Quarterback Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants gets sacked by defensive end Jason Hatcher #97 of the Dallas Cowboys during the 2012 NFL season opener at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 5, 2012 in East Rutherford.
Last year, defensive lineman Jason Hatcher surprised many by playing 784 snaps—almost twice that of his previous career-high. That number was also nearly double that of every other offensive linemen on the team. While Hatcher did indeed play some of his best football, the primary reason he was viewed as having a “career year” was because he was on the field more often. Hatcher recorded 51 combined tackles in 2012—a career-high—but his 6.5 percent tackle rate was exactly the same as it was in 2011. And despite playing nearly twice as many snaps, Hatcher actually recorded only seven more solo tackles.
As a pass-rusher, Hatcher’s sack total dropped from 4.5 in 2011 to 4.0 in 2012. He did pressure the quarterback at a higher rate than ever before, but his total pressure were inflated due to more snaps to get after the quarterback. In reality, Hatcher’s pressure rate jumped just a little—from 5.2 percent to 6.4 percent. So on a per-play basis, Hatcher was about as good in 2011 as he was last season.
The key to projecting Hatcher in 2013 is predicting his snap count. We pretty much know what Hatcher will give the Cowboys, but we don’t know how Monte Kiffin will utilize him. My guess is that Hatcher will probably participate in around the same number of snaps as in 2012. The Cowboys didn’t upgrade the defensive tackle position and second-year man Tyrone Crawford is playing more defensive end. There just aren’t a lot of players to eat up snaps.
Hatcher will be playing a different position in Kiffin’s 4-3 defense, although I don’t think you’ll see it affect his efficiency much. However, we should probably expect Hatcher’s pressure and tackles rates to drop some in 2013. For one, he is coming off of a career season and likely to regress anyway. Second, Hatcher will be 31 years old when the season begins. He sure looked youthful in 2012, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s at an age when most defensive tackles are wearing down.
So if Hatcher’s tackle and pressure rates drop to 6.0 percent and 5.0 percent, respectively, then he’s in line for 45 total tackles and 23 pressures in 2013 (assuming his snaps remain steady). The pressure count is particularly interesting because, based on historic sack rates, it suggests the most likely sack total for Hatcher in 2013 is probably close to six—a career-high.
Final 2013 Projection: 45 tackles, 23 pressures, 5.5 sacks
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.