Laying in the Weeds: Projecting the Sacks for Robert Mathis


While his exact return is still up in the air, the Indianapolis Colts will be getting veteran pass rusher Robert Mathis back at some point this season. The 13-year veteran is currently rehabilitating from a season-ending torn Achilles injury suffered last season, and although Mathis has said he’ll be back by training camp, the team’s owner in Jim Irsay isn’t quite as optimistic.

Oct 14, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis (98) during the second half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers won 19-9. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt that Mathis is one of the most decorated pass rushers in NFL history. Not only is he the Colts franchise’s all-time leader in sacks with 111.0 sacks, but he also has the 21st most sacks in NFL history. However, as mentioned, he’s coming off a fairly significant injury and is 34 years old, which is a modern-day dinosaur for today’s NFL.

While Mathis is just one season removed from a league-leading 19.5 sack season in 2013, it’s still very difficult to project what to reasonably expect for this season given the surrounding circumstances. If he can regain anything close to his prior form, he’ll provide a significant upgrade to the Colts pass rush. It’s worth noting that in 2013, he accounted for 46.4% of the Colts total sacks.

For the purposes of this projection, we calculated the average sack total of the NFL’s Top 20 career sack leaders during their 34 year old seasons:

What we discovered was that the average sack total of the Top 20 career sack leaders in NFL history was 7.0 sacks. Now, this doesn’t mean that Mathis can’t get less sacks than 7 or even reach double-digit sacks, but it serves as a reasonable benchmark to project for his 34-year old campaign given past pass rushing precedent. It’s by no means an exact science however, as a potential disclaimer.

Nov 24, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis (98) sits on a Gatorade cooler on the sidelines against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Colts 40-11. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, when it comes to Mathis, normal projections don’t exactly apply. This is an undersized pass rusher from unheralded Alabama A&M after all, who went from a 2003 5th round pick of the Colts to defensive star, clearly defying the odds each step along the way.

No one would be wise to sleep on Mathis…even at 34 years oldeven coming off a significant injury. 7 sacks may be the benchmark, but Mathis could very well prove to surpass it. Even his General Manager Ryan Grigson knows that Mathis is getting ready to strike, having laid in hiding for far too long:

"“Saw him in the weight room not too long ago, and I said something to him like, ‘Still laying in the weeds?’, and he looked at me like you know I’m about ready to jump out of those weeds,” recalled Grigson at Colts Mini-Camp."

That bodes just great for the Colts, but bad for opposing quarterbacks.

Time will tell for the team’s sackmaster. 

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