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How far behind the development curve for offensive tackles is Germain Ifedi?

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

The struggles of the offensive line of the Seattle Seahawks in recent seasons has been no secret, and the need to keep franchise quarterback Russell Wilson upright and protected has never been greater. To that end the Seahawks have spent significant draft capital building an offensive line, and one of the hot button issues has been the performance of right tackle Germain Ifedi.

A first round pick out of Texas A&M just two seasons ago, criticisms of Ifedi’s play are not hard to find on the internet or social media, and here is just a sampling.

Now, I’m not here to deny that Ifedi has had his issues, as he most certainly has. Just like nearly every other young offensive lineman. It’s impossible to lead the league in penalties without having issues, but as I looked at back in January, there are specific factors at play that are highly correlated with Ifedi’s penalties. From the time Duane Brown arrived in Seattle in October through the end of the season, Ifedi had just three holding penalties, with only two coming in the second half of the season. Further, the other penalty issue for Ifedi is the combined issue of his false starts and personal foul penalties. However, knowing that Mike Solari is now a part of the coaching staff and being familiar with Solari’s coaching style, I’m confident the false starts and personal fouls will become a thing of the past. I won’t get into too much detail, as I’ll save this topic for later in the offseason, but let’s just say I would be very, very surprised if Ifedi’s penalty issues continue at the same rate in 2018 and beyond.

Getting back to Ifedi’s on field performance, while many fans have been quick to write him off as a lost cause, with the metrics that are available, where did his 2017 performance fall in terms of the development curve of second year players playing tackle? To answer that as best as I can, I’ll turn to one of PFF’s signature stats, Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE).

PBE, like any single metric, is far from perfect, but when it comes to the few metrics available for offensive linemen, it’s one of the best there is in my opinion. As the name implies, it only looks at pass blocking, but what it does is attempt to quantify whether or not an offensive lineman successfully prevented the defender they were responsible for blocking from disrupting the play. It takes into account not just sacks the offensive lineman allows, but also quarterback hits and hurries. The official PFF definition is as follows:

The Pass Blocking Efficiency rating measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed.

The best way I can explain it is this: PBE looks at every single snap an offensive lineman spends pass blocking, and it assigns them a grade based on how well they perform. If the offensive lineman prevents the defender from getting to the quarterback, they get a 100. If they allow a sack, they get a 0. If they allow the quarterback to be hit or hurried, they get a score somewhere in between. From there PBE works just like calculating a grade in a class based on the individual assignments: it adds all of these scores together and divides by the number of snaps on which the player was asked to pass block.

I know somebody is going to jump in and add that Russell Wilson’s elusiveness aids Ifedi’s PBE rating, so I’m going to cut that off here. It doesn’t. Because PBE takes into account sacks, hits and hurries, it takes into consideration Wilson’s elusiveness. If Wilson uses his legs to evade a pass rusher, PBE takes it into account. If Wilson is moved off his spot, PBE takes it into account. If Ifedi allows a defender to get close to Wilson, PBE takes it into account.

To first give a better understanding of where players should fall in terms of PBE, here is an overview of the PBE outcomes for the tackles NFL wide who played at least 25% of their team’s offensive pass blocking snaps over the last five seasons.

PBE overview for tackles across the NFL 2013-2017

Season Low High Mean Median Standard Deviation
Season Low High Mean Median Standard Deviation
2017 89.5 98 94.5 94.6 1.888
2016 87.7 98 94.4 94.3 1.937
2015 85.6 97.4 94.4 94.7 2.099
2014 89 98.7 94.8 94.9 1.671
2013 89.9 97.2 94.1 94.5 1.639

That laid out, here is a chart of what the development curve for tackles looks like based on every single tackle who has played 25% of more of his team’s offensive snaps in any given season over the last twelve years.

Based on that curve, it’s easy to see that the expectations for players earlier in their career should be lower than for players that are more experienced, but where does Ifedi fall on the development curve? With 2017 having been his second season in the NFL, to stay on track to be a league tackle by PBE he should have recorded a PBE somewhere just below 94. Specifically, the he would have been expected to record a PBE of 93.96. Well, Here is the chart again with Ifedi’s 2017 performance noted in the second column.

On expectations of a PBE of 93.96 for second year tackles, Ifedi delivered a performance of 93.9, or just 0.06 below what would have been expected. How much better would Ifedi have needed to perform in 2017 to have met the 93.96 threshold? Based on my calculations, one less quarterback hit or hurry would have been enough to put Ifedi exactly on par with expectations.

In short, Ifedi delivered a performance a whopping 0.035 standard deviations behind the learning curve, which for a player who entered the NFL as extremely raw fundamentally is somewhat impressive.

Now, his 2017 performance means nothing if he does not continue to improve, so it remains to be seen how he performs in 2018 and beyond. If he continues to improve and continues to get better, then 2018 could be the season in which he takes the reigns and becomes a leader on the Seahawks line for several years to come. In contrast, if his performance plateaus and he does not continue to ascend the curve, then 2018 may prove to be his final season in Seattle.

At this point it’s far too early to know anything for certain, but this will most certainly be a topic to watch and discuss in the months between now and the start of the season in September.