Every week or so, I’ll be delving into each team’s franchise history to shine the spotlight on a player who hasn’t received the recognition he rightfully deserved. outside of that fan base. All teams have players who come into the organization, work hard day in an day out, do everything that’s asked of them, and ride off into the sunset with little to no fanfare. This series is meant to give these players their due diligence.
Aaron Schobel: Buffalo’s Working-Class Pass Rusher
The name Aaron Schobel isn’t one that many people outside of the Northeast will remember, even though he spent nearly a decade in the league and his career ended just eight years ago. Fans in Buffalo will likely remember who he was, but will they remember how good he was despite playing for an also ran Bills team that only posted one winning season in his nine-year career? Hopefully they do, because the man worked his behind off for the organization.
Coming into the league in 2001 out of Texas Christian University as a high second-round draft pick (No. 46 overall), Schobel wasted little time making his way onto the field. He started the final 11 games and posted a team-leading 6.5 sacks over the span. The highlight of a mildly successful rookie season had to be that Schobel posted two multiple-sack games, totaling 4 sacks against Tom Brady and the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.
Schobel would continue to build on the success of his rookie season, going on to start all 16 games in seven of his eight remaining seasons on the squad. Over that time, however, he was only named to two Pro Bowls, and once was as an alternate.
Bills’ Best Sack Artist Since Bruce Smith
During his time as a Buffalo Bill, Hall of Famer Bruce Smith tallied a ridiculous 171 sacks. Schobel isn’t in the same league as Smith, but from a franchise perspective, he’s second in line. With nearly a hundred fewer sacks, Schobel sits at No. 2 on the Bills all-time sack leaders list with 78. No other Bills defender since 2001 has taken down opposing quarterbacks more than 43 times (Mario Williams).
In 2006 Schobel had a career year, posting 14 total sacks en route to his first Pro Bowl nod. The 14-sack season is still good for fifth most in a season by a Bills defender. That year, he also set a franchise record for consecutive games with a sack at 6.
Four times over the course of his career, Schobel notched double-digit sack seasons. Since his departure, the feat has only been accomplished eight times, by five different players. Mario Williams (3) and Jerry Hughes (2) were the only two who did so more than once.
One more statistical tidbit for you, Schobel holds the distinguished honor of being the player with the most sacks of Tom Brady with 14. It’s safe to say Brady kept an eye on number 94 during his pre-snap reads.
The thing about Schobel’s game that differs from Williams and Hughes, and many of the big-name pass rushers around the league, is how he got to the quarterback. He was never the player who relied on speed and athleticism, but rather he used his football intelligence, technique and grit to overpower offensive lineman.
His pass-rush skills weren’t clinical by any means. However, his never-give-up attitude allowed him to play to the whistle on seemingly every down. Pockets only stay clean for so long, and when they collapsed, Schobel was there to take advantage of the situation.
Not a One-Trick Pony
While the little recognition Schobel gets is for his sack numbers, he was actually a more than serviceable defender in the running game. He showed a propensity for holding down his side of the line on run plays and rarely allowing a big run.
Schobel also had a knack for causing fumbles. He finished his career with 21 forced fumbles, trailing only Smith (35) and Cornelius Bennett (22) for most in team history. His 333 solo tackles are good for twelfth most for a Bill.
Another underappreciated piece to Schobel’s game was his ability to get a hand up to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage. His 31 passes defended are by far the most by a Bills defensive lineman.
And just to add to his all-around game, Schobel took an interception to the house in the opening game of what would be his final season in 2009. The touchdown would stand as the only one of his career. Oh, and the quarterback who threw the pass? Once again, Tom Brady.
In for the Long Haul
Playing for the same team an entire career is becoming more and more rare these days, and the same was true in the 2000s when Schobel played. Despite not ever having a chance to compete for championships, he stuck with the organization that drafted him and played at Ralph Wilson Stadium for his entire career. In total, he appeared in 133 games, starting 128.
His longevity was a remarkable facet to his career in Buffalo. Only in his penultimate season did he miss games due to injury when he suffered a Lisfranc Sprain and missed 11 games. Despite the setback, he returned a year later, started all 16 games, and led the team with 16 sacks.
During the 2010 offseason, Schobel and the Bills were on rocky ground. New head coach Chan Gailey decided to switch the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. Schobel, who was already considering retirement, saw the writing on the wall. He was released by the team in August of 2010 and decided to go ahead and call it quits on a remarkable, if underappreciated career.
The Final Verdict
Schobel will never make his way into the NFL Hall of Fame. His numbers aren’t in the all-time great realm. He didn’t single-handedly take control of games. He wasn’t recognized for awards or All-Pro honors. Maybe the Bills organization should consider him for the organization’s Wall of Fame one day.
People could argue that Schobel’s sack numbers are skewed because many came in garbage time, but this is through no fault of his own. He lined up when and where he was told to and did all that was asked of him, whether the score was 0-0 or the Bills were down three scores. Just because the opposing lineman is taking plays off shouldn’t take away from what the man accomplished.
While Schobel was never a household name, he still put his heart and soul into being the best possible player he could for the Bills during his near decade of service. He epitomized what it means to be an unsung hero.
“I just feel I’m not flahy. As long as the guys around the league respect me, the coaches respect me. As far as the fans, I hope they at least see a good player,” – Aaron Schobel