The effect of an individual defensive player is hard to measure by statistics alone. It’s actually hard to even measure offensive players by traditional numbers. (What do 1,000 yards mean? Is it right to hold a single player responsible for his average yards per touch? How much should an individual’s contract be decided by how many touchdowns that individual scored in a team game?)
On defense, the numbers get even murkier. Sacks are great, but that isn’t the only way to judge a pass rusher. A defensive back with an interception total that drops doesn’t mean he was less effective in coverage, and for an inside linebacker who racks up a bunch of tackles, how many truly made a difference in a game?
That lack of clarity is how entities like Pro Football Focus make money. They evaluate how individual players impact a game, and give those players a grade. While those grades are far from unimpeachable, they can offer some clarity on just who is making consequential plays.
Pro Football Focus gave Carl Nassib the fifth-best grade on the Las Vegas Raiders’ 2021 defense. Impressive, but not enough to keep the Raiders from making him a logical salary cap casualty.
It took Nassib a while to find a home, and it turned out to be in a familiar location. He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018 and 2019, and when Cam Gill got hurt they reached out to one of their former captains. In the fourth quarter last night, Nassib proved to be worth every penny he will earn this season. He tipped an Andy Dalton pass on 3rd and short, deep in Buccaneers territory, and sacked the New Orleans Saints quarterback on their next drive.
Forcing the Saints into a second-consecutive field goal, and then soon destroying an offensive series, gave Tom Brady some much-needed extra chances to go for a win. It worked and now the Buccaneers are the only team in the NFC South with a .500 record.
If the Buccaneers are able to hold on for their second-consecutive division championship, it wouldn’t have been possible without Nassib’s Week 13 effort. His counting stats are unimpressive, but just like when he forced a Lamar Jackson fumble last season, Nassib again showed that he is an NFL player capable of tripping up an opposing offense at a crucial time.
Nassib was still unsigned in late July when he talked to Michael Strahan on Good Morning America about the decision to come out as a gay man, and didn’t find himself on an NFL roster until Aug. 15, three weeks after the start of training camps. Had Nassib recorded 10 sacks in 2021, he probably would’ve been rostered by OTAs at the latest.
Instead, he was forced to wait, and for the second year in a row, he made humongous plays on Monday Night Football. A person who wasn’t even on a roster in July is now one of the main reasons the Buccaneers are on the path to a division title and a home playoff game. Yet, without Gills’ injury, there’s a good chance that Nassib doesn’t get signed by the Buccaneers.
Nassib is currently the only openly gay male athlete in major American sports. It’s unknown how that affected his free agency, but hopefully, his performance can make it easier for the next athlete to come out. That person can know that even if he is not a superstar talent, as long as he can consistently produce at a professional level there will be no problem finding work.
It would be great if Nassib were a superstar who could be one of the faces of the continuing struggle for safety and equal rights for gay people all over the world, but he is just as important as a solid NFL role player. A large step towards true equality comes when a person doesn’t have to dominate in order to overcome the barriers of race, gender, sexual orientation, or any others. When that person is given the freedom to be simply a good worker and is still offered opportunities, real progress is achieved.
Nassib isn’t going to overtake Nick Bosa for the NFL sack lead, but he is capable of making plays that can change a season. He is a good worker, and hopefully it leads to more good workers not being overlooked because of who they are.