Last week a case was made for Jadeveon Clowney commanding a top-five edge rusher contract when he hits the open market. But Clowney isn't the only pass rusher who is in for a big payday come March.
Two years ago the Jacksonville Jaguars had one of the best defenses in the NFL. Their combination of pass rush and coverage along with their swagger and aggressiveness made them a unit no offense wanted to see.
Players like Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey and Telvin Smith had important roles for a unit known as "Sacksonville." But there was another player on the defensive line who had a breakout season during that 2017 campaign, and he has continued that hot streak ever since.
Yannick Ngakoue was the 69th pick in the 2016 draft out of Maryland. After starting three seasons for the Terrapins, Ngakoue’s skill set translated right to the pros. He recorded eight sacks in his rookie season and followed with double-digit sacks (12) and a career-high six forced fumbles. Ngakoue continued his effectiveness last year with 9 1/2 sacks.
After three successful seasons, coupled with a rookie contract that wasn't paying him much as a third-round pick, Ngakoue held out over the summer in hopes of signing a new deal.
He didn't get it.
As far as consistency, Ngakoue's tenure is as strong as they come. Since 2016, Ngakoue's 35 1/2 sacks are in the top 10 for edge players within that time frame.
He has not missed a single game of his career, to this point, and his ability and availability should pump out a pretty penny in his next contract. Does the film echo the stats to definitively say Ngakoue is worth it? Let's take a look at what he's done just in 2019.
Play No. 1: No Pass Rush Specialist
A player who gets paid a top-five or even top-10 contract at a position usually aren't one-trick ponies. There are some pass rushers or speed players who have been the exception over the years, but they often don't prove to be worth that value.
For as good as Ngakoue is at rushing the passer, he can be just as stout when defending the run. Ngakoue is so strong. He can rip off blockers in the blink of an eye if they don't have their hands up and into him right.
When Ngakoue gets paid, it won't just be because of how explosive he is off the edge, but also for how strong he is when setting it.
Play No. 2: Comin' In Hot
Another marvel? Ngakoue can get off the ball. I understand Ngakoue was not blocked on this play — a strategy I don't recommend — but look how quickly he got into the backfield and engulfed the quarterback. Kyle Allen didn't even have time to blink.
Burst and acceleration are two selling points when it comes to pass rushing, specifically for speed rushers. As a player who likes to attack outside shoulders, this is key for Ngakoue, and he definitely has it.
Play No. 3: One Arm Is All You Need
Sometimes we can get enamored with speed and blissfully ignore strength deficiencies. Ngakoue can not only get around the edge but also be a force with his arms — in this play he only needed one.
It is sort of an outlier as Ngakoue won't be hanging his hat on getting one-handed sacks. But it did display what kind of power he has. He is not just a speed player who, if locked up, can't get off blocks or push a pile.
Play No. 4: Skip, Dip & Rip
Athletic ability gets you to the NFL, but it's the technique and learning how to use it that gets you a second contract so many players covet. When it comes to pass rushing, the technique comes in the form of pass rush moves.
Ngakoue shows that he really knows how to dominate consistently with a rip move. Sometimes it comes with a little skip and dip, as shown above, other times it’s just a straight snatch and rip. But whatever it is, this has become a go-to move for the speed rusher, and it can be seen as a "trump card" against many offensive tackles.
Play No. 5: Forced Fumble King
When it comes to really making money, the best top paid defenders are the ones that get turnovers. Sacks are extremely valued during contract negotiations, but when you can attach forced fumbles to them, now you're talking about some serious leverage.
In Ngakoue’s six sacks this season, half of them have forced a fumble — his speed and strength paint the picture of how such a high rate is possible.
In fact, only two edge players have more sacks than Ngakoue since 2016: Khalil Mack and Chandler Jones. Mack is currently the highest-paid positional player, and Jones became top-five paid edge rusher when he penned a deal in 2017.
Ngakoue is right there with the two: traits, production, availability and impact. If the Jaguars don't pay Ngakoue $20 million per years, some team will.