Greg Hardy became a fan favorite in 2010, but he could be much more in 2011. (photo via Charlotte Observer)
History oftentimes repeats itself; This can happen both in good ways, and bad ones. When it comes to the Carolina Panthers and defensive ends recent history has given us both occasions. It was roughly 16 months ago that Julius Peppers decided to leave for the Chicago Bears, and at the time fans were in panic. There was a distinct feeling that the Panthers would have absolutely no pass rush, and the idea of Charles Johnson filling the void were admirable, but naive. At that time I looked through some advanced statistics on Football Outsiders and made a bold claim on CSR: That we wouldn't really miss Peppers because we had someone with as much ability on the roster already in Johnson.
Fast forward a year and most of that came true. Granted, we'd likely all still love to have Peppers' ability in Charlotte, but CJ did an extremely good job not only filling the gap left by Peppers, but making us forget about #90 for much of the season.
Today I come to you again, looking at many of the same statistics to tell you if Charles Johnson does decided to leave via free agency we'll be okay, because much like Johnson replaced Peppers, we may already have someone ready to fill the void.
More after the jump
For the purpose of this piece I will be focusing largely on numbers from Footballoutsiders.com. While I'm well aware of Pro Football Focus' three-year pass rush metrics, ultimately I feel these are flawed in looking at the Panthers as a whole because our players are so young. In the case of Everette Brown for instance he was a rookie, and extremely undersized at that, he was always intended to need some time so evaluating his first year is shortsighted.
Instead, what I'll be comparing is Charles Johnson from 2009, as a 3rd down pass rush specialist and comparing him to 2010 versions of Greg Hardy and Everette Brown, both of whom filled the same role in 2010. This will give us an idea of whether these players were close.
27 total plays, 74% stop rate on all plays
11 potential pass rush plays, 4 sacks (36.3%)
16 potential run stop plays, 11 stops (68.7%)
- These are impressive numbers for a player who is spelled in on 3rd down scenarios. These were the numbers I saw last year that told me he had the ability to be an impact player on defense.
26 total plays, 73% stop rate on all plays
6 potential pass rush plays, 3 sacks (50%)
20 potential run stop plays, 13 stops (65%)
- There's good reason Greg Hardy became a fan favorite in just his rookie season. While he needs needs to hone is run stopping ability, in a lot of ways Johnson was in the same situation last year; ultimately, CJ was able to improve his run stop rate from 68.7% to 85.7%, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that Hardy can do the same.
25 total plays, 84% stop rate on all plays
6 potential pass rush plays, 3.5 sacks (58.3%)
19 potential run stop plays, 15 stops (78.9%)
- In 2010 Everette Brown was the definition of 'walk softly and carry a big stick'. Brown really improved his pass rushing from 2009 to 2010, as he lifted his sack rate from 27.7% to 58.3%. While last season was rather quiet, in the end it looks like Brown could be the most ready to fill CJ's shoes should he decide to leave.
The intention of this piece isn't to say "we'll be fine without Charles Johnson!" because in reality, lightning rarely strikes twice. However, what I am saying is that should Charles Johnson elect to leave for what he perceives to be greener pastures, then we have two very promising, young defensive ends to help fill the gap. Just as CJ was largely underestimated in 2010, I feel the same could very well happen for Hardy and Brown, especially in an aggressive defense like McDermott's and Rivera's.