Defensive ends and outside linebackers tasked with harassing the opposing quarterback are among the most physically imposing players in the NFL. Weighing 260 pounds on average, the current crop of NFL edge rushers is full of athletic marvels. Cleveland Browns defensive end and former first overall pick Myles Garrett has the physique of a pro wrestler, yet he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds and has topped 20 mph on the gridiron.
While it’s not news that NFL athletes are big and fast, our ability to quantify their athleticism has improved immensely in recent years. And one of the most promising new metrics for judging pass rushers is the evocatively named “NGS Get Off” tracked by the NFL’s Next Gen Stats group.
Roughly analogous to timing a sprinter’s first two steps out of a block start, NGS Get Off measures the average time it takes for a defensive player to get past the line of scrimmage after the snap of the ball. The metric is a direct measure of quick-twitch athletic ability at a position for which such quickness is at a premium, and it allows us to ask a number of interesting questions about pass rush performance. Once a player makes it to the NFL and has met the athletic threshold to compete at the highest level, does being faster off the line tend to lead to more sacks, pressures and hits on the quarterback? Or do other factors like strength and technique start to dominate? And perhaps most importantly for evaluators and forecasters, is NGS Get Off stable? Do players who are quick or slow off the line one year tend to perform similarly the following season?
To answer these questions, we took season-level data from 2017 through Week 9 of the 2021 season and tested the how well quickness off the line as captured by NGS Get Off correlates with ESPN’s Pass Rush Wins, pressures, quarterback hits and, finally, sacks. If being quick off the line and getting an extra half-step on an offensive tackle is beneficial — and since lower numbers are better — we’d expect to see a negative correlation between the metric and measures of rushing production. And that’s what we find.
|Pass rush wins||-0.51|
The quicker a pass rusher is at getting across the line of scrimmage after the ball is snapped, the more good things tend to happen for a defense. Pass Rush Wins and quarterback pressures show the highest correlation with NGS Get Off, followed by QB hits and sacks. This makes intuitive sense. While sacking the opposing quarterback is the most valuable thing a pass rusher can do, sacks are fairly rare. QB pressures and hits occur more often and so are less influenced by randomness. As a result, players with low NGS Get Off times tend to see the greatest effect in their secondary, non-sack numbers.
Football metrics that describe good performance but fail to capture a repeatable skill are interesting curiosities but are of limited use for decision makers and analysts. The best metrics not only explain what already happened on the field, but also help us predict what might occur in the future. NGS Get Off is one of those rare stats. Its stability is high for a football metric, indicating that pass rushers tend to carry their NGS Get Off times with them from season to season.
Given the metric’s stability, it’s worth looking at where the league’s edge rushers stand at the season’s halfway point. Teams with fast defensive ends but poor sack totals — like the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints — might have reason to hope for more sacks down the stretch.
Which teams have the quickest rushers? The Las Vegas Raiders have the luxury of trotting out two of the fastest edge rushers in the league after their offseason acquisition of Yannick Ngakoue and the ascension of 2019 fourth-round pick Maxx Crosby. And Buffalo’s league-leading defense appears legit: The Bills are anchored by the league’s second-fastest duo off the ball in A.J. Epenesa and Jerry Hughes. Meanwhile, the Chargers’ 19th-ranked duo of Uchenna Nwosu and Joey Bosa currently leads the NFL in sacks with 28 and may be due for some regression.
Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans pits Cam Jordan and Payton Turner against Ola Adeniyi and Harold Landry in what could be a sack-filled affair. And the Detroit Lions’ edge rush doesn’t appear to offer much hope for a team hungry for its first win of the season: The two are the slowest duo off the snap in the NFL and have hit the opposing quarterback just 27 times this season, also worst in the league.
Speed still matters in the NFL. For defensive pass rushers, it can be the difference between hurrying a quarterback into a mistake or watching him celebrate a touchdown.
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