About a decade and a half or so into his career, and after about a decade of starting, I think it probably goes without saying that Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison is a rare specimen indeed. Alex Kozora recently pointed out just how consistently he has been graded by Pro Football Focus over the years, but I wanted to point something else out in their data: he’s still a very efficient pass-rusher. In fact, one of the best.
The site posted a graphic recently that was aimed toward celebrating the rookie season of 2016 top-five pass-rusher Joey Bosa, as he finished third in the league in their grading among 3-4 outside linebackers with a 13.8 pass-rush productivity grade. Only Khalil Mack and Von Miller, a pair of former top-five picks, posted a more efficient score.
The Chargers’ Joey Bosa found himself ranked among some pretty elite company during his rookie season. pic.twitter.com/kNm58vkE45
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 24, 2017
Ryan Kerrigan was fourth. But behind him was Harrison, who posted the fifth-best efficiency grade as an outside linebacker in the league, at the age of 38, in 2016. I think that is an important statistic—albeit unofficial—to keep in mind when we talk, for example, about his five sacks during the regular season.
He may have ‘only’ recorded five sacks during the regular season, but he also only started for less than half of the season, not even playing in the finale, and tallied only about 56 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
Football Outsiders’ snap counts only go back to the 2012 season, but even in that year, Harrison played over 82 percent of the Steelers’ snaps, and he missed three games that season—although he only posted six sacks during an injury-plagued campaign.
For somebody who played a little over half of the team’s snaps, five sacks is a more than fair level of productivity, but that doesn’t even take into account the numerous pressures that he accounts for, and he comfortably led the team in that area using any metric you care to seek out.
A lot of people have said something to the effect that if Harrison is the Steelers’ best outside linebacker, then they are in trouble, but the reality is that, as it pertains to the 2017 season, that is still a compliment, because he is still performing not just well, but on a high level—as in among the best at his position.
And he is still among the best run defenders at his position as well. He still managed to record 53 tackles last year in spite of the fact that he played fewer than 600 snaps. That is the most he has registered in a season since he put up 70 in 2012 on over 800 snaps.
After a hiatus, he also returned to his turnover-producing ways. He has intercepted two passes and forced five fumbles, including the playoffs, over the course of the past two seasons—oh, and he added another five and a half sacks in five games in the postseason the past two years as well.