Jerry Hughes will be motivated this season to remove the bust label that has been placed on him. Hopefully for him, the change of scenery and opportunity in Buffalo will result in him becoming the player the Colts drafted him to be in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft.
At the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, Hughes was 6’2’’, 255 pounds, ran a 4.65 40-yard dash and did 26 bench press reps of 225 pounds. He also had a 34.5-inch vertical jump, ran a 4.15 20-yard shuttle and 6.99 3-cone drill (all combine statistics per NFLDraftScout.com). Combining his excellent workout with a great college career, Hughes was a first-round pick.
Hughes is coming off of his best of his three seasons, in which he rushed the passer 251 times resulting in four sacks and 18 hurries, according to PFF. Those are not huge numbers, but comparing those numbers to Mario Williams brings perspective.
Based on PFF’s totals, Williams either sacked or hurried the quarterback on 9.08 percent of his pass-rush snaps in 2012. By comparison, Hughes either sacked or hurried the quarterback on 8.76 percent of his rush snaps. Those numbers are very close, and point to Hughes potentially becoming a dynamic pass-rusher in the NFL.
Lawson has had only two sacks and three hurries in each of the past two years, on a combined 78 rush snaps.
Lawson’s highest sack total of his career was 6.5 in 2009 with the 49ers. He has not had more than three sacks in any of his other six NFL seasons. He may again be overlooked in the pass rush equation in favor of Anderson and Hughes.
Lawson once formed one of college football’s best pass-rushing combinations with Williams at NC State, and they are now reunited. They were both first-round picks in the 2006 draft, along with defensive linemate John McCargo, who the Bills selected with the No. 26 overall pick and got disappointing results from.
Lawson’s role on the Bills remains unclear at this point, but given his lack of rush productivity through seven NFL seasons, he cannot be counted on for a significant role in the team’s pass rush.
Dareus is the only player selected in the top 7 of the 2011 NFL Draft who has not made it to a Pro Bowl. He cannot be labeled as a bust after starting all 32 games over the past two seasons and producing 11 sacks, but Bills fans are ready for him to become the true impact player that the other six top-7 draft picks have become.
Looking solely at pass rush, Dareus actually rated very high last season. He was rated by PFF as the 8th-best pass rusher among defensive tackles in the NFL last season. He had 457 pass-rush snaps and came up with 22 hurries and 5.5 sacks.
If Dareus can take the next step this season and get more push up the middle, that could be a major boost for his pass rush stats and also help the Bills’ edge rushers.
A Pro Bowl replacement in the AFC, Kyle Williams had another strong campaign for the Bills in 2012.
Williams is a true blue-collar player whose on-field effort is relentless. He was rated as the 3rd-best pass rushing 4-3 defensive tackle in the NFL last season by PFF, with five sacks and 22 hurries on 471 pass-rush snaps. Another solid campaign should be in store for Williams in 2013.
Alex Carrington showed some flashes last season of becoming a solid part of the defensive line rotation. He appeared in all 16 games for the Bills for the second consecutive season.
Carrington was rated as the 12th-best pass rusher among defensive tackles last season by PFF. He had two sacks and 15 hurries in 189 pass-rushing snaps.
Between Carrington, Dareus and Williams, the Bills had three of PFF’s top 12 pass-rushing defensive tackles last season. If that can continue, coupled with improved edge rushers, the overall pass-rush will benefit greatly.
There are a lot of reasons for Bills fans to be intrigued by the pass rush potential of this defense. Pettine’s high pressuring philosophy could lead to career seasons for several Bills defenders.
This optimism does not come without doubt. Mario Williams is playing a position he’s only played in five NFL games, Mark Anderson is coming off injury and although the potential is there for Jerry Hughes, he has been an overall disappointment thus far in the NFL. Manny Lawson has only had more than 3 sacks in a season once in 7 years. But if Mike Pettine can put the pieces together and maximize these talents, Buffalo may finally have an above-average pass-rush.
All advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.