Chase Stuart, formerly of my favorite football stat site Pro-Football-Reference.com and now writing for FootballPerspective.com, published an article today arguing that the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware could end up being the best 3-4 outside linebacker in the history of pro football.
Stuart is not just any hack with an opinion and internet access. He was one of the lead bloggers at Pro-Football-Reference before they shut down their blog, and has since been writing for the Fifth Down blog at the New York Times and smartfootball.com. If you've been with BTB for a while, you'll have heard me extolling the virtues of ANY/A or Adjusted Net Yards per passing Attempt, a stat Stuart developed for PFR.
If you're going to argue greatest 3-4 OLB of all time, you'll invariably run into Lawrence Taylor (and a bunch of hyperventilating Giants fans). Stuart acknowledges that many people will consider L.T. the-greatest-ever-shut-up-end-of-discussion, but he goes on to make the case that when DeMarcus Ware retires, he will have been the best player to ever play his position.
The Cowboys star has been named an AP first-team All-Pro four times; among 3-4 outside linebackers, only Taylor has more selections. Taylor (10), Robert Brazile (7), Rickey Jackson (6) and Ware are the only 3-4 linebackers to have been named to six Pro Bowls, and Ware has been a selection in each of the last six years.
Ultimately, outside of perhaps a vocal minority that would argue for Derrick Thomas over Taylor, Ware’s case as the best 3-4 outside linebacker of all-time comes down to whether you could put him ahead of Taylor as a player.
Stuart then goes on to make the following points comparing Ware to L.T.:
- Ware is easily the superior pass defender and run stuffer.
- Ware has averaged 15.25 sacks per season over the last six years. In L.T.s best six-year stretch he notched 15.9 sacks per 16 games.
- However, league-wide the sack rates (sacks divided by the sum of pass attempts and sacks) have dropped by 25% since the mid eighties to today (8.3% to 6.6%). Additionally, and this comes as somewhat of a surprise, the Giants faced slightly more pass attempts per game during Taylor's prime than the Cowboys did over the last six years (37.25 vs. 36.6). Factoring in the different periods in which they played and the number of pass attempts they faced, it’s easy to argue that Ware’s sack numbers are more impressive.
Absent injury, Ware is likely to end up with more career sacks than Taylor, and perhaps more than any 3-4 outside linebacker ever. Unless you want to argue that Lawrence Taylor was much better against the run the Ware, or that Taylor was much better in coverage than Ware, or that Taylor was a much better pass rusher but sacks alone don’t tell the story, Ware will likely end his career as the most productive 3-4 outside linebacker of all-time.
The article is well written, presents a compelling argument for Ware and is well worth a read, even though Stuart is far from a Dallas 'honk'.
In a footnote to the article, Stuart writes:
Taylor’s legend appears to grow every year, and as a mythical or historical figure, Ware stands no chance of surpassing him
What do you think it would take for Ware to be considered "better" than L.T.?
Would he have to match Reggie White's record of nine consecutive seasons with 10+ sacks? 2011 marked the sixth consecutive year that Ware recorded 10+ sacks in a season. Only four other NFL players have had six or more consecutive seasons of 10+ sacks since the NFL started keeping sack statistics. All four are Hall Of Famers (Reggie White: nine consecutive seasons, John Randle: 8, Bruce Smith: 7, Lawrence Taylor: 7)
Would Ware need to become the only player in league history to record 20 sacks in two different seasons?
Would he have to break record could fall to Ware:’s 22.5-sack NFL record set in 2001? Marcus Spears certainly thinks that
"I think he’s the best defensive player in the league, and I think he’s going to play at a high level for a long time," Spears said. "He could possibly break that record this season especially with the new guys in the back covering. He might have a little bit more time to get to the quarterback. I would love to see it happen because if anybody deserves it he does."