Back in September, SIS publicly introduced a metric called Pressures Above Expectation (PAE). As Bryce Rossler explained, “PAE considers the quarterback’s drop type, the down and distance, the score, the use of play-action, and each defender’s alignment to determine their likelihood of recording a pressure, which we call Expected Pressures (xP).”
From there, we can compare the number of actual Pressures that a player generates to their Expected Pressures to understand how well they are performing within the context of their opportunities. Another fun tidbit from our old pal Bryce:
“PAE and xP combined are more predictive of pressures than pressures themselves. Put more simply, efficiency and opportunity allow us to predict future performance better than past performance can.”
With the regular season under our belts since the public release, we thought it would be interesting to revisit last year’s top 10 to see how they performed in 2021. And of course, we’ll unveil the list of the best players at creating pressure from the regular season.
2021 Pressures Above Expectation
Top 10 players in PAE from 2020
The top three from last year’s list leave no doubt from either the eye test or the numbers that they are elite pass rushers. Each of Aaron Donald, Chris Jones, and T.J. Watt created about an extra pressure per game for their teams, and they once again were all top ten performers in 2021.
It’s worth noting that Donald had a much higher volume of relevant pass rush snaps, and when we look at this stat from a rate basis, Jones and Watt outclassed Donald in terms of efficiency. While the perennial best defensive player in the NFL had a pressure rate 3% above expectation, Jones and Watt were creating pressures 6% more often than we’d expect.
Overall, the leaders from last year performed quite well, with just one of the top ten—Leonard Williams—performing below expectation (Stephon Tuitt missed the season). Shaq Barrett, Cam Heyward, and DeMarcus Lawrence each created pressure about 3% above expectation. Despite missing time with injury, Lawrence made the most of his time on the field.
2021 Pressures Above Expectation
Minimum 200 qualifying snaps
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In 2021 there were two players who created more Pressures Above Expectation than Watt and Jones, and neither of them is a true Edge. Nobody punched above his stat line better than Washington DT Jonathan Allen, who almost doubled the number of pressures that a player with similar assignments would’ve been expected to have. Despite losing talented teammates Chase Young and Montez Sweat to injury for long stretches (as the SIS Injury Risk Model correctly/unfortunately predicted), he had opposing offensive linemen saying WTF to the WFT standout all season long.
That said, while Allen deserves credit for pacing the league in PAE volume, the player on this list who, in my opinion, stands out the most will surprise absolutely nobody. With 22 pressures above expectation, Cowboys rookie Micah Parsons easily led the league with a pressure rate 9% above expectation. The aforementioned Allen, Watt, and Jones tie for second at 6% above expectation, which gives a bit of context for just how far out in front Parsons really was.
On just 238 qualifying pass rush snaps, Parsons created more extra pressures than all but one player in the NFL. He was deployed countless different ways (actually, we can count them, but that’s for a different article), and he really was an alien in terms of how effective he could be in situations that the offense didn’t seem to have an answer for.
It’s fascinating that on almost 150 fewer qualifying pass rushes, Parsons actually had more expected pressures than Jonathan Allen due to the difference in how they are used (primarily where they line up). A player in similar situations to Allen would be expected to create pressures on just 7% of plays, compared to 11% for Parsons. These differences help illuminate the value of a context-based statistic like PAE.
Watt may have tied the sack record, but Jonathan Allen and Micah Parsons are your Pressures Above Expectation kings of 2021.