Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Peppers: "I Haven't Really Played With A Guy Like Clay"

Julius Peppers has had a long, successful NFL career, which makes him a little unique. He was the top pass rusher on the Carolina Panthers in his rookie season (2002), and he was the Bears' top pass rusher last season too. Not a lot of players can stake that claim. So 2014 will look a lot different for him; he's no longer the best pass rusher on his team.
He's played with a lot of great defensive teammates in Carolina and Chicago, but he hasn't often played alongside another great pass rusher. Peppers told Jason Wilde that former DE Mike Rucker was a "threat" but not "dominant". DE Charles Johnson was Peppers' teammate in Carolina from 2007-2009, but Johnson only started four games combined in those three seasons. Probably his best pass rushing teammate during his time in Chicago was DT Henry Melton, who's never tallied double digit sacks in a season. Of those three players, the only one who comes close to Matthews is Rucker, he recorded double digit sacks in 2002 and 2003 (and made the Pro Bowl in 2003) before fading into his 30s.

While Peppers might be starting to fade (he had a negative pass rusher grade in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus, but so did nearly every Bears defender last season, which makes their problems look like more than just Peppers) Matthews just turned 28 and should be entering the prime of his career (if he can stay healthy). For comparison, Peppers recorded 14.5 sacks in 2008 (his age 28 season) and made his fourth Pro Bowl, which could easily be a 2014 projection for Matthews. Peppers is going to be playing alongside a pass rusher who is effectively a younger version of himself, and that's clearly never happened to him before.

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