What will Bills DE Von Miller’s snap count be?

06/17/2022
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Through five years of Sean McDermott’s tenure, even the most casual Buffalo Bills fan could tell you that he likes to rotate his defensive linemen. As a frame of reference, Jerry Hughes, who has been the Bills’ best edge rusher for most of those five years, never topped out at more than 66% of snaps played on defense (around 46-50 snaps per game.) Many have debated whether this is the optimal way to deploy pass rushers, but that is not the point of this article. 

With the addition of future Hall of Famer Von Miller, this discourse around McDermott’s pass rush rotation is again at the forefront. Throughout his career, Miller has never played less than 76% of snaps, and that was in his last games in Denver. Not to mention, Miller is among the largest free-agent contracts signed since Brandon Beane took charge of the front office, and fans want to see their shiny new toy on the field as much as possible. So, are those concerns that Miller may be just another cog in the McDermott rotation valid?  

Let’s look at three premier pass rushers coached by Sean McDermott in previous stops and their snap count. In this, we will look at 

  • Trent Cole from 2009 to 2010
  • Charles Johnson from 2011 to 2013
  • Greg Hardy from 2012 to 2013

A quick note before we begin, none of these players have had nearly the career Miller has had but were upper echelon pass rushers in the years noted. We will look at both snap count percentage and average snaps per game to provide a reference (mainly because Pro Football Reference doesn’t provide the percentage of snaps played before 2012.) 

Trent Cole 2009-2010

Year Sacks Snap Count Per Game Snap Count Percentage 
2009 12.5 58.4  *
2010 10 54.5 *

McDermott inherited Trent Cole when he took over the late Jim Johnson as Eagles’ defensive coordinator in 2009. At that point in his career, Cole was a known talent. Perhaps it was a young McDermott, not messing with something that wasn’t broken, but 54 and 58 snaps per game dramatically outpaced any Bills pass rusher during his tenure.

Charles Johnson 2011-2013

Year Sacks Snap Count Per Game Snap Count Percentage 
2011 9 52.9 *
2012 12.5 52.3 79%
2013 11 52 80%

One half of a dynamic duo the Panthers harrassed quarterbacks with during McDermott’s time in Carolina. Johnson played well outside of this window, but this three-season sample represents the peak of his success as a pass rusher.

Greg Hardy 2012-2013

Year  Sacks Snap Count Per Game Snap Count Percentage
2012 11 49.3 76%
2013 15 54.5 86%

Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson combined for 26 sacks in 2013, and Hardy rarely came off the field. Greg Hardy’s 86% snap count percentages roughly match the usage of Cole in McDermott’s second year in Philadelphia.

Conclusion
Let us look at Jerry Hughes one more time. 66% was his highest season snap percentage in his five years with McDermott. Yet, looking back over McDermott’s 13 years coaching NFL defenses, we see outliers. Trent Cole, Charles Johnson, and Greg Hardy were workhorses for McDermott as he developed as a coach.

This takes us back to the original question. How can we expect McDermott to use Von Miller? We can firmly say McDermott does not mind leaning on his top-tier pass rushers when he has them. As good as Hughes has been, at no point during his time with McDermott was he as good as Trent Cole, Charles Johnson, or Greg Hardy. This team hasn’t had a pass rusher as good as Von Miller since at least Mario Williams. Expect the Bills to use him as such.

 

Teacher by day and runner by day. Cover 1 Writer by night.

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