Ken O’Brien: Precise, but historically immobile
I wasn’t yet born when Ken O’Brien threw his final pass as a Jet. Being the Gang Green aficionado I am, I’ve been really interested to learn more about the man most known for not being Dan Marino.
While discussing O’Brien with some fellow fans, I stumbled across an almost unfathomable all-time league record he currently is in possession of.
Over his ten-season NFL career, O’Brien never scored a rushing touchdown. Ever!
That makes O’Brien the league’s all-time leader in most touchdown passes (128) and most games started at quarterback (110) without scoring a rushing touchdown. He owns a significant lead over the holder of second place in those categories, Joey Harrington, who threw 79 touchdown passes and started 76 games.
Among Jets quarterbacks, the second-ranked quarterback on the list of most touchdown passes without a rushing touchdown is Al Woodall, who threw for 18 scores over his five year Jets career from 1969-1974.
Leonard Williams: Master in the art of Pressures, Apprentice in the art of Sacks
You know the two sides of the coin in the Leonard Williams debate. His supporters point to the impact he makes off the stat sheet - pressures, knockdowns, and drawing doubles among other things. His detractors just can’t stomach his wee sack totals.
Williams’ production is staggeringly unique and lines up well with the debates that surround him. He has been elite at producing pressures but shockingly poor at collecting sacks in comparison.
With 45 quarterback knockdowns over the past two seasons, Williams is tied for 12th league-wide in the category.
Conversely, he only had 7.0 sacks over that span, which ties him for 96th in the league.
Williams’ disparity between those two categories is in a world of its own. Among all players with seven sacks or fewer over the past two seasons, Williams’ 45 knockdowns is the most by far. It’s almost twice as many as the player placed second on the list, Vinny Curry, who had 25 knockdowns.
I think these numbers can tell us a lot about where we should stand on Williams. It’s okay to fall in the middle.
He has not been quite as dominant as we hoped he would be when he was taken sixth overall in 2015. At the same time, he isn’t a worthless slouch, either. He’s a very good player who settles in a little bit below a consistent Pro Bowl level.
Calais Campbell and Fletcher Cox are the only 300+ pound players with more knockdowns than Williams over the past two seasons. While his sack totals have been underwhelming, Williams has still won his battles as a pass rusher at an elite rate.
Sacks can be deceiving. Many of them are given away for free, or are the product of a play made by another player. Sometimes players get credit for a sack just by following a scrambling quarterback out of bounds.
They’re also not common enough to be used as the sole factor in determining a player’s value. Take a look at Aaron Donald, for example. He led the league with 20.5 sacks in 2018. Donald played 914 defensive snaps this past regular season, which means only about 2% of the snaps he played resulted in a sack. That sample size isn’t enough to define a player’s overall impact. (This isn’t a knock on Donald at all, by the way. He is amazing.)
Pressures and knockdowns are a better tool for predicting future sacks and a better indicator of how often a player is actually winning as a pass rusher. An individual has a lot more control over his pressure production than he does his sack production. Circumstances can do a lot to prevent a player from having sack opportunities, but they can’t do nearly as much to prevent a player from generating pressure or at least getting a hit on the quarterback.
While a given sack is more valuable than a given pressure (since a sack is always a win for the defense and a pressure is not), pressures and knockdowns are still valuable tools to help us learn about the impact a player is making as a rusher.
In 2016, Vic Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks. However, he only had 16 knockdowns, which tied him for 45th in the league. This suggested that he was converting his pressures into sacks at a highly unsustainable rate, and that he was a due for regression in the future.
Sure enough, Beasley has followed that 2016 campaign with only 10.0 sacks and 13 knockdowns over the last two seasons combined.
Because Williams’ sack totals fall so far short of his pressure and knockdown totals, it suggests he could be due for a natural rise towards the mean in sack production, and that he is probably a lot better of an overall player than the sack column portrays him as.
In addition to progression towards the mean, Williams’ sack totals could benefit from Gregg Williams’ attacking style that tends to give defensive linemen more freedom to rush the passer. Williams has been doing a lot of two-gapping in recent seasons that has limited his ability to stockpile sacks. A play style that restricts statistical production doesn’t necessarily limit the actual value a player has on the game, but it can make a player appear more invisible to a casual viewer as the 0’s pile up in the box score. I think Williams has been a victim of this to an extent.
With all of this said, Williams does deserve some criticism, and all of the blame can’t just be pit on bad luck and a bad situation. With a ratio of pressures to sacks as stark as his, he has to take some of the blame. There have been moments where Williams struggled to finish sacks, whether it was due to a lack of closing speed, a missed tackle, or another issue. He can improve at his finishing behind the line. Dominant players also don’t need good circumstances to consistently make their presence felt.
Altogether, Williams’ inability to finish sacks at a strong rate has held him back from true elite status, but it shouldn’t fool us into thinking he isn’t a very good player.
Flashier numbers could be on the horizon.