As everyone knows, right before the 2018 season began the Chicago Bears traded for Khalil Mack. It shocked many that the Oakland Raiders would trade away a top two defensive player in the league. Throughout Khalil Mack’s career in Oakland, he didn’t have much help getting after quarterbacks. Once he arrived in Chicago, fans began to hope he would not only be dominant himself but also help elevate the play of the Bears 2016 first round draft pick, OLB Leonard Floyd. As time went on, the growing frustration among fans became abundantly clear. In two years alongside the most commanding edge rusher in the NFL, Floyd had only posted seven sacks.
On March 17th of this year, the team cut Floyd. This made room for a much more fitting sidekick to Khalil Mack. Robert Quinn has been brought in to do the one thing Mack’s previous teammates couldn’t. Simply assist him in rushing the passer. After the news broke that Mack finally attained not only a competent accomplice in Robert Quinn but one who has been dominant himself at times, one question kept coming to mind. Can Quinn help extend the career of future Hall of Fame linebacker Khalil Mack? I took it upon myself to find the answer, and these are the results.
Having productive pass rushers from both the edge and the interior, in addition to a “star” pass rusher helps extend the career length of the “star” pass rusher.
First, I chose over 30 of the best pass rushers of all time. The players chosen included the likes of Lawrence Taylor, Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and many others. These 30+ players are referred to as ‘stars’ in this study. For each star player I examined numerous things about their career including:
- Number of seasons played
- Number of productive non-star seasons
- Percentage of seasons played that were star seasons
- Number of seasons the star player had a productive teammate edge rusher
- Number of seasons the star player had a productive teammate defensive tackle (productive in pass rushing)
- Percentage of seasons the star player had a productive teammate edge rusher AND defensive tackle
- Percentage of total possible productive teammates
- How far into their career they had their last star OR productive season
After collecting and organizing the data, I put the players into groups based on the number of seasons they played. I then analyzed each group to test my hypothesis.
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- For the stars edge rusher teammate’s season to be considered productive, they had to have 8+ sacks (or 0.5 sacks per game if games were missed)
- For the stars defensive tackle teammate’s season to be considered productive, they had to have 6+ sacks (or 0.375 sacks per game if games were missed)
- Seasons in which the teammate played less than eight games were not counted (Example: 2 sacks in 4 games doesn’t count)
- For a star player to have a star season, they had to post 10+ sacks (0.625+ sacks per game) as an edge rusher, or 8+ sacks (0.5+ sacks per game) as a defensive tackle.
After analyzing every player’s career, I did, in fact, find a correlation between the career length of a star pass rusher and the quality of their teammates. Those who played 10-11 seasons had a productive teammate(s) 48% of the time on average. Those who played 12-13 seasons had a productive teammate(s) 52% of the time on average. Pass rushers who played 14-15 seasons had a productive teammate(s) 58% of the time on average. The data analysis was consistent with my hypothesis. The larger number of productive teammates, the longer the career of the star lasts.
Additionally, I found a correlation between the productivity of teammates and career productivity distribution of the star player. The greater the number of productive teammates a star player had, the further into their career they continued to produce at either a star or productive level.
What This Means For Khalil Mack
As alluded to earlier, Khalil Mack has not had help rushing the passer throughout his career. In fact, he has had the lowest percentage of productive teammates of any player I analyzed. Mack has had 12 possible productive teammates (one edge and one DT per season), and only three of them were actually productive (25%).
The addition of Robert Quinn will hopefully change that for up to five years. Quinn has met the productive mark in six of his nine seasons, as well as five of the six seasons he started at least 14 games. Akiem Hicks has exceeded the productive mark for a DT every healthy season he’s played for the Chicago Bears. After six years in the league, Khalil Mack is about at the midpoint of his career. If the Bears keep him surrounded with talent like Quinn and Hicks, we should see him play out the remaining five years of his contract, and then some.
Zack Busse is a Chicago Bears writer for Time Skew. Follow him on twitter @BusseZack for more Bears content and articles.