Julius Peppers is one of the most athletically gifted and most dominating pass rushers in the NFL over the last decade. Peppers has tallied over 100 sacks and has been a gem to the Chicago Bears by bolstering what was once a stagnant pass rush. His production during his first two years in Chicago is among the best in the NFL and he deserves to be starting.
The 2012 season however shows that there has been a slip in production from Peppers to the point that he's no longer the most productive pass rusher on the team.
Third year defensive end Corey Wootton has become a more reliable all around defensive end than Peppers. According to the official NFL tally of QB hits and sacks; on a per pass rushing snap basis Wootton has more sacks, more pressures and more QB hits than Peppers. On 121 pass rushing snaps Wootton has three QB hits, three sacks; by coaches evaluation of QB pressure Wootton has seven pressures. Peppers on the other hand nearly doubles Wootton's pass rushing snaps at 233 and has 5.5 sacks 7 QB hits by NFL statistical count and 8 pressures by Bears coach evaluation.
I reached out to Nathan Jahnke for their analsys of Wootton's play versus Peppers and their metrics have Wootton at a higher level of both run stop production and pass rush production through the first seven games of the season. According to Jahnke "Wootton has 3 sacks, 2 hits and 10 hurries on 121 pass rushes gives him a Pass Rushing Productivity of 9.9 which is better than Peppers 8.8.
Also run defense, in terms of grades Wootton has been better. A stat to back that up is Run Stop Percentage(so run stops/run snaps). Wootton is at 7.8 while Peppers at 4.3."
Also of note in terms of overall pass rushing productivity (or PRP) Wootton's 9.9 puts him just below the 20th best pass rusher in the NFL according to PFF.
So while it is safe to assume that Peppers' season-long battle with plantar fasciitis is likely hampering his overall play, it stands to reason that the Bears may be better off resting Peppers for the month of December and the playoffs. Wootton's emergence as an all-around force at DE should provide him with a higher percentage of playing time over Peppers.
Wootton has not only stood out from a production standpoint, but he looks better on tape than Peppers. Wootton is showing a more consistent burst off the edge and he's starting to come into his own as he's matured and remained healthy. You can see the speed he has in the pass rush role. Athletically speaking Wootton is not as fast Peppers is over long distances of pursuit, but he has shown a better level of explosion off the edge and in short distances this season.
Peppers, historically may be the better player in the NFL and may turn out to be the better player overall in their careers. However through the first seven Bears games of the season, the Bears should go with the hot hand that is Wootton and give the more productive player more chances to succeed and show what the future may hold.