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Danielle Hunter Holdout Places Spotlight on Marcus Davenport and His Curious Box Score Numbers

How do you judge the effectiveness of an NFL pass rusher? Most NFL fans rely on one simple statistic – sacks. Marcus Davenport would probably disagree with that idea, since that would mean he had zero impact on the Saints’ defense last season. Well, 0.5 of an impact to be precise.

Davenport, who the Vikings signed to a one year, $13M deal in March, only recorded a lonesome 0.5 sacks last season – which ironically came at the expense of Ezra Cleveland and the Minnesota Vikings.

With Danielle Hunter holding out of Vikings minicamp and his status on the team going forward suddenly in doubt, Davenport and his 0.5 sacks should be a player of interest for any Vikings fan. If the Hunter contract situation is not resolved, Davenport would be the most likely candidate to take over as the team’s top edge rusher.

That fact might have some Vikings fans sweating in their purple shirts given his box score statistics last season, but a deeper analysis paints quite a different picture of Davenport’s efficiency as a pass rusher and potential in a Brian Flores defense. While his sack totals last season were less than impressive, Davenport has been more successful in previous seasons, notching 9 sacks in 2021. He has also excelled over his career in creating pressures, a statistic that includes hurries, sacks and QB knock downs.

In fact, Davenport has been arguably elite in creating pressures since joining the league. Per Next Gen stats, Davenport has recorded a 15.1% pressure rate since entering the NFL in 2018. That’s good for the fourth highest in the NFL during that time. He also joins All-World Browns DE Myles Garrett as the only player to record at least a 13% pressure rate in each season since 2018.

These numbers would explain why Pro Football Focus (PFF) named Davenport as its top available edge ahead of the NFL free agency earlier this year and why a GM like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who was brought up in the analytics world, would take a $13M flier on him.

But for Vikings fans, these stats bring up two very valid questions. First, how important are pressures, anyway? And second, how could a player that spends so much time in the backfield and is on lists with All-Pro’s and NFL sack leaders have such a box score eye-sore for a sack total?

We’ll start with the former. To put it simply, pressures are very important. They reduce the likelihood of a successful offensive play. (See almost any young quarterback when getting blitzed). They are also considered by some, particularly PFF, to be a more stable predictor of pass rush consistency and future success in getting to the QB than sacks themselves.

Maybe you’re not a fan of PFF and hardcore analytics. Ok, then check out Bill Belichick’s thoughts on pressures.

Hard to argue with those rings.

This brings us to explaining Davenport’s lack of sack success. The best answer is “your guess is as good as mine.” Maybe he spilled the salt at training camp and didn’t toss any over his right shoulder?

There are a few other potential answers, but not one that is a perfect fit. As mentioned above, sacks can be volatile from year to year. Another factor has been Davenport’s health. While he was healthy last year, he has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Finally, it could be that Davenport just had a poor season, as evidenced by a decline in his production in the back half of last year. The truth probably lies in a combination of all these factors.

Looking ahead, Marcus Davenport optimists should find hope in Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham. Drafted in 2013, Graham was labeled as a bust for his first four years in the league as he hadn’t eclipsed 6.5 sacks in a season. Despite that fact, his pressure totals were consistently among the best in the NFL. Sound familiar? For Graham, those pressures finally led to a breakout season and a Lombardi Trophy for the Eagles in 2017.

For the Vikings, Davenport mirroring Graham would be the best possible situation, especially if they’re facing down the barrel of a world without Danielle Hunter.

Feature Image Courtesy of the Minneapolis Star Tribune

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