Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil was quietly one of the NFL‘s most efficient pass rushers in 2013. I say quietly because although he’s a relatively big-name player thanks to an impressive six-year tenure with the Denver Broncos, his sack total didn’t do his productivity justice.
If given more pass-rushing chances and if able to convert more near sacks into actual sacks, Dumervil should threaten to lead the NFL in sacks in 2014.
9.5 sacks, a total only good enough for 25th in the NFL, is what Dumervil managed last season, his first in Baltimore after inking a five-year, $35 million deal last March. Not working in Dumervil’s favor was how little he was on the field for a player with his salary.
Despite being the one of the highest paid 3-4 outside linebackers in football, Dumervil was relegated to a situational role in 2013, splitting snaps opposite Terrell Suggs with second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
Dumervil rushed the passer while Upshaw specialized in setting the edge against the run. The result saw Dumervil play a mere 574 defensive snaps, less than Upshaw and 28 other 3-4 outside linebackers. He still made the most of every opportunity, though.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dumervil was the league’s third-most proficient 3-4 outside linebacker in accumulative grading and its most effective pass rusher at the position. In addition to sacking the quarterback 9.5 times, Dumervil hit opposing passers 11 times and hurried them another 40 — both figures surpassed Robert Mathis, who played nearly 300 more snaps than Dumervil and led the entire NFL in sacks with 19.5.
Dumervil’s pass-rushing productivity, which combines sacks, quarterback hits and hurries in relation to how many pass-rushing snaps he was allotted, ranked third among qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends, the primary edge-rushing types, according to Pro Football Focus. If he was only given more opportunities, it’s not crazy to assume he could have produced 15 or more sacks.
Well, Dumervil should see a spike in playing time in 2014, which bodes well for his prospects of leading the NFL in sacks. He’s bulked up, adding just under 10 pounds to his frame. “I gained a few pounds,” Dumervil told media members following the Ravens’ minicamp practice on Tuesday. “It’s a different division from the [AFC] West, so I’m prepared for this year, for sure.”
Leaving something to be desired as an edge setter was said to be the primary reason why Dumervil was on the sideline for so much early-down work in 2013. Now nearly 10 pounds heavier, he should be better equipped to defend the run. And because opposing offenses are often just as inclined to pass on traditional run downs, Dumervil should acquire more opportunities to get after the passer this fall.
Meanwhile, Dumervil’s competition for snaps on early downs, Courtney Upshaw, also reported to OTAs heavier. That’s not a positive in Upshaw’s case, however, as the former Alabama standout has historically had trouble keeping his weight down.
Citing a significant weight gain last offseason, head coach John Harbaugh told reporters in 2013 that Upshaw “eats too much.” Once again reporting to the Ravens’ training facility overweight could put Upshaw in the coaching staff’s doghouse — another indication that Dumervil might be poised for more snaps.
And it’s not like Upshaw was a vastly superior run defender in the first place. He may possess the potential to be, but in 2013, he was actually less proficient in the area than Dumervil. According to Pro Football Focus, Dumervil ranked 12th against the run among 3-4 outside linebackers while Upshaw was slotted 38th.
Upshaw’s draft status as a former second-round pick is obviously what’s been propelling him. But there comes a point when potential either manifests or it doesn’t. And with such a talented force like Dumervil in hand, the Ravens would be unwise, to be nice, to continue spurning production in favor of development.
Given his efficiency in 2013 and an increase in weight that should improve his ability to stop the run, Dumervil appears poised for a much higher impact during his second year with the Ravens. And if he can turn more of his quarterback hits and hurries into sacks, which will require some good fortune, the sky will be the limit for his production.
With more opportunities and better luck, Dumervil is a legitimate candidate to lead the NFL in sacks this coming season.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer at Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.