Head coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates with Anthony Spencer #93 of the Dallas Cowboys after the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 at Cowboys Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
In yesterday’s DeMarcus Ware projection, I mentioned that it’s difficult to project sacks because they happen so infrequently. When I predict sacks, I’m looking at how often a player reaches the quarterback compared to how often he brings him down. Over the long run, most pass-rushers tend to sack the quarterback around one-fourth of the time that they pressure them. So if a particular player sacked the quarterback on half of his pressures, you know his future sack total will probably decrease.
That was actually the case with Anthony Spencer in 2012. Spencer had been reaching the quarterback frequently for a few years, but he never registered more than six sacks in a season. There was good evidence that Spencer was just getting unlucky, which is why I projected him at nine sacks last season. In 2012, however, Spencer’s luck finally turned around; based on his pressures, Spencer’s most likely sack total was actually seven.
Heading into 2013, there are lots of factors to consider when projecting Spencer; he’s again in a contract year, he’s switching positions in a new scheme, and he overachieved in 2012. One thing we know is that Spencer will rush the quarterback more often than ever. He had just 318 snaps as a pass-rusher in 2012 because he dropped into coverage so often. In 2013, he’s more likely to see around 500 snaps as a pass-rusher.
Over the past three seasons, Spencer has pressured the quarterback on 7.9 percent of his pass-rush snaps. If that trend continues, Spencer would pressure the quarterback 40 times—a number that, based on historic sack rates, would be most likely to lead to 10 sacks.
However, it’s unlikely that Spencer will pressure the quarterback at the same rate in 2013. Efficiency always tends to drop as usage increases. One reason is fatigue, but a more important one is that offenses know Spencer will be rushing. They can dedicate blockers to him accordingly without much worry that he’ll drop into coverage. Because of that, Spencer’s pressure rate will probably hover closer to 6.8 percent. That number would lead to 34 pressures and around 8.5 sacks.
Over the past three years, Spencer has made a solo tackle on 5.9 percent of his snaps. Likely to play around 900 total snaps in 2013, Spencer is again a good bet for at least 50 solo tackles.
Final 2013 Projection: 8.5 sacks and 50 solo tackles
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.