Thursday, May 8, 2008

What to expect from Jared Allen

It's not every day your team acquires the NFL's leader in any significant statistic the previous season. Being very good, such players usually aren't available, and when they are, they command top dollar, as Jared Allen did in his trade-and-sign deal that netted him a potential $72 million over 6 years.

That said, big-money deals for players who sometimes enjoyed career years often go south when the fans of the player's new team turn on him for not performing the same way he did just prior to the signing. That's just the law of averages at work; rarely does a player lead the league in the same category multiple years in a row, whether due to injury, age, ineffectiveness, or just luck (good in his pre-signing year or bad in his post-signing years). Will Viking fans think Allen a bust if he doesn't notch at least 15 sacks in 2008? Or 18? Is it even realistic to think that way?

Jared Allen led the NFL with 15.5 sacks in 2007. That makes him the 22nd player in 26 years to lead the league in that category since sacks became an official stat in 1982. Only Reggie White and Mark Gastineau have ever captured back-to-back sack titles. Chances are, Allen won't do it again, since his previous three years' sack totals are 9.0, 11.0, and 7.5 -- solid numbers all, but not what you're looking for from the league's most expensive defensive end.

On the other hand, Allen is young; he was 25 in 2007 and turned 26 just last month. Only 6 of those 28 sack leaders were 25 or younger, and most still had (or, in the case of Shawne Merriman and Dwight Freeney, should have) several good years ahead of them. Comparing Allen to 27-year-old Derrick Burgess or 30-year-old John Randle probably won't paint us an accurate assessment of his future. In fact, looking at sack leaders alone is probably not a wise choice in general, since Allen wouldn't be any less talented if, say, some other player had notched 16.0 sacks in 2007.

Instead, we'll look at two factors: Allen's sack total and his age. 17 players have racked up 15 or more sacks at or before the age of 25, including Allen. In the chart below, I've tracked their sacks in their "15" season (Year N), along with their sack totals in each of the next three seasons (Years N+1, N+2, and N+3):

PlayerAgeSeasonYear NYear N+1Year N+2Year N+3
D. Thomas2319902013.514.58
T. Harris25198919.57317
A. Tippett25198418.516.59.512.5
R. White25198618211811
R. Dent24198417.51711.512.5
S. Merriman2220061712.5

R. Dent2519851711.512.510.5
S. Rice25199916.57.51115.5
P. Swilling25198916.5111710.5
D. Freeney24200416115.53.5
J. Allen25200715.5

C. Simmons25198915.57.51319
S. Jones24198615.567.56
L. Marshall24198515.51288
B. Smith23198615121113
L. Williams2419861581114
M. Merriweather24198415465.5


Of the 16 non-Allen players who managed 15 or more sacks in a season, all but one -- the great Reggie White -- had fewer sacks the year after their big season. 6 experienced a drop-off of 0.5 to 5.0 sacks, and 9 lost more than 5.0 sacks from their totals. Not very encouraging, all things considered.

On the other hand, even the players who lost more than 5.0 sacks probably wouldn't be considered total "busts," if they'd signed free-agent deals after their big seasons. Derrick Thomas certainly wasn't a bust, by any stretch. Tim Harris had 13.5 and 19.5 sacks in back-to-back years before his plunge, but he still rebounded nicely a few years later. Richard Dent still managed double-digit sacks for 6 of his next 8 seasons. Clyde Simmons and Lee Williams were fine after one-year drop-offs. Only Mike Merriweather and Sean Jones might be considered absolute flukes (though Jones did have a few nice seasons later in his career), and Dwight Freeney still has a chance to cement himself as a great modern pass-rusher.

Even with the flukes and busts taken into account, 15-sack men averaged about 11 sacks a year over their next three seasons. Considering how much the Vikings have lacked a consistent pass rush this decade (with only Kevin Williams and Lance Johnstone notching double-digit sacks), I think most fans should be happy with 10-12 sacks each year from Allen. I know I will. There seems to be little chance of his improving on that total -- of the 46 post-Year N seasons above, only 4 resulted in a higher sack total, and two of those were by Reggie White.

Then again, playing Jon Kitna twice a season can do wonders for one's sack totals.

No comments: