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Paying a Pass Rusher: Cameron Wake
New York Jets Salary Cap Page

Paying a Pass Rusher: Cameron Wake

Recently I had someone email me about Cameron Wake’s contract and what he might be worth.  I didn’t have a ton of time to really look into it and found him a little difficult to evaluate because I thought he didnt bring much to the table besides rushing the passer, but I wanted to revisit that in light of some people saying he was overpaid on his 4 year, $49 million dollar deal due to a low sack total last season.  Plus it may be something we can use to value pass rushers in the future the way I have done with some other positions. Now as far as I know no details of the contract have been released and certainly the timing of the payments go into whether it is a good or bad deal for the team, but lets just go with the assumption that it has balanced payments.

The first category I want to look at is where Wake ranks in terms of pressures among OLB’s. Using the fine data from Pro Football Focuswe can get a pretty good approximation of that in three categories: sacks, hits and hurries.  Looking at all the players last season who played in at least 25% of the defensive snaps we can calculate the percentage of success per pass rush play among the group as well as the average performance in each category.   I’m just going to post a select group of players rather than the entire group as well as the average numbers for the overall OLB group since Im mainly interested in Wake. 

So just based on last years numbers we can say that Wake was 22% less productive sacking the QB, but 67.1% more productive at hitting the QB and 37% more productive at hurrying the QB that the average 34 Outside Linebacker.  That ranks 12, 2, and 3 among the 20 players listed.  Certainly he looks far superior that way than just by looking at the sack total for last season.

So we need to estimate just how important is each category?  To do that I want to look at the average play from the QB position and compare the under pressure passing to that of no pressure passing.   Under no pressure the average completion percentage in 2011 was 65.1%.  The amount of times the QB scrambled was 2.45% which would most likely be due to a coverage situation.  When put under pressure, which is about 33% of the time, the completion percentage falls all the way down to 45.1% and the scrambles rise to 6.4%. 

Now I want to think in terms of success here.  In a normal situation a QB is effective 65.1% of the time and ineffective the other 34.9% of the time.  With the hurry we make the QB effective only 45.1% of the time.  I would also consider a scramble an ineffective play most of the time as well since most QBs run for a handful of yards under pressure while even a short normal pass would be expected to net at least 6 or 7 yards.  Scrambles increase by 158%, another unsuccessful play for the offense. 

So how do we score it?  To take the forced scrambles into account Let’s calculate completion percentage as a percent of pass attempts+run attempts.  Under normal circumstances the percentage of completions is 63.4%.  Under pressurized situations its 41.7%.  So the chance of failure increases from only 36.6% to 58.3%.  We now can say that the pressure leads to a 59.2% increase in chance of failure over a normal situation.  A sack is always an offensive failure since it increases the failures from 36.6% to 100%, an increase of 173%.  So what I am going to do here is score the sack at 1.73 points and the pressure categories at 0.592, essentially stating that a sack is worth 2.9 times as much as a pressure.  If I had yardage totals for passes under pressure and data for conversion rates on drives with sacks we could paint a much more accurate metric, but for right now this is a pretty decent place to start.

Using those weighted numbers we can estimate just how many negative plays as a percentage of pass rush opportunities, on average, will be caused by the specific player. 

Looking at the numbers this way puts a much more realistic spin on the effectiveness of the pass rush beyond just that of the traditional sack.  Wake clearly would rank among the elite just barely trailing Brian Orakpo and Lamar Woodley, who I don’t have listed on that chart.  Mario Williams, using his 2010 numbers, would have scored only 10.8%.  And for those who stated Wake is on the decline because of the sack drop, his score in 2010 would have been 12.6%, so he still had a normal season that would not set an alarm off. I think these numbers also eliminate my one concern I had with Wake in that his Sack and Hit numbers were close to that of Jason Taylor, who played in the same system.  Taylor benefitted from a better play selection and I think, in hindsight, likely benefitted from Wake being on the field.  Hurries are something you cause whereas sacks and hits can often be caused by someone else chasing the player into you. 

Now there are clearly other categories to look at when valuing Wake, and other OLB’s. In terms of negative run plays, PFF rates Wake at 6.6%, which is slightly above the average of 6.1% for the OLBs who also play against the run.  The average tackles against the run is 8.4% and his number is at 8.5%.  So basically he doesn’t stand out in the category at all, but only 60% of the players who play at least 25% of their teams pass snaps also play in 25% of the run stops and he is one of them.  The fact that he plays both ways and isn’t taken off the field is a big deal. 

Wake ranks weakest in coverage.  Miami does not seem to use him there very often which is a defensive choice.  He and Jason Taylor were the two lowest ranking OLB’s in terms of coverage snaps last season who qualified for the list and he was right around there last year as well.  So Miami isn’t really going to decoy with Wake.  Even Ware had 76 plays in coverage last season. Wake gave up 6 receptions on 8 targets (75%), which was a little worse than average.  His 15.8 YPC was the worst in the league and the 12.7 YAC average was also worst in the league.  He was targeted 15.7% of the time he was in coverage which was second worst in the league to only Clay Matthews.  Ware, in those same categories, scored 66.6%, 3.2 YPC, 5.3 YAC, and 11.8% targets.  So clearly this is not a strength of Wake’s, but in valuing the player it should be a small part of the overall equation. 

Normally when I try to put a dollar figure on a player I like to go for 3 years worth of stats, but this is just a look at seeing if Miami wildly overpaid for the player so I think the one year numbers presented above are enough.  Wake’s 4 year deal will average $12.25 million, which is a larger 4 year payout than everyone except Ware. In quickly glancing at the elite DE’s its also behind Peppers, Johnson, and Williams.  Wake is a more effective pass rusher than each of the DE’s, but I would imagine there is a difference between playing with your hand in the dirt right across from a tackle and standing up and rushing.  What makes the contract tough to judge is most of the big number rushers playing in a 34 are all on rookie deals.

I’m not going to do a total score, but might do that in the future if I look at pass rushers in a valuation article. Based on play percentages the pass rush would be worth about 46.5% of an overall score, run defense 39.3% goes, while coverage accounts for 14.2%.  If we factor in 43 DE’s those numbers may change.  He ranks elite among pass rushers and 3rd among elite pass rushers in run defense.  His coverage is arguably the worst at the position.  His 4 year payout is probably too close to that of Ware for my liking, but until we know the structure of the contract it is hard to fully judge that number.  His reported guarantee of $20 million is less than many on the list on a yearly basis which may be the tradeoff for the higher contract. There is also the fact that Miami may view this as a 5 year deal worth $10 million annually since he had 1 year left on a low cost deal signed when he first entered the NFL.

In looking at Ware he probably should earn around $10.5 million or so a season, but that contract, like most others, is a few years old. Hali is the guy who is the market setter of the position and the player that gives the most leverage to Wake in negotiations, IMO.  At Hali’s performance, Wake should be worth in the ballpark of $12.5-$12.9 million a season and maybe more when you look closer at the run splits.  If Wake continues his current level there is little doubt that the money is more or less in line with the market and most likely a good deal for both sides.

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