Jadeveon Clowney was supposed to be one of the marquee signings of free agency. He was supposed to be the kind of signing that riles up an NFL fanbase and generally costs a good chunk of change, the type of signing that is typically made early in proceedings. But as of this moment, Clowney remains unsigned, causing people to search for reasons why.
The former No. 1 overall pick in the draft wants a market-leading deal, and that’s never been a secret, but there have been reports that his lack of sacks has been a sticking point in teams meeting him at that valuation.
— new-age analytical (@benbbaldwin) March 3, 2020
If you are judging Clowney by sacks alone (which, I hasten to add, is a terrible way of judging any pass-rusher), you are certainly going to be underwhelmed. He has 32 career sacks in an era where players are regularly topping 20 in a single season and chasing Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22.5.
Sacks are what every pass-rusher chases, but they are not a good way of judging that player’s effectiveness in the pass-rush. The difference between 10 and 20 sacks — an OK season or a phenomenal one — is around 1.2% of an average edge rusher’s season in terms of snaps.
Sacks are a snapshot and a very small sample size, and that’s assuming all sacks are created equal, which of course, they are not. Sacks can range from dominant pass-rushing plays that destroy a blocker and take down the quarterback in a couple of seconds to the play that earned Strahan the record when Brett Favre just gave himself up (above). That sack is so soft that there are people that want that record to have an asterisk attached to it, but of course, these sacks are everywhere, which is part of the problem.
Over the past five seasons, 17.3% of all sacks have been of the unblocked variety. In essence, almost one in five sacks are plays you would expect any pass-rusher to finish either because they haven’t been accounted for in the blocking scheme or because things (blown assignments, for example) threw off the protection and caused them to have a free path to the quarterback.
Over the same span, 31% of sacks have been either clean-up plays (where somebody or something else moved the quarterback first and the player getting the sack was just there to clean it up) or sacks in pursuit. This means that, in total, almost half of all sacks don’t actually involve beating a blocker decisively.