Far too early to slap Maybin with 'bust' label

In the NFL, there's very little room for such novelties as patience and perspective.  Aaron Maybin is 21 years old.  He entered the 2009 NFL Draft after his sophomore year in college, one in which he led the Big 10 with 12 sacks at Penn State.  Throughout the entire pre-draft process, Maybin was labeled with such words as "light," "raw," and "weak" - labels that, for whatever reason, still surprise people when applied to him to this day.

Maybin has now appeared in seven regular season games with the Buffalo Bills.  Playing perhaps the most difficult position on an NFL defense aside from cornerback, Maybin's statistical impact has been minimal - he has just four tackles in a rotational role.  Naturally, when a first-round pick fails to produce immediately, the "b word" gets floated out there.  Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle is the first person of prominence that I've heard utter - or in this case, tweet - the "b word" in regards to Maybin.

Sal (and anyone else who's ready to apply the "b word" label as well): don't jump the gun on this kid.  Consider the facts.

DE isn't generally an early-impact position
One of the big arguments for the Bills not to draft a defensive end this past April was that, for a team in need of instant impact from its early-round picks, a rookie DE wouldn't produce the way we'd need our first-rounder to produce.  That argument was based on the rookie production of the much-heralded 2008 rookie defensive end class.  Three ends were drafted in the Top 10 in 2008, and seven in total were taken in the first two rounds.  Exactly zero of these players were high-impact, game-changing forces as rookies (and many of them have yet to ascend to that level in their second seasons):

Round-Pick-Player-Team-Stats
1-2: Chris Long, St. Louis Rams - 40 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 1 FF
1-6: Vernon Gholston, New York Jets - 13 tackles
1-8: Derrick Harvey, Jacksonville Jaguars - 19 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PD
1-28: Lawrence Jackson, Seattle Seahawks - 29 tackles, 2.0 sacks
2-50: Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals - 29 tackles, 1 FF, 1 PD
2-52: Quentin Groves, Jacksonville Jaguars - 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 PD
2-54: Jason Jones, Tennessee Titans - 31 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 3 FF, 2 PD

It's worth mentioning, also, that it's traditionally much easier for rookie pass rushers to make an impact in a 3-4 defense than it is to do so in a 4-3, where their responsibilities are more diversified.  The only 3-4 player above is Gholston, whose rookie season, statistically and behind the scenes, was terrible under Eric Mangini.  Jones, meanwhile, made the switch to DT in Tennessee's system, and his production can, in part, be explained by lining up next to Albert Haynesworth.

Otherwise, this group was highly average.  In most cases, you're looking at Chris Kelsay or Ryan Denney numbers.  For as much talent as this group has - and this year's group is more talented, by the way - the numbers are well below what we might call "average to above average" NFL defensive end production.  It's the nature of the position to start your career slowly when you're a pass rusher, and particularly if you're playing in a 4-3, as most of the above players do.

Round-Pick-Player-Team-Stats
1-11: Aaron Maybin, Buffalo Bills - 4 tackles
1-13: Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins - 22 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 PD
1-16: Larry English, San Diego Chargers - 10 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF, 1 PD
1-18: Robert Ayers, Denver Broncos - 7 tackles
2-43: Everette Brown, Carolina Panthers - 7 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 FF
2-46: Connor Barwin, Houston Texans - 7 tackles, 1.0 sack, 2 PD
2-52: David Veikune, Cleveland Browns - N/A
2-57: Paul Kruger, Baltimore Ravens - 1 tackle
2-63: Cody Brown, Arizona Cardinals - N/A

Again, the 3-4 vs. 4-3 principle applies.  Of the first-round picks, English and Ayers play in 3-4 schemes.  Orakpo, who played end at Texas, is now Washington's strong-side linebacker, and they use him in a hybrid LB/DE role out of their 4-3 alignment - which means he's doing much of his rushing from a standing position.  Maybin is the only first-round rookie end to be used in a traditional 4-3 manner, and that's pretty easy to glean just by his stat line.

Situations can't define busts after seven games
All of that might come across as excuse-making for Maybin - and it's exactly what I'm doing.  I'm making excuses for him.  The expectation was unreasonably high to begin with, considering his pre-draft hype, and it grew to unmanageable proportions when it became apparent how Buffalo planned to use him after a lengthy training camp holdout (don't forget about that, either).

A small part of me likes the fact that Buffalo refuses to move him all over the field.  It's the part of me that understands that Maybin's got the talent to be one of the best at the end position that likes the fact that the Bills are playing him exclusively at that position.  All of his reps are taken there, and each week, he looks a little better than the last rushing the passer.  His legs are fresh, and with any luck, he'll start making impact plays over the second half of the season.

But the biggest part of me (no anatomy jokes of any kind, please) is a bit perplexed by this decision as well.  Buffalo's coaching staff, if they weren't in win-now mode before the season, is definitely at that level now.  I find it difficult to fathom that they wouldn't try to find more ways to get Maybin onto the field and into advantageous situations.  He's too good an athlete to limit to rotational end work, is he not? Everything that made him a top prospect - that lightning-quick first step, his being a tremendous worker and highly motivated, and with tons of potential - still applies.  It's on the coaching staff (much more than it's on Maybin, by the way) for his paltry stat line.

Don't forget about Aaron Schobel, Kelsay and Denney, either.  Whether you like them as players or not, these are veterans that have the nuances of the position down.  All three have played well this season.  That makes it more difficult to get Maybin onto the field - again, unless you start to put more on his plate schematically.

Considering his age, his level of development, the position he plays, and how the Bills are using him, it's literally unfathomable to me how anyone can be surprised about the lack of production we've seen from Maybin.  I don't like making excuses for players unless they're valid, but I'll make any excuse for a player being labeled a bust after seven professional games.  He's 21.  We know his game needs polish.  Give him time - the kid's still got the talent and the drive.  Screw the "bust" label and apply a little patience for once, folks.

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