Craig of Braintree, Mass., did a double-take this week after reading my suggestion that Detroit Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah could have an opportunity for a 10-sack rookie season. Admittedly, the projection requires some context.
Craig: "I was surprised at your answer towards Ansah yesterday. I don't know if I am ready to put this guy in the class of Jared Allen or Julius Peppers. Even taking Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley into account, Cliff Avril had only 9.5 sacks last year. Looking at sack data for their first year: Jared Allen had 9, Julius Peppers had 12, Clay Matthews 10, Brian Robison 4.5, Jerel Worthy 2.5, Mike Neal 1, and Cliff Avril 5.0."
Indeed, it's important to note that 31 rookies have managed double-digit sack seasons in the 31 years since they became an official statistic. Based on my calculations, that's an average of once per season. It didn't happen at all in 2012, but occurred twice (Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers and Von Miller of the Denver Broncos) in 2011. And it's happened five times for NFC North teams, most recently when the Lions' Suh did it in 2010.
There are hundreds of rookies on NFL rosters at the moment. Will Ansah elevate immediately into the elite of the elite? Media analysts suggested pre-draft that his relative inexperience in football would necessitate a slower development than most top-5 draft picks, but there is little doubt Ansah is surrounded by the type of talent and scheme that will help him approach the top end of his production potential.
In the end, the context tells us what we probably could have guessed without it: 10 sacks for a rookie is quite an accomplishment, but still within reach.