Even in an age in which we're developing shinier new metrics, NFL pass-rushers are judged by one number before all others: their sack total. And for the second straight year we're using a statistical model to predict that number for the league's best defenders based on past performance attributes and their 2022 playing situation.
We're using the same model as last year (with some light tweaks) that includes some of the following inputs:
Sack totals and rates over the past two seasons
Projected snaps, courtesy of ESPN's Mike Clay
How often a player's defensive coordinator/head coach has blitzed in the past
How often opposing quarterbacks on each player's 2022 schedule get sacked
A player's team's win total, which matters because a winning team forces opponents to take greater risks and pass more
How often a player rushes from edge (as opposed to the interior)
Defensive linemen and linebackers who rushed at least 25% of the time last season and are projected to play at least 250 snaps this season by Clay were included, and rookies were excluded.
A year later, the No. 1 spot is occupied by a familiar face, who led the league in sacks, though admittedly with far more than the model predicted. I was pleased with the model's performance in Year 1. For the top 50 players listed in last year's story, the model recorded a mean absolute error of 3.8 sacks without a bias in either direction (meaning it was not globally over or underestimating).
At the time, I noted 39 non-rookies with a sack total betting line at DraftKings, and the model recorded a slightly lower mean absolute error on those players than the lines did, meaning the model's predictions were closer to the players' actual sack totals than the betting lines were, at least on average among those 39 instances.
There are less clear-cut calls below the No. 1 spot. Who will break out, who is headed toward a decline and what do we make of players in new destinations? Let's break it all down below, with the full top 50 included below too: