The Miami Dolphins gave free-agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh the largest defensive contract in league history in 2015, bringing one of the elite players in the league to South Florida. The move was expected to turn the Dolphins' defense into a dominant one in the season, and Suh took a lot of the focus as to why Miami's defense struggled. Was he "freelancing?" Was he taking plays off? Had the Dolphins overpaid for a player who was clearly not giving the effort after signing a huge contract?
Suh's 2015 season has largely been seen as a disappointment. He appeared to regress and the Dolphins did not get the player they thought they were signing.
But was he really a disappointment? Did he regress? Pro Football Focus does not seem to think so:
Ndamukong Suh produced his best season to date in 2015.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 11, 2016
Not convinced? @PFF_Sam breaks down the Dolphins DT's year: https://t.co/SebYSfpJO3
Wait. That cannot be right, can it?
Suh earned a place on the PFF Top 101 at No. 27 overall, just two spots lower than a year ago, despite the narrative that he had the worst performance of his career in his first season as a Dolphin.
Okay, so according to the article, Suh was the 27th best player in the NFL last year. That may not rate as the highest paid defender, but it is not like he disappeared during the season.
In 2015, he ranked No. 16 among all interior players against the run, to go along with his No.3 ranking as a pass-rusher, trailing only Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt.
Dolphins fans expected to see Suh hitting the quarterback on every passing down, and stuffing the run on every running play. Those expectations come from signing such a huge contract, but they probably were not realistic, especially after Cameron Wake was injured for the season. He was disruptive throughout the year, and he was effective in forcing running plays away from him, or eating up two blocks to free someone else to make the play.
Suh accumulated 60 total pressures and five batted passes as a pass-rusher while also playing the most snaps of his career, surpassing 1,000 for the first time...Miami did its best to try and maximize Suh's impact, and his first season there saw him move around the defensive line far more than in the past. He lined up in his customary 3-tech spot on the left side of the line on 708 of his 1,020 snaps (69.4 percent), but he also saw 63 snaps on the edge (6.2 percent) and 198 snaps as an end inside the tackle (18.5 percent), with the remaining snaps being other defensive tackle spots (the right side or nose tackle).
The Dolphins did move Suh around a lot last year, and it seemed to pick up once the team lost Wake for the season. Miami clearly was looking for ways to create mismatches for Suh, as well as for Olivier Vernon, who saw his production jump once Wake was injured and the Dolphins began moving Vernon around as well. The Dolphins realize they have a versatile defensive tackle in Suh, who can play on the edge, inside, and on the nose, and they can move him around to wherever they feel the best matchup is. Adding Mario Williams this year, with the return of Wake, should allow the new Dolphins coaching staff, now designed by defensive coordinator Vance Joseph in his first year with the team, to move players all around the line, overloading offensive blocks, and getting into the backfield.
In 2015, though, [Suh's penalties were] simply refusing to keep himself from jumping offside; 15 of his 18 penalties were either offsides (three times), encroachments (five), or neutral-zone infractions (seven), which all amount to the same thing, and signals a willful refusal to adjust his play over the season.
Even if we say that these penalties are all a manifestation of selling out to jump the snap in order to get in the backfield sooner, and apply that negative to his pass-rush or overall grades, he still ends up with the best season of his career from a grading standpoint.
It is not always smooth sailing with Suh, who will sustain penalties at times. He does try to anticipate snap counts, and it does result in penalties. The Dolphins saw that during training camp, where quarterback Ryan Tannehill was able to draw Suh offsides by changing his cadence. It manifested itself in the season with the penalties PFF describes. Wake is another player who anticipates snap counts, and he probably does it better with a faster first step than nearly anyone else in the league, but he manages to do it without the penalties that Suh is still picking up. Suh needs to clean up the penalties, but his aggressiveness is part of what makes him the player that led to Miami chasing him in free agency in the first place.
Suh's 2015 season included five passes defensed, the second-most of his career, along with six sacks, and 60 tackles, the most he has recorded since his rookie season. He was not selected to the Pro Bowl for just the second time in his six-year career.
The Dolphins signed a dominant player in 2015 to fill the middle of their defensive line. He was the player they signed, even if most of us did not realize it. He was able to get after the quarterback, he was able to eat blockers, he was able to re-direct or stop the run, and he was able to move around the defensive line. He was, unfortunately, surrounded by injuries and missed games throughout the year, including to Wake, linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins, and safety Louis Delmas.
Suh plays a position that is not the sexy position like defensive end. He is a player who can dominate the middle of the line of scrimmage, but needs other players to make an impact. Will he ever play up to a $19-million-a-season contract? Maybe not, because that is a really large number. Does that mean he is a free agent bust or a failed signing? Absolutely not.
The Dolphins will continue to get high levels of production out of Suh. They will be looking for high levels of play from other players to compliment Suh's play in the middle of the line of scrimmage.
Did Suh have his best career year in 2015? According to PFF, it might have been. Now, the question will become can the Dolphins get more out of Suh this year, and will he get the complimentary play he needs?
I recommend reading the entire article about Suh's 2015 season over on PFF.