In mid-August of 2012, I wrote a controversial article on Jay Ratliff in which I predicted the defensive tackle was in for a down season. I projected Ratliff at 20 tackles and two sacks, and he ended the season with just 16 tackles and zero sacks. The reasoning there was pretty simple; defensive tackles have historically broken down in their early-30s, with those age 31 typically producing just 70 percent of the total production as compared to just three years younger. Ratliff entered 2012 at age 31.
The wear and tear of playing as an undersized nose tackle in the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense took its toll on Ratliff. The Cowboys made a big, big mistake in extending Ratliff through 2017—a season he’ll never see in a Cowboys uniform.
Still, there are those who believe Ratliff can turn things around in 2013 in a scheme that’s suited to his skill set. There’s no doubt that Ratliff fits better as a one-gap defensive tackle for Monte Kiffin than he ever did as a nose tackle. Ratliff also played just six games and 269 snaps in 2012. Let’s take a look at how Ratliff performed on a per-snap basis to see if he really can resurrect his career.
Ratliff recorded a tackle on 5.9 percent of his 2013 snaps. In comparison, that number was just 5.1 percent in 2011 and 4.2 percent in 2010. That’s a good sign, especially considering Ratliff should be able to make more plays in the 4-3. He should be able to maintain last year’s 5.9 percent tackle rate, even over a larger sample of plays.
As a pass-rusher, Ratliff recorded a pressure on just 4.8 percent of his pass-rush snaps. That number was actually slightly up from 4.5 percent in 2011—another down year—but down from the 5.6 percent pressure rate Ratliff recorded in 2010. Based on that trend and the scheme switch, Ratliff is probably looking at around a 5.0 percent pressure rate.
The key to predicting Ratliff’s bulk stats is determining how many snaps he’s going to play. If everything goes right, he’s probably looking at around 45 snaps per game—27 against the pass and 18 against the run. Ratliff missed 10 games last year, but he played in all 16 games in the four years prior. Still, at age 32, Ratliff isn’t a good bet to play the entire season. The most likely scenario is probably around 14 games.
If that’s the case, Ratliff will play 630 snaps—378 against the pass. Based on the aforementioned rates, Ratliff would be looking at 37 tackles and 19 pressures. Over the past three seasons, Ratliff has turned exactly 10 percent of his pressures into sacks, although that number is low for any player. With a slightly higher conversion rate, Ratliff is probably a good bet for three or four sacks in 2013.
Final 2013 Projection: 37 tackles, 19 pressures, 3.5 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.