The Dallas Cowboys need defensive end George Selvie to play at a very high level. That might seem like a lot to ask from a former seventh-round pick who has been cut from four different teams, but the truth is that Selvie has the potential to be a special player.
Prior to the 2013 NFL Draft, I published an article suggesting that height is strongly correlated with NFL success for pass-rushers. But that doesn’t mean that being tall is the cause for success. Instead, I think height is correlated with something that’s really, really important for pass-rushers: arm length. Defensive ends need to be able to get off the blocks of offensive tackles, and that’s really challenging if their arms aren’t long enough to maintain separation.
If Selvie were coming out of as a rookie, he’d represent the perfect opportunity to acquire value by exploiting a marketplace inefficiency. See, Selvie is “short” for a defensive end at just 6’3”, and NFL teams as a whole still seem to “pay” for height; they draft tall pass-rushers because they’re tall, not (always) because they have long arms.
Despite his relatively short stature, Selvie has ridiculously long 34.5" arms. That’s incredibly important for a pass-rusher.
And Selvie was productive in college, too, as a Freshman All-American in 2006 and the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. Selvie had 14.5 sacks in 2007 alone.
And guess who has the most tackles for loss in all of college football since 2000? Yup, it’s Selvie.
So if we’re trying to figure out whether or not Selvie can be a special player, we have to weigh his college dominance and elite physical measurables against the fact that, up until this year, he was unproductive in the NFL.
But here’s the thing. In three seasons prior to joining the Cowboys, Selvie played only 662 snaps, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). In comparison, he’s already played 233 snaps in just five games this season.
Now it’s easier to see why Selvie didn’t produce. First, he didn’t play enough snaps for us to differentiate between poor play and randomness. Second, he’s been with five teams in four seasons, so there hasn’t been much of an opportunity for him to completely learn the nuances of a defense.
Producing Right Now
Using Pro Football Reference’s approximate value as a guide, I charted the productivity of the league’s top pass-rushers by age.
Although Selvie seems like a new player, he’s already 26 years old. That’s actually the age of peak production for the typical defensive end.
And take a look at the age 31-32 group—where defensive end DeMarcus Ware sits right now. Although defensive ends can typically produce at a high level into their 30s, the average 31-year-old is still at less than 90 percent of his previous peak. That could explain at least part of Ware’s inconsistent play in 2013.
In addition, there’s some evidence that Ware might fade late in the year.
Without much help from the linebackers or interior line, the ‘Boys desperately need Selvie to step up.
Early in the year, Selvie was dominant at times. He has three sacks through five games, putting him on pace for right around 10, but his pressure rate suggests he should have more. Selvie has 15 pressures this year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and I’ve found that sacks tend to add up to around one-quarter of pressures over the long run. So Selvie’s most likely sack total after five games is actually four.
Selvie’s second sack of the year came in Week 3 against the Rams. As usual, he was lined up on the left side of the Cowboys’ defense, over the right tackle.
The Cowboys ran a twist on the play, with defensive tackle Jason Hatcher looping around and Selvie slanting in. Selvie was initially double-teamed before the right tackle kicked out to pick up Hatcher.
Selvie used his long arms to gain separation from the right guard before disengaging and eventually bringing down quarterback Sam Bradford.
Selvie was extremely quick off of the ball, blowing past the right tackle by the time the shotgun snap reached quarterback Philip Rivers. With Selvie lined up so far outside, the odds of a speed rush were amplified, and that’s exactly what he gave San Diego.
The right tackle completely whiffed, and Selvie brought down the unsuspecting Rivers.
Despite the sack against the Chargers, Selvie didn’t play an outstanding game. He had only two pressures (after four in each of the first three games), so he was lucky to get a sack. That lack of pressure carried over to Week 5, when Selvie pressured quarterback Peyton Manning just once.
So what’s the problem? Are we now seeing the “real” Selvie?
As I watched Selvie on film, I noticed he seems to find success when he effectively uses his long arms to maintain separation from blockers. Those arms are his most effective weapon, the tool that can potentially differentiate him from other defensive ends. He needs to adequately utilize them at all times.
A few plays after his sack of Rivers, Selvie was ready to get after Rivers yet again with the Chargers in the two-minute drill before halftime.
The Cowboys again slanted Selvie inside—the same concept they used on his sack of Bradford—but the defensive end wasn’t able to get his hands into the body of the interior lineman.
The results weren’t pretty; Selvie got pancaked.
Against Denver on Sunday, Selvie had similar issues.
On a straight rush early in the game, Selvie got a great jump on the snap. But he didn’t use his long arms to separate and disengage from the right tackle, who eventually controlled him on the outside.
Selvie is a heck of an athlete. There are a number of reasons to be bullish on him. He was highly productive in college and has the physical tools needed to excel in the NFL, but he needs to use them in a more consistent manner.
Part of the reason for his recent drop in pressure is certainly due to the quick releases of both Rivers and Manning. Still, he’ll need to produce more than 1.5 pressures per game to be the player the Cowboys need him to be.
There’s not much reason to believe Selvie won’t be able to make the necessary changes moving forward. The stats and film both suggest that the productive Selvie we saw to start the season—the “real” Slim Selvie—is the one we’ll continue to see for the rest of the year.