Part 1: Interview with Danny Kelly of Field Gulls
The two Seattle Seahawks fans who I enjoy the most are Danny Kelly and Zach Whitman, who both write for Field Gulls, SB Nation’s Seahawks blog. It seemed natural to bend one of their ears when the topic of Bruce Irvin came up. Please visit the site and read their content.
JM: What do you think the chances are that Bruce Irvin plays for the Seattle Seahawks in 2016?
DK: Honestly, at this point it seems like it’s about an 80-percent chance he’s playing for another team in 2016. Seattle’s cap is a little tight and they’re already paying Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright top dollar for the linebacker position. Irvin is a very good SAM in Seattle’s system, but he’s not a top-tier pass rusher that would command the type of money some team is going to offer him thinking that he can be more effective as a full time rusher, I think.
JM: Irvin’s fifth-year option, that the Seahawks declined to pick up, was worth $7.8 million in 2016. Jason La Canfora said teams would do cartwheels to land Irvin anywhere near $9 million per season on his next contract. John Clayton threw the $9.5 million per season number out. Is declining his option viewed in the Seattle community as a mistake?
DK: No. With the role that Irvin plays in Seattle’s scheme (SAM on base downs, pass rusher on nickel downs), the production has just not been there to give him top-tier pass rusher money. He’s super athletic and does play a nice role in the Seahawks’ scheme, but it’s generally believed that Seattle could replace Irvin with two separate players — a base SAM and a situational pass rusher — for less money.
JM: Draft weekend last year, there were rumors that Irvin would be traded to the Atlanta Falcons, where former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was a first-year head coach. At least with that situation, he was raised in Atlanta, even if he told BSO that he wanted to be there before the 2015 season had even kicked off.
Now, he’s tweeting about loving Florida and following every member of Jacksonville Twitter, where Gus Bradley, the Seahawks defensive coordinator before Quinn, is the head coach. Do Seahawks fans feel betrayal over the idea that he’s had one foot out of the door for some time now, with a path in mind to a former Seattle coach?
DK: I don’t get the impression Seahawks fans feel betrayed about that — the team didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, so the fans recognize that he might feel more inclined to test the market, and they recognize that he’ll likely get more money on the open market. Generally, I think fans know that it’s going to be hard to keep him with their salary cap constraints. Irvin is definitely a fan favorite and is one of the more entertaining twitter follows from the team, so I haven’t gotten any impression there’s hard feelings out there. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite — everyone is kind of bummed to know he’s probably gone.
JM: In a free agency class with Mario Williams, Aldon Smith, Jason Pierre-Paul, Greg Hardy, Tamba Hali, Chris Long, Malik Jackson, Robert Ayers, Olivier Vernon, and Junior Galette, why does Irvin deserve to stand out as an option?
DK: I’m not sure that he does. I think he’s a really solid and dependable SAM/DE hybrid player in Seattle’s system but I’m not sure if he’s ever going to be a top-tier pass rusher. Maybe that’s how teams see him, but I think there’s a little bit of projection still — basically if he gets top dollar, teams are saying that they think he has the skills to become one of those ten-plus sack guys. I don’t think he’s proven so far that he is that type of player. I will say that Irvin still is one of the top athletes in the NFL probably, so that’s one aspect where he stands out.
JM: Everyone talks about how NFL franchises are looking for the next Von Miller. Irvin aesthetically looks like Miller and the quarterback he’s sacked the most in his NFL career is Cam Newton. How would you explain the difference between the two?
DK: I don’t think that Irvin has the repertoire of pass rush moves that Miller has. Athletically they’re both elite, but Miller is more refined as a technician. I also think that Miller probably plays with more power and pop in his hands. If Irvin doesn’t get the edge immediately he can get caught up on blockers. Irvin does have a good speed-to-power bullrush but he doesn’t have any other “trademark” moves really.
Part 2: Bruce Irvin Pressure Production by Anthony Chiado
Bruce Irvin. The 10 million dollar man (reportedly). I am here to tell you why he doesn’t deserve that money.
Bruce Irvin’s usage pattern is very specific and it extends beyond just his alignment, but more on that later. Irvin was used pretty much exclusively on the right edge of the defensive line as either a 7 or 9-technique. He spent 87.3% of his snaps in one of those two alignments. That’s an incredibly high number when you’re talking about a player needing to adjust to a situation in a new environment that he might not be familiar with. Irvin had very little experience on the left side of the defensive line in 2015 and even less on the interior. Whichever team signs Irvin is going to need a to have a plan for him.
In addition to his very narrow alignment pattern, the way the Seahawks used Irvin wasn’t necessarily conducive to success as a pass rusher. He has the ability to do multiple things for a defense and was used as such. That limited his experience as a pass rusher, though, and his Pressure Production results reflect that.
As a pass rusher, Irvin was relatively disappointing for the value of the contract he is reportedly going to see. Compared to one of the other top free agent EDGE rushers, Olivier Vernon, who is supposedly going to see a similar contract, Irvin is clearly the inferior pass rusher. He only has a 10.8% pressure rate overall (10.9% on the edge). For comparison, Vernon’s pressure rate nearly 20%. The frequency with which Irvin was able to beat blockers without creating pressure doesn’t paint a much prettier picture. Such plays occurred on 24.7% of Irvin’s edge snaps and 24.5% of his snaps overall.
So essentially what you’re getting with Irvin is a player who positively impacts the play for the defense on 4 out of every 10 plays, on a good day. His 64.4% loss rate on the edge and 64.7% loss rate overall are far too high for a player who supposedly has value as a $10 million+ per year pass rusher. What you’re getting with Bruce Irvin is a player who doesn’t win nearly often enough to justify his contract value. On top of that he is a very one dimensional player.
41.7% of Irvin’s pass rushing successes came from bending-the-edge. If you add in the 8.3% of his successes that came from an initial jump, you end up with exactly 50% of Irvin’s snaps coming from a “speed rush”. That number is good in some ways and bad in others. Irvin truly is one of the best speed rushers in the NFL. He has the initial burst to win off the snap and the flexibility to break his rushes off to the quarterback. That, at the least, provides him a safe floor as a pass rusher.
The problem is that in 2015 it was very easy for offensive tackles to adjust to Irvin’s speed. While he can devastate on the edge, he struggles coming up with any kind of counter move to go through or inside of blockers. When you add in successes that were due to coverage or being left unblocked to the percentage of plays where Irvin won with a speed rush, you get 69.4%. If you then add in the 5.6% of plays where Irvin won with a rip move, which he only did on true edge rushes, you end up with 75%. That only leaves a quarter of Irvin’s successes that came from some sort of inside move. Opposing offensive tackles were aware of the fact that Irvin can’t really do much if you take the edge away from him and that’s exactly what they did. You force him to either run an extremely wide arc or beat you with an inside move, and he’s going to severely struggle doing the latter.
A one dimensional pass rusher is not worth $10 million+ per year. I don’t want to fall into using broad jargon terms here, but for Irvin to improve his “technique” and “awareness” enough to become a multi-dimensional pass rusher is not likely. He would need the perfect situation with the perfect coach. It’s clear that Seattle was not a situation anywhere near perfect for his abilities. They just couldn’t use Irvin and Cliff Avril in the same role at the same time, so Irvin was relegated to playing way too many snaps in coverage. Despite what he may look like, Irvin is much more pass rusher than linebacker. If he goes to Jacksonville or Atlanta he will likely be misused in the exact same way he was in Seattle.
As Justis mentioned to me a few days ago, the Giants are probably his best fit. And I think a $5-10 million deal is much more suitable than the $10 million+ he will probably end up getting.
Part 3: Bruce Irvin’s Career Sacks by Justis Mosqueda
2015 Season: 6 credited sacks
15 Games/12 Starts
Green Bay [RE, edge]
Chicago (.5) [RE, edge]
Carolina 1.1 [RE, edge]
Carolina 1.2 [standing RE, T-E stunt]
Dallas [standing RE, chase]
Minnesota [RE, edge]
Minnesota (playoff, .5) [RE, T-E stunt/cleanup]
2014 Season: 8.5 credited sacks
15 Games/13 Starts
Dallas [ROLB, inside/chase]
Carolina 1.1 [RE, edge/OL]
Carolina 1.2 [RE, chase]
Arizona 1.1 (.5) [RE, T-E stunt/cleanup]
San Francisco 1.1 [ROLB, chase]
San Francisco 2.1 [RE, T-E stunt]
St. Louis 2.1 [RE, edge]
Carolina (playoff) [ROLB, inside]
New England (playoff) [RE, chase]
2013 Season: 2 credited sacks
12 Games/12 Starts
Indianapolis [ROLB, edge]
St. Louis [LOLB, chase]
2012 Season: 9 credited sacks
16 Games/0 Starts
Dallas (.5) [LE, inside]
Green Bay 1.1 [LE, inside]
Green Bay 1.2 [LE, inside]
Carolina 1.1 [LE, T-E stunt/chase]
Carolina 1.2 [LE, T-E stunt]
Minnesota (.5) [LE, edge/OL]
New York Jets 1.1 [LE, inside]
New York Jets 1.2 [LE, OL]
Arizona [LE, T-E stunt]
Washington (playoff) [LE, chase]