NFL.com has been releasing some interesting information in their Next Gen Stats series over the last several weeks about the 2016 NFL season. These stats are generated via data gathered from sensors that are embedded in the shoulder pads of every NFL player and then read by sensors located throughout the stadium as they move around the field during the game.
The latest set of information that they released ranked the top 10 edge rushers in the NFL based on their average distance to the quarterback at the time of throw (or sack). The idea is to measure the amount of pressure that a pass rusher generated beyond a binary stat like sacks or more subjective stats like “QB pressures”. This metric turned out to say really good things about both Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan who finished the 2016 season ranked 2nd and 4th out of all NFL edge rushers. Here is their analysis:
2) Brian Orakpo, Tennessee Titans (3.83 average distance to the quarterback)
The past two years have been a joyous return to form for Brian Orakpo. The veteran linebacker has experienced one of the more impressive career revivals in Tennessee since he arrived in Nashville after inking a free agent deal. Injuries thwarted the 2009 first-round pick's stint in Washington after he emerged as a dangerous edge threat right away in the first three years of his career. Orakpo tore a pectoral muscle in three separate seasons in Washington; at the end of the 2011 season, two games into 2012 and then again in 2014 after a bounce-back, 10-sack 2013 campaign.
Orakpo racked up 17.5 sacks over the last two seasons in the Titans aggressive 3-4 defense. His 3.83 average distance to the quarterback at time of throw or sack underscores that he's consistently putting heat on opposing passers even when he doesn't take them down. Tennessee has Orakpo under contract until 2019 on a deal that averaged $7.5 million per year. A situation that looks like a bargain in hindsight.
4) Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans (3.94 average distance to the quarterback)
The 16th overall pick in the 2010 draft turned in a career year at age 27, notching nine sacks in 15 games. Much like his teammate Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan found new life the last two seasons playing rush linebacker in Dick LeBeau's pressure packages. Morgan's 3.94 average yards to the quarterback at time of sack or throw is in the 91st percentile among edge players this season. He's a consistent pressure threat. With two edge rushers in this top 10 list, one would imagine the Titans would finish better than 30th in passing yards allowed this season. This reality only serves to emphasize how much help Tennessee needs in a secondary that had Brice McCain and Antwon Blake playing major snaps by the end of the season.
The Titans were the only team to land two edge rushers in the top 10 of this ranking. Of course Orakpo and Morgan also had good years by most traditional measures as well finishing with 10.5 and 9 sacks on the season, respectively, which put them both in the top 20 among all NFL players. Saying they had a good season isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff, but I do think these stats give some indication that they may have been even better than we are giving them credit for. This data shows that they were very close to making even more big plays for the Titans defense. Now if we can just get them some help in the secondary next season we should see some of those near misses turn in to game changing plays.