Some could have considered the 2013 NFL season to be the year of the offense. They might argue that because Peyton Manning and his amazing offense set several records, they should be considered the best of all time. These people need to drink a cool, crisp glass of reality, because playing the way they did in the Super Bowl is inexcusable and puts such an undeniable and horrific damper on their entire season.
In fact, 2013 should be considered the year of the defense because Seattle’s looked fantastic all year and then stepped their game up to another level in the Super Bowl, limiting the greatest quarterback of all time to only one touchdown. This defense had some great defensive linemen, very solid and reliable linebackers and arguably the best secondary that the NFL has ever seen.
But what if an NFL owner wanted to sign only the most valuable players in the most basic of football economic terms; good results on a cheap salary? That’s what I am going to take a stab at in this article, looking at which NFL defensive players earned their salaries this year, to the extent that we can call them the most valuable, in a “bang for your buck” mindset.
For the purposes of this little experiment I will consider which defensive linemen had a good numbers of tackles and sacks on the season. For linebackers, I will consider salaries in light of tackle totals, sacks and interceptions for the season and for defensive backs, I will use tackles, defended passes and interceptions in relation to salaries. Finally, not to start a debate over 4-3 or 3-4, I will use the 4-3 defensive scheme. On second thought, go ahead and debate it, it’s the internet after all, but either way, I’m still using the 4-3.
My criteria for defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs will be different. For defensive tackles I will only consider those who attained at least 3 sacks and 25 tackles in 2013. For defensive ends, the minimum numbers will be 40 tackles and 5 sacks. For linebackers, the players looked at must have made at least 60 tackles and a minimum of 2 sacks in 2013. Interceptions will not be a prerequisite for linebacker consideration, but will be factored in to each player’s rating. Finally, for defensive backs, the main criteria will be a minimum of 3 interceptions and 8 passes defended. There will be no minimum tackle number but tackles will be included in the process. For the purposes of this experiment, I will be only using stats from the regular season, as to keep all players on a level playing field in terms of numbers. After all, the goal here is to illuminate good value players, on an individual basis.
In addition to the minimum numbers achieved by these defensive players, there is a hierarchy for plays in place. A tackle will count as 1 point. A sack will count for 2 points because not only does a sack cause a loss of yards, it also contributes to the demoralization of an offense, to paraphrase the man who named the “quarterback sack”; Hall of Fame helmet-slapper, Deacon Jones. Finally because it is a turnover and can often lead to better field position than a punt, an interception is worth 3 points. For defensive backs, passes defended will be worth 2 points, because for a defensive back, a tackle generally means a ball has been caught for a gain or a running back has gained yards into the secondary.
Salary information is from overthecap.com and all season stats are from nfl.com.
6 Defensive Tackles
Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans: $9,662 Per Play Made
Tennessee’s Jurrell Casey was drafted in 2011 and in 2013 meant the next step and was honored as an All-Pro. In 2013, he managed to get 55 tackles and 10.5 sacks. By our points scale that comes out to: 10.5X2=21. 55+21=76. He earned a total of $734,359 in 2013. So, $734,359 divided by 76 is approximately $9,662 per play made. This is unbelievable value for a Pro Bowl participant and Casey will be an exciting tackle to watch in the future.
Chris Jones, New England Patriots: $6,136 Per Play Made
This rookie from the New England Patriots had a rough time entering the NFL this year. He was released twice during the off season by the Texans and Buccaneers. In early September, he was picked up by the Patriots and only began starting games in October. Nonetheless he had a very solid rookie season racking up 6 sacks and 54 total tackles in 11 games started. Jones' salary was $405,000 in 2013 and his point total, factoring in 12 points for sacks and 54 tackles is 66. His magic number comes out to approximately $6,136 per play, which is a major bargain. The Patriots hope he can continue his strong play into next year and beyond.
5 Defensive Ends
Malik Jackson, Denver Broncos: $9,877 Per Play Made
In his second season in the NFL and first season as a starter for the Broncos, Malik Jackson looked solid, totaling 42 tackles and 6 sacks. His earnings for the 2013 season totaled $533,403. With 12 points for his sack total, plus 42 for his tackles, he point total is 54. If you take his salary of $533,403 divided by 54, you get roughly $9,877 per defensive play made, which is a fantastic price to pay for a good young defensive end.
Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins: $8,369 Per Play Made
Dolphin Olivier Vernon started 14 of 16 games in the 2013 season, his second in the league, but was still able to be tied for 5th in sacks among defensive linemen, with 11.5. His tackle total was no slouch among defensive ends either, bringing down the ball carrier 57 times. His total earnings for the year were $669,520. His per-play total therefore comes out to $8,369, which is a great price to have paid for a 50+ tackle and 11.5 sack season.
4 Outside Linebackers
Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals: $2,668 Per Play Made
I feel like this one is pretty much a no-brainer. In retrospect, it’s funny to think that Burfict was undrafted in 2012. He was signed in the off season by Cincinnati and managed to be their top tackler in 2012. In the 2013, season he was the NFL tackle leader with 171. He beat the next best tackler, Paul Posluszny, by 10 tackles. He also managed to get 3 sacks and 1 interception on the season. For the season, he made just a meager $480,333. With 3 points for his pick, 6 for his sacks and 171 points for his tackle total, his point total for my experiment is 180. When you take his measly $480,333 divided by the 180 points you get $2,668 per play, which is an unbelievably good price to pay for a Pro Bowler.
Paul Worrilow, Atlanta Falcons: $3,096 Per Play Made
Another player who went undrafted was Paul Worrilow, of the Falcons, who was only signed during the off-season in 2013. Scouts thought that he was too slow and too small to play in the NFL, but I think it’s safe to say that such thoughts have been put to sleep. He quickly earned a starting spot on their roster and had the most tackles on the team with 127. He had no picks this year but was able to attain 2 sacks. His point total for my equation is 131, and he earned a whopping $405,000 in 2013, putting his pay-per-play number at $3,096. Needless to say, that’s a great bargain for an amazing rookie season for an undrafted player.
3 Middle Linebacker
Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis Colts: $3,382 Per Play Made
Freeman was signed in 2008 by the Titans but was cut before the start of the season. He then spent 3 years in the CFL, playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and even led the CFL in tackles in 2011. In 2012, he signed with the Colts, making his return to the NFL. Last season he looked very solid in the Colts’ defense, recording 126 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. That puts his point total, for tackles/sacks/picks at 143. His salary was $486,666 for the year and that puts his per-play amount at $3,382 a fantastic value.
Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks: $5,005 Per Play Made
Seattle’s defense had to make an appearance on this list, and it’s the best cornerback in the league popping up, who spent the season showing sorry receivers what’s what. A lot of controversy erupted after Richard Sherman's actions during the NFC Championship, with debates over whether he was an unsportsmanlike jerk or a brilliant young man with an unmatched work ethic who got caught up in an emotional moment. As far as I am concerned, he’s a huge value player for the Seattle defense. He was only paid $600,606 this year but led the league in interceptions, with 8. He also had 48 tackles and 24 passes defended. 8 interceptions X3 is 24, plus 24X2 is 48 for passes defended, plus 48 for tackles is 120. His salary divided by 120 is approximately $5,005 per play made, a fantastic number for the best cornerback in the league.
Brandon Boykin, Philadelphia Eagles: $5,237 Per Play Made
In college, Brandon Boykin played for Georgia and was known as a corner and return specialist, earning himself an Outback Bowl MVP award in his senior year. Philadelphia picked him up in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. In his second year with the Eagles, he had a solid showing, recording 47 tackles, 23 defended passes and tying Antrel Rolle for 2nd in the league with 6 interceptions. Adding tackles, interceptions and defended passes, his value number in terms of points is 111. His salary, $581,367, divided by 111 is $5,237, a great total for a young defensive back with great potential going forward.
Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland Browns: $3,383 Per Play Made
After going undrafted in 2012, Tashaun Gipson was signed by the Browns and was a decent backup in his first season. His 2013 season was significantly better, as he had 95 tackles, 16 defended passes and 5 interceptions, co-leading the AFC in picks. His earnings last year, of $480,500, has him ranked as one of the lowest paid safeties in the league, which makes him a bargain, considering the good numbers he put up. As per our formula, he got 95 points for his 95 tackles, 32 points for his 16 pass defenses and 15 points for his 5 picks, coming to a total of 142. That brings his overall per-play total to $3,383 for the season, a great performance by this second year safety.
James Ihedigbo, Baltimore Ravens: $5,909 Per Play Made
30 years old now, James Ihedigbo has been in the league since being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jets in 2007. He missed that season due to injury, and between 2008 and 2010 was a backup safety, making no more than 22 tackles in any year. In 2011, he finally started 12 games for the Patriots and recorded 59 tackles, but was let go at the end of the season. In 2012 and 2013, the Ravens signed Ihedigbo to consecutive 1-year contracts. The 2013 season was his strongest, as he was named starting safety and racked up some solid stats. His 101 tackle season was among the highest for all safeties in the NFL, and he also recorded 3 picks and deflected 14 passes. His salary of $780,000, divided by his 138 points equals $5,909, which is a great number for a team’s starting strong safety. At age 30, it’s hard to say whether the Ravens will bring him back however.
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