Aug 162012

The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Cincinnati Bengals, that player is defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

Carlos Dunlap had a very good rookie year with 10 sacks as a rotational player and when he had just 5 sacks in 2011 in a larger role, it was seen by some as a disappointment. This made sense. After all, Dunlap made noise as a sophomore at the University of Florida with 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks as a situational player in 2008, leading to everyone calling him a potential top-10 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. When he didn’t take that next step as a player when he became an every down player in 2009, managing just 11 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks with more snaps, his stock fell and he ended up going in the 2nd round.

However, upon closer examination, that’s not what happened with Dunlap in Cincinnati from 2010 to 2011. In 2010, he did have 10 sacks on just 216 pass rush snaps, but only 3 quarterback hits and 11 quarterback pressures, good for a rate of 11.1%. In 2011, he had have just 5 sacks on 291 pass rush snaps, but he also had 13 quarterback hits and 29 quarterback pressures, good for a rate of 16.2%. Playing the run well as well, something he improved on from his rookie year, Dunlap actually graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 5th ranked 4-3 defensive end in the regular season, despite his still limited role.

Whereas in 2010 he was lucky to get 10 sacks, in 2011, he was unlucky to get just 5. If you combine what he did in his first 2 years in the league, he had 15 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, and 40 quarterback pressures on 507 pass rush snaps, good for a rate of 14.0%. That just gives you an idea of the kind of production he could if given every down snaps, provided he can maintain the same rates.

Headed into his 3rd year in the league, Dunlap is expected to get yet another increase in playing time as the Bengals lost Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker, who combined for a total of 907 total snaps in the regular season last year, in free agency. They didn’t really do anything to replace them, aside from signing the disappointing Jamaal Anderson and possibly moving 2nd round pick rookie Devon Still to end.

For that reason, Dunlap should get more playing time, possibly a lot more. He probably won’t be quite an every down end. The Bengals love rotation on the defensive line and haven’t had anyone be an every down end in a while. However, he should get enough snaps to prove himself as one of the best pass rushers in the league, which he has been so far in his career in a limited role. The one concern is that he disappoints like he did in 2009 at Florida, but he’s got way too much talent not to be considered a breakout candidate.

If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote).

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