Posted: 10:00 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014
We take a very close look at the defensive end numbers and try to figure out whether there's anybody we really like in that group.
As we try to figure out what the defensive end numbers from the Combine could mean, we're going to use the same format we used for the defensive tackles yesterday: We'll look at how each edge rusher performed against expectations in the various drills, and then look at a handful of metrics that allow us to perhaps understand the individual results better.
So let's start by looking at how the DEs fit the target test results for Combine measurements, with the Combine numbers for DeMarcus Ware and J.J. Watt included as a reference:
|Drill||Significance||Defensive Ends||Ware|| Watt|
|40-yard dash||Speed over distance||4.85||4.56||4.81|
|225-pound bench press reps||Upper body strength||24||27||34|
|Vertical jump||Explosiveness, leg strength||33||38.5||37|
|Broad jump||Explosiveness, leg strength||9'9'' (117 inches)||10'2''||10'0''|
|20-yard shuttle||Flexibility, burst, balance||4.30||4.07||4.21|
|3-cone drill||Agility, change of direction||7.35||6.85||6.88|
Watt weighed in 40 pounds heavier than Ware at the Combine, so his speed results are not comparable, but the explosiveness and agility markers are. You'll notice that Ware and Watt beat every single one of the six targets on this list, some of them quite significantly. One could argue that comparing two studs like Ware and Watt to this year's crop of edge rushers is not fair. Then again, one could also argue that if the Cowboys invest their top pick in an edge rusher, they'd better make sure that investment pays off the way it did with Ware.
Football Outsiders have their own unique way of assessing the potential of edge rushers, which they call SackSEER. SackSEER uses four metrics: Vertical leap, short shuttle, adjusted sack rate in college and missed games in college. Here's what FO had to say about the short shuttle in the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac, and about the vertical leap on the FO website:
The vertical leap's importance is based on simple physics. If a 270-pound defensive end has the leg strength to jump 40 inches in the air from a standing position, it is very likely that he will be able to employ that same functional strength to burst quickly and powerfully off the line of scrimmage.
SackSEER’s other workout metric is the short shuttle run. The drill measures change-of-direction speed, burst, and hip flexibility, which are understandably important to rushing the passer. DeMarcus Ware had a jaw-dropping short shuttle of 4.07 seconds,ran the shuttle in 4.03 seconds, and ran the shuttle in 4.08 seconds. No elite edge rusher has emerged from any round of the NFL Draft since at least 1999 with a short shuttle slower than 4.42 seconds.
FO haven't released their SackSEER numbers for this year yet, but with the above in mind, let's take a look at the 2013 class of pass rushing prospects, paying special attention to their short shuttle (for the few prospects where we have the data) and vertical leap results. For your reading convenience, the targets for each drill are included in the column headers.
Defensive Ends, 2014 Combine results (click column header to sort)
I'm unsure why we don't have more short shuttle times available for this year's defensive line prospects, perhaps the NFL will release the full data at a later stage. For now, the numbers above are all we've got. And if we take the short shuttle times and the vertical leap numbers that Ware and Watt posted at their workouts as a measuring stick, then this year's class comes up short. Jackson Jeffcoat (at 247 pounds) is the only prospect with a faster short shuttle than J.J. Watt (at 290 pounds), and Howard Jones (at 235 pounds) is the only prospect to beat both Ware and Watt in the vertical jump. All of that is a little disappointing, even if Watt and Ware are two of the best in the game.
While all of the prospects listed here worked out in the defensive line group at the Combine, not all will be suitable as defensive ends in the Cowboys' scheme. Some of the lighter guys like Kasim Edebali, Howard Jones, or Jonathan Newsome probably project better as OLBs, while others may simply be bad scheme fits, as Bob Sturm explains:
So, in closing, Dee Ford, Jackson Jeffcoat, and Trent Murphy are not scheme fits. [...] And, Kony Ealy, Scott Crichton, and Chris Smith are perfect fits for what you want to build.
Let's now look at five different metrics to better understand the Combine performance, the definitions of which I'm repeating here for readers who may have missed the rundown of the defensive tackle numbers:
1. Production ratio: [(SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF COLLEGE GAMES PLAYED = PRODUCTION RATIO]
This number measures the playmaking potential of front seven players coming out of college. In our table below, the number is based on the last two years of a players' college production. What you want in a Production Ratio is a score of 1.5 or better. For pure pass rushers, a number above 1.5 is often indicative of elite talent, a number above 2.0 is truly exceptional, especially if achieved against premium competition.
2. Kirwan Explosion Index: [BENCH PRESS REPS + VERTICAL JUMP + BROAD JUMP = EXPLOSION NUMBER]
First proposed by Pat Kirwan, this is a simple addition that adds up the number of bench press reps with the broad and vertical jump values. What this number gives you is an idea of the explosive strength of a lineman. An explosion number over 70 is considered a very good result. But since only five prospects exceeded 70, we'll make an allowance for this draft class and assume that anything above 65 is still good.
3. Explosive Power: (VERT+3.5*BROAD)*(WEIGHT/HEIGHT)/3000
This is a metric that was developed, as far as I know, by Tony Wiltshire, a writer for BuffaloBillsDraft.com. Where about half of Kirwan's Explosion Index (KEI) is made up of upper body strength, the Explosive Power metric focuses on lower body strength relative to a player's physique. This metric gives you a good idea of how strong a lineman is off the snap and the amount of pure physical force he can generate out of his legs. If you think of the KEI as horsepower, then think of the Explosive Power metric as torque. A value over 1.05 is elite, a value over 1.0 is excellent.
4. Lateral Agility:[40-YARD DASH TIME - 20-YARD SHUTTLE = LATERAL AGILITY]
This number uses the differential between the 40-yard dash time and the 20-yard shuttle to get a better feel for the lateral agility of a player, as the differential provides information beyond simple long speed and short-area quickness. Generally speaking, a player who notches a .50 or better is considered to have outstanding lateral agility, a quality highly sought after in defensive linemen who usually operate in very tight spaces.
It may not be entirely fair to show this metric, given that we only have the short shuttle data for seven of the 28 players here, but until the NFL releases all the numbers, that's what we're stuck with.
5. Speed Score: [(WEIGHT * 200) / (40-TIME ^ 4) = SPEED SCORE]
Not all players are created equal, and it doesn't make a lot of sense comparing 40-times of players who may have a weight difference of 60 pounds. The Speed Score takes into account both a player's time in the 40-yard dash as well as his weight. The ratio was initially developed for running backs, but works just as well for DEs. A good score for an edge rusher is 100 or higher.
The table below summarizes the five metrics above for the 2014 DEs. The green cells show where a prospect exceeded the figures outlined above, the column on the far right shows how many of the five targets a prospect met or exceeded.
Defensive Ends, 2014 Combine additional metrics (click column header to sort)
|Rank||Player||Height||Weight||Prod. Ratio (1.5)||Expl. Indx (65)||Expl. Power (0.95)||Lat. Ag. (0.5)||Speed (100)||Targets met|
Keep in mind that most of the metrics we've looked at in the two tables above are simple athletic markers. So what you see here are young men who've won the genetic lottery in terms of their athleticism, but whether that athleticism translates onto the field is an entirely different issue.
The one thing I will point out though is the rather disappointing performance of Kony Ealy. There were always questions about his college production, but those were routinely brushed off with a reference to his athletic potential. In draftspeak, "athletic potential" often means nothing more than lack of college production. Just like "plays faster on film" means "Dude is slow, but I like his game film against often subpar college competition anyway"; "plays with a high motor" means "not an elite athlete but gets an 'A' for effort"; or "plays with a mean streak" describes less-talented players who persevere on guts alone.
Jadeveon Clowney confirms his status as the top-ranked DE, and one of the top-ranked prospects overall, by cruising to a total of eight green cells in the table above. Clowney will be long gone by the time the Cowboys make their first pick, but the good news for the Cowboys is that there are a number of players available in the later rounds who flash intriguing athletic potential, often coupled with impressive college production. Joining Clowney with eight green cells are Chris Smith, Kareem Martin and the lesser-known James Gayle out of Virginia Tech. Also delivering impressive Combine results are Scott Crichton (7 greens), Howard Jones (7), Jackson Jeffcoat (6), Marcus Smith (6) and small-school prospect Larry Webster (6).
We'll look at more positions in the coming days. For now though, which DEs would you like for the Cowboys out of this group?