Whenever I wonder about Da'Quan Bowers' future in the NFL, I go back and watch one play from the 2012 season. Specifically, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' week 11 matchup with the Carolina Panthers. At the end of the first quarter, Da'Quan Bowers embarrassed a Pro Bowler to sack another Pro Bowler. All of Bowers' considerable physical gifts were on display in just his fifth game back from an Achilles injury.
It looked impressive enough on broadcast footage, but it isn't until you watch the All-22 endzone footage that you really see how special that play was.
Jordan Gross isn't the best left tackle in the NFL, but he's a more than adequate starter -- and this is just embarrassing. Note that he loses despite the fact that he's getting help to the outside from a running back, and despite the fact that this is just a three-man rush. He just gets put on skates by Bowers.
I wanted to show this play because it really shows off Bowers' best attribute: the ability to stay low and win the leverage battle. More than anything, Bowers is a power rusher who wins with leverage and hand usage. He has to improve his hand usage to win more consistently, but this is what he can do when he's at his best. Bowers just gets under Gross's pads, and that's a very difficult thing to do. Plays like these are why the Bucs are very high on him this season -- they just need to get him to do this more often.
There's one other reason why the Bucs should be high on Bowers, though.
Bowers outperformed Terrell Suggs
Da'Quan Bowers and Terrell Suggs have a few things in common: they're both edge rushers who work primarily off power rush moves, and they both tore their Achilles tendons during the 2012 offseason and returned from that injury that very same year. Both of them were noticeably limited after their injury, with Suggs notching 2 sacks in 8 games while Bowers had 3 in 10 games. That was a noticeable dip for Suggs, who had managed just over 9 sacks per season over his career prior to 2012. But for Bowers, it was a career-high -- but those numbers do look a little lackluster, don't they?
If we look a little deeper, though, we see that Bowers did significantly better than Suggs. The Baltimore Raven had 2 sacks on 407 snaps last season, playing with a better defense than Da'Quan Bowers. But the latter had three sacks on just 291 snaps. That works out to one sack every 204 snaps for Suggs, but one every 97 snaps for Bowers. Obviously we're talking about small sample sizes here, but it's still interesting to note that Bowers was more productive than a perennial Pro Bowler returning from the same injury.
Bowers' 3 sacks on 291 snaps is pretty impressive, especially given the fact the fact that he was noticeably hindered by his Achilles throughout the season. Had he been healthy for the entire season it's likely that he would have come close to the number of snaps Michael Bennett took, which was 956. Pro-rated to a full workload, Bowers' 3 sacks project to 10 sacks -- and that's while still recovering from an Achilles injury. Of course, there's a lot more to pass rushing than just getting sacks.
That's a lot of speculation and iffy conjecture based on a small sample size, but it does show that Bowers' low sack total in 2012 isn't necessarily a problem going forward. The Bucs have placed their faith in the defensive end, and this is the year he gets to pay that off. Like Gerald McCoy, he struggled with injuries for two seasons. McCoy became a Pro Bowler in his third year. Can Bowers make the same jump in 2013?