Zach Sieler: The NFL’s Most Underrated Player

Dolphins DL Zach Sieler has been overlooked since entering the league, and it’s time for him to be shown the respect he deserves.

Dolphins DT Zach Sieler is one of the league's most underrated players
Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins, winners of seven straight, will participate in the playoffs if they win their next two games. This comes after Miami lost seven in a row in a slew of injuries, disappointments, and lack of chemistry.

Now, as they found their groove, many look for players and units to credit. Tua Tagovailoa has looked much improved from last year, rookies Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips, and Jevon Holland look like stars in the making, and the defensive backfield looks just as deadly as last year.

Although, a name that needs some recognition is Dolphins defensive tackle Zach Sieler. The fourth- year pro, while only having two sacks, has generated eight pressures, per Pro Football Reference, and has been a stalwart in the run game.

Being in rotation with the likes of Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis, Sieler has only appeared in over 50 percent of snaps in five of Miami’s 15 games. Those snaps, however, have been productive. Sieler has excelled at holding his gaps, stopping the run, and making timely hits on opposing quarterbacks, and his all-22 from the last few weeks shows exactly that.

Zach Sieler gets after Ian Book.

Pass Rusher

Although Pro Football Reference only registers eight pressures, Sieler has been impactful and timing on that end. His ability to get off blocks quickly and get after the quarterback has complemented edge rushers Emmanuel Ogbah and Jaelan Phillips nicely. While also having two sacks, he has been able to set up for teammates and make impact plays.

As shown on this play against the Giants, the game appears easy for Sieler at times. His combination of speed and power, as shown here, gets him into the backfield in time to influence the throw.

Zach Sieler forces a near INT on a pressure

By batting the linemen’s hands to the side, he allows himself to use his unusual speed. He is then able to pull away from the guard and pursue his target. His impressive closing speed is enough for Mike Glennon to put up a dangerous throw, which nearly is intercepted by Jevon Holland.

A Simple Move

Although simple, he thrives in his ability to keep offensive linemen from getting their hands on him. With quick slaps, he is able to remain untouched and keep his forward momentum. The perfect combination of these two factors was on display on Monday Night Football against the Saints.

On this play, shown below, Sieler takes an outside route to the quarterback. To avoid contact with the guard, he runs outside of him. With his quick get-off and speed, he’s able to do his quick swat away and leave him in the dust.

Zach Sieler generates a pressure on Ian Book.

Although it doesn’t register as a sack for Sieler, he was able to pressure Book out of the pocket, and into a sack for his teammate. While his big plays don’t always show up on the stat sheet, they leave the same impact.

Run Stopper

Although sacks and pressures are typically more flashy, Zach Sieler makes the Dolphins run defense fun to watch. His combination of speed and power that I referenced earlier show up even more on run plays. His ability to maintain gap integrity while stopping playmakers in the backfield is one not found in many interior defensive linemen.

PFF rates Zach Sieler among the top IDL’s at run stopping.

Sieler’s game against the Carolina Panthers is one that perfectly displays his run defense in action. On this play, his goal would typically be to push McCaffrey out to the edge, while allowing linebackers to come up and make hits on the cutback lanes. What he ends up doing, however, is much more impressive.

Zach Sieler stops Christian McCaffrey.

He starts by getting outside, as he typically does, when he notices McCaffrey cut back in. Without losing his place, he is able to swallow him up for a loss on the play. He does so by throwing the lineman completely out of the play, which shows just how much power he has to disengage.

Counters

Another impressive part of Sieler’s run defense has been his implementation of counters into his game. On film, it is clear that he likes to go outside, which is typically to the left, and he has found a way to use that to his advantage.

On this play from his great performance against the Giants, he sells that he’s going outside, getting the lineman to leave his backside unprotected. In doing so, this allows Sieler to use a swim move to get back inside and stuff the run, potentially preventing a big play.

Zach Sieler uses a swim move to stop the run.

With limited snaps, linemen don’t have much tape to check out on Sieler. Thus, when they find a trend, it becomes much more important to identify and stop it. If not, Sieler will find a way to ensure they’re wrong every time.

High Effort Plays

In a Brian Flores defense, it’s clear that the fundamentals are preached as necessary for playing time. The coach who once dedicated a wall to the phrase “takes no talent” looks for players who show their love for the game on the field. It’s clear through his high motor that no Dolphins player exhibits that more than Zach Sieler.

As a lineman, it’s typically your job to get into the backfield and make stops like the ones I’ve shown thus far. However, Sieler works far outside his responsibilities, such as on this play shown below.

Sieler recognizes that New York is running a screen to Saquon Barkley, and he is able to, from his IDL spot, get over to the back, track him down, and stop him for only a short gain. His speed is on display here and it’s truly fun to watch.

Sieler uses his great motor to get out on the screen.

Sieler typically finds himself around the football, which is a common trait among star defensive players, and a prime example of that is Miami’s game vs. Carolina.

Here, he is able to see that Cam Newton is passing his way, perfectly timing his jump and getting his hands in the air to bat the ball down.

Zach Sieler bats down the pass.

The most impressive part about his timing on this play is that he gets Cam to throw it there and gets his hands up late enough. Although, they still get up in time to make the play.

Knowing Your Responsibility

This last play, which is one of my personal favorites this year, comes against the Jets. After noticing that a reverse is coming, Sieler sees Zach Wilson begin to slip out.

Zach Sieler prevents a TD

Realizing that his responsibility is the quarterback, Sieler disengages and takes off. As the receiver lets the throw go, Sieler is tracking down Wilson to the end zone. With impressive closing speed, he is able to get his hands up and knock the ball down.

Without Sieler’s high football IQ and effort, this play very well may have resulted in a touchdown.

The Bottom Line

Zach Sieler, although not regarded as a top defensive lineman, has far exceeded expectations set by fans and the Dolphins coaching staff.

His ability to defend the pass and run, while always giving 100 percent has been special to watch, and it pops on film every week.

It will be interesting to see how the former seventh-round pick continues to improve, but it’s clear that his story is just beginning to unfold.

The Dolphins value run defenders, but does it lead to wins?

In the NFL the tradition of stopping the run was a recipe for success; however, does it continue in an era of modern football?

NFL teams still value run defense, and many continue to invest in interior defenders skilled at closing off running lanes. The battle between run blockers on the offensive line and run stoppers on defense defined the NFL for decades.

However, the league has changed into a pass first offense where scoring has become normal. The league that averaged 18.7 points per team game in 1993 morphed into one averaging 24.8 points per team game last season. Last season was an all time record.

Introduction

Teams believe stopping the run is important, or they wouldn’t spend premium picks to acquire players adept at that skill.

What I would like to know is if a good interior run defense contributes to winning football games Does a stout defensive line encourage teams to throw the ball more? Does it impact how many points a team scores?

ESPN analyst Brian Burke came out with a fantastic metric, the run stop win rate. It basically measures an opponent’s effective rushing ability. This usually decreases as a defense’s number of run stops wins on a play increases. It’s based on a defense’s performance. It takes into account the technique played and amount of rush snaps a lineman has faced.

Taking into account of the run stop win rate and the factors included into it the metric is actually called “run stop wins over expected” (RSWOE).

Use Code ATB

Metric by Team

TeamRun Stop Wins over Expected (RSWOE)
NYJ101.2
LAR46.7
LV38.1
KC37.6
MIA33.8
TB30.3
PHI26.2
TENN24.3
BUF23.0
WFT20.0
NE19.9
LAC18.4
BAL15.2
NYG10.6
CIN8.4
PITT8.2
NOLA7.0
GB4.8
DEN2.3
JAX0.7
ARI0.6
CHI0.0
SF-5.4
IND-5.8
CAR-8.9
SEA-9.2
DET-12.3
HOU-17.1
CLE-21.2
DAL-64.9
MINN-93.7
From: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Note: There is no pattern between RSWOE and other measures of defensive performance. No correlation exists either with defensive points allowed or team scoring margin.

Analysis

Being good at stopping the run does not appear to help defenses prevent opposing offenses from scoring, meanwhile being bad at stopping the run does not hurt either, except in critical situations.

Per PFF these were the best teams stopping the run:

Of the top 10 best run defenses, only five made it to the postseason, with the Saints and Rams making runs in the postseason.

Metric Correlation with Wins/Expected
Dropback %.25
EPA/play.08
1st down rush %.08
Points scored.06
Points Allowed.04
Point Margin.02
3rd down conv. %.01
Def. success rate-.17
Rush yards % of offense-.26
From: ESPN Stats & Information Group. Data Populated from 2017-2020

The strongest correlation tested suggests that the more dominant the interior run defense, the more an opponent will drop back to pass — and the less it will try to run.

Diving into the Deep end

In terms of the Dolphins, Miami has invested heavily into the interior defensive line. Brian Flores’ scheme dictates iDLs to eat up space, push into the backfield and apply pressure on the Quarterback— allowing Linebackers to clean up the play and gain box score statistics.

Three of Miami’s top five run defenders are iDLs. Davis, Sieler and Wilkins do not get the same praise as an Xavien Howard or Andrew van Ginkel, they help them get the praise.

Not to mention picking up Adam Butler and John Jenkins this free agency to create depth in the interior defensive line room. Nothing wrong with having fresh legs in crucial moments in-game.

Adam Butlers PFF grade may not be the best, but he has been decent as a rotational DT with the New England Patriots

John Jenkins has consistently performed well as a run defender, which helps the Dolphins depth chart and personnel rotations.

Conclusion

In short, if a defense has a great run defense, an offense will pass more. Today’s era of modern football means a team is efficient passing the ball compared to running it.

While the conclusion might not bode well for those teams who invest in run stuffers along the iDL, the data suggest that teams also need an effective against the pass.

Unless a defense is dominant against the pass and the run, it may make sense to have opposing offenses run the ball more and pass less.

Fortunately, the Dolphins have a top 5 passing defense returning from 2020 that consistently produced turnovers and shutdown aerial attacks, if the Dolphins can get better at stopping the run and continue being a top five passing defense they will be dangerous.

In a league that rewards teams that pass early, often, and successfully, daring an offense to pass can backfire.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

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Know The Name: Zach Sieler

Who thought a guy that signed a 3-year extension in the NFL would live in an RV to focus on the season? Not many people anticipate NFL players to do anything like that, but that’s exactly what Miami Dolphins DT Zach Sieler does.

Who thought a guy that signed a 3-year extension in the NFL would live in an RV to focus on the season? Not many people anticipate NFL players to do anything like that, but that’s exactly what Miami Dolphins DT Zach Sieler does. 

Zach Sieler was drafted in the 5th round of the 2018 draft by the Baltimore Ravens. After only playing in two games his rookie year and recording 1 tackle, he was cut a week before the 2019 regular season. Fortunately for the Ravens, they were able to sign him to the practice squad the next day.

He was promoted to the active roster in October but waived a few months later in early December, and claimed by Miami the next day. According to TD Hunter of ATB Ravens, releasing Sieler was “a little bit of a shock that year” as he had shown “a lot of promise.” He says injuries at other positions in the preseason combined with the depth the Ravens had at DL made Sieler expendable.

Fortunately for the Dolphins, they won him off of waivers. In 7 games(1 start) in 2019, he was able to accumulate 11 total tackles, 1 TFL, and 2 QB hits.

In just his 2nd game with Miami, he broke out with 7 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit, and 1 sack. The Dolphins saw enough from Sieler in his first 3 games to sign him to a 1-year deal that offseason. After a week 10 win versus the Los Angeles Chargers, in which Sieler played 83% of the snaps, the Dolphins signed him to a three-year extension.

He ended the 2020 season with 48 total tackles, 11 TFL, 11 QB hits, and 4 sacks. 9 of those TFL came after the contract extension, which ranked 2nd among all DT’s in that span(Watt and Donald had more).

What doesn’t show up in those stats is the pressures. Sieler had 22 pressures and a 7.6% pressure rate from the interior of the line. In the number of snaps he got, he did quite well.

According to PFF, he was the 41st most efficient pass rusher among 134 interior linemen who had at least 100 pass-rushing attempts. 

One of Sieler’s greatest strengths is run defense. According to an article by Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Sieler was the fourth best DT in PFF’s run-stop metric. Plays accounted into this category are those which go as a “loss” for the offense.

For example, if a team gains 1-yard on 3rd&2, the play would count as a loss for the offense in the category. Zach Sieler created these plays on 13.2% of his snaps, which is far above average.

Sieler seriously made his presence felt in the run defense, and for about a 2-month span, lead the league in run stops.

Playing college football at Ferris State slowed Sieler’s development. The team didn’t have a proper strength and training program nor did they have a nutritionist; however, the moment he stepped on the field with the Ravens, his potential was glaring. As Hunter, said, cutting him was a surprise.

One area he struggled in was completing tackles, as he had 5 missed tackles last season. As he continues to develop and learn as a pro, I wouldn’t expect that to be a lingering issue.

Sieler is only 25 and will be 28 when his contract expires. If he continues to progress at the rate he has, the Dolphins may be extending him before that time comes. If they don’t, he could put himself in position for a payday in the spring of 2024. 

Follow Rishi Desai on Twitter for more.

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