Bruuuuuuuuuuuce! The Seahawk’s Forgotten Rookie

bruce irvin seahawks

It was a big week for some of the greatest Bruces of all time. First was the news that Pixar will make a “Finding Nemo 2”. That means, or at least it better mean, the return of our favorite vegetarian shark and the best cartoon Bruce ever.

Then, one of the most well-known action series ever released its fifth movie and we got to see another great Bruce, Bruce Willis, say “yippee-ki-yay mother-f****r” for the first time since 2007.

Even Bruce Wayne was in the news this week as word surfaced that a new Batman video game was in the works.

There was, however, a noticeable exception to this epic week of Bruce and that was the seemingly always forgotten Bruce Irvin. As rumors swirled about Percy Harvin, fans of the Seahawks everywhere reiterated that our first priority this offseason should be pass rush. Pass rush definitely was an area of weakness for much of this year, but there are only so many spots on the D-Line in a Pete Carroll defense that pass rush can come from. If Chris Clemons is back, then Bruce Irvin continues to be relegated to a situational pass rusher and at that point I am not sure where the snaps come for another pass rushing defensive end. If Clemons is not back to full health, then I think Bruce Irvin has earned a chance to start in the leo position.

This team could absolutely use some depth and additional help at pass rush, I am not denying that at all. The question I have is, how valuable of resources are needed to get that help? With Clemons and Irvin, I am not so sure we need to use a first round pick or sign a top-tier free agent, but rather just a decent player that can be a support to Clemons and Irvin. It seems like much of the reason people are clamoring for another pass rusher is that they forget about or underestimate Bruce Irvin. If this week reminded us of anything, it’s to not forget about our Bruce. Yippee-ki-yay Mother-F****r!

In the Seahawks three drafts under Pete Carroll and John Schneider, the Hawks have drafted a total of four players in the first round. The first two are already Pro Bowlers: Russell Okung and Earl Thomas. The third (James Carpenter) has only been healthy for 16 of the 32 regular season games in his career, but he has started all 16 games he has played. In fact all three of those players have started every game that they have been healthy for since they were drafted. This year’s draft pick did not get that luxury, or earn that right depending on how you want to look at it.

Bruce Irvin played in all 16 games his rookie season, more than Carpenter or Okung can say, but started in 0. That may be part of the reason Bruce seems to be a distant thought in the mind of many Seahawks fans, but it is not a fair reason to go looking for his replacement. The main reason Irvin didn’t get the starts this year is because Chris Clemons was already a successful player on this team in the same position Bruce plays. The reality is that the team Carroll and Schneider took over in 2010 was terrible. They spent the first 2 drafts filling holes and those players drafted in the first round did not have much competition. In this third draft there weren’t nearly as many gaping holes, quarterback being the obvious exception, and they had the luxury of drafting a player in the first round at a position where they were not desperate for a starter.

And what did Bruce Irvin do with no starts and playing only 43% of defensive snaps? He recorded 8 sacks, leading all rookies and good enough for a tie for 29th in the league. The fact that he led all rookies may be a little misleading, as it was a down year for rookie sacks. Only 1 other time in the last decade was 8 sacks enough to lead all rookies. It is still an impressive number though, and would always put him towards the top of the rookie class in past years. Actually, only 53 players since the merger have had 8 or more sacks in their rookie season, and besides the 2000 season when 4 rookies had 8 or more sacks, there have never been more than 3 rookies to do it in a season. So it was a good season in terms of sacks for a rookie, but I want to check whether players who had great careers rushing the passer started off their careers even better.

Let’s take a look at some members of the 100 sacks club to see if Bruce’s rookie season is within the range of those who went on to be the best pass rushers in NFL history. There are only 29 people in the history of the NFL who have recorded 100 or more sacks in their career. For relevancy sake, let’s look at those who are either currently active or have retired in the last decade. Below is a list of them and the amount of sacks they recorded in their rookie year. Remember, Bruce Irvin had 8 sacks this year.

 

Player Career Sacks Sacks Rookie Season
Bruce Smith

200

6.5

Michael Strahan

141.5

1

Jason Taylor

139.5

5

John Randle

137.5

1

John Abraham

122

4.5

Simeon Rice

122

12.5

Jared Allen

117

9

Julius Peppers

111.5

12

DeMarcus Ware

111

8

Dwight Freeney

107.5

13

Trace Armstrong

106

5

Kevin Carter

104.5

6

 

I was stunned by these numbers honestly. I expected Bruce’s 8 to look fine, but I didn’t expect so many really low numbers among these great players. These are some of the greatest pass rushers in recent NFL history, and Bruce Irvin had a better rookie season than 7 out of 12 of them. That doesn’t mean that 8 sacks guarantees a start to a 100 sack career, I was actually surprised when looking at the numbers how many rookies with 8 sacks had less sacks the next season, but it does show that his rookie season was very much in the zone of other players that went on to become stars in this league.  What makes this even more impressive is that, again, he did this while only playing in 43% of defensive snaps.

Randle and Abraham came off the bench their entire rookie season just like Irvin, but Freeney started 8 games and every other player on this list started at least 10. Great players like Bruce Smith, Michael Strahan, and Jason Taylor all got much more playing time their rookie seasons but Bruce got to the quarterback more than any of them. Saying he led the rookie class in sacks is one thing, but as we said before this was a pretty weak rookie class in terms of sacks. Not only was Irvin the only player with 8 sacks, but no other rookie had even 7. That doesn’t make Bruce’s 8 sacks any less impressive, it just requires us to gain some historical perspective in order to understand what 8 sacks as a rookie is worth. Looking at the numbers, 8 sacks as a rookie is well within the range of what successful players do in their rookie year.

The biggest concern surrounding Bruce Irvin might be the idea that he is a “one trick pony”. We know that he can get to the quarterback, but can he handle defending the running plays well enough to justify playing him in more than 43% of snaps? The only real stat we have to measure this is overall tackles, and the tackle numbers for Bruce this year were very low. Irvin had 10 tackles (not counting sacks) and 7 assists. Personally, I attribute much of the weakness here to the low number of snaps and the fact that the snaps he played were in passing situations where he rushed the quarterback. I don’t think it’s so much that he can’t do anything but get to the QB, but rather that he wasn’t asked to. That is hard to know though.

What I can tell you is that it is very rare to have so many sacks and so few tackles. In fact, he is the only player ever to have more than 7 sacks and only 10 tackles or less. Only 9 times since they reliably started counting tackles in 1994 has a player had at least 7 sacks and 15 or less tackles in a season. On that list, however, are some pretty good names. Among the 8 players besides Bruce, 5 made the pro-bowl at least once: Dwight Freeney (7 pro-bowls), John Randle (7), Jason Taylor (6), Clyde Simmons (2), and the only other player to do this his rookie season, Elvis Dumerville (3 pro bowls). Another player on the list is Chris Clemons, who is still awaiting his first pro-bowl. So actually, most of the players who got a lot of sacks but lacked the tackles overcame that as their career continued, or it was an abnormal season for them.

The common theme among the players on this list is the lack of starts in the season where their sacks were high but their tackles low. Most of them played in all or most of the games in the season, but “starts” is very different. When you’re good at getting to the quarterback and you only come in on certain plays, you’re not asked or expected to tackle, you are asked to solely try and get to the quarterback. On the list of 9 players, 6 of them started 2 or less games. Included in those is Bruce, who last year played in all 16 games, but started 0. Only 3 other players have made this list (again the list is of 7 or more sacks but 15 or less tackles in a season) in their first 4 seasons in the league.

Elvis Dumerville, the other rookie on the list, earned himself a starting job the next season and saw his non-sack tackle numbers skyrocket to 34 and his sack numbers go up to 12.5. Antonio London got 12 starts the next year, and while his sacks dropped (he was a linebacker not a DE so the comparison isn’t completely fair) his tackles did go up to 45 solo and 23 assisted. Chris Clemons shockingly did not earn himself a starting job with his 7 sack year in 2007, but when the Seahawks finally gave him a shot to be a starter in 2010 he put up 11 sacks, 33 solo tackles, and 16 assisted. I don’t know for sure whether Bruce will ever be a good run stopper, but he deserves his shot at being a starter, especially if Clemons is hurt. His tackles were very low this year, but we can see from the past that if you get enough sacks to earn you more starts, more tackles tend to follow naturally.

So go ahead, draft a pass rusher or pick one up in free agency. Just don’t waste a resource too valuable trying to find a top-tier defensive end, because you might just have one on your roster and he deserves to be on the field. You can call him number 51, you can call him Irvin, you may soon be able to call him a starter, but I prefer to call him by one name and one name only: Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce!

Luke Theofelis

Luke is a 24 year old writer, born and raised in Seattle, Wa. Follow him on twitter @SeattleLuke by clicking the "twitter" button below.

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