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2012 Free Agency: More On Kamerion Wimbley

WIth a 5 year, $35 million deal, the Titans addressed one of their most pressing needs for 2012. Wimbley isn't a huge splash, but I like him here more than I'd have liked the ghost of John Abraham. Since breaking out with Cleveland with 11 sacks in his rookie year, Wimbley has been on a slow production decline in terms of sack numbers, but has hovered around 6.5 for most of his career. However, this doesn't tell the whole story at all.

Wimbley, despite underwhelming sack numbers, is going to be a great addition to this team. What do James Harrison, Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo, and Robert Mathis, Jeremy Mincey, John Abraham, and Julius Peppers all have in common? All are great players, all had fewer QB hits than Wimbley last season. Wimbley got to opposing quarterbacks nineteen times last season, good for ninth among linebackers in the league and seventh among defensive ends. As a 'tweener, it's not easy to categorize him, but it's also not that important. Wimbley was brought here to hit quarterbacks, it doesn't matter where he does it from, what those numbers say is that either way, Wimbley was really good at what he's been signed to do, apply pressure.

What else should we know? Know that when Wimbley is allowed to rush all out, he's at his best. He's also fairly undersized to be a defensive end, but that hasn't seemed to slow him down that much in the past. What all this says to me is that Jerry Gray and co. are very serious about having multiple defensive looks thrown into the playbook this year. I don't know that he'll be an every down player. I see him getting a majority of the snaps, he's still probably the best defensive end on the team, but Jason Babin was let go because he was only good at getting the quarterback when he was let loose in the Wide 9. Wimbley seems to be a player cut in the same mold, great when let loose to attack the QB, not such a good, well rounded player. My suspicions were confirmed when I looked at something called "tackle factor", a stat invented by our friends at Advanced NFL Stats.

Here's their explanation of tackle factor:

What if we looked at the proportion of all 49ers tackles for which Patrick Willis was given credit? San Francisco logged a total of 832 tackles in the 2009 regular season, and Willis got credit for 114, a proportion of 13.7%. Willis is an ILB in a 3-4 scheme, and in 2009 the ILB position in all the NFL’s 3-4 schemes accounted for 21.5% of a team's tackle total. Because there are two ILBs on the field at once, a single ILB could be expected to average half that, or 10.7% of a team's total.

Willis' 13.7% compares very well with his position’s expected tackle rate. His ratio of tackle percentage compared to the expected percentage for his position is 13.7/10.7, or 1.23. In other words, Patrick Willis has a 'Tackle Factor' of 1.23; he makes 23% more tackles than you'd expect from his position, which tells us a lot about his ability to shed blocks, get to a ball carrier, and make a tackle.

To compare Willis to other players we can follow the same process. Redskins MLB London Fletcher notched 95 of Washington's 804 tackles in 15 games last season. Over a full season we could estimate he would have 16/15 * 95 = 101 'season-adjusted' tackles. Fletcher's adjusted share of the Redskin's tackles would be 101/804, or 12.6%. The MLB position in a 4-3 defense averages 11.9% of a team's tackles, making Fletcher's Tackle Factor 1.06.

Now, they use Patrick Willis and London Fletcher, two inside linebackers, as examples, but the idea that this helps to determine how well a defensive player can "shed blocks, get to a ball carrier, and make a tackle" should still carry weight for any defensive player. Wimbley doesn't stack up so well in TF, he ranks 81st in the league with a rating of 0.67, meaning he misses nearly a third of the tackles he's "expected" to make. Two things though: first off is that while this is a quantum leap ahead of measuring defensive effectiveness with tackles, this system has its' flaws. Second is that Wimbley wasn't brought in to be a great run stopper and can still be a very effective. In fact, last years' defensive MVP, Terrell Suggs, only has a .71 TF, good for 74th in the NFL.

Bottom line: I'm excited for what Wimbley brings to the defense. Defensive end was a need, the Titans and their suddenly super-aggressive front office addressed it with the best player available at a reasonable, front loaded price. Sounds like a win/win to me.