#NFLRank: Brian Orakpo No. 36

Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo helped his standing in part because of his absence. In Orakpo’s first three seasons he did a solid job rushing the passer. But there was, at times, a focus on what he wasn’t: a double-digit sacker.

But with Orakpo sidelined for the final 15 games last season, including the playoff loss to Seattle, it was clear what Orakpo meant to the Redskins defense. Thus, the fact that he’s ranked 36th among defensive players in ESPN’s #NFLRank Project. Perhaps the most important Redskins defender is nose tackle Barry Cofield, but Orakpo is high on that list -- especially when it comes to pressuring the passer. The fact that Orakpo is ranked higher than linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and London Fletcher is appropriate.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, “from 2009 to 2011, Orakpo disrupted 25.5 drop-backs (sacks + interceptions + passes defended + batted balls) as an outside linebacker, fifth-most in the league.”

Without him last season the Redskins needed to blitz more and certain players faced more challenges, notably fellow outside linebacker Kerrigan and end Stephen Bowen. Orakpo works well with Bowen on stunts in particular. Already in the preseason Bowen has drawn fewer double teams when paired next to Orakpo. Kerrigan sees fewer as well. What was noticeable last season as well is that the Redskins did not collapse as many pockets. Two years ago Orakpo was able to pinch the end and, with Bowen one on one, quarterbacks sometimes had nowhere to run.