An Analysis of the 2013 NFL Sack Leaders

Let me first explain how I even got to the idea for this post. For those who don’t follow ESPN headlines compulsively, a few weeks ago, the NFL owners voted to host the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis at the new Vikings stadium that is being built in the next couple years. This got me thinking about football and how my beloved (yet infuriating) Dallas Cowboys released my all time favorite player, Demarcus Ware. Demarcus Ware is one of the all time greatest pass rushers to play the game and is on the short list  (18th) for most sacks in a career. That’s how I arrived at this thought; I wanted to know if there was any correlation between body size (height & weight) and sacks by the top NFL linesman from last season.

Now, this isn’t a scientific study, but it did lead to some interesting insights. But first, a few caveats. One, I chose to only look at last season (instead of multiple season averages) because, well, the game changes. New rules are implemented and game style changes year to year. This leads to different effects on pass rushing and I didn’t want to cross contaminate the different years. Second, I didn’t take into account speed. Obviously this is a huge factor. However, since there only exists regulated speed times (40 yd dash) from combines, these numbers are often outdated and skewed. Therefore, for this post at least, I’ve just looked at two factors that most likely have less volatility than a player’s sprint time: height and weight.

Using 2013 statistics from ESPN, I analyzed the height and weight of each of the top 100 sack leaders from last season. Robert Mathis led the pack with 19.5 sacks while the lowest  part of the top 100 had 4.5 sacks. From what I can tell, there was about 390 players who had at least half a sack last year so this is about a 25% sample size of the whole population, and of course these are the top performers. Below you can see the overall bubble chart showing each of the top 100 players. Feel free to visit my infogr.am to delve further into the details. Visiting the link will allow you to hover over each bubble which will display the name of each player as well as their height, weight, and how many sacks they had in 2013.

NFL Sack leaders compilation

Highlighted above in the graphic are the two sack leaders for last year (Robert Mathis and Robert Quinn) as well as three players I wanted to specifically point out as they are outliers in the overall group. Overall the top 100 sack leaders combined for 755 sacks last season. These players had an average height of 6′ 3″ (75″) and weighed 275 pounds. Robert Mathis, overall sack leader, is actually a bit smaller than the average standing an inch shorter and almost 30 pounds lighter than the rest of the group. However it is obvious that what he lacks in size he makes up for in speed. Robert Mathis when drafted in 2003 had a 40 time of 4.72. To put this into perspective, since 2006, only one other outside linebacker has had a fast 40 time at 4.71 (Terron Armstead). Here’s some other interesting insights from my analysis.

  • Above average performance, below average size – In 2013, Robert Quinn had the second most sacks in the season with 19, falling half a sack short of the leader. Robert Quinn is closer to the group average standing at 76″ and 264 pounds. This puts him only half an inch above the average and about 10 pounds below the average weight. Quinn’s 40 time is actually a hair faster than Mathis and was one of the top defensive lineman of his draft class running a 4.7 at the combine.
  • Small but effective – Elvis Dumervil, despite being significantly smaller than the rest of the group put up great numbers in 2013 with 9.5 sacks. This is effectively two more than the average for the top 100 group. Interestingly, it doesn’t appear to be his speed that makes him so effective (4.75 40 time). Instead, multiple sources state that Dumervil’s wingspan (6′-6″) is his biggest advantage, a full 7 inches longer than he is tall. His short size and long arms allow for him to easily sneak through cracks on the offensive line that the rest of the linemen may not be able to squeeze through.
  • Calais Campbell, Monster – Campbell, who weighs 300 pounds, is almost a foot taller than the average male, standing at 6′-8″. He is also the tallest member of the 100 linemen I looked at. Despite being a beast of a man, Campbell still recorded 9 sacks last year, the 28th most this past season for all lineman. Impressive? I’d say so.
  • Strong Man Dontari Poe – Although being at the lower end of the group Poe is still a force to be reckoned with. Despite weighing almost 70 pounds more than the average for the group, Poe still recorded 4.5 sacks in 2013. An imposing figure, Poe was cited as “the most athletic over 300-pound man in this draft, or a lot of other drafts” by one scout prior to the 2012 draft. Not surprising, considering he’s ranked third in the benchpress since 2006 pressing the 225lb bar a whopping 44 times.

Regardless of how big or small these guys are in comparison to the group, I’d get out of the way if any one of them was coming my way.

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