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Trent Cole snubbed in ESPN Top 10 Pass Rushers poll…

DE Trent Cole contains Green Bay back James Stark in last season’s playoff game… but despite 10 total sacks and good line play like this, Cole was left off ESPN’s list of Top 10 Pass Rushers in the NFL for 2010…

Trent Cole has a right to be disappointed…so often double-teamed, it’s remarkable he managed to accumulate 10 sacks last season… Certainly, he was putting consistent pressure on quarterbacks with his speed rushes…and also doing the dirty work inside the hashmarks with clean-up plays like the one pictured above…

But ESPN took little notice. They left Trent Cole off the list of their Top 10 Pass Rushers in the NFL for 2010…

Here are the ESPN rankings:

  1. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
  2. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
  3. Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts
  4. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
  5. Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs
  6. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
  7. John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons
  8. Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears
  9. LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers
  10. Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins

Well, this is a somewhat predictable yet shallow list, I must say.  Where’s the accountability for double-teams?  Where’s the differentiation between outside linebackers and true defensive ends? Where’s the degree-of-difficulty metric?

How does Trent Cole not make this list? Where is Terrell Suggs (OLB, 11 sacks) from Baltimore?  Suggs nearly obliterated Big Ben in the AFC playoffs single-handedly… Where is Brian Orapko from the Redskins?

The category was tough, explained ESPN’s NFC West blogger Mike Sando (one of the voters in the poll), because “sack numbers tend to fluctuate from year to year, and it’s tougher to know which pass-rushers are truly the best. I think the proliferation of 3-4 defenses also made this a tougher call. We weren’t evaluating defensive ends exclusively. We were also looking at 3-4 outside linebackers. That deepened the pool while forcing us to compare players at more than one position.”

Well, there’s a recipe for a flawed ballot right there! How the heck can you vote for the “Best Pass Rushers” if you can’t even agree on the parameters or the definition of the category?

ESPN blogger James Walker said he wasn’t surprised Cole didn’t make the top-10 cut simply because of the stiff competition.

“In my opinion, this was the hardest position to rank thus far, and I strongly considered 14 or 15 players for the top 10,” wrote Walker.

Walker, who was one of eight voters on the ESPN panel, said he personally ranked Trent Cole number 11… He also personally ranked Terell Suggs number 8, not only because of Suggs’ production, but because he did it as the only pass-rushing option who faced a lot of double teams. The blogger also noted that Suggs plays well in big games, pointing to his three sacks in the divisional playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Well, at least James Walker tried to factor in the necessary metrics and variables.

DeMarcus Ware, for one, wasn’t a difficult choice — as long as sacks are the primary statistical representation of pass rushing. Ware led the NFL in sacks last season with 15.5, and he has also had more combined sacks over the past two, three and five seasons combined than any other NFL player.”

Ranking the Pass-Rushers: How They Voted

Rk Pass-Rushers John Clayton Tim Graham Paul Kuharsky Mike Sando Kevin Seifert James Walker Bill Williamson Pat Yasinskas Tot
1 DeMarcus Ware 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 79
2 Clay Matthews 3 3 5 4 2 5 2 3 61
3 Dwight Freeney 5 8 1 2 3 3 4 4 58
4 Jared Allen 2 5 7 6 4 4 6 2 52
5 Tamba Hali 9 2 3 3 5 9 5 6 46
6 James Harrison 4 5 8 2 3 9 35
7 John Abraham 8 6 10 9 7 6 7 7 28
8 Julius Peppers 7 7 8 6 10 5 23
9 LaMarr Woodley 6 8 7 7 8 8 22
10 Cameron Wake 10 4 9 10 10 12
Others Receiving Votes
11 Mario Williams 4 7
12 Terrell Suggs 9 10 8 6
13 Robert Mathis 6 5
14 Elvis Dumervil 9 2
14 Justin Tuck 9 2
16 Trent Cole 10 1
16 Chris Long 10 1
Key: JC=John Clayton; MS=Mike Sando; KS=Kevin Seifert; PY=Pat Yasinskas; TG=Tim Graham;
BW=Bill Williamson; JW=James Walker; PK=Paul Kuharsky
Rank: 1=10 points, 2=9 points, 3=8 points, 4=7 points, 5=6 points, etc.

Do you think Cameron Wake’s big season with the Miami Dolphins ultimately kept Trent Cole off this Top 10 List?  In his second NFL season, Wake exploded for 14 sacks.  AFC East blogger Tim Graham, who saw more of Wake last season than any other voter, placed him No. 4.

“If we’re ranking the best overall defensive ends or outside linebackers, then maybe Cameron Wake doesn’t make my list,” Graham said. “He’s not a run-stuffer and is lacking when it comes to pass coverage. But we’re rating pure pass-rushers, and that’s the one thing Wake does on an elite level. He’s a freakishly gifted athlete who creates havoc in the backfield.”

As for leaving Cole off the list? In my Bird-brain opinion, Cole is not purely a pass rusher like some of these guys on the list… he can also stop the run and defend the pass. He is a complete player unlike some of those players on that list. And DC Sean McDermott had Cole in some defensive schemes last season that limited his specialty speed-rush pressure attacks upon the offensive backfield…it used to drive me nuts when McD had Cole stand up and drop back into pass coverage…

Instead of the ESPN “experts” telling us who the best pass rushers are, why not ask  some O-linemen and a few QBs? They might have a different list… and I’m betting Cole would be one of the first 10 guys on their minds.

A couple of these guys on ESPN’s list are a little overrated—like Jared Allen, who usually has his share of of sacks, but had a relatively down year in 2010… and Wake, who currently is a one-hit wonder. Based on sacks and pressure alone, Cole probably shouldn’t make the list.  But based on run defense and the other responsibilities his position had, I think he is top 10. I don’t think the ESPN guys that voted really took a look at the fact that Cole plays extremely well in big games— and that he had basically very little help on the other side. Besides Demarcus Ware and Wake, the rest of those guys on the ESPN list had relatively well-known pass rushers helping them out on the opposite side.

I don’t mean to respond to this poll as a Trent Cole Fan Club reactionary, or come off as a “homer”… but as Nate Dunlevy says in the Indy Colts blog “18 to 88″, it’s really not homerism…if you’re right!…