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Germain Ifedi’s penalty problem may just come down to youth, nervousness

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In his time with the Seattle Seahawks, Germain Ifedi has gained a well-deserved reputation among fans as a penalty magnet, as he is the most penalized player in the entire NFL this season. This is obviously disappointing to many fans, as they feel the level of performance Ifedi is delivering is below that of what should be delivered by a first-round draft pick. In particular, the massive number of false starts Ifedi commits drives much criticism, as he has already accumulated 14 of them in his two-year career.

The penalties, particularly the false starts, have led to cries from many fans for Ifedi to be benched; it’s not hard to find criticism of Ifedi and his penchant for penalties in the Twittersphere or online comment boards. But simply calling for Ifedi to be relegated to the bench leaves a key question unanswered:

  • Is there a driving factor behind his penalties?
  • Is there a common thread among them?
  • Is this simply a lack of focus or is this something that could potentially get better over the course of his career?

In looking at his false start penalties, there are indeed some very loose common threads. In particular, they are slightly more likely to happen in the first half than the second half, though even this is explainable simply by randomness. There is no specific down on which he is more likely to commit a false start as he has five on each of first and second down and four on third down over the course of his career, and the split between home and road is identical: seven and seven.

Thus, the numbers themselves are not showing any kind of pattern, which means it’s time to look at the film, and that’s where things get interesting. I would love to sit here and ramble off a long bit for you about all the different emotions that are likely going through the head of a 23-year-old professional football player who is facing off against the stiffest competition of his career. In particular, I’d love to delve into the depths of fears all people face in their professional lives when for the first time in their lives they are challenged with a level of difficulty to which they are not accustomed. However, I’ve got a sick two-year-old and his mom to care for, which leaves the short version: I believe Ifedi is simply nervous.

In spite of being a physical monstrosity — at 6’6” and over 325 pounds he’s easily amongst the top percent or two of the largest humans on the planet — inside him reside the same insecurities and fears as the rest of us. Don’t believe me? Here’s a chart of every single false start penalty he’s ever gotten in his NFL career with the player across from which he was lined up listed along with their draft position.

Germain Ifedi’s false start penalties

Date Week Opponent Lined Up Across From Drafted
Date Week Opponent Lined Up Across From Drafted
10/2/2016 4 NY Jets Leonard Williams 1.6 (2015)
12/15/2016 15 LA Rams William Hayes 4.103 (2008)
12/15/2016 15 LA Rams Michael Brockers 1.14 (2012)
12/15/2016 15 LA Rams Aaron Donald 1.13 (2014)
12/24/2016 16 Arizona Robert Nkemdiche 1.29 (2016)
01/01/2017 17 San Francisco Chris Jones 6.198 (2013)
9/24/2017 3 Tennessee Derrick Morgan 1.16 (2010)
10/08/2017 5 LA Rams Connor Barwin 2.46 (2009)
10/22/2017 7 NY Giants Jason Pierre-Paul 1.15 (2010)
10/22/2017 7 NY Giants Jason Pierre-Paul 1.15 (2010)
11/09/2017 10 Arizona Deonne Buchanon/Hasson Reddick 1.27 (2014)/1.13 (2017)
12/03/2017 13 Philadelphia Brandon Graham 1.13 (2010)
12/15/2017 15 LA Rams Connor Barwin 2.46 (2009)
12/15/2017 15 LA Rams Connor Barwin 2.46 (2009)

Of his 14 false start penalties, eight have come while he was lined up across from a former first round pick, many of which have been either an All Pro or a Pro Bowler at some point in their career.

Add in his three career false starts when lined up across from Connor Barwin, and all of a sudden 11 of his 14 career false starts have come against players taken in the first 46 picks in the draft.

Now, while some may believe that this is simply the result of the league being dominated by first round picks, it’s not. Depending on how one wants to compute it, first round picks constitute only 53 of the 303 defensive linemen that have played in the NFL this season. For 2016 the numbers are 52 of 304. Expanding the sample to represent all the defensive players in the NFL, of the 958 defensive players who have played in at least one game this season, only 140 are first round picks. For 2016 we again see that the numbers are very similar, with 145 of 995 defensive players who appeared in a game having been first round picks.

Meaning: roughly 85 percent of players in the NFL are not first round picks, yet Germain Ifedi is more likely to commit a false start when he is lined up against the 15 percent who are than against the 85 percent who are not. Using rough numbers based on the total number of defensive players, the odds of this being the result of randomness is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 in 3,000, give or take a thousand depending on the exact probability estimates used.

Thus, it appears Ifedi is may be no different than most 23-year-olds in their first job out of college. He’s likely nervous, worried about letting his coworkers down and possibly somewhat intimidated. The only difference is he has sixty to seventy thousand people watching him live and millions more watching him work on TV each week. No big deal.

This is just part of what gives me hope for Ifedi going forward. As he continues to gain more experience, more confidence and a stronger belief in his ability, the nervousness that comes with lining up across from a defender that warranted being selected higher in the draft than himself should wear away. All he needs to do is relax, focus and let his training take over.

He can do it. He simply needs to believe in himself.