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Coming off one of his most dominant pass-rushing performances as a pro, Cameron Wake rightfully earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week after treating Tom Brady’s 37-year-old frame like a piñata last Sunday.
His season debut featured what might be the best half of his career, tagging Brady with two sack fumbles in the second half. Those plays converted into 10 points on the other end and came at pivotal moments.
I’m sure Belichick cringed (and cussed out his line) when he turned on the tape.
His second sack fumble was the knockout blow with three minutes left and the Patriots down 10 but with three timeouts remaining.
Witnessing Wake attack a quarterback — and attack might be too soft of a word — is a similar feeling to watching a Lion hunt a gazelle on the Discovery Channel. The only difference is the quarterback has an army of 300-pound mammoths protecting him, knows exactly when and where the lion’s coming from, and the hunt typically lasts a maximum of three seconds.
Although the undrafted Wake ranks seventh with 34 sacks dating back to 2011, a formidable accolade on its own, this universally accepted statistic for measuring a pass rusher’s overall impact only tells one fragment of the story. What about hurries? Quarterback hits? And then there’s holding penalties drawn, which are essentially mini sacks because they offer similar loss in yardage but not loss of down.
For holding penalties drawn, Wake ranked first in 2011 and fifth in 2012. Although I have not come across the 2013 figures, I would wager a thumb he was up there because I vividly remember opposing offensive tackles weeping throughout last season.
Pro Football Focus (subscription) employs an overall pass-rushing metric labeled PRP (Pass Rushing Productivity). It accounts for sacks, hits, and hurries relative to how many times a player rushes the passer, with hits and hurries each counting a quarter of a point less than a sack. In measuring PRP dating back to 2011, only two edge rushers (defensive ends and outside linebackers in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses) finished in the Top 10 in all three seasons while registering at least 50 pressures — Cameron Wake and Aldon Smith.
Calculating a pass rusher’s PRP over three seasons not only measures effectiveness on a per-rush basis, but it gives us a clear landscape of the most disruptive, efficient, and productive edge rushers in the league. I chose a duration of three years because it shows consistency. On average, Smith edges out Wake by less than a point.
Average PRP (2011-2013)
Smith — 14.0
Wake — 13.3
For this inquisition, let’s say Smith and Wake are the top two in the game today.
Although Smith might be the more effective (by a hair) and younger (24 vs. 32) force off the outside, is he the apex edge rusher in 2014? The answer is within his durability. He’s currently serving a nine-game suspension for violating league policies relating to substance abuse and personal conduct. He also missed five games last season due to injury.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2010, Wake has played in 64 of a possible 65 games (98%). Smith entered the league in 2011, and will have played in 43 of 57 (75%) games after serving his current suspension for being a selfish fool. Is 23 percent not a significant drop-off in playable games? To be a quarterback’s worst nightmare — the most feared player off the edge — doesn’t that player need to consistently be on the field?
Taking everything into consideration — the sacks, the pressures, the consistency and the durability — Wake is the logical answer to the quest for the game’s No. 1 edge rusher. He’s durable, unblockable with one (and sometimes two) player(s), and he’s a dependable leader who hasn’t displayed one whiff of unprofessionalism off the field, which in turn has kept him on the field and the unquestioned leader of the Dolphins defense.
Derek Cameron Wake, an undrafted player forced to launch his professional career in Canada, has become the premier edge rusher in the National Football League. Next question: Who will play Cam on the big screen one day where his captivating story belongs?