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How often do elite pass rushers get “shut out”?

Who was the most consistent pass rusher in 2021?

NFL: Super Bowl LVI-Los Angeles Rams at Cincinnati Bengals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Sacks can be fickle. Even the best pass rushers in the NFL will find them scarce if they are constantly getting double or triple-teamed (like Von Miller was often while in Denver). A game-plan with lots of quickly routes in the passing game, can also lead to few or no sacks from an elite pass rusher. Out of curiosity I wanted to know who was the most consistent pass rusher in the NFL in 2021. I looked at sacks first because they are “sexier”. The pressure data and discussion is later.

I looked at the top 20 in sacks for the 2021 regular season and then gathered the sacks that each player had in each game. Rashan Gary, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd were tied for 20th with 9.5 sacks. The table is below (click on the bottom bar and drag to the right to see the rest of the table).

Game T.J. Watt*+ Robert Quinn* Myles Garrett*+ Nick Bosa* Trey Hendrickson* Micah Parsons*+ Aaron Donald*+ Cameron Jordan* Matt Judon* Harold Landry* Haason Reddick Markus Golden Joey Bosa* Chandler Jones* Cameron Heyward*+ Shaquil Barrett* Yannick Ngakoue Leonard Floyd Von Miller Rashan Gary
1 2.0 0.5 1.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.5 0.0 1.0 5.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 2.0 0.0
2 1.0 2.0 0.0 2.0 1.5 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 1.5 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 0.0
3 1.0 4.5 0.0 1.0 0.5 1.0 0.0 2.5 0.5 1.5 1.0 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 0.5
4 2.0 1.0 0.5 1.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 1.0 0.5 1.0
5 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 2.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 2.0 2.0 2.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.5 2.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
6 2.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.5 1.0 0.0 2.0 0.0 2.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 1.5 0.0 0.0
7 1.5 1.5 2.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 2.0 0.0 0.5 1.0 2.0 0.0 0.0 2.0
8 3.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 1.0 2.5 1.5 1.0 1.5 1.0 1.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.0 2.0 0.0
9 1.0 1.0 1.5 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 1.0 0.5 0.5 3.0 1.0 1.0 2.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0
10 3.5 1.0 2.0 1.0 2.0 0.0 1.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
11 0.0 1.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 2.0 1.0 2.0 1.0 0.0 0.0
12 3.5 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 0.0 1.0
13 0.0 2.0 1.0 2.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 1.5 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
14 1.5 2.0 0.0 1.0 0.5 0.0 1.0 2.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.0 0.0 0.5 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 0.0
15 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 2.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 2.0
16 4.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 3.5 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 0.5 2.0 1.0
17 1.0 0.5 1.0 0.5 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.0

Unfortunately, with this much data it can be difficult to see trends without plotting it. So I have - using 3D plots (which are cumbersome using Excel) broken down into two groups (1-10, then 11-20) for clarity.

If you like the plots, you should notice that there were not very many >3 sack games from this group. There were six total from this group. I’m sure there were a few that came from outside the top 20, but my guess is that there weren’t too many. There were 1244 sacks in 2021 and 324 (26%) of those were credited to these 20 pass rushers. You should also notice that every one in the top 10 in sacks was named to the Pro-Bowl (asterisk designation) and five of the top twenty were named first team All-Pro (plus sign).

The two most consistent sack artists were Trey Hendrickson and Joey Bosa. Hendrickson played in sixteen regular season games and had at least one half sack in thirteen of those. He also never had more than 2.0 sacks in the game. Bosa also played in sixteen games and had at least one half sack in eleven of them. Similar to Hendrickson, Bosa never had more than 1.0 sacks in a game.

Von Miller had an odd season. He started the season by recording at least one half a sack in the first four games, then had no sacks at all for the next nine game; Von was inactive for two games in the middle of the season. He finished the seasons with at least 1.0 sacks in the last four games.

The sack leader for the Broncos in 2021 was the recently traded Shelby Harris with six. Harris never had more than 1.5 sacks in a game, but had many games with zero sacks (10 of 16). Harris had eighteen pressures according to PFR, so he had twelve non-sack pressures. The Bronco leader in total pressures for 2021 was Malik Reed with 22, but Dre’Mont Jones was close behind him with 21. Reed had 5.5 sacks while Jones had 5.0.

Pressures counted any time the pass rusher alters what the QB does by getting close to him. This can be done without contact, with a QBhit (hitting the QB legally after the ball has been thrown), or a sack. All three count as a pressure. Playing the majority of the pass rush snaps in a game and getting zero pressures is what I call getting “shut out” for a pass rusher. Shelby Harris was the Bronco’s leader sack artist in 2021, but he had six games where he was “shut out”. Three of those six were divisional games (LVR, @KC and @LAC). Despite having a half-sack lass than Harris, Malik Reed was more consistent in terms of generating pressure. He only had three games where he was shut out. The Broncos did not have a single defender that get a QB pressure in every game. Part of that comes from having some many defenders in the front seven missing time with injuries - many of which were season-ending.

Game T.J. Watt*+ Robert Quinn* Myles Garrett*+ Nick Bosa* Trey Hendrickson* Micah Parsons*+ Aaron Donald*+ Cameron Jordan* Matt Judon* Harold Landry* Haason Reddick Markus Golden Joey Bosa* Chandler Jones* Cameron Heyward*+ Shaquil Barrett* Yannick Ngakoue Leonard Floyd Von Miller Rashan Gary
1 6 2 4 3 4 1 3 3 1 5 3 0 3 8 7 3 2 0 3 2
2 2 2 0 4 3 6 4 2 3 3 2 1 0 3 1 0 1 4 6 2
3 4 6 2 4 3 2 3 3 6 5 3 5 3 0 1 4 3 2 3
4 5 2 6 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 0 1 4 1 1 2 2 4 1 2
5 4 1 7 2 3 3 4 2 4 3 2 0 2 1 2 2 2 2 1 1
6 3 2 4 3 4 0 1 1 2 3 0 8 2 2 3 2 4 2 1
7 4 2 5 3 1 1 2 1 7 0 3 1 2 1 4 1 1 7
8 3 0 3 4 4 3 2 2 6 3 5 4 2 0 3 3 2 3 2
9 2 1 4 3 1 2 2 0 6 3 2 4 2 3 2 5 2 3 3
10 5 1 5 2 4 0 2 3 1 3 1 3 1 1 3 4 0 0 2
11 1 2 4 1 3 7 1 2 4 0 2 2 5 3 1 4 2 3 1
12 7 2 2 5 3 7 5 0 3 1 3 1 0 4 1 1 1 1 2 4
13 1 3 1 2 1 3 7 3 3 1 2 6 2 1 6 1 5 2 3
14 4 2 1 2 2 0 1 5 0 0 5 2 6 0 2 3 1 1 2 4
15 0 2 1 1 3 4 3 2 1 0 0 1 1 2 2 1 1 2 4
16 6 3 4 0 3 2 2 4 0 2 1 3 3 4 2 3 6
17 4 1 2 3 1 2 0 0 0 2 1 3 1 1 0 2 1
TOTAL Pressures 52 34 52 49 45 47 41 34 42 43 33 35 43 36 32 39 36 37 30 47
Times Shut Out 1 1 1 1 0 2 1 2 3 4 5 2 2 2 1 1 0 3 1 0
Standard Deviation 2.0 1.2 2.0 1.5 1.0 2.2 1.8 1.3 1.9 2.1 1.8 2.0 2.0 2.0 1.5 1.6 1.2 1.6 1.4 1.7
MAX 7 5 7 5 4 7 7 5 6 7 5 8 6 8 7 6 4 5 6 7

Three guys who were in the top 20 in pressures were not in the top 20 in sacks. These are Maxx Crosby (42 pressures, 8.0 sacks), Sam Hubbard (39, 7.5), Emmanuel Ogbah (39, 9.0). Crosby had his best game of the year in Denver, generating five of his pressures and 3.0 of his sacks.

The top 500 pass rushers had 5042 QB pressures in the NFL in 2021 and 807 (16 percent) of them came from the top 20. (PFR only gives a maximum of 500 results in a spreadsheet.) Remember that 26 percent of the sacks came from the top 20 pass rushers, so pressures seem to be less “top heavy” than sacks. In other words, there were over 500 players in the league with at least one QB pressure, but there were only half as many with more than 1.0 sack(s) in 2021.

The league leader in sacks had 22.5. The league leader in pressures had 52. On tenth of each value is 2.5 sacks and 5 pressures. Players with 3.0 or more sacks accounted for 874.5 sacks which was 70.3 percent of the league total. Players with 6 or more pressures accounted 4327 of the roughly 5042 total pressures (about 85 percent). Pressures are distributed much more evenly among defenders than sacks. That makes sense because it’s easier to get a pressure than it is to get a sack.

Of the other 20 elite pass rushers (by sacks), only three of them avoided getting shut out in 2021. Those three were Trey Hendrickson, Yannick Ngakoue, and Rashan Gary. T.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Myles Garrett and Nick Bosa were all shut out once. It is interesting to note which teams gave Watt, Quinn, Garrett and Bosa their lone shut outs. Watt - KC, Quinn - SF, Garrett - HOU, and Bosa - HOU. I was surprised to see the Texans gave Garrett and Bosa their lone shut outs. I follow offensive line play and I had to look up who the starting offensive tackles for the Texans were in 2021 - Tytus Howard and Charlie Heck ended up starting the most games for them at LT and RT, but Laremy Tunsil and Marcus Cannon where the starters in game 1. Tunsil only started five games and Cannon only started four. By PFF grade Howard (51.4) and Heck (56.0) were not good which makes it more surprising that Garrett and Bosa got their lone shutouts against Houston.

Of the top 20, only Matt Judon (3), Harold Landry (4) and Hassan Reddick (5) were shut out more than twice. Reddick getting shut out five times might be a good reason to avoid him in free agency. Reddick had an odd year. He accumulated almost all of his pressures in the first half of the season (33 of 43) and then only had ten in the final eight games he played. I don’t know if he was injured or just facing better offensive lines, but that is a big red flag to me.

The three elite pressure guys who missed the top 20 in sacks were shut out three times (Crosby), two times (Hubbard) and four times (Ogbah).

Bradley Chubb had the second most pressures for any player that had zero sacks. Chubb recorded ten pressures, but failed to notch a sack. That was tied with Ryan Kerrigan who also had zero sacks. Nathan Shepherd had the most pressures (12) without a sack. Kerrigan was a part of the 2011 draft class which will go down in history as the best draft ever for pass rushers.

Among the top 20ish pass rushers in the league from 2021 only Reddick, Miller, Ogbah and Chandler Jones are free agents. Harold Landry was set to become a free agent with the expiration of his contract, but the Titans have retained him giving him a 5-year 87.5 million dollar deal with 52.5 guaranteed. For reference, overthecap.com shows that the top five edge rushers in the league will all make 21 million or more in 2022 with TJ Watt leading the pack at 28 million. If all four of the free agents chase the money, I expect them to land big contracts. Von Miller could decide to follow his heart back to Denver now that we have an elite QB and legitimate shot at another Lombardi trophy in the next few seasons.

Pass rushers are at a premium and elite ones don’t show up that often. Of the 23 guys who were in the top 20 in pressures, sacks or both - only four were playing on their rookie contracts: Nick Bosa (2019 #2 overall pick), Harold Landry (2018 41st pick), Micah Parsons (2021 9th pick) and Rashan Gary (2019 12th pick).

For those still hoping that the Broncos can find a stud pass rusher late in the second round with our pick at 64 in 2022, I would not count on it. It’s rare for truly elite rushers to last long in the modern NFL draft. Of the top 30 players in sacks in 2021, only five were taken after the second round: Hendrickson (103rd pick in 2017), Matt Judon (146th pick in 2016), Ngakoue (69th pick in 2016); Shaq Barrett and Denico Autry were both undrafted out of college.

Poll

If Von chooses to stay in LA, how do you want the Broncos to get a pass rusher for 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    spend big money on a free agent edge
    (170 votes)
  • 23%
    draft an edge at 64
    (78 votes)
  • 4%
    trade up into the first to get an edge (don’t have much high value capital from 22 and 23 left to trade)
    (15 votes)
  • 11%
    sign a cheap edge who did not show up in this article
    (37 votes)
  • 8%
    do nothing - Chubb, Cooper, Jones and Reed gonna blow up in 2022!
    (27 votes)
327 votes total Vote Now