By at Least One Statistical Measure, Brian Robison Is An Elite Pass Rusher


Sep 22, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison (96) celebrates a sack during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Browns defeated the Vikings 31-27. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Quick, off the top of your head give me a list of the three best current pass rushers in the NFL. If you’ve been paying close attention this season, I bet your list includes Robert Quinn of the Rams and Tamba Hali of the Chiefs. The third guy on that list? I don’t know, maybe Robert Mathis? Mario Williams? Justin Houston?

Or how about Brian Robison? Probably not a name that would shoot straight to the top of the list for most fans. Nonetheless, a case can be made for putting Robison among the NFL’s elite pass rushers.

You’re not going to get there by citing Robison’s sack total, cause he only has 4, which puts him way behind guys like Quinn, Mathis and Hali. But sacks tell only part of the story with pass rushers, as the obsessive numbers-crunchers never tire of telling us. In this world of advanced metrics and analytics and grading and insanely detailed super-stats, it’s all about disruptions.

A QB disruption, simply put, is either a sack, a hurry or a hit on the quarterback. Any of those three things can force a bad throw or a scramble or some other bad result for the QB. By taking all forms of disruption into account, you get a truer measure of a pass rusher’s effectiveness than if you focus in on sacks alone. That is the argument.

A very interesting thing happens with Brian Robison if you look beyond the 4 sacks and count up all his disruptions. You discover that Brian Robison is having a pretty good year. You discover that a case can be made for placing Robison among the top pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, according to PFF, Robison ranks a somewhat surprising third in the NFL in disruptions. Tamba Hali is #1 with 61, Robert Quinn is #2 with 56, and there’s Robison in the three hole with 55. This stat will come in handy for Robison fans looking to refute the notion that their guy is overrated and overpaid.

But of course, as I never tire of pointing out, all stats need context before they have value. It’s nice that Robison has tallied all these disruptions, but what has been his actual value on the field? Have Robison’s plays happened at meaningful moments in games? Is he a guy who jumps out as a truly disruptive force who impacts outcomes?

I guess I’m just a negative-type person who doesn’t want to give Robison due credit. Or maybe I just don’t get caught up in these stats that allegedly provide definitive argument-ending evidence? Eyes are more valuable than calculators, always have been and always will be.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Robison is a good player. I think if you’re going to pay anyone on the defensive line a bunch of money, it might as well be him, given his age and relatively solid production. I however do not for one second think Robison is one of the top three pass rushers in the NFL. Or even top five or top ten probably.

Maybe Robison would benefit if he played on a defense as good as they have in Kansas City or St. Louis? It’s a fair point. You can also say the same about Chad Greenway. Neither Robison nor Greenway is a great player. They don’t play significantly above the level of the guys around them. Their productivity is in some ways hampered by the inferiority of much of the rest of the defensive talent.

The hope here is that the Vikings can fill in with better talent this offseason, either by acquiring new players or hiring coaches who know how to get more out of the young players they already have. Then a guy like Robison will truly be able to shine. In the meantime, let’s keep Robison in perspective. He’s not a secretly great player being wasted on a bad team. He’s a little bit of a hidden star whose impact is meaningful but should not be over-estimated on the basis of one attractive stat.

He’s a nice player, but he’s no Robert Quinn.

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