Over the past two seasons, the Buffalo Bills - sporting one of the league's most anemic pass rushes - have accrued just 50 sacks. For that reason, the Buffalo Bills spent their first-round draft pick on Penn State DE Aaron Maybin in the 2009 NFL Draft.
We're all aware of what Maybin brings to the table - from both the 'pro' and 'con' departments. Speed, athleticism, a quick brain, loads of untapped potential and inexperience. He's being counted on to provide a shot in the arm for a Bills pass rush that is critical to the team's success this coming season; without consistent pressure, Tom Brady, Chad Pennington and even Mark Sanchez will have all day to pick Buffalo's defense apart. Buffalo was 0-6 against their AFC East foes last season.
How much can be expected of the rookie pass rusher? Judging by the rookie production of defensive ends over the past five years, Maybin's got a difficult trend to buck.
Listed below are every defensive end drafted in the first round over the past five seasons, coupled with their first-year sack production. 20 such players exist; four were drafted per season. The group was split up into the type of defensive scheme they were drafted into; let's face it - ends entering a 3-4 system had a better shot of accumulating larger sack totals based purely on their role within the scheme, and the proof is in the pudding with regard to both personal and average sack totals. Maybin, clearly, would fall into the first (4-3) group - so those numbers are far more relevant in discussing his potential impact this season.
4-3 DE drafted Round 1, 2004-2008
Name, Team - # sacks rookie season
Chris Long, St. Louis - 4
Derrick Harvey, Jacksonville - 3.5
Lawrence Jackson, Seattle - 2
Gaines Adams, Tampa Bay - 6
Jamaal Anderson, Atlanta - 0
Jarvis Moss, Denver - 1
Mario Williams, Houston - 4.5
Tamba Hali, Kansas City - 8
Mathias Kiwanuka, NY Giants - 4
Erasmus James, Minnesota - 4
Will Smith, New Orleans - 7.5
Kenechi Udeze, Minnesota - 5
Jason Babin, Houston - 4
TOTAL - 53.5
AVERAGE - 4
3-4 DE/OLB drafted Round 1, 2004-2008
Name, Team - # sacks rookie season
Vernon Gholston, NY Jets - 0
Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh - 0
Anthony Spencer, Dallas - 3
Manny Lawson, San Francisco - 2.5
Kamerion Wimbley, Cleveland - 11
DeMarcus Ware, Dallas - 8
Shawne Merriman, San Diego - 10
TOTAL - 34.5
AVERAGE - 5
It's unclear at this point how Buffalo plans to use Maybin. We do know that he won't be playing linebacker in its traditional sense - he's a defensive lineman, and this is a 4-3. But that doesn't mean that Maybin won't rush from a standing position; it might be the only way to give the thin, raw Maybin a chance to beat tackles with his pure speed as a rookie. He's certainly not going to do it with strength; that's an area that he still needs serious work in.
If you're going by recent history, if Maybin has an average season this coming year, he'll pick up only 4-5 sacks. Clearly, a sack is a poor measure of a consistent pass rush - you can be an effective pass rusher without picking up gobs of sacks - but it's the best metric we've got for this exercise.
There are two ways to look at this. If you're the sarcastic realist, you'll note that the 4 sacks Maybin should get as an average rookie NFL DE would, in fact, put him in contention for the Bills team lead - Buffalo's leading sackers managed just 2.5 each (Kawika Mitchell, Marcus Stroud) in 2008. On the other hand, is 4 sacks going to be enough to significantly shift a team's blocking schemes when facing the Bills?
Maybin has a shot to be an excellent pro. Factors such as an improved offensive attack, playing with leads, and the return to health of Aaron Schobel will play their part as well. But one thing is painfully clear: rookie defensive ends generally do not come in and make big plays as rookies. Buffalo needs Maybin to do exactly that. Make no mistake about it: the Bills are rolling the dice with their selection at No. 11 overall.