I know this is a little after-the-fact, but it's been bugging me for a while and I finally got around to writing this. - Ed.
I know this is a little after-the-fact, but it's been bugging me for a while and I finally got around to writing this. - Ed.
Despite my self imposed writing exile from mid November to January 4th, I watched a lot of college football this season. A lot. Wednesday night, Thursday night, hell, even the random Sun Belt game on a Tuesday. As a result, when I wasn't watching Michigan play, I saw a lot of Georgia Tech and TCU. Every time, I heard how fantastic Derrick Morgan and Jerry Hughes were. How dominant they'd been and would be. How both were capable of separating the opposing quarterback from the ball, and his head, when the occassion arose. True to the announcers' words, both truly were impressive players well deserving of the accolades heaped upon them. But I can't agree that both were first team AP All Americans.
Neither of them were better than Brandon Graham. Not even close.
Graham's stats are amazing:
The guy turned one of those blocked kicks into a touchdown. Not too shabby, eh? What's even more impressive about these stats is that he compiled them not just while being double teamed, but whil playing on one of the worst defenses in a BCS conference. At times, Graham was the onlyWolverine defender who seemed capable of doing his job. Graham not only led his conference in TFL, but led the nationin tackles for loss. The only defensive end near that level was Von Miller of Texas A&M, who tallied 21.5 TFL. Futher, looking at the stats, Graham did his damage in only 12 games, whereas just about everyone else on the All American watch list got one (or in Derrick Morgan's case two) more bites of the apple to pad their stats. Graham a tackle for loss in all but two games (Western Michigan and Purdue), and registered a sack in every conference game but Purdue and Indiana. His resume was unimpeachable, yet he was a consensus second teamer AA.
Without looking at the stats, and based strictly on the eyeball test, it's not even close. Graham was the most physically dominant Defensive End I saw play this year. Bar none. But there's a fair argument that I'm biased. That's why we have stats, personnel files, and draft boards to prove my point.
We'll look at Derrick Morgan, Jerry Hughes, Von Miller, Jeremy Beal and Brandon Shapre. All of these gentlemen were nominated for All America honors and received them as first through third team. You may actually be surprised by what I found out and how my opinions changed as I wrote this.
Let's take a look at the overall numbers for the first through third team All Americans
|Jerry Hughes (TCU)||13||32||26||16.5||11.5||7||3||1||0|
|Derrick Morgan (GT)||14||39||16||18.5||12.5||2||1||2||0|
|Brandon Graham (Mich)||12||41||22||26.0||10.5||1||2||2||2|
|Von Miller (Texas A&M)||13||31||16||21.5||17||1||5||4||0|
|Brandon Sharpe (TTU)||12||26||10||18||15||6||5||
|Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma)||13||46||24||19||11||5||3||3||0|
Obviously, the first thing that jumps out at you are the guady sack numbers, followed by the TFLs and then hurry numbers. So lets take a harder look at them.
Sacks are what turn heads in the college game, defensively. There's nothing like watching your quarterback's body debate whether or not it's worth it to remain attached to his head after a monster DE catches him from the blind side. It's deflating as hell. On the other side, few things outside of turnovers get a crowd on its feet as quickly as a sack. Sack are where you make sportscenter, baby.
Tackles for loss may not be as glamerous, but they tell a big story as well. It means a player is spending an awful lot of time in the bad guy's backfield. A TFL means you got to the ball carrier before he could do anything because you just OWNZORED! the offensive lineman/men trying to guard you. If you're a DE with a lot of TFL, you're goign to get paid at the next level. Personally, I think they're a more telling statistic than sacks.
Now, on to the numbers. Looking at Miller's numbers, averaging over a sack a game is pretty damn impressive. For that matter, just about everyone on this list has awesome sack and TFL numbers overall. But who did they perform against and where are those numebrs comign from? The key to determining performace is weather or not you're padding your stats against crappy teams. Therefore,I think it's fair to throw out TFL's and sacks against D1-AA teams. That affects Graham as Michigan played Delaware State and gives a bonus to the players who went up against BCS subdivision teams. So, deduct 2 TFL and 2 Sacks from Graham. Deduct 3 TFL and 3 sacks from Hughes for Texas State. Deduct 2 sacks and 2.5 TFL from Morgan for Jacksonville State. Jeremy Beal, Brandon Sharpe, and Von Miller don't get penalized for D1-AA opponents because they either didn't play a FCS team or didn't register any number against them.
While I won't outright deduct points for this, it should be noted that 8 of Von Miller's 17 sacks came against baby seals in New Mexico (1-11), Utah State (4-8), and UAB (5-7) during the first three weeks of the season. That said, even if you deduct those sacks, he still posted 9 sacks which is almost as much as Graham's unadjusted total. You could consider Beal's three sacks against Tulsa a baby seal clubbing as well, but because we're not docking for BCS teams it's just something to consider in the grand scheme so I'll put the dreaded asterix by their numbers.
The adjusted numbers look like so:
|Jerry Hughes (TCU)||8.0||13.5|
|Derrick Morgan (GT)||10.5||16.0|
|Brandon Graham (Mich)||8.5||24.0|
|Von Miller (Texas A&M)||17.0*||21.5*|
|Brandon Sharpe (TTU)||15.0||18.0|
|Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma||11.0*||19.0*|
No matter where you play on defense, your tackle numbers define you as a player. Well... maybe not corner, but we're not talking about them. If you're all sacks and low tackle numbers, you're either a situational player or not particularly well rounded as a player. But if you're racking up TFLs and still making tackles elsewhere on the field, it shows a complete player.
What stood out to me in reviewing these numbers was Jeremy Beal's simply staggering 46 solo tackles and 24 assists. That's 70 tackles from a DE. 70. Just for context, that would have placed him third on Michigan's tackles list, in front of every linebacker but Stevie Brown and just behind Jordan Kovacs at Safety. With that stated, Graham's 64 total tackles is still well clear of Hughes 58 in third place and Morgan's 55 in fourth. Miller and Sharpe trailed with 47 and 36 respectively.
Defensive ends really don't make a lot of tackles in comparison to Linebackers and safeties. Linemen are usually occupied by one to two large men opposite them, and their job on many occassions is to limit the opposing runningback's options and funnel them into the waiting arms of these other players. The really good linemen, however, are capable not only of defeating the constant double teams they face but making the tackes themselves. Put it this way, Brandon Sharpe was a third team All America selection by the AP at DE. He had 36 tackles. Total. The fact that Beal and Graham almost double that tally is stunning.
This is big deal. If you're surrounded by All-Stars it makes it harder for the opposing team to decide who to block on a regular basis. If you're surroundedby shmoes, well, it makes that decision much easier and tells your opponent exactly where not to run.
Enter the statistics. TCU ranked first overall in total team defense. You don't get that with one player, and as we saw from the Fiesta Bowl, every member of the TCU defense was fairly competent against an excellent offense in Boise. Oklahoma checks in next at 8th in total team defense. Judging by the fact there are three Oklahoma defenders between the second and third team All America defenses, well, Beal had some help. Texas Tech ranked 49th, Georgia Tech 54th, Michigan 82nd, and Texas A&M 105th. Basically, Graham and in particular, Von Miller, did their work all by their lonesomes. Miller, in particular, did it in spite of his teammates.
Quality of Opposition
This is where all the Mountain West people will get mad at me. I'll say it anyway. Jerry Hughes didn't face anyonethis year on par with what Jeremy Beal went up against every week in conference play. How do I know? I took a look at where the personnel fit on the draft boards. Specifically, CBSSportsline.com's draft ratings board. Every school with a draftable player is listed. For the sake of slimming the data, I only counted "good" players on the offensive line as players rated to be selected in the 7 rounds of the draft or designated as "FA" or a likely free agent signee. You can be a senior OL and still suck. Likewise I didn't count Tight Ends as part of the equation because they're not in the game the entire time and don't have to block with the regularity that a offensive tackle or guard has too. Because Defensive ends stunt and do all kinds of crazy stuff, I counted all "good" linemen (tackles, guards and centers). If people wish, they can take the centers of the equation all together. But that's a personal preference.
|Draft Rated Opponents||Projected Round(s)|
|Jerry Hughes (TCU)||3||4th, 7/FA, 7/FA|
|Derrick Morgan (GT)||7||1st, 2nd, 2nd, 5th, 7/FA, 7/FA, 7/FA|
|Brandon Graham (Mich)||7||1st, 2nd, 2/3, 3rd, 4/5, 5th, 7th|
|Von Miller (Texas A&M)||10||1st, 1st, 3rd, 4th, 4/5, 5th, 5/6, 6/7, 7th, 7th|
|Brandon Sharpe (TTU)||4||1st, 1st, 7th 7/FA|
|Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma)||9||1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4/5, 5th, 5/6, 6/7, 7th, 7FA|
If you're looking for the guy that faced the stiffest competition, look no further than Von Miller. 10th draft rated players as competition, and still 9 sacks against conference opponents and Arkansas. A tip O' the cap to Mr. Miller. Looking at the numbers, in terms of overall competition, I'd place Miller 1st, Beal 2nd, Graham 3rd, Morgan 4th, and Sharpe 5th, and Hughes last.
Everyone wants a DE that rises to a challenge. It's one thing to look good on film or early in a season or game, but its another to go to another level against tough competition. Like I said, my lasting memories of Morgan and Hughes are not particularly favorable. My first viewing Derrick Morgan was watching him run amok against Clemson in week two for one half, then completely disappear and look exhausted for the second half. I also watched him get handled by Clemson in their ACC Championship rematch and get owned by Bryan Bulaga and the Iowa offensive line in the Orange Bowl. If you ignore his three sacks in that September 10, 2010 game, Morgan had only 1 sack and 3.0 total TFL against a ranked opponent the rest of the year. Great physical specimen, but not much for staying power.
Hughes was a non factor in the Fiesta Bowl (by my evaluation), and no matter how much I watched him I just didn't think he was a dominant player and I never saw him compete against someone who could match or even come close to his athleticism in conference or OOC play. When he went up againt people who could, he wasn't particularly effective. Against Clemson, a group Morgan lit up for three sacks two weeks prior, Hughes just two tackles. No TFL. No sacks. Against ranked competition he tallied 5 TFL and 2 sacks.
Graham was another story all together. Despite starting slow, Graham's game picked up as the season went on despite Michigan's struggles. Against ranked teams Graham was insane. Against #7 Iowa and Bulaga, Graham racked up 3.5 TFL and 2 sacks. Against #9 Penn State Graham had 3.5 TFL and .5 sacks. Against #16 Wisconsin Graham had 4.0 TFL and 2 sacks, out of 11 total tackles! Against #5 Ohio State he had 5 TFL and 2 sacks. As the competition got better, so did Graham.
Jeremy Beal seemed to shine more as a run stuffer than pass rusher. Even so, he was pretty damn impressive. Beal played six ranked teams in 2009 (though Kansas really shouldn't be counted) and posted decent numbers. Against #20 BYU in the shocking season opening loss, Beal had just 1 TFL and no sacks. Against #17 Miami he was a monster, totaling 3 sacks/TFL. Against Texas, Beal didn't register a sack or a TFL but racked up 12 tackles. But for the rest of the way, Beal registered only a total of 4 TFL and .5 sacks against #25 Kansas, #12 Oklahoma State and #21 Stanford.
Von Miller didn't get the chance to play against a lot of ranked competition. The Aggies only saw #15 Oklahoma State (1.5 TFL, no sacks) and #3 Texas (2.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks). But against other good competition the numebrs weren't so good. Against Georgia he registered .5 TFL and no sacks. Against Oklahoma he didn't register a tackle. Against Texas Tech he notched two sacks but only one other tackle. Looking at his stats and his performances, Miller was basically an all or nothing pass rusher.
Finally, Brandon Sharpe who was and all or nothing pass rusher. Sharpe's sack total of 15 is only three less than his TFL total of 17. Unfotunately for Sharpe he didn't play against Texas, so he only saw three games against ranked foes. Against #17 Houston Sharpe had one assist on a regular tackle. Against #15 Nebraska he went nuts, notching 4 TFL which included 4 sacks. But against Oklahoma State, he was shut out again in the TFL and Sack categories. Most of Sharpe's numbers came against unranked foes. The best game to his credit among the unranked foes was that against Oklahoma Sharpe did rack up 2 sacks and 2.5 TFLs. Even so, the numbers aren't great and he's not a threat to your run game.
Look, I realize this is basically a dog and pony show, but you can't hand out the blue ribbon arbitrarily. Well, I take that back, the numbers above show you can. But it doesn't mean you should. At best, Morgan and Hughes were second team All Americans and looking at the numbers you can argue that Hughes was a third teamer.
IMHO the DE's should've come out as so:
1st Team: Brandon Graham, Von Miller
2nd Team: Jeremy Beal, Derrick Morgan
3rd Team: Brandon Sharpe, Jerry Hughes
Just looking at the raw numbers, the ammount of time Graham spent in opposing backfields, the sacks, the high level competition, dominating Bulaga and Iowa, raising his game, etc... I think you have to make him a first teamer. Otherwise the team is just a crock. After that point, it's a toss up between Beal, Miller and Morgan for the remaining first team slot.
Sadly, if the voters had broken this down even slightly, they could've gotten this right.