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DeMarcus Ware 2013 Projection, Career Trajectory

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I took a long look at DeMarcus Ware today, first with a 2013 projection at NBC:

Not all projections are created the same. It’s a whole lot easier to project a player like Tony Romo—who will likely have a “sample size” of at least 600 passes—than it is to project someone whose stats might be more susceptible to randomness. One of those players is defensive end DeMarcus Ware.

Ware is an incredibly tough projection in 2013 for a few reasons. First, everyone wants to know how many sacks he’ll total, but sacks are very low-frequency. With so much volatility, they’re perhaps the most difficult individual stat to project from year to year—outside of perhaps forced fumbles.

Ware is also entering his age 31 season—a time when many pass-rushers start to break down. That means Ware’s 2012 stats might or might not be representative of a potential decline. He played much of 2012 injured, but was that a fluke or part of the aging process? It’s impossible to tell, and it clouds our ability to project him in 2013.

On top of all that, Ware is also switching defensive schemes. The change to the 4-3 will impact the defensive ends more than any other position; Ware won’t drop into coverage anymore, and that will obviously affect his pass-rushing totals.

At Dallas News, I examined Ware’s numbers from a broader perspective:

When DeMarcus Ware registered 11.5 sacks in 2012—his lowest total since 2009—we heard a lot of talk about Ware’s injuries being the main culprit. Banged up for much of the season, there’s no doubt that Ware’s health affected his 2012 play. The question, however, shouldn’t be whether or not Ware was hurt, but rather whether or not pass-rushers at his age typically start to decline—whether it be from injuries or a deteriorating skill set.

So I tracked the historic production of pass-rushers in terms of approximate value—a good measure for overall value that incorporates tackles and sacks—and sorted it by age. I did the same for Ware for both his tackles and sacks. Below, the x-axis is age and the y-axis is the percentage of peak career production.

The idea was to see whether or not Ware’s progression has been typical. You can see that the average pass-rusher develops earlier than most positions, peaking at ages 25 and 26. There’s a small drop in play around age 27—to around 90 percent of peak production—and most pass-rushers can maintain that level of play until around age 32 or 33.

Ware’s career has been pretty typical; he peaked at age 26 with his 84-tackle, 20-sack season. However, over the past three years, both his tackle rate and pressure rate have dropped.

So whether due to injuries or not, Ware hasn’t been Ware since 2010. Yes, he had 19.5 sacks in 2011, but his pressure rate fell from the prior year. Based on his total 2011 pressures, he should have generated 11 sacks, meaning he “overachieved” by 8.5 sacks based on how frequently he reached the passer.

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