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Patriots DE Jabaal Sheard Makes Pro Football Focus' Top 25 Breakout Players of 2015

The analytics website identifies New England's defensive end as one of its 2015 breakout performers.

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This honor probably doesn't come to the surprise of everyone here and watched the 2015 team, with Jabaal Sheard placing in the top 25 breakout players. Pro Football Focus ranked him 17th out of 25 on the list, with names including Tyrod Taylor, Josh Norman, and Derek Wolfe. The Patriots signed Sheard to a 2-year, $11M contract in the 2015 offseason, leaving some to proclaim that it could be the signing of the offseason. Sheard compiled 37 tackles, 8 sacks, 2 batted passes, and 4 forced fumbles in 13 games and 1 start. Even though Sheard wasn't a starter on the depth chart, he was equally as important to the defense as Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.

In 2014, Sheard played 690 snaps for the Cleveland Browns with a respectable +10.8 grade. In 2015, Sheard earned an impressive +39.1 grade in 677 snaps. In essentially the same number of snaps, he basically quadrupled his score. I don't have a complete understanding of PFF grades nor will I ever claim to be an expert, but you probably don't need advanced analytics to describe how good Sheard was for the Patriots. Sheard comes into 2016 with a $6.812M cap hit and given how well he performed in 2015, an extension could be in the works since he's only 26.

Sheard would become part of the team's core with an extension and is the team's second best defensive end in the rotation. Sheard shows the ability to close fast in the run game off the edge while not losing contain and is athletic enough to mirror QBs when used in a spy role. The Patriots used specific pass rushing packages to get him, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the field in their dime (6 DB) sets. Sheard was a big reason why the Patriots defense was a Top 10 unit in the NFL and here's to more of the same in 2016.