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Ranking the top 10 Bills on the 2014 roster: #10

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Guys…We are only like a month away from training camp?!! Actually, I mostly hate training camp, but I do enjoy how it is a reminder how football season is right around the corner.

So, with about a month and change from the start of training camp, I’ve decided to do a little countdown of the top 10 players on the Bills. With some statistical help from Nickel City Bills (Michael Purinton) to go along with my pizzazz for storytelling, this series will take us into August or so.

(Note:  I am the one who is ranking these guys so if you got beef with the countdown, blame me. )

So, without further ado..let’s go to #10 on the countdown.

Backstory:
When this current Bill came to the (716), I really didn’t think much of it. If anything stuck out, it was this being the first trade of its kind in 13 years. A player-for-player trade? The last time they did it…the Bills received Charlie Rogers from the Texans for Jay Foreman.

Yeah.. Player-for-player trades don’t really happen all that much it would seem. The Bills were giving up on someone who I could count his highlights on one of Theon Greyjoy’s hands and in return we were receiving a player who you could probably count their highlights on Theon Greyjoy’s toes (Note: For those Non-Game of Thrones fans, Theon is missing a few toes and fingers). In other words, your disappointment for our disappointment.

Yet, if there was a silver-lining with this deal, it was how the Bills seemed to be getting more potential because they were receiving a former 1st round pick.

On April 29th, 2013..the Bills traded Kelvin Sheppard for our #10 player on the list.

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The story:
To say Sheppard/Hughes trade was  successful would be an understatement. For the first time in like…ever? The Bills actually fleeced someone. Every fan loves when this sort of trade happens. Hell, every time Hughes got a sack, I immediately thought of how stupid the Colts were.. “HA. YOU IDIOTS!” This was probably the best trade the Bills did since Bennett deal.

Hughes was an advanced stats dream last season. Pro Football focus had him ranked as the 8th best OLB in a 3-4 defense. He had a better ranking than Terrell Suggs and Laamar Woodley.

Yet, he only played 621 snaps  (27th least amongst OLBs) which was about 400 less than Mario Williams.

He was a specialist and his duty was simple: Kill the QB.

Hughes primarily played on passing downs (426 passing plays to 195 rushing plays) and was 3rd on the Bills with 10 sacks, which was twice as more as he had in Indianapolis during his first 3 years there. His QB sacks involved Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. Yeah..not too many Cleo Lemons on this list. His 39 QB hurries tied for 2nd on the team and when you add up the hurries, QB hits and QB sacks, the total comes out to 58 or once every 7 passing plays.

There’s a lot of theories as to why he suddenly turned it on (Different system, better talent around him, spot duty, and team blitzing more). Whatever it was they guy is probably going to get a hefty pay day if he keeps it up after this season.

Beyond the stats from Nickel City Bills:
Jerry Hughes was a great pass rush specialist in 2013. According to ProFootballFocus.com, he generated 59 quarterback pressures on 318 pass rush snaps. He affected the quarterback on 18.6% of the pass plays in which he participated, which led all 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers.

But Hughes was basically a part-time player, a pass rush specialist. Assuming the snap count totals are correct (although they seem to vary by a play or two), Hughes participated in about 54% of Buffalo’s defensive snaps.

Quarterback pressures are highly correlated to snaps played. That’s pretty intuitive. However, some players have an above average ability to generate more pressures than expected. The graph below compares pass rush snap counts to quarterback pressures, along with the regression (R2 = 0.778). Notice how high above the curve Hughes performed in 2013.

Hughes and edge population

 

While Hughes performed admirably, this comparison also shows how limited his playing time was. But Hughes flourished in his pass rush specialist role, so how did he compare to the other pass rush specialists? The same graph as above is below, but with just the players that participated in fifty to seventy percent of their team’s defensive plays.

Hughes specialists

 

It could be argued that Hughes was a top-five pass rush specialist in 2013. He and Elvis Dumervil had almost identical participation and production. Hughes remains much less expensive (for 2014, at least), and should be an important part of the Bills defense this upcoming season.

Manny Lawson’s pass rush snaps were quite low last season, but he produced as many pressures as expected. He and Hughes often filled the same edge role, with Lawson playing the expected run downs while Hughes played in obvious passing situations. That duo makes for a really pretty great edge presence, as you can see below.

Hughes and Lawson

 

Hughes thrives as a pass rush specialist. With the Colts, Hughes didn’t participate in more than 100 pass rush plays in a single season until his third season: 2012. That season, Hughes wasn’t a specialist as all. He actually participated in 41 more rushing plays. It seems the Colts just got frustrated with trying to force a square peg into a round hole and gave up on the TCU defensive end.

The fit into Jim Schwartz’ scheme shouldn’t restrain Hughes’ production much at all. He’s still likely to be the pass rush specialist on passing downs, which will allow the Bills to take advantage of his skill set. The team has plenty of depth to handle the rushing downs with other players.

Just get to the quarterback, Jerry.

Final word:
You are damned if you do or you are damned if you don’t. That’s how I feel about Hughes upcoming season. He’s a FA after this season and if he keeps up his play from last year, he’ll probably get a nice raise (6-7 million yearly). I don’t know about you, but with Dareus and the Williams boys on this roster, how much money can you really put into that unit when you throw in Hughes? That’s four guys who will make some sick cheddar. Of course, if his sack total goes down, he’ll probably be more affordable.

I guess I can worry about that in March, but in the meantime, Hughes will be counted on to get after the QB and hopefully with the defensive change in philosophy, he’ll still be able to do just that. Its just too bad he may not be on our list next year because he may play himself out of town or regress.

Joe

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The Lord of Buffalo Wins

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