last year, his fourth season, picking up ten sacks, although that came primarily at defensive end, not outside linebacker.
Let’s reach some conclusions here. Even with the knowledge of those caveats, there’s a lack of strong evidence that outside linebackers who struggle in their first year will make a big jump in their second.
The hope is that Jones touches eight to nine sacks and ideally, that would be wonderful, but I have my reservations. Based on what I’ve seen on the tape and the information this study provides, a realistic number probably lies closer to 5-6.