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How much should we expect Demarcus Walker to play as a rookie?

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Don't get you hopes up if you are expecting DeMarcus Walker to play a ton of snaps. He's probably not going to do that, but he will get plenty of opportunities to shine.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos used their second round pick on 280 lb DE, Demarcus Walker. Leaving aside his relatively light weight for a 3-4 DE, how much should we expect him to play next season? I like to study what has been done recently in the NFL to get an answer for this. I did this by looking at defensive line players (DEs, DTs and NTs) drafted in the first or the second round over the past five drafts and then finding out how much they played as rookies. I used defensive snap% as the metric for "how much they played." Note that some of the DLine players ended up as OLBs in the NFL, but I am using their listed position from the draft page at Pro-football-reference.com. All snap% data is also from PFR.

There have been 65 DLine players taken in the first or second round over the past five drafts. The snap% at PFR does not go back beyond 2012.

Year Rnd Pick Name Pos Tm Rookie Snap% College/Univ
2016 1 3 Joey Bosa DE SDG 52.6% Ohio St.
2016 1 7 DeForest Buckner DE SFO 87.3% Oregon
2016 1 12 Sheldon Rankins DT NOR 31.9% Louisville
2016 1 19 Shaq Lawson DE BUF 22.1% Clemson
2016 1 27 Kenny Clark DT GNB 32.4% UCLA
2016 1 29 Robert Nkemdiche DT ARI 7.6% Mississippi
2016 1 30 Vernon Butler DT CAR 21.0% Louisiana Tech
2016 2 32 Emmanuel Ogbah DE CLE 76.3% Oklahoma St.
2016 2 33 Kevin Dodd DE TEN 16.4% Clemson
2016 2 37 Chris Jones DT KAN 51.4% Mississippi St.
2016 2 39 Noah Spence DE TAM 53.9% East. Kentucky
2016 2 42 Kamalei Correa DE BAL 4.6% Boise St.
2016 2 43 Austin Johnson NT TEN 17.4% Penn St.
2016 2 44 Jihad Ward DE OAK 60.7% Illinois
2016 2 46 A'Shawn Robinson DT DET 39.7% Alabama
2016 2 49 Jarran Reed DT SEA 44.2% Alabama
2016 2 63 Adam Gotsis DT DEN 19.3% Georgia Tech
2015 1 6 Leonard Williams DE NYJ 76.9% USC
2015 1 12 Danny Shelton NT CLE 48.3% Washington
2015 1 17 Arik Armstead DT SFO 33.0% Oregon
2015 1 23 Shane Ray DE DEN 31.1% Missouri
2015 1 32 Malcom Brown DT NWE 46.5% Texas
2015 2 35 Mario Edwards DT OAK 51.8% Florida St.
2015 2 38 Preston Smith DE WAS 48.1% Mississippi St.
2015 2 39 Eddie Goldman DT CHI 49.9% Florida St.
2015 2 51 Nate Orchard DE CLE 45.1% Utah
2015 2 52 Jordan Phillips NT MIA 37.3% Oklahoma
2015 2 58 Markus Golden DE ARI 49.4% Missouri
2015 2 63 Frank Clark DE SEA 32.4% Michigan
2014 1 1 Jadeveon Clowney DE HOU 12.7% South Carolina
2014 1 13 Aaron Donald DT STL 61.8% Pittsburgh
2014 1 29 Dominique Easley DT NWE 24.0% Florida
2014 2 34 Demarcus Lawrence DE DAL 21.2% Boise St.
2014 2 37 Ra'Shede Hageman DT ATL 20.3% Minnesota
2014 2 46 Stephon Tuitt DE PIT 40.1% Notre Dame
2014 2 48 Timmy Jernigan DT BAL 28.1% Florida St.
2014 2 51 Ego Ferguson DT CHI 29.9% LSU
2014 2 60 Kony Ealy DE CAR 35.1% Missouri
2013 1 3 Dion Jordan DE MIA 28.8% Oregon
2013 1 5 Ezekiel Ansah DE DET 53.7% BYU
2013 1 13 Sheldon Richardson DT NYJ 80.0% Missouri
2013 1 14 Star Lotulelei DT CAR 59.6% Utah
2013 1 23 Sharrif Floyd DT MIN 39.6% Florida
2013 1 24 Bjoern Werner DE IND 28.8% Florida St.
2013 1 26 Datone Jones DE GNB 24.4% UCLA
2013 1 28 Sylvester Williams DT DEN 26.3% North Carolina
2013 2 40 Tank Carradine DE SFO 0.0% Florida St.
2013 2 44 Kawann Short DT CAR 51.1% Purdue
2013 2 49 Johnathan Hankins DT NYG 16.9% Ohio St.
2013 2 53 Margus Hunt DE CIN 15.3% SMU
2012 1 11 Dontari Poe DT KAN 74.5% Memphis
2012 1 12 Fletcher Cox DT PHI 48.6% Mississippi St.
2012 1 14 Michael Brockers DT STL 56.0% LSU
2012 1 15 Bruce Irvin DE SEA 43.4% West Virginia
2012 1 16 Quinton Coples DE NYJ 47.1% North Carolina
2012 1 18 Melvin Ingram DE SDG 43.6% South Carolina
2012 1 19 Shea McClellin DE CHI 34.7% Boise St.
2012 1 21 Chandler Jones DE NWE 66.8% Syracuse
2012 1 26 Whitney Mercilus DE HOU 46.6% Illinois
2012 1 28 Nick Perry DE GNB 18.2% USC
2012 2 36 Derek Wolfe DT DEN 84.2% Cincinnati
2012 2 49 Kendall Reyes DT SDG 50.2% Connecticut
2012 2 51 Jerel Worthy DT GNB 41.5% Michigan St.
2012 2 53 Devon Still DT CIN 14.6% Penn St.
2012 2 59 Vinny Curry DE PHI 8.4% Marshall

If you take the average of the rookie snap% for all 65 you get 39.5%. So the conclusion is that even highly drafted defensive line players normally only play about 1 defensive snap in 3. If we restrict our average to just players listed as defensive ends, then the average is 38.3% - no significant change. The highest rookie snap % is DeForest Buckner last season on the moribund 49er’s defense. Derek Wolfe’s 84% as a rookie was one of the higher recent values, but I would not expect Demarcus Walker to play anywhere near that much. The lowest rookie snap% was 0% from Tank Carradine, also of the 49ers, who tore his ACL during the pre-season and did not play at all as a rookie.

Reasons why Demarcus Walker may not play very much as a rookie

  1. He’s not very stout against the run. You only need to watch the video of 230 lb Evan Engram putting him on skates in the first half against Ole Miss in 2016. I just watched his full-game tape against Ole Miss, Louisville and Clemson and there are many times when he is completely taken out of a play by either mis-reading the play (many times against UL), just getting 1-on-1 blocked well by the OT, or he gets double-teamed (rarely since most teams didn’t feel - inference - that they needed to double him in the running game).
  2. Pass rush specialists, if that is to be his role as a rookie, tend to play about one third of their teams defensive snaps.
  3. His pass-rushing ability may not translate well to the NFL. While he has a few good pass-rush moves (a killer swim and a good rip), NFL offensive lineman are better than college offensive lineman at defeating different moves like the swim move, because they have had more time (in general) to work on their hand-fighting skills.
  4. DL Players that rely on the quickness off the snap to defeat offensive lineman can be exploited by savvy QB’s who know how and when to alter their snap count.
  5. Adam Gotsis should be ready to handle a much heavier load of the DE playing time in 2017 and we used a second round pick on him in 2016.

Keep in mind that Malik Jackson only played 113 defensive snaps as a rookie. Elvis Dumervil (921), Derek Wolfe (901), Robert Ayers (318) and Mitch Unrein (387) all got significantly more defensive snaps that year that Malik. Malik’s 113 defensive snaps was 11% of the potential maximum.