Panthers pass-rusher Mario Addison is having one of his best seasons at age 32. 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The pass-rushers ranked first in the league in sacks through five weeks are undrafted players who aren’t household names who don’t have monster contracts.

And they’ll be on the same field on Sunday in London.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett leads the NFL with nine sacks, 4.5 more than he’s had in any season since entering the league in 2014 out of Colorado State.

Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Mario Addison has 6.5 sacks, 4.5 off the career-best 11 he posted in 2017 and well ahead of the pace he set in any season since entering the league in 2011 out of Troy.

Barrett, who had three sacks in a victory over the Panthers in Week 2, signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Bucs in March. Addison is at the end of a three-year deal in which he averages $7.5 million a year.

To put how much of a bargain they are into perspective, Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack averages $23.5 million per year and Denver outside linebacker Von Miller $19,083,333, according to Over the Cap.

Mack, the No. 5 pick of the 2014 draft, has 4.5 sacks. Miller, the No. 2 pick in 2011, has two.

It might seem unusual that Barrett and Addison slipped through the cracks in the draft process based on their current productivity, but not to Carolina coach Ron Rivera.

He was a teammate of with Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent with the great Chicago Bears teams of the mid-1980s. He’s quick to remind the player who ranks No. 9 on the league’s all-time sack list with 137.5 was an eighth-round pick.

“If we only had seven rounds back then, everybody would be talking about him the same way,” Rivera said. “[The draft] is not an exact science.”

Addison is evidence of that. Early in his career, he was considered too small at 6-foot-3 and 254-pounds to be an every-down defensive end going up against monster-sized tackles and guards.

Now he’s playing 68.7 percent of the defensive snaps and is considered too valuable to leave on the sideline for long, even though the Panthers are dedicated to rotating linemen and pass-rushers to keep them fresh.

Addison is flourishing in Carolina’s new scheme, a 3-4 base with the flexibility to morph into more creative formations.

The 56-yard fumble return for a touchdown by first-round pick Brian Burns in Sunday’s victory over Jacksonville is a prime example. Addison lined up over left guard Andrew Norwell, a former Carolina teammate, with rookie Christian Miller on his outside.

Addison drove Miller straight into quarterback Gardner Minshew to force the fumble.

“I stabbed him,” Addison said. “I got his hands off me and I ran him into the quarterback.”

What stands out most is where Addison lined up.

“We move him around. He moves himself around and puts himself in position,” Rivera said. “He works very well with everybody on our line. That’s probably the biggest thing. You see that communication, that comfort level, the understanding that’s created.”

Will it lead to Addison getting a career high in sacks? He believes it can. Will it lead to another contract at an age (32), when most big deals already have been gotten?

“I’m trying to put as much film out there as I can,” Addison said. “The Pro Bowl would be good … but we all know it’s a popularity [contest]. I don’t care about being popular. I’ve been underrated my whole career.”

Addison won’t be if he keeps up his current pace. Neither will Barrett.


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