For those of you that are our time-honored readers, you are well aware that we at BTB are fond of the player game-grading done by Pro Football Focus. While no subjective metric is perfect, and PFF admits just as much in their explanation of the grading process, one must respect the opinions of a service that dedicates itself to breaking down each individual play, per player. Sure, there are some grades where you wonder what it is that they were seeing that you were not; but more often than not they are using an unbiased eye to view what your heavily invested retinas are evaluating. In this instance, they put the magnifying glass on limited snap-receiving defensive end Sean Lissemore, and came away highly impressed.
Lissemore seems to be the latest in a growing line of late-round draft, or undrafted, steals for the Dallas Cowboys. Taken with the 234th pick of the 2010 draft (7th round), he seems to be in play to battle for a starting spot once training camp opens up. This is based on his performance in very limited duty last season, only 283 snaps. As a comparison, oft-abused FS Abe Elam played 1,050 snaps in 2011.
He may have capitalized on former Cowboy Stephen Bowen leaving the team via free agency and the team's decision to sign retread Kenyon Coleman; an aged veteran coordinator Rob Ryan was very familiar with. Now Coleman himself performed well in limited duty, but he's 33 now. For everything former first-round pick Marcus Spears is supposed to provide, Sean Lissemore actually delivers. Of course, one BTBer knew he had the potential before he was ever associated with the franchise. See here, and here. Well, PFF has caught wind of Lissyyyyy's reasons for early infatuation.
When all was said and done Lissemore has earned a +13.8 grade, good enough for third overall on the Dallas defense, with the highest individual run grade. This didn’t come with one standout performance, but with a series of consistent performance where he showed an ability to get off blocks and make plays against the run. A fierce competitor with a knack for finding the ball carrier, he picked up 14 defensive stops on 107 plays in run defense, as good as any 3-4 defensive end who played over 100 run D snaps.
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It wasn’t just that these came against sub-standard offensive linemen. Our top-ranked guard in 2011 Evan Mathis was beaten for a couple of tackles, while talents like Daryn Colledge and Trent Williams found the Cowboy hard to contend with one-on-one. It came as no surprise to us when Cowboys defensive line coach Brian Baker called Lissemore the defense’s most productive player per play in 2011. He lamented not playing him more as he went back over the tape, and it’s something that suggests that, if healthy, he’ll be in for a bigger role with the upcoming season.
Before we delve any further into the accolades, it must be stated that one cannot always project greater production based on more opportunities. It's a point PFF brought up in the article and I'm glad they did. One of Lissemore's lowest graded performances happened in a game when he accrued the most snaps; Week 14 against the NY Giants.
Obviously, every part of a Lissemore evaluation is using a small sample size, but he played over half of the defensive snaps (45 of 86) and managed just a +0.3 grade for the game. By no means a bad mark, but he didn't capitalize on the added opportunities. There could be several explanations for this, such as NY running plays toward a weaker link, but this is something to keep in mind.
Now, the limitations of PFF are well known. Due to the fact that they are watching the same broadcasts as casual fans, with no access to All-22 film or end zone cams, line of scrimmage performances would seem to be far more accurate than players on the edge of the field. After all, they do have to guess what happens off screen and that rarely comes into play with line performance.
According to their grading, and our eye tests, Lissemore provides stout run defense and also a pass rushing prowess that could see him develop into a three-down player. He is currently more suited to stuffing the run, but he isn't exactly overmatched in the pass rush department. Here's how they broke down Lissemore's 2011 season.
- Overall Cumulative Grade: +13.8, Run Defense +14.3, Pass Rush +0.2, Pass Coverage -1.0, Penalty +0.3
- 283 Total Snaps: 119 Run Defense, 164 Pass Rush, 0 Pass Coverage, 26.9% of team defensive snaps
- 2 QB Sacks, 3 QB Hits, 8 QB Hurries, total 13 QB Pressures. 18 Tackles, 8 Assists
- 16 Stops (preventing offense from gaining 40% of necessary yardage on first down, 60% on second down, 100% on third or fourth down)
- Run Snaps (plays when Off. is in run formation) 90, Tackles 17, Assists 5, Stops 13, Stop Pct. 14.4% (Ranked 2nd amongst 3-4 DEs averaging more than 1 Run Snap per game).
- Pass Rush Productivity: Snaps 135, Total Pressures 11, PRP (formula weighted for sacks) 6.6 ranks 13th amongst all 3-4 DEs.
The stats certainly indicate this but what the young defensive tackle brings to the table can’t just be quantified with box stats. He’s a player who doesn’t let offensive linemen open up running lanes and one who has flashed the ability to be more than just an early-down defender. While you can watch him pick up a tackle for a loss on a player like Mike Pouncey (Week 12, Q4 9:10 to go) and think "Wow", it’s the consistency of making plays where he drives linemen back and re-directs runners that make him someone who could prove pretty special. Davin Joseph, one of the league’s priciest guards, felt this firsthand as Lissemore manhandled him 4:35 to go in the 2nd quarter of the Cowboys over the Bucs in Week 15.
As big a compliment as you can give his efforts is that he made so many plays you thought he was on the field more than he actually was.
So where does Sean Lissemore stand currently in the defensive end rotation?
Heading into camp, you'd have to think that he has a chance to compete for the starting job opposite of Jason Hatcher. Kenyon Coleman will count $1.9 million against the salary cap and accrued almost 500 snaps last season. Those were split pretty evenly amongst run and passing snaps. He's a release candidate at age 33 if there ever was one.
After stringing along former first round pick Marcus Spears for a few years, Dallas finally relented and signed him through 2015. Spears turned around and provided a pedestrian performance. His contract should prevent his release, as he still has $2.8 million pro-rated on his signing bonus.
Third-round draft pick Tyrone Crawford is expected to be a pass-rush and four-lineman specialist in his rookie season. Clifton Geathers, who was a sixth rounder back in '10, has made enough plays that he might warrant a spot on the crowded defensive line roster.
However, based on last year's performance, do any of these players represent greater potential than Lissemore does at this current time? It would appear that the window is wide open for Lissemore to make his mark for this franchise as a cog to a new defensive lineman rotation.