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The Drive: Rasheem Green and the mysterious #98

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

With nine minutes remaining in the second quarter a player of unknown origin took the field for Seattle. This player looked indistinguishable from Rasheem Green. But he played nothing like the Seahawks’ young defensive end. Here is a look at the mysterious play and mysterious player in question.

Here he is in a four-point stance playing a wide-9 technique. It is an odd assignment for the Rasheem Green we know. His success will depend on quickness. Green ran a respectable 4.73 40. His success will depend on achieving separation through a skillful and varied set of pass rush moves. Green is a project player pressed into snaps by iffy depth greatly thinned by injuries. His success, and he will succeed, will display skill, power, tenacity and astute awareness. Who is this man?

98 fires off the snap.

He engages Panthers left tackle Dennis Daley squarely, not initially targeting the inside or outside shoulder. But where a typical Rasheem Green rush peters out around here, our unidentified impostor flashes a premium pass rush move.

98 forklifts Daley removing his block and rocking him back on his heels. His uses this small advantage to target Daley’s outside shoulder. Though receiving a shotgun snap, quarterback Kyle Allen has taken an additional seven-step drop. He’s very deep in the pocket. 98 intuits a wide rush will be most effective.

Shaquem Griffin has fallen attempting to loop back inside. Seattle’s pass rush is very nearly busted. Chris Manhertz (no. 82) is free to block any pass rusher who might get free. The Seahawks are effectively rushing three against six blockers.

98 uses his position to cut Daley in half, as they say, focusing his force on the left tackle’s outside shoulder and ripping through his block.

Thrice held, surrounded, and with little but a handful of jersey to help him, 98 never relents.

He even swings around to make a play on the ball.

This sack forced a Carolina punt. The excellent edge rusher would not appear again in this game. We know almost nothing about where he came from or where he went. Our only clue is this image captured moments before the snap.

Though only visible for one frame, this “Green,” the one who approaches each snap with a plan, the one who wields a diverse repertoire of pass-rush moves, the one who is tireless in his pursuit, the one who shows excellent situational awareness, would seem to be arriving from a portal connecting the future to the present.

But is it our future, Green’s future, or just one unique instance of perfect development made possible through infinite permutations? I do not know.

Green is exceptionally young for a player in his second season. Among the top 20 all-time leaders in sacks, only Terrell Suggs played in the NFL at 21. Suggs joined a phenomenally talented defense that was nevertheless short of pass rushers and recorded 12 sacks in his rookie season. Among players who played at 22, all rookies except for Suggs, the all-time group averaged 9.5 sacks. It’s not uncommon for pass rushers to contribute early in their careers, and obviously Green is not on an all-time pace.

But, even among this all-time group, blooming a bit late is not that uncommon. Rickey Jackson, John Randle, Richard Dent, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Taylor and Kevin Greene did not play in the NFL until their age-23 season. That group averaged a little under five sacks in their first season. Chris Doleman and Reggie White did not play in the NFL until they were 24. Doleman only had 0.5 sacks in that season. White, who had tallied 23.5 sacks in the USFL, was pro-ready and had 13.

While it’s common for great pass rushers to be at least very good early in their careers, it’s not uncommon for a player to develop somewhat slowly. Doleman, Greene and Strahan did not reach double digit sacks until their respective age-26 seasons. There are many different paths to greatness and Green need not take any of them. We would all be quite happy if he were on the path to very goodness or even just pretty-dang goodness.

For now, he’s Seattle’s sack leader with four—ain’t that a miserable fact. He ranks second to Jadeveon Clowney in hurries, 16 to 10, but has only one quarterback knockdown. Though he has stayed healthy, Green has more than a hundred fewer snaps. And snap to snap, down to down, one could struggle to find justification for him receiving more. But, if only for one snap, a more skilled, more mature, hungrier 98 took the field, and that guy looked damn special. Whoever the hell he was.