Melvin Ingram: EDGE Rushers Are Good Until They Aren’t

Fellow Playmaker Mentality writer Ben Natan coined the phrase “quarterbacks are bad until they aren’t” at some point earlier this year due to the unwarranted hype being handed out to the 2016 quarterback prospects.  It works in the same way the mantra “innocent until proven guilty” works for the American criminal justice system.  Unless you have definitive proof that a quarterback is good, you should default to the belief that he is bad.  With EDGE rushers your approach should be the opposite.  They are good until they aren’t anymore.  Until you’re sure that a particular EDGE rusher doesn’t have a future of success then you should look for any sign that they may.  This is because, until an EDGE rusher reaches their age 23 season, you can’t really tell what they will become.  It is in that age 23 season, or sometimes even a year or two later, that the shroud begins to lift.  Another fellow Playmaker Mentality writer, Justis Mosqueda, combined his Force Players data with age and sack data to come up with the age of 23 as the critical season.  He found that EDGE rushers who don’t have a season with 7 sacks by the time they are 23 are probably never going to break the 10 sack mark more than once, if that, in their career.

Melvin Ingram is a good example of it taking past the age 23 season for the picture to become clear.  He came into the league at the “old” age of 23 and has only played double digit games in a season twice in his four years in the NFL.  Being injured so frequently made it tough for him to develop his natural tools and it wasn’t until 2016 that Ingram finally got his feet under him.

Ingram lined up in one position on nearly every pass rush attempt he took.  However, he was fairly evenly split between lining up on the left and right side of the offensive line.  There’s not much to glean from where Ingram lines up.  The Chargers used him in a pretty vanilla fashion as a 3-4 outside linebacker.  However, it should be noted that San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano had Ingram drop into coverage far too often, at least over the first half of the season, for my liking and it shows up in his splits for the season’s first and second halves.  Always let your best pass rusher focus on rushing the passer.

By all measures, Ingram had an incredible 2015 season.  He had been swiftly labeled a bust after his first three seasons in the NFL, over which he combined for 6 sacks in 29 games.  Finally, four seasons into his career, Ingram seems to have figured it all out.  His ability to beat his blocker, pressure the quarterback, and bring him to the ground were all exceptional in 2015.

His Pressure Rate of 20.9% is truly elite.  Of the limited sample of players I have charted from 2015 Ingram’s 20.9% is the best of the bunch.  It’s also the only one above 20%.  Being able to directly negatively impact the offense one out of every five times you rush the quarterback isn’t anything to laugh at.  Conversely, his Win Rate of 23.5% is average to just below average.  It’s to be expected, though, that as you create pressure on a higher percentage of plays where you beat your blockers you’re going to simply “win” on a lower percentage.  That’s a trade off that I would happily take.

Even more notable than Ingram’s improvement from his first three seasons into his fourth is his improvement from the first half of 2015 into the second half.  A lot of that had to do with John Pagano finally allowing him to rush the passer rather than dropping him into coverage, but the Melvin Ingram we saw in Week 1 is not the same Melvin Ingram we saw in Week 17.  It was throughout the course of the season that he found his place in the Charger’s defense.  Before Week 8, Ingram had a Pressure/Win/Loss slash line of 15.2%/24.2%/60.6%.  Those numbers are all well below average and place him right in line with Bruce Irvin, who was similarly misused in Seattle.  However, for Week 8 and on his slash line improved to 23.2%/23.2%/53.7%.  If those were his numbers over the full season, I think you could make the argument that he was a top 15 EDGE rusher in 2015.

The ways Ingram won are just as impressive as how often he won.  He showed an exceptionally well rounded repertoire of pass rush moves, especially for how dominant his natural tools can be.  Ingram could have substantial success if he only relied on those natural tools.  However, mixing in counter moves such as an inside rip, swim, and spin to compliment the bend, bull rush, and initial jump he already has is what made his 2015 great.  It’s also what makes me think the success that he saw over the last 8 games of 2015 will be translated into 2016.

Not only is his advanced repertoire of pass rush moves encouraging, but he also rarely had his success due to coverage or being left unblocked.  They account for only 12.8% of his successes.  The only player with a lower figure is Olivier Vernon at 7.8%.  The lower the percentage of successes that isn’t actually due to the player’s merit, the more translatable that success is into future seasons.

Ingram having his first successful season at 26 years old defies what we know about EDGE rushers having success later in their careers, but it makes sense why he was able to bend the rules.  The constant injuries that Ingram faced made it difficult for him to develop the natural talent that he has always had.  Ingram broke one rule, but he provided a prime example for another.  It would have been easy to discount that Ingram would ever have success after his first three seasons in the league.  EDGE rusher evaluation is an exercise in patience rather than one about making snap decisions.  Melvin Ingram, at least as of right now, is proof of that.

Anthony Chiado

Anthony Chiado

Senior in high school. Written and video content for Playmaker Mentality. Analyst for Optimum Scouting. Kevin Colbert hates me.
Anthony Chiado