Though Bruce Irvin quickly became a Seahawks fan favorite during his four seasons in Seattle, his departure in free agency was met with little resistance. Even as Irvin had transitioned from a part-time pass rusher into a SAM linebacker who rushed on passing downs, it still felt as though he was slightly positionless—worse, his production didn’t expand with his role. Ultimately, Irvin was an expendable part compared to the numerous high-level talents he entered the league, and lined up, alongside.
Upon signing with the Raiders, however, Irvin returned to his natural position as a defensive end, and flourished. Playing opposite Khalil Mack for the first time in 2016, Irvin totaled the most pressures of his career, with 47 (per SIS). The next season, he followed it up by tying his then-career high in sacks with eight. As schemes, teammates, coaches and teams changed over the next several years, Irvin quietly continued to produce.
Excluding his half-season with the Jon Gruden Raiders, Irvin hasn't posted a pressure rate lower than 10.4 since he left the Seahawks, which is really solid for a rotational rusher. Bring him back!— Alistair Corp (@byAlistairCorp) February 27, 2020
On the tumultuous 2018 Raiders, Jon Gruden’s return to Oakland, Irvin struggled to break into the lineup. Halfway through the season, Gruden shrugged it off as the wrong situation, and Irvin was released soon after, ending up on his hometown Atlanta Falcons. In Dan Quinn’s defense—a near copy of the defense he’ll be returning to under Pete Carroll—Irvin returned to the productive pass rusher he had been since initially leaving the Seahawks. Though he averaged just 26 snaps per game in Atlanta, he was highly effective, averaging a sack or pressure once every seven rushes.
In 2019, Irvin again found himself as a rotational rusher, and again proved to be effective in that role. As a stand-up EDGE for the Panthers, Irvin played just over half the defense’s snaps and set a career-high in sacks with 8.5—in just 13 games. With a pressure rate of 11.1—higher than rushers such as Frank Clark, Brandon Graham, Justin Houston and Jerry Hughes—Irvin was one of 21 pass rushers to record 8+ sacks and a pressure rate above 11 in 2019.
In the four years Irvin was gone from Seattle, not only did his production stabilize considerably, he also rounded out his skill set as a pass rusher. The quick-twitch, corner-threatening, undersized rusher who began his career with the Seahawks had become a well-rounded defensive end.
Irvin’s numbers, too, are helped by his evolution into a scrappy, reliable finisher at the quarterback. One of nine players with at least 5.5 sacks in each of the last six seasons, Irvin brings the quarterback down whether he has to chase them done from behind, stick with it out of structure or simply finish when he beats his man. A huge issue for Seattle’s defense in 2019 was the lack of a secondary or tertiary threat to play off of Jadeveon Clowney; should the duo both feature for the Seahawks in 2020, Irvin will benefit massively from Clowney’s play.
After weighing in at a generous 245 pounds at the Scouting Combine in 2012, Irvin gradually filled out his frame. Listed at 258 pounds by the Panthers in 2019, Irvin has added power rushes to his game in recent seasons, finding success in doing so.
The first sack shown below shows off a nasty long arm on Germain Ifedi, as he powers the right tackle directly into Russell Wilson. The second is a well done speed-to-power rush that ends in a sack. The last two sacks show a combination of Irvin’s skills at this stage of his career: the foot speed to loop inside and the strength to jack back a blocker who is caught on their heels.
As the rest of Irvin’s game has filled out, his ability to turn the corner and win with the elite change of direction and agility he entered the league with has remained. A sack of Taylor Heinicke, below, sees Irvin combine power and flexibility as he uses a rip move in order to get off his block and bring down the Carolina signal caller. On the second sack, he just flat out beats his former teammate, Donald Penn, off the snap and turns the corner on him.
Irvin’s short-area quickness, like his agility, has not waned much with time either. Seattle’s defensive brain trust should be salivating at the thought of Shaquem Griffin and Irvin flanking a pair of interior rushers, only to loop inside after the snap. Griffin and Irvin’s ability to stunt inside will combine wonderfully with Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier, both of whom project to be effective when reducing inside. (Griffin and Irvin would also find great success flanking Clowney, who would be the ideal interior rusher in this scenario.)
Though Irvin is likely to be in a similar role with the Seahawks as he has been in previous seasons, seeing the field on far more passing downs than against the run, he shouldn’t be a liability there. He remains a disciplined edge defender, he moves well at age-32, and he has added mass and strength to hold up at the point of attack that his younger self did not.
Ultimately, Irvin won’t be an every down player for Seattle, and the Seahawks won’t need him to be. He will, however, be a surefire producer as a player who gets pressure consistently and has proven to finish reliably. That exact type of player was one that Seattle sorely missed last year, and that is what makes Irvin’s addition such a positive one.