This season has been pretty terrible, by almost every standard. However, one bright spot has been DE Muhammad Wilkerson, the New York Jets first round draft pick from the 2011 NFL Draft. Before the season began, many people, both on the team and off, predicted that Wilkerson would "break out" this year and truly merit his first round selection. They were right.
Last year, Wilkerson started in every game, and accumulated 49 tackles, 3 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. He had a decent year, nothing exceptional, but I think it's safe to characterize it as "solid." But this year, Wilkerson has turned up the heat. Let's investigate exactly how much of a stud he's been.
Before I begin with the statistics, I should explain how the Jets use Wilkerson. That is to say, they use him everywhere. They line him up in nearly every position on the defensive line, with a focus on the interior portion of it. As most of you know, it's significantly harder to gain statistics from the interior line, as it's easier to be double-teamed. The Jets ask Wilkerson to stuff the run, rush the passer, hold the point of attack, etc. Nearly every role that the defensive line will have to perform, Wilkerson is performing them, many times single-handedly. Throughout most games, he's double-teamed. Many times he's triple-teamed. And yet, he's still getting it done.
Now for the numbers. Through eleven games, Wilkerson has 50 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. Let's think about that for a moment. In five fewer games than last year, Wilkerson has one more tackle, one less sack, and two more forced fumbles. All while being asked to do more from a position that is less conducive to racking up stats.
Let's take those numbers and compare those to the rest of the league. Without context, they're fairly meaningless. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilkerson is the second-highest rated 3-4 defensive end in the league, second only to J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, and ahead of Justin Smith of the San Francisco 49ers. He has the sixth most quarterback hurries out of 3-4 defensive ends with 16.
Furthermore, those stats that I mentioned above? 50 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. Let's compare those with the league averages for 3-4 defensive ends. The averages are 25.7 tackles, 3.9 sacks, and .7 forced fumbles. Think about that. Wilkerson has almost twice as many tackles and over four times as many forced fumbles. His number of sacks is below the average, but I, for one, will give him a pass on that.
Now, If Quinton Coples, Wilkerson's best friend, continues to develop, and we can get an effective speed rusher on the line, we might have the beginnings of a revitalized New York Sack Exchange.
All of this said, I'm obviously very impressed with how Wilkerson is playing on such a bad team. He's someone to keep an eye on, especially against a weak Arizona Cardinals offensive line. In my mind, if Muhammad Wilkerson doesn't make the Pro Bowl, something is very, very wrong.