From Peppers and Datone to Fackrell and Jayrone

A couple weeks ago, we talked about why we don’t get why coaches were so high on outside linebackers. We still aren’t high on them, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad.

For now, let’s call it “unproven.”

We lost guys like (former) All World Linebacker Julius Peppers and (former) first round draft “disappointment” Datone Jones.

In their place?

Jayrone Elliott and Kyler Fackrell. You could add Vince Biegel in there, but who knows when he’ll be ready. For now, it looks like we’re losing two former first round picks in Peppers and Datone and replacing them with a third round pick and an UDFA. In case you didn’t know, the odds are seriously stacked against either of those two becoming Pro Bowlers (click here for the enlightenment).

Just because they probably won’t be Pro Bowlers doesn’t mean they can’t add value, though. Superstars are not the glue of any team. Don’t forget that this team won a Super Bowl starting Frank Zombo at outside linebacker.

Let’s look at what these guys did last year:

Datone: 1 sack, 17 tackles (548 snaps – 53%)
Peppers: 7.5 sacks, 15 tackles, 1 fumble recovery (584 snaps – 57%)
Fackrell: 2 sacks, 8 tackles, 1 forced fumble (160 snaps – 16%)
Jayrone: 1 sack, 8 tackles (136 snaps – 13%)

At first glance, there’s not a lot of impressive numbers anywhere. Not a lot of turnover plays for anyone. If we look at sacks and tackles specifically and project how many each of these guys gets per 566 snaps (the average number of snaps between Peppers and Datone), it tells an interesting story:

Projected Sacks and Tackles per 566 Snaps
Datone: 1.0 sacks, 17.6 tackles
Peppers: 7.3 sacks, 14.5 tackles
Fackrell: 7.1 sacks, 28.3 tackles
Jayrone: 4.2 sacks, 33.3 tackles

When you look at it this way, it looks like Fackrell and Jayrone will more than be able to replace the production of Peppers and Datone. Sacks are up a bit and the younger guys seem a lot more willing to stick their heads in the trash to fight for a tackle.

Of course, statistics are an inherently flawed as a measuring stick and there are a lot of assumptions that go into this, so we need to dig a little deeper.

The first factor is if Fackrell and Jayrone can even play that many snaps. Peppers was a legendarily healthy player throughout his career and Datone made it through the season relatively unscathed. Injuries can be a bit of a crapshoot, though, so it’s hard to predict when or how they will hit.

Another related question is conditioning. When you’re playing 10 snaps a game, it’s easy to go balls to the wall and play like a wildman. When you play 35 snaps a game, you may lose your effectiveness in the 4th quarter if you’re playing like that.

A veteran like Peppers knows when to choose his spots and conserve energy. Of course, when you’re 25 (like Fackrell and Jayrone), you shouldn’t have to conserve as much energy as you do when you’re 37 like Peppers.

So what’s the verdict?

Who knows?

But these stats, extrapolations, and tidbits make me think we might not be so bad off in the backup outside linebacker department.

Peppers was old and, although he’s a legendary freak, he was a very good role player – no longer the guy who can put you over the top (and even his “veteran leadership” started to wear off when he told Burnett to lay down because he apparently didn’t want to go to the Super Bowl). Datone was miscast in the 3-4 (which is sad because he’s a better player than he showed in Green Bay and now he’s going to Minnesota).

In Jayrone and Fackrell, we have a couple young players who are more prototypical 3-4 outside linebackers. That alone is a bonus, even if they aren’t blue chip guys.

They are younger and I think more than capable of providing what the team needs in terms of rotational production.

The far greater risk is if either of the starters (both of them first round, Pro Bowl outside linebackers) get hurt.

Good thing they’re durable!


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