In the midst of what has been a very hectic week for Northwestern athletics, some rather impactful news broke around 12:59 pm CT this Thursday, as former West Virginia defensive end Jeffery Pooler Jr announced that he would be transferring to Northwestern to finish off his career in college football.
While Pooler is far from a household name, the pickup looms as a massive one for the ‘Cats. Despite having arguably the best defense in the country in 2020, Northwestern was far from a dominant pass rushing team, as Eku Leota lead the team with just four sacks in nine games. After him, only Blake Gallagher, Cameron Ruiz and Adetomiwa Adebawore (aka the fastest defensive tackle alive) recorded more than a single sack on the season. All three of those multi-sack getters save for Adebawore have departed from the program by way of graduation and/or the transfer portal, indicating that some increased production in that area is a big need for this team to continue their success in 2021.
In the 17 games he played over his last two seasons as a member of the Mountaineers, Pooler recorded 5.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss per CFB Reference. That doesn’t stand out as an incredible rate of production, but it’s enough to give him more career sacks than any other 2021 Northwestern football player.
It’s important to place Pooler’s production in perspective relative to context, as hi finished a mere fourth on his own team in total sacks in 2020, playing for a West Virginia that had far more success when it came to brining the quarterback down (though the NU defense as a whole was obviously superior to that of WVU). He was a solid, disruptive force in recording 3.5 sacks as a senior in the Big 12, but those are just tallying the end results of a few plays, and relying on them alone is giving biased toward the quantifiable.
For example, this was one of Pooler’s sacks in 2020:
Did Pooler do anything wrong or cheap there? No! He did exactly what he was asked to do!
However, that’s by all means a coverage sack. The Mountaineers only sent three rushers, and Baylor quarterback Charlier Brewer Jr. spent a whopping seven seconds in the backfield before his knee hit the ground. Credit Pooler for having the determination and endurance to record the series-ending play, but that’s not sack that’s replicable to a normal in-game, play-to-play scenario.
But in a similar vein, Pooler also generated positive plays throughout the past season without receiving any credit in the box score.
On this next clip, Pooler uses his hands well to dislodge the tackle and help flush Brewer out of the pocket in tandem with his fellow defensive lineman. It’s not the flashiest or most dominant rep, but it’s a win on his end nonetheless.
With the seconds ticking down in the first half, Pooler’s pressure helped force Brewer into a throw that ultimately ended the half and deterred Baylor from a chance at tacking on a field goal going into halftime. Solid stuff all around.
A trend I noticed during my brief binge of Pooler’s reps from this past season was that his hands are most often the catalyst behind his individual victories at the line of scrimmage. He’s definitely not the most explosive or quick twitch guy following the snap of the ball. He’s not a physically imposing menace a la former Northwestern greats Joe Gaziano and Tyler Lancaster, standing at “only” 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds.
He tends to stand a bit more upright than the lineman attempting to block him, which makes it hard for him to get his shoulder low and bend around his opponents for sacks, but gives him good leverage for stabbing opponents with his hands to win back to the inside.
In this next clip, Iowa State gets a first down due to some nice improvisation from quarterback Brock Purdy, but Pooler fulfills his role in getting past his man and collapsing the pocket.
Will the addition of Pooler create a seismic shift in a positive direction for the 2021 ‘Cats? The answer is likely no. But for a position group whose only returning, consistent starter was limited to one guy in Adebawore, picking up Pooler as a transfer is a great move from the program.
And above all else, make sure that Pooler gets to wear that No. 9 jersey this fall, or at the very least one of the single-digit jerseys. A single-digit defensive lineman remains the coolest aesthetic in the sport of football. Go get it Pooler.