Hi everybody! My wisdom teeth are bearing down on my molars like a Mongol Horde, so you'll excuse me if I attempt to take it a little light. Here are the midseason grades for the defensive line.
Darryl Tapp A: In just his second season, and just 23, Darryl Tapp has quietly become one of the game's most complete defensive ends. He is still not an elite pass rusher, but he is very good. Plus, he's a rock against the run and an unheralded asset in coverage. Did you know he has 6 passes defensed on the season? If you average all pass plays that Tapp is directly involved with, giving him a zero for interceptions and pass defenses just like we did with Russell, you see something remarkable. The average pass play involving Tapp is just 1.05 yards past the line of scrimmage. That's not small sample size theatre, either, that's on 17 plays. Against the run, again on 17 plays, Tapp makes his average play just 1.65 yards past the line of scrimmage. The knock against Tapp coming out of college was his size. That's not an insignificant factor. Height, reach, have a lot to do not just with an end's ability to fight off tackles, but also how a player fills out as he ages. One thing scouts don't do, but maybe should, is figure out which players are likely to experience late growth spurts. Tapp sure looks taller than the 6'1" he was measured at exiting college. Either way, should Tapp develop into a dominating force as a pass rusher, or just maintain his current excellent and well-rounded play, he's an asset, a building block for the next contender and another testament to Ruskell's excellent talent evaluation.
Brandon Mebane B+: It's tempting to give Mebane an incomplete, but though he's only started 3 games, his impact is apparent. YPC is a pretty iffy stat, especially when evaluating one running back in one game. Team rushing yards per attempt is a little better. If you take a defense's yards per attempt allowed, compare it to the average of your opponent and then weight it for the number of attempts by that team, you end up with a pretty decent statistic. I took the first six contests as Chartric Darby and the final three as Brandon Mebane. You could credit Mebane for the Hawks' dominant run stopping performance in the fourth quarter against the Saints, as Darby was injured and out of the game, but that makes this a little messier, so let's just give Darby credit for the whole game - good and bad.
Darby YPA attempt against average: 104%
Mebane YPA attempt against average: 84%
In other words opponents were averaging 104% of yards per attempt versus average in the Hawks' first 6 contests, but only 84% of yards per attempt versus average in the last three. Pretty good, huh? We'll check back in on this when the season is over.
Craig Terrill B: Terrill is what he is. Because of his fast first step I've taken to calling him Little Lightning. Used sparingly he offers some situational pass rush, but he's not a full time player. If he could only be a better tackler, he'd be lot more valuable (this failing was especially evident against Big Ben Roethlisberger who threw Terrill off like a ragdoll), but as-is, he's an effective player that doesn't cost the Hawks much.
Rocky Bernard B-: I love Rock, but his persistent injury problems as late and how they've cut into his performance are becoming worrisome. In the first four weeks of the season he was a top 5 three-technique tackle, since then his performance has declined. Last week against San Francisco he was back to his penetrative, run stuffing ways. If he's once again healthy, expect him to be a supremely disruptive force, a matchup problem, and a boon to the players around him, especially Patrick Kerney.
Patrick Kerney B+: My major concerns about Kerney entering the season centered on his age and his contract. Neither seems to matter much now. Kerney is guaranteed 19.5 million, but much of that was paid out this season - including a $10 million dollar signing bonus. Seattle is in excellent cap shape, and if Kerney can play at his current level for one more season, the contract becomes an outright steal. That's because after two seasons his guaranteed money should be taken care of, and his remaining salary can be cut without significant penalty if his production craters.
The best indication of Kerney's play is his ability to get consistent penetration. That ability puts pressure on the quarterback and disrupts rushing plays. Not counting this past game against the 49ers, Kerney leads the Hawks with 27 penetrations. So, yes, the sack totals haven't met the extraordinary standard of his youth in Atlanta, but as far as free agent acquisitions go, he's been a major contributor on a team that desperately needs consistent pressure to make its defensive scheme work.