How many sacks can we expect from D-Law?
If you think the health of the D is largely contingent on the pass rush, you're very interested in the highest-round pass rusher we've drafted in quite a few years, someone we had a 1st-round grade on, someone we overpaid for in a draft with a lot of juicy third-round options. D Law is a man to watch.
Yet, as FiTaT has most devastatingly shown with pure statistics, expecting a lot of sacks from a second-round player is good way to be disappointed. A purely statistical approach would set the over/ under at 2 or 3 sacks, not the 6-sack season that many of us expect from D-Law (with secret hopes of something even better).
Is the purely statistical approach valid here? I don't think so. My first, minor reason, is simply that draft round is blunt instrument for discussing comparable pass rushers. D Law is indeed a second rounder; 32 teams, including Dallas, found somebody else that they thought was worthy of being drafted ahead of D Law. And yet--D Law is not just any second rounder. Several teams, including Dallas, thought of him as a 1st-round-worthy pick, even if they chose someone else--he was highly coveted at the top of the 2nd round. Each draft has its own character.
But my second, major reason to expect more than average from D-Law is because I believe in opportunity. Specifically, from time to time someone is going to knock the QB down.
Some time ago, I made small bloggingtheboys history (in my own mind) by persuading some members that a freak of a pass rusher (like Ware in his prime) is going to decrease the number of sacks that his co-rushers get. On this theory, sacks are only sometimes about dominating the opposing linemen and closing the deal with sheer athleticism and skill. Sacks are also about taking advantages of opportunities: mis-cues, mismatches, breakdowns, mental errors, holding the ball too long, and other issues that rarely (but inevitably) afflict every offense. Ware, more than most, delivered sacks that were sheer beauty--skill sacks where he flat-out beat an O-lineman and smashed the QB before a play could develop. But because of the same qualities (speed, strength, skill, effort), Ware was also there to snatch up opportunity sacks. And, in general, when an opportunity sack was there for the taking, Ware (not the other pass-rushers) would be the first person to capitalize.
I'm not sure I'm right. But it does seem interesting that in 2012, Spencer had a breakout season, sack-wise, precisely in the season when Ware's ability to take effective snaps was severely limited (injury). As JimmyK sarcastically and ungraciously documented, Spencer was not simply putting the beatdown on his opponents. He did not suddenly develop a new level of speed or strength. Rather, he was there--there to take the opportunity.
The same dynamic may explain 2013 Selvie. Nobody would have predicted the burst of sacks produced by a guy who had, up to that point, delivered very little. But part of the reason was that Selvie was there. He isn't the strongest or fastest in the world, but he was the strongest and fastest, at least in some games, on that particular pass-rush-challenged team. That meant that when opponents got sloppy, when QBs held the ball too long, when plays broke down, when the defense out-smarted the offense, he was the one to take advantage.
All of this sets up my basic prediction: I expect D-Law's opportunities in 2014 to significantly surpass the opportunities that most 2nd-round pass rushers receive. The mere # of sacks, as in "the average second-rounder only makes 2-3 sacks," depend a little less on pure talent, and a little more on opportunity. Therefore, I expect D-Law to make significantly more sacks in 2014 than most rookie 2nd-rounders.
Let's pretend for a moment we did what we should have done--drafted a highly-rated pass rusher, the equivalent of D-Law, when our rush was a bit healthier. This (imaginary) D-Law would be an understudy for Ware, and wouldn't get a lot of opportunities. Sure, he'd see the field. But he wouldn't be even close to being #1 on the depth chart for the second-most important position in football (weak-side DE). When he did line up, chances are he would line up alongside another, proven DE who would be far more likely to grab any opportunities. This imaginary D-Law would be a normal 2nd-rounder. He'd get a couple of sacks.
But we didn't draft D-Law when we should have. We let ourselves get swindled on our trade because we were desperate to grab our last chance at a pass-rushing DE. We were desperate because the team--including Marinelli--weren't sure that we had any DE as good, far less someone better, on the roster. There isn't an established Ware-type rusher. There isn't someone else who is obviously the go-to guy. Marinelli is high on him. The Cowboys will throw D-Law in there, and they will do what they can to get him a shot at the QB.
And sometimes, he'll grab the opportunity and make the sack. This doesn't mean he will be great. He may just be another Selvie, at the right place at the right time. Maybe (hopefully) he'll someday be more than that.
So put your money on 6 sacks or more for D-Law. After all, someone has to knock the QB down.