NFL Free Agency: Breaking Down Michael Bennett's Successful 2013 Season

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NFL Free Agency: Breaking Down Michael Bennett's Successful 2013 Season
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Michael Bennett was a free agent last offseason. The then former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman didn't receive an adequate long-term deal, so he took a risk and signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks.

Bennett's risk paid off.

He became an integral piece of the Seahawks defense, notching 10 official sacks in 19 games. Not only did he win a Super Bowl ring, but now he enters free agency as arguably the most appealing addition of anyone available.

If Bennett is unable to get a long-term deal in this situation, then he never will.

The question with Bennett for potential suitors is the same as it is with most free agents: Is he really worth a big contract? Over the last two seasons, Bennett has been consistently disruptive, notching 19 sacks while lining up in a variety of positions.

However, he is not a young player. Bennett is somewhat of a late bloomer who didn't start 16 games in a single season until he was 26 years of age. Before the 2012 season, his fourth season in the league, Bennett had played just 34 games, starting 12 and compiling just six sacks.

Now he is 28, and he will be 29 before end of next season. Bennett has proven himself over the past two seasons, but on both occasions, he was motivated by impending free agency. Furthermore, no matter where he signs this offseason, he will be entering a situation that is less beneficial for him.

In Seattle, he played with the best secondary in the NFL on a defensive line that had high quality pass-rushers at every position. Theoretically, the Seahawks secondary should have given him more time to get to the quarterback, while his teammates would have prevented him from getting double-teamed.

If Bennett signs with another team, he may not have that secondary support, and he may be the focal point of the pass rush. For that reason, we need to delve deeper into his recent production.

As previously explained in the analysis of Greg Hardy, the value of sacks in comparison to pressure has been bloated in recent years. With more athletic quarterbacks who can make plays outside of the structure of each play, finishing the pass rush is crucial.

Bennett got to the quarterback 11 times in 2013 for 10 official sacks. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), those sacks came on just 512 pass-rush attempts. Bennett only played 759 total snaps in 19 games. That is an average of 39.9 snaps per game or 59.6 percent of the Seahawks' total snaps.

It's easy to be swayed by Bennett's sack ratio when judged off of his pass-rush snaps, but some hesitation comes with his total snap number. He wasn't an every-down defensive lineman for the Seahawks, but he is going to be paid to be one with his new team.

Some solace can be taken from the fact he played a bigger role with the Buccaneers in 2012, but it's an aspect of his game that may make him less desirable than another player, such as Hardy.

Fortunately for Bennett, he has two aspects of defensive line play that are more valuable than anything nowadays. Bennett is an exceptionally talented pass-rusher, and he is also versatile enough to line up at different spots without dropping his performance.

NFL.com

Eight times Bennett lined up as a defensive end or "LEO" for sacks in 2013. For another sack, he lined up as a nose tackle over the center, and for the final two, he lined up as a left defensive tackle in a four-man front.

Bennett is officially listed at 6'4" and 274 pounds. However, that listing is very old at this stage, so it's unclear exactly what he weighs. More importantly, on the field, it's clear that Bennett has the athleticism and size to be an effective edge-rusher or interior rusher.

His skill set as a pass-rusher lends itself to versatility.

As this chart shows, Bennett beat a few high-profile offensive linemen for his sacks in 2013. It also shows that he beat different types of offensive linemen in different ways. 

The Who and the How
Timestamp Players Beaten Speed Rush Bull Rush Other Specific Move
SF, Q1 02:33 Anthony Davis Yes No Hesitation, Dip
JAX, Q2 13:11 Luke Joeckel Yes No No
JAX, Q3 04:34 Brad Meester Yes No No
TEN, Q2 01:12 David Stewart No No Wins with hands
ARI, Q3 02:09 Eric Winston No No Swim
TB, Q4 12:16 Demar Dotson No Yes No
ATL, Q3 02:30 Garrett Reynolds No Yes No
NYG, Q3 13:43 Jordan Pugh No No Swim
STL, Q1 02:52 None No No No
NO, Q3 10:43 Zach Strief Yes No No
SF, Q3 07:22 Anthony Davis No Yes No

Analytical Analysis Through NFL.com

Bennett didn't beat any players who played like superstars in 2013, but Anthony Davis, Eric Winston and David Stewart are all very talented veterans, while Luke Joeckel has the physical ability to be a very good player in the future.

The first thing that stands out from Bennett as a pass rusher is his burst off the line of scrimmage. Even though he isn't built like a Cameron Wake or Von Miller, Bennett is able to beat offensive tackles at the snap.

With that burst, his low center of gravity and his hand usage, it's very difficult to be proactive against Bennett when playing in space.

NFL.com

San Francisco 49ers right tackle Davis found this out when Bennett beat him for his first sack of the 2013 season. Bennett burst off the line of scrimmage to immediately force Davis to quicken his drop. At that point, Bennett hesitated to fake an inside rush before he accelerated towards the tackle's outside shoulder again.

Bennett was now level with Davis. As Davis tried to push him past his quarterback, Bennett used his low center of gravity to stay on course to the quarterback.

When he doesn't get an advantage at the snap, Bennett is still able to get the best of offensive tackles because of his impressive hand usage. Bennett's hands are very quick, and his swim move proved to be very tight and precise when he used it for two sacks in 2013.

On the inside, Bennett's speed advantage against slower offensive linemen is multiplied. For one of his sacks against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he beat center Brad Meester at the snap before sacking the quarterback without being touched.

Meester, a 36-year-old who has now retired, was very slow moving laterally last season, so that's not an exceptional achievement in a vacuum.

Bennett's speed is still very valuable on the inside because it immediately makes guards and centers more aware of the space they are playing in. This awareness creates hesitation, and that hesitation allows Bennett to gain technical advantages.

Against Garrett Reynolds of the Atlanta Falcons, Bennett showed off this aspect of his game when he bull-rushed the guard before sacking Matt Ryan.

NFL.com

Bennett is lined up over Reynolds in a left defensive tackle position. At the snap, he subtly shifts his weight to the inside before working back outside. That small movement brings Reynolds' right foot forward and makes his stance flat-footed.

Bennett is easily able to get his hands into the chest of the Falcons player before marching him backwards.

On this play, Bennett was penalized for a low hit on the quarterback. It cost his defense 15 yards because the referee spotted it. This is an aspect of Bennett's game that recurred throughout the season. He too often goes low on the quarterback and is fortunate to not be called for it more.

Not only does going low on the quarterback make the tackle more difficult, it means Bennett is unable to attack the football.

Timestamp Players Beaten Attacks Football Time Elapsed(Seconds) Yards
SF, Q1 02:33 Anthony Davis No 2.9 9
JAX, Q2 13:11 Luke Joeckel No 3.6 3
JAX, Q3 04:34 Brad Meester No 2.3 9
TEN, Q2 01:12 David Stewart No 3.9 8
ARI, Q3 02:09 Eric Winston No 3.2 8
TB, Q4 12:16 Demar Dotson No 2.9 7
ATL, Q3 02:30 Garrett Reynolds No 2.8 7
NYG, Q3 13:43 Jordan Pugh Yes 2.6 8
STL, Q1 02:52 None No 3.9 2
NO, Q3 10:43 Zach Strief Yes 2.9 10
SF, Q3 07:22 Anthony Davis Yes 2.8 8
Total 10 3 33.8 79
Average .909 .272 3.07 7.18

Analytical Analysis Through NFL.com

As the above chart shows, Bennett only attacked the football three times on sacks in 2013. Because he played on the left side of the defensive line, simple logic suggests that Bennett wouldn't have had many opportunities to attack the ball. However, that wasn't the case.

There were many occasions when Bennett settled for the sack instead of trying to knock the ball out in 2013.

Bennett was relatively quick to the quarterback in 2013. He was not as quick as Hardy, who averaged 2.95 seconds per sack, but Hardy played on the edge and had two unblocked sacks. Playing with the best secondary in the league, it's important to note that Hardy had three sacks when the play lasted at least 3.6 seconds.

Even though Bennett had two sacks when the play lasted 3.9 seconds and Hardy only had one sack that went above 3.6, it should also be noted that seven of Bennett's sacks came in under three seconds. While his production obviously benefited from playing with that coverage, it clearly wasn't dependant on it.

Playing in Seattle definitely has its benefits.

Not once did Bennett beat a double-team for a sack. Only once did he have a sack when the Seahawks were playing from behind, whereas six came when playing with a double-digit lead. Seven sacks came on 3rd-and-long or 2nd-and-long (more than 3rd-and-7 or 2nd-and-8).

Situationally, Bennett benefited from playing in Seattle, but it's clear that he has an abundance of talent as an individual. In a league that is desperate for versatility and pass-rushing ability on the defensive side of the ball, he should be a highly sought-after free agent this offseason.

Will he be a foundation piece for another successful team? Or will he simply be the next in a long line of overpaid free agents who never relived past successes?

That is still unclear at this stage.

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