- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Pressuring quarterbacks into poor decisions can sometimes have more value than sacking them.
The San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith has long been a player whose value has transcended his sack totals. Simply watch him play from week to week and you'll see what a pain he can be even without ranking among the league leaders in sacks.
Football Outsiders has quantified those contributions and broken them out in a recent Insider piece by Aaron Schatz. The piece notes that most quarterbacks average significantly fewer yards per attempt when pressured. A few, including two quarterbacks on the 49ers' schedule last season -- Aaron Rodgers and Donovan McNabb -- have suffered less dropoff than others when pressured. Without knowing the stats, I would put the Minnesota Vikings' Brett Favre in a similar category at times, and certainly when he threw the winning touchdown against San Francisco last season.
Schatz's piece shows Smith ranking tied for fifth in the league last season with what Football Outsiders calls adjusted hurries. Smith had 28.5, same as the Cowboys DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. No other NFC West player ranked among the top 17 players (each player on the list had at least 21). Former Arizona Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith, now with the Houston Texans, made the list with 23. Smith also ranked seventh on a separate "No-Help All-Stars" list showing "the 10 players with the highest percentage of single-season hurries over their next-most productive teammates."
The St. Louis Rams' Chris Long ranked 10th on a separate list showing players who accounted for the highest percentage of their teams' hurries. Football Outsiders credited Long with 20.5 of the Rams' 89 hurries, or 23 percent.