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Three Pass-Rush Candidates Ready to Bounce Back in 2021

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In IDP, identifying bounce-back candidates like Carl Lawson, Joey Bosa, and Chris Jones can give you an edge in your leagues.


If you have been playing IDP fantasy football, you may have heard that sacks are not a sticky stat. Like touchdowns, sacks can vary quite a bit from year to year. Just like touchdowns, sacks are also one of the most highly rewarded plays in fantasy football. So, even though sacks are difficult to predict, if we want to have IDP success, we have to identify potential bounce-back candidates.

Today, we will be looking at a few players set up for positive sack regression. If you want to learn more about even more defensive linemen ready to step up their game in 2021, check out Kyle Bellefeuil’s article Four Key IDP DL Targets Poised for More Success in 2021.

How Can Regression be Positive?

Positive regression seems like a contradicting term. However, in statistics, “regression to the mean” refers to the movement of a variable toward its natural mean (average). In this case, we are talking about sacks — a highly variable statistic in football relative to other statistics, like tackles. In a sense, positive regression can be thought of as one of the many categories of a bounce-back candidate.

A lot of things have to happen for a player to record a sack. The other team has to be passing, and the defensive player has to beat their blocker, get to the quarterback, and get the QB to the ground. All of this has to happen in the few seconds before the quarterback throws the ball or tucks it and runs. Beyond all of this, the player needs to have just a little bit of luck. This is where the fluctuation comes in.

A Big Picture View of Sack to Pressure Ratio

For this exercise, I chose to look at the sack-to-pressure ratio among players with 15 or more pressures. Pressures are a more consistent measure of a pass rusher’s ability. It is also a statistic that is less influenced by chance or variance than sacks alone. The pressure and sack data that I am using here is courtesy of ProFootballReference.com.

Across the last three seasons, the overall S:P ratio was 25%, meaning that qualifying players recorded a sack every four pressures. Last year, the average was 23% — the lowest of the three years. Not surprising, since many defensive metrics were down last year, while scoring and other offensive metrics were up. The S:P last year had a very wide range with a low of 0% and a high of 47%.

The high was Jerome Baker, who recorded seven sacks on only 15 pressures. There are some other interesting names that had an unexpectedly high S:P last year.

Three Bounce-Back Candidates for 2021

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Carl Lawson, DE, New York Jets

Carl Lawson led the Cincinnati Bengals in sacks (5.5) and pressures (44) last year on 723 snaps. His pressures were the fourth highest on my list and accounted for 38.6% of the team. Sam Hubbard, the next best pass rusher, had only 18 pressures. Lawson now finds himself on a Jets team with more talent along the defensive line and a head coach — Robert Saleh — that is known to preside over a productive defense.

Even without an improvement in the situation and a chance at a full season starting (he started 11 games in 2020), Lawson is my favorite of the 2021 bounce-back candidates.

Lawson’s S:P rate of 13% in 2020 was well below the league average. Had he been able to convert an average number of his pressures to sacks, he would have logged 11 sacks in 2020 instead of 5.5. In leagues where sacks count for 6 points, that’s an extra 33 points. Lawson is currently being drafted as DL20 according to the IDP Guys ADP. At that draft price, he is a great value for the 2021 season.

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Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers

In a lot of respects, Joey Bosa was considered a letdown in 2020. He struggled with injuries, playing a total of 549 snaps (53% of defensive snaps) across 12 games. Compare that to 2017 and 2019 when Bosa played on 81% and 86% in 16 games. The sting of Bosa’s injury problems last year was felt even more in the games you expected him to play, like week 14 when he only played 17 snaps.

Injuries aside, Joey Bosa had a decrease in efficiency compared to previous seasons. In 2019, Bosa recorded 11.5 sacks on 54 pressures (a rate of 21.3%), and in an injury-shortened 2018 (7 games), Bosa converted 32% of his pressures to sacks. Last year, Bosa still racked up 45 pressures, but only converted 7.5 sacks. A league-average rate would have resulted in around 11 sacks, which happens to be his current projection.

With his prior seasons of double-digit sacks, I would not be surprised to see him have even more this year. With an ADP of DL9, Bosa is by no means the bargain among the bounce-back candidates, but if you see him fall in your drafts, don’t be afraid to snatch him up.

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Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs

The final pass rusher on my list is somewhat of a homer pick, but I have data to back it up. Chris Jones had the same number of pressures (44) as Carl Lawson in 2020. While he was more fortunate in converting those pressures into 7.5 sacks, there is still room to go up. In his last three seasons, Jones converted 26.7% of his pressures into sacks.

Last season was his least efficient of the three seasons with an S:P rate of 17%. League average would have placed him at 11.5 sacks last season. The Chiefs have also stated that the addition of Jarran Reed will allow Chris Jones to kick out and play on the edge more.

This is something that Jones has already been doing, especially in certain matchups. The talk from the Chiefs is suggesting that it will be more consistent. Pass rushing from the edge tends to be more productive for IDP purposes. Only four interior linemen ranked inside the top 32 in sacks last year compared to 26 edge rushers.

Chris Jones is one of the few players eligible for the defensive tackle position that is capable of recording double-digit sacks. This upside makes him a high upside pick even in leagues that do not require starting defensive tackles, where he is being drafted as DL25.

Conclusion

Sacks may not be easy to predict, but in IDP fantasy football they are as important as touchdowns. If you want to have a chance to win a championship, you have to take some shots on high upside players. Bounce back candidates Carl Lawson, Joey Bosa, and Chris Jones are exactly the types of players that can provide week-winning performances and lead your team to victory in the championship game.


Thanks for reading! If you are ever looking for some fantasy feedback, hit me up on Twitter at @DynastyDVM and follow @IDPGuys for more great content.

Aaron Maberry

I am a veterinarian who has been playing fantasy football off and on since high school. About 12 years ago, I got more competitive and serious about fantasy football when I started a league with some other friends who were in vet school with me at the time. I started playing IDP about 3 years ago and have become even more obsessed with fantasy football. I have what I would call an evidence-based approach to fantasy football and love to track data in spreadsheets. I began writing for IDP Guys in the summer of 2021 and look forward to contributing to the amazing team moving forward. Thanks for reading!
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