It’s Time to Shine for Bolts’ Melvin Ingram

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Players whose careers started off slow

When you’re a first-round pick, there’s much expected of you. If you don’t produce right away, coaches and fans tend to give up on you, label you a “bust” and move on to the next player. While some first-rounders haven’t always panned out, Ingram is a player that should not be given up on after two years.

Michael Strahan (2nd round, 40th overall)5.5 sacks, 24 games in two years. In his third season, Strahan finished with 7.5 sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career, notching league-highs in sacks in 2001 (22.5) and 2003 (18.5). He stands at No. 5 overall in total career sacks with 141.5.

Calvin Pace (1st round, 18th overall) – 7.5 sacks, 51 games in four years. The Cardinals drafted Pace with the 18th overall pick in 2003 to be the team’s starting defensive end. He played and started 16 games his rookie year but failed to make an impact, tallying one sack and no interceptions/forced fumbles. He moved to linebacker in 2006, and by 2007 Pace started to play like a first-round pick. He took back the starting role and racked up 6.5 sacks, an interception, six pass deflections and one forced fumble. In 2008, Pace reached a deal with the Jets in free agency, and he’s been a solid starter for them thus far (had a career-high 10 sacks in 2013). Even though Pace has produced a solid career, he has never been selected to the Pro Bowl.

Other noteworthy players who’s careers started off slow: Carolina Panthers’ Charles Johnson (third-round pick) and Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison (undrafted). Johnson molded into a starter his fourth year in the league–11.5 sacks in 2010 after 10 total the previous three years–and he hasn’t looked back. He is now one of the most coveted defensive ends in the league.

Harrison eventually became Pittsburgh’s most feared outside linebacker after four years of mediocrity. Harrison turned into a turnover machine; in each season from 2008-10, Harrison had at least 10 or more sacks AND five or more forced fumbles. Before 2013, Pro Football Focus added up the grades of each edge rusher over the past five seasons then normalized their performance on every snap. Harrison ranked No. 1 overall with a +155 grade.

What pushed Harrison to the top was his ability to do it all. The Steelers’ scheme asked a lot out of him, and more than you’d tend to require from a guy chiefly known as an edge rusher. Yet, not only did he impress dropping into coverage, but he was extremely productive rushing the passer, and a true force in the run game lining up chiefly as the right outside linebacker for the Steelers in each of his five years. – Khaled Elsayed, Pro Football Focus

Harrison’s Pass Rushing Productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers helped establish him as one of the best in the game. He finished first in 2008, third in 2009, fifth in 2010 and third again in 2011, according to PFF. Like Harrison, Ingram has the ability to become the jack-of-all-trades for the Chargers.

Redemption for Freeney?

The seven-time Pro Bowl pass rusher was lost for the year after tearing his triceps in week 4. He was brought in from free agency after Ingram suffered his injury in May 2012. Though Freeney is a proven pass rusher, whether or not he was a scheme fit was questioned by many. In 2012 (Freeney’s last year), the Colts moved to a 3-4 defense. Freeney had played with his hand in the dirt for his entire career, and his struggles were noticeable during a sub-par, injury-riddled 2012. Even though defensive coordinator John Pagano runs a 3-4 scheme, he knew how to use him. Freeney was one of the few positives coming out of the Chargers’ pass-rush department early in the season.

The impact of Freeney’s loss can’t be overstated. The potential Hall of Famer was off to his best start in years. He toyed with Houston Texans All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown in the season opener and was second only to Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rushing metrics through four games.” – Chris Wesseling, ATL Writer

Can inconsistency lead to back-up role?

Jarret Johnson, a “run-stuffing” outside linebacker, hasn’t proved to be the stellar free agent we hoped he would be when signed in 2012. As a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Johnson had at least 50 or more total tackles in EACH season from 2007-11. Not only that, but he started and played all 16 games during that span. Since joining the Chargers, Johnson hasn’t maintained his positive production (73 total tackles over two years) or been able to stay completely healthy. Unfortuantely for Johnson-and Freeney for that matter-they are passed their primes.