Are the Carolina Panthers Pinning False Hopes on DT Ron Edwards? Fan's Analysis

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After deciding to not select a defensive lineman in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers seem to have a one-word strategy to shore up their defensive line:

Hope.

That's right, the Panthers seem to be relying on hope for an improved defensive front in 2012.

Panthers GM Marty Hurney has already admitted as much. Hurney was speaking about some of the Panthers personnel gaps, including the underwhelming and injury-plagued defensive line, when he said, "'We're hoping that some of the players that come back will fill those needs."

Hoping.

One of those players Hurney was obviously referring to is DT Ron Edwards whom the Panthers signed as a free agent prior to the 2011 season. Edwards was immediately penciled in as a starter, deemed the new anchor of the defensive line, then subsequently tore his triceps and missed the entire 2011 season.

With Edwards on the sidelines in 2011 the Panthers started two rookie defensive tackles - Terrell McClain and Sione Fua - until they both also went down with injuries and were replaced by Frank Kearse and Jason Shirley. As I have previously written twice now (here and here), playing defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers is perhaps the most dangerous job in the world, and 2011 was a prime example.

Which brings us back to hope.

At this point Panthers fans like me can only hope - really, really hope - Ron Edwards will be as good as promised. We can only hope that at age 33 and coming of a major injury, Ron Edwards will be nothing short of dominant in his upcoming 11th NFL season.

And I hate to dash anybody's hope for 2012 before practices begin, but is Ron Edwards even that good? Unfortunately, Ron Edwards' career stats show he is average, at best.

Ron Edwards Less-Than-Stellar Stats

Though Ron Edwards was billed as a "big free agent pick-up" by Pat Yasinskas of ESPN his career stats are not very impressive. After 10 NFL seasons Edwards' career totals for tackles, sacks, and forced fumbles are far below the level of a dominant defensive lineman.

Ron Edwards Career Stats

10 Seasons

128 Games Played, Including 85 Career Starts

193 Tackles (1.5 tackles per game)

15.5 Sacks (1.5 sacks per season)

3 Forced Fumbles

As a whole, Ron Edwards' career statistics are not very impressive. However, the Carolina Panthers signed Ron Edwards with the clear intention of starting him. Edwards has been a full-time starter in five of this 10 NFL seasons (2002, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010) and his stats in those seasons will provide a better representation of what the Panthers could expect with him in the starting lineup.

Ron Edwards Stats as Starter

5 Seasons

80 Games Played, Including 76 Starts

138 Tackles (1.7 tackles per game)

10 Sacks (2.0 sacks per season)

As a Panthers fan, these are not the numbers I want to see in the "defensive anchor" up front the team is pinning its hopes on. So let's see if Ron Edwards' most recent seasons in 2009 and 2010 give Panthers fans like me any more reasons to hope for a great 2012 campaign.

Ron Edwards' 2009 and 2010 Stats

Ron Edwards started for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 and 2010 before signing with the Panthers. Edwards started 29 of those 32 games and registered 54 total tackles (1.7 per game) and just 2.0 sacks.

With data taken from pro-football-reference.com, Edwards' 54 combined tackles in 2009-2010 tied him for just 48th most among all NFL defensive tackles. Edwards' 2.0 sacks in those two seasons tied him for 53rd in the league among DT's.

(Side Note: Panthers reserve DT Jason Shirley played in just four games in 2011 as one of Edwards' backups. In limited action Shirley recorded 2.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble, both of which were more than Edwards' 2009-2010 combined totals of 2.0 sacks and 0 forced fumbles in 32 games.)

Comparing Edwards' 2009 and 2010 stats (54 tackles, 2.0 sacks) to elite defensive linemen underscore the vast gulf between him and the NFL's best. Buffalo's Kyle Williams (143 tackles, 9.5 sacks), Oakland's Tommy Kelly (113 tackles, 8 sacks), and Atlanta's Jonathan Babineaux (74 tackles, 10 sacks) represent what a stellar defensive tackles can bring to the table. Heck, Ndamukong Suh recorded 65 tackles and 10 sacks in his 2010 rookie season alone.

No matter how you look at Ron Edwards' stats - career, as a starter, or his two most recent seasons - his productivity is simply average, at best. Disappointing, at worst.

Sure, there are some things defensive linemen do that do not appear in the stat sheet. They can engage two offensive linemen on a passing play, freeing up a defensive end or a linebacker to get a sack. Solid DL's can clog a hole on a run play, causing a running back to make a cut and get dropped for a loss. They can sniff out and disrupt a screen pass. If Ron Edwards has been exceptional at making these types of non-stat-sheet contributions throughout his career, it would not appear in this type of basic statistical analysis.

But as a Panthers fan, my assumption is that Ron Edwards' non-stat-sheet contributions are in-line with the rest of his measurable career stats: Average, at best.

So can a 33-year old statistically average defensive lineman coming off a major injury really anchor the Panthers' defensive line in 2012?

Let's hope so.

Because at this point, that's all Panthers fans like me can do.

Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Carolina Panthers fan. More from this author:

Compiling the 2012 Carolina Panthers Draft Grades into One Easy-to-Use Reference

Epic Fail: The Stats Behind the Panthers Disastrous Punt Return Game

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