There is no questioning how much Brian Orakpo means to the Washington Redskins defense. He demands attention from opposing offenses because he can collapse the pocket and wreak havoc in the backfield.
Ryan Kerrigan may not be the same type of menace Orakpo is, but his brand of football puts him in the same class as Orakpo, if not a notch above.
Billed as a high-motor player, Kerrigan has already done more to disprove scouts that his athletic ability would keep him from being a force on defense. He's active with his hands, he plays the run well and he can get to the quarterback.
In his first defensive series as a rookie, Kerrigan intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning and took it into the end zone for a touchdown.
As talented as Orakpo is, he always seems to be on the verge of reaching his potential rather than stretching its limits.
In terms of numbers, Kerrigan doesn't have the double-digit sack totals just yet. He does, however, have four forced fumbles and two interceptions returned for touchdowns. He is more than a pass-rusher, and that's where he beats Orakpo.
Kerrigan is a defensive playmaker. He is able to make big tackles in the open field or in the backfield, while keeping his eyes on the ball and creating turnovers.
Orakpo doesn't have that secondary skill set of playing the ball as well as the man, which means his sacks are typically a loss of yards and nothing more. And when he isn't rushing the passer, he's sticking in coverage, making tackles but not really keeping the ball out of the hands of receivers and tight ends.
If we look beyond Orakpo's injuries, his numbers don't jump off the page the way a man of his talent's should. He hasn't emerged as the Redskins answer to DeMarcus Ware, and doesn't appear to be on track to.
Ware tallied eight sacks in his first season, and has averaged 15.25 in the six full seasons since. Orakpo produced 11 sacks as a rookie, but topped out at 9.5 in his second season before falling to eight sacks last season.
On the flip side, Kerrigan notched 7.5 sacks as a rookie, and already has 3.5 through five games this season. The difference is that he isn't expected to be a 15 or 20 sack pass-rusher. Kerrigan is expected to make plays, and he has done that throughout his very young career.
Kerrigan is not simply a high-motor player, he's a relentless all-around contributor with a nose for the ball.
It is still far too early to say with any certainty that Kerrigan is going to surpass Orakpo as the premiere pass-rushing outside linebacker for the Redskins. Both are still very young, and both could put together outstanding careers over the next decade.
For now, with Orakpo on the shelf for the season, Kerrigan gets his chance to shine, and while he may not bring the flash Orakpo does, he brings more substance week in and week out.
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