There are all kinds of statistics out there that one can use to chart a pass rusher’s effectiveness. Sacks is obviously the first one people look at, but that rarely tells the full impact that player has. Other more tangible stats like QB hits, or passes batted at the line could also be used.
Then, there is more subjective analysis like how often the rusher makes the QB feel “pressured” which is a metric that Pro Football Focus uses often and gives some good insights.
None of these pieces tell the whole story, but rather are all pieces of the dynamic puzzle that is the quest to crown one man as the best pass rusher in the league. Well, now we have another piece to the puzzle.
NFL.com’s NextGen stats series has recently been revealing data they’ve collected throughout the season using tracking chips embedded in the players’ shoulder pads. A few weeks ago I wrote about how they used this data to show how much separation Emmanuel Sanders gains while running routes.
They also use this data to rank the top edge rushers in the league.
I’ll let them explain their process:
with the Next Gen Stats data gleaned from the tracking chips in players' shoulder pads, we are now able to objectively measure just how far away opposing pass rushers are from the quarterback when they look to deliver their passes. In the latest edition of the Next Gen Stats rankings, we'll reveal the top 10 2016 edge rushers at creating pressure by their average raw yards of distance from the opposing quarterback at the time of throw or sack.
1) Von Miller, Denver Broncos (3.76 average distance to the quarterback)
Not many players are capable of wreaking havoc on a passing unit's game plan like Von Miller. The All-Pro linebacker posted yet another season of double-digit sacks with 13.5 in 2016, second only to Vic Beasley. Miller has hit double-digit sacks every year of his career outside of 2013 when he played just nine games due to a suspension. A decorated NFL veteran at this stage of his career, Miller added a third first-team All-Pro spot to his award cabinet that includes a Super Bowl MVP honor from 2015. The seminal piece of the NFL's best pass rushing defense, the Broncos star player continues adding to a career resume that will likely end with a strong Hall of Fame push.
You can check out the link above to see their whole list. Curiously, recent Defensive Player of the Year winner, Kalil Mack is only 13th on this list.
It’s always nice to see objective measurements confirm what our eyes tell us: that Von Miller lives in opposing backfields, and he’s the best in the league at doing it.
Oh yeah, and Denver has a few other guys that aren’t too bad at rushing the passer, either.
According to their same metric, Denver was the #1 pass rushing team in the league last year; but we already knew that, too.
1) Denver Broncos (2.54 average distance to quarterback)
The Denver Broncos under Wade Phillips' guidance finished in the top-three in sacks each of the last two seasons with 52 and 42, respectively. As such, it is no surprise to see them check in at the top of this metric. On average, their pass rushers are just 2.54 yards away from the quarterback at the time of throw or sack on attempts inside the pocket. That's a full 0.17 yards closer than the second-place team, the widest gap inside these Top-10 rankings. Three of their pass rushers -- Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray -- rank inside the top-six in the Next Gen Stats pressure metric, among edge players with 100-plus pass rush attempts. Even sub-package rusher, Shaquil Barrett ranks 26th. Interior rushers Derek Wolfe and Jared Crick posted scores above the league average for their position.
The prolific nature of Denver's pass rush assisted their star-studded "No Fly Zone" secondary in giving up just 2,972 passing yards this season. They were the only team to allow fewer than 3,200 on the year. The Broncos will face some change this coming season as Wade Phillips moved on to coach another team in this Top-10 following the retirement of Gary Kubiak. New head coach Vance Joseph, who once coached under Phillips in Houston, will have the cupboard stocked with options to pressure the passer in 2017.
I added the bold emphasis because I wanted to call out how overflowing this team is with pass rushing talent. Three of the top-6 edge rushers according to this metric!
Soak this in and enjoy it, Broncos Country. In a passing league, John Elway has created a defense that shuts down opposing quarterbacks, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.