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.
|2016||1||3||Joey Bosa||DE||SDG||52.6%||Ohio St.|
|2016||1||30||Vernon Butler||DT||CAR||21.0%||Louisiana Tech|
|2016||2||32||Emmanuel Ogbah||DE||CLE||76.3%||Oklahoma St.|
|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||63||Adam Gotsis||DT||DEN||19.3%||Georgia Tech|
|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.|
|2014||1||1||Jadeveon Clowney||DE||HOU||12.7%||South Carolina|
|2014||2||34||Demarcus Lawrence||DE||DAL||21.2%||Boise St.|
|2014||2||46||Stephon Tuitt||DE||PIT||40.1%||Notre Dame|
|2014||2||48||Timmy Jernigan||DT||BAL||28.1%||Florida St.|
|2013||1||24||Bjoern Werner||DE||IND||28.8%||Florida St.|
|2013||1||28||Sylvester Williams||DT||DEN||26.3%||North Carolina|
|2013||2||40||Tank Carradine||DE||SFO||0.0%||Florida St.|
|2013||2||49||Johnathan Hankins||DT||NYG||16.9%||Ohio St.|
|2012||1||12||Fletcher Cox||DT||PHI||48.6%||Mississippi St.|
|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||2||51||Jerel Worthy||DT||GNB||41.5%||Michigan St.|
|2012||2||53||Devon Still||DT||CIN||14.6%||Penn St.|
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
- 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).
- Pass rush specialists, if that is to be his role as a rookie, tend to play about one third of their teams defensive snaps.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.