A WGR-conducted study of 73 of the top defensive end pass rushers since the NFL began recording sacks in 1982 may shed some light on why Buffalo Bills D-end Mario Williams has not had – and may never have - the expected impact that the team and fans hoped when Williams signed a 6-year, $100 million deal this March.
The sample of pass rushers, which is based on the all-time sacks leaders via ProFootball-Reference.com, shows that the majority of best defensive ends in the NFL after 1982 saw a decline in sacks per game between their age 27 and age 32 seasons from their sacks per game posted between their rookie season through age 26 season.
For example, former Rams and Titans pass rusher Kevin Carter averaged 0.65 sacks per game between his rookie season in 1995 and age 26 season in 1999. Between his age 27 season in 2000 and age 32 season in 2005, he averaged 0.42 sacks per game. In other terms, the difference between 10.5 and 6.5 sacks over 16 games.
Of the 73 defensive ends studied, 43 (61 percent) saw a decline in sacks per game, 28 (39 percent) had a gain and two of them sacked the quarterback at the same rate. The pass rushers together averaged 0.58 per game between their rookie year and age 26 season. Between age 27 and 32, the averaged 0.53 sacks per game.
Williams averaged 0.65 sacks per game between his rookie season in 2006 and last year. He is averaging 0.50 sacks per game this year. Of course, it has only been seven games. So one good game could swing his sacks per game statistic dramatically.
But looking down the road, the numbers suggest it may not get significantly better. You see, there is another factor at play in Williams' case from many of the 73 that were studied: Total games played between his rookie season and age 27 season.
The Bills' defensive end played in 82 games before age 27. Of the 73, only two (Keith Hamilton and Howie Long) played more games before age 27. Hamilton saw a drop from 0.41 sacks per game to 0.35 and Long from 0.69 to 0.39 sacks per game.
The 73 D-ends averaged 67 games before their age 27 season – about one full season less than Williams. When he signed, his age was not a consideration because normally 26 is in the middle of an NFL player's prime, but with 82 games played before age 27, Williams' career clock has been sped up.
Williams total games played – which essentially translates into total miles on his body – brings into question the decision to sign a player who is later in his prime than the average 26-year-old pass rusher. It also raises the question of how effective – if at all – Williams will be by the end of his 6-year contract.
The correlation between aging players and reduced production has been studied at offensive positions. Consider a similar look at running backs conducted by ProFootball Reference that found between a back's age 28 and 31 seasons, under 40 percent saw improvement in total fantasy points in any single year of those ages.
Keep in mind, however, that every player is different. While the numbers question whether Williams can ever be the same player that registered 14 sacks in 2007, that doesn't mean it can't happen. There are plenty of examples of players who improved on their sack rates such as Simeon Rice, who averaged 0.65 in 79 games before his age 26 season, then averaged 0.80 sacks per game between age 27 and 32.
But the majority did not. Some with similar rates to Williams saw severe drops. Jevon Kearse, for example, slipped from 0.73 sacks per game between his rookie year and age 26 season to 0.47 between his age 27 and 32 seasons.
If Williams sees a similar drop off as Kearse, his contract could make for a debilitating* hit to the Bills' future.
*(To give the Bills some credit, if Mario's a bust, they aren't on the hook for all $100 million.)*
Follow Matthew Coller on Twitter @matthewwgr
Basics of the study
73 defensive ends all in the Top 150 All-Time Leading Sacker
Starting either in Rookie Season or first year with +10 starts or +5 sacks
43 saw a decrease in sacks per game after age 26 season
28 saw an increase in sacks per game after age 26 season
2 were the same
61 percent decreased
39 percent increased
Mario played 82 games before age 26. He could have played 96 if not for injuries.
The average D-end of the 73 played 67 games
Only 2 played more games than Mario by age 27
Here is the complete list of D-ends used:
|Player||Pre age 27 sacks/game||Age 27-32|
|Michael Dean Perry||0.56||0.3|
|Freddie Joe Nunn||0.58||0.4|