Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

05 Apr 2016

SackSEER 2016

by Nathan Forster

With the 2016 NFL draft quickly approaching, it is time for Football Outsiders' annual SackSEER projections. The SackSEER projections are based on a statistical analysis of the factors that best predict the pass rushing success of "edge rushers": 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers. The projections are based on the college and professional numbers of the 369 edge rushers taken in the NFL draft from 1998 to 2014.

SackSEER has predicted success for current stars Von Miller, Khalil Mack, and Justin Houston, plus later-round sleepers such as Jared Allen. SackSEER has also identified several high-profile busts, including Dion Jordan, Marcus Smith, and Jarvis Jones. SackSEER has its fair share of misses as well (cough, JPP, cough), but it nevertheless provides a good starting point for discussing the likelihood that an edge-rusher prospect will collect a high number of sacks at the NFL level.

SackSEER expresses its thoughts on each drafted edge rusher through two outputs: SackSEER projection and SackSEER rating. SackSEER projection and SackSEER rating contain the following common elements:

  • An "explosion index" that measures the prospect's scores in the 40-yard dash, the vertical leap, and the broad jump in pre-draft workouts;
  • The prospect's score on the 3-cone drill;
  • A metric called "SRAM" which stands for "sack rate as modified." SRAM measures the prospect's per-game sack productivity, but with adjustments for factors such as early entry into the NFL draft and position switches during college;
  • The prospect's college passes defensed divided by college games played; and
  • The number of medical redshirts for which the player either received or was eligible.

SackSEER projection projects the number of regular season sacks that a prospect will record in his first five years in the NFL. Unlike SackSEER rating, SackSEER projection includes the prospect's projected draft round from NFLDraftScout.com.

SackSEER rating provides a historical percentile rating on the player's prospects for success as compared to the other prospects in SackSEER's database, irrespective of projected draft position. For instance, SackSEER currently has 369 edge rushers in its database, so a prospect in this year's draft who is stronger than 240 of those prospects on the historical trends identified by SackSEER would have a SackSEER rating of 65.0 percent (240/369). If you want to see how the prospects stack up based on SackSEER's trends alone, you can look at SackSEER rating. If you want to see how the prospects stack up based on SackSEER's trends when balanced against conventional wisdom -- accounting for the subjective aspects of a player that scouts can account for better than statistics -- you can look at SackSEER projection.

SackSEER rating also includes two additional factors that are not included in SackSEER Projection: weight and quality of competition, with a slight downward adjustment for players who hail from sub-FBS schools.

This year, SackSEER projects the edge rushers at the top of the NFL draft to be mostly mediocre, at least as compared to their highly-drafted brethren in past drafts. However, this draft does include a smattering of underrated edge rushers who will likely be available outside of the first round.

Leonard Floyd, Georgia

SackSEER Projection: 26.9 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 81.0%

Leonard Floyd's explosion numbers were fantastic. He recorded a 4.60-second 40-yard dash, a 39-inch vertical leap, and a broad jump of 10 feet, 7 inches -- numbers that place him among the top 20 most explosive edge-rusher prospects of all time. His college production, however, left something to be desired, as Floyd never had more than 6.5 sacks in a season for the Georgia Bulldogs. Moreover, Floyd had no interceptions and only four pass breakups, which leave him with a below-average passes defensed rate for a drafted edge-rusher prospect.

It would be easy to label Floyd as a "workout warrior," and dismiss his prospects. However, the actual history of such players reveals a more nuanced picture. It is true that many edge-rusher prospects who excelled at the combine after mediocre college production have become busts. Barkevious Mingo is a recent example of a player who looked like Jevon Kearse at the combine, but whose NFL career ultimately lacked sizzle. However, there are also counterexamples of edge rushers with good workouts and thin college resumes who nevertheless found NFL success, such as Trent Cole, Mark Anderson, and Michael Johnson. It all adds up to Floyd being a boom-or-bust prospect who is essentially a coin flip.

Joey Bosa, Ohio State

SackSEER Projection: 26.8 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 87.8%

SackSEER expects Joey Bosa to have a strong NFL career, but the system feels he is somewhat overrated as a possible No. 1 overall selection.

With 26 sacks in three years, Bosa had good production at Ohio State. Although Bosa's sack total dropped off in his junior season, it's not uncommon for a strong edge-rusher prospect to record fewer sacks after a successful year, due to increased double-teams. Bosa also had an impressive 6.89-second 3-cone time, which is the second-best among all of the edge rushers at this year's NFL combine.

However, Bosa's explosion numbers were a little below average: he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.86 seconds, had a vertical leap of 33 inches, and had a 10-foot broad jump. Edge rushers with those types of explosion numbers have certainly been successful before, but none have ever been drafted in the top five. It adds up to Bosa being a below-average "top-five prospect."

Edge Rushers Selected in Top 5 Picks, 1998-2016
Player Year Pick Team College SackSEER
Projection
SackSEER
Rating
Khalil Mack 2014 5 OAK Buffalo 36.5 97.8%
Julius Peppers 2002 2 CAR North Carolina 36.2 99.7%
Von Miller 2011 2 DEN Texas A&M 35.2 98.1%
Mario Williams 2006 1 HOU N.C. State 34.1 100.0%
Gaines Adams 2007 4 TB Clemson 32.7 95.1%
Courtney Brown 2000 1 CLE Penn State 31.2 97.3%
Chris Long 2008 2 STL Virginia 30.2 92.9%
Jadeveon Clowney 2014 1 HOU South Carolina 29.1 94.0%
Ezekiel Ansah 2013 5 DET BYU 27.6 84.2%
Joey Bosa 2016 ??? ??? Ohio State 26.8 87.8%
Justin Smith 2001 4 CIN Missouri 25.5 85.1%
Andre Wadsworth 1998 3 ARI Florida State 24.1 88.6%
Dion Jordan 2013 3 MIA Oregon 23.0 32.3%
Dante Fowler 2015 3 JAC Florida 21.7 42.2%

The slowest edge rusher drafted in the top five since 1998 was Chris Long, who ran a 4.75 40-yard dash, which is a tenth of a second faster than Bosa's. Additionally, Bosa's passes defensed rate is firmly average for a drafted edge rusher; he is a far cry from players such as Julius Peppers or Ezekiel Ansah, who were as good at knocking down passes as they were at knocking down quarterbacks. Overall, SackSEER projects Bosa to be a solid, but not spectacular player.

Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State

SackSEER Projection: 25.6 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 97.3%

Emmanuel Ogbah is a good all-around prospect, and he would be SackSEER's favorite player in this draft if it did not adjust for projected draft position. Ogbah had consistently good production, recording double-digit sacks as both a sophomore and a junior. He also added nine passes defensed in his three-year college career, giving him an above-average passes defensed rate. Ogbah's explosion numbers were also good -- he recorded a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, a 35.5-inch vertical leap, and a 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump. Although not part of the SackSEER projection, Ogbah has nice size at 273 pounds, suggesting that he could be effective against the run and the pass. The only knock on Ogbah is his 3-cone time, which is just a bit slower than average.

Shaq Lawson, Clemson

SackSEER Projection: 22.9 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 72.6%

Shaq Lawson was one of the top defenders on the No. 2 ranked team in the country. However, SackSEER is only lukewarm on his prospects. Lawson is a bit of a one-hit wonder: he had 12.5 sacks in 15 games as a junior, but he had only 7.5 sacks in his first two seasons. Lawson also had only one pass defensed over the course of his career, which is a major red flag. Lawson did have a solid combine workout, however, which included a nice 10-foot broad jump.

Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky

SackSEER Projection: 20.8 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 64.1%

Even though he hails from a much smaller school, SackSEER sees Noah Spence as a similar prospect to Shaq Lawson. Spence is a bit slower than Lawson and approximately 15 pounds lighter, but he bested Lawson in the vertical leap and the broad jump at the combine. Spence's sack production was also a little better -- Spence and Lawson each finished with 20 career sacks, but Spence collected his 20 sacks in six fewer games.

Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

SackSEER Projection: 17.5 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 50.8%

Shilique Calhoun is almost a perfectly average prospect. His explosion numbers, sacks per game, and passes defensed rate are all very close to the average for a drafted edge rusher.

Bronson Kaufusi, Brigham Young

SackSEER Projection: 14.9 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 90.8%

SackSEER projects Bronson Kaufusi to out-produce his draft position, but he may not be everyone's cup of tea as a prospect. The primary driver of Kaufusi's relatively high SackSEER projection is his passes defensed total. Kaufusi finished with two interceptions and 14 pass breakups, which translates into a pass defensed every three games -- an impressive rate for a 280-pound defensive lineman. Kaufusi is also quick, demonstrated by his combine 3-cone drill time of 7.03 seconds. SackSEER does have one big knock on Kaufusi: he performed poorly in the explosion metrics. Kufusi's 40-yard dash, vertical leap, and broad jump were all well below average. That said, a team could do a lot worse with a late third-round pick than to pick up a big, productive defensive end with a talent for knocking down passes.

Charles Tapper, Oklahoma

SackSEER Projection: 14.3 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 69.6%

Charles Tapper is a good example of the limitations of SackSEER. SackSEER only measures performance in terms of sacks, and of course, edge rushers can be successful doing other things -- such as stopping the run or dropping into pass coverage. Tapper has good size, speed, and scheme flexibility. Tapper's SackSEER projection, however, is only ho-hum because he recorded only 13.5 sacks in 41 games as a collegian.

Kamalei Correa, Boise State

SackSEER Projection: 14.1 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 31.3%

SackSEER does not like Kamalei Correa. First, Correa had a poor passes defensed rate, recording only two passes defensed in 39 games. Second, Correa's combine was uneven. He recorded a slightly above-average 4.69-second 40-yard dash, but he a below-average 33-inch vertical leap and a fairly poor broad jump of just 9 feet. These numbers are especially concerning because Correa is small for the position at 243 pounds. Correa redeemed himself somewhat during his pro day, running the 3-cone for the first time and recording an impressive 6.96 seconds. Overall, however, Correa does not offer good value at the price of a low first-round or high second-round selection.

James Cowser, Southern Utah

SackSEER Projection: 12.8 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 84.2%

One of SackSEER's lessons is that small-school players are often severely underrated. Players such as Jared Allen and Robert Mathis dropped to the second half of the draft despite dominant college careers, largely due to concerns regarding the strength of their competition. In the 2016 NFL draft, the most likely edge rusher to enter the ranks of small-school prospect-turned-star is James Cowser. Cowser was dominant for Southern Utah. He made an immediate impact for the Thunderbirds, recording 7.5 sacks in 11 games as a freshman, and after that, recorded double-digit sacks in three consecutive years. Cowser's explosion index is on the low side, but he had the quickest 3-cone time of any edge rusher invited to the combine. Projected draft position suggests that it is still unlikely that Cowser will have an impact in the NFL. However, he has considerably more upside than any other edge rusher who is likely to be available after the third round.

What follows is a table that provides the SackSEER projections and ratings for each edge-rusher prospect who received an invitation to the NFL combine. The most notable entry on this list is Dean Lowry, whose SackSEER rating of 90.8% is quite good for a player who could easily go undrafted. Lowry is a similar prospect to Bronson Kaufusi -- he has tremendous size and a ton of passes defensed, but did not have consistent sack production.

Full 2016 SackSEER Projections
Player College Proj.
Round
Explosion
Index
SRAM PD/Rate 3-Cone SackSEER
Projection
SackSEER
Rating
Leonard Floyd Georgia 1 1.74 0.49 0.11 7.18 26.9 81.0%
Joey Bosa Ohio State 1 0.01 0.61 0.17 6.89 26.8 87.8%
Emmanuel Ogbah Oklahoma State 1–2 0.98 0.74 0.23 7.26 25.6 97.3%
Shaq Lawson Clemson 1 0.52 0.54 0.02 7.16 22.9 72.6%
Noah Spence Eastern Kentucky 1–2 0.48 0.64 0.09 7.21 20.8 64.1%
Shilique Calhoun Michigan State 2 0.04 0.49 0.11 6.97 17.5 50.8%
Bronson Kaufusi BYU 3–4 -0.69 0.53 0.33 7.03 14.9 90.8%
Charles Tapper Oklahoma 2–3 0.73 0.26 0.14 7.18e 14.3 69.6%
Kamalei Correa Boise State 2–3 -0.13 0.52 0.05 6.96 14.1 31.3%
James Cowser Southern Utah 5–6 -0.43 0.84 0.20 6.80 12.8 84.2%
Carl Nassib Penn State 2–3 -0.63 0.46 0.12 7.27 12.3 47.0%
Jonathan Bullard Florida 2 -0.46 0.23 0.10 7.31 12.1 34.5%
Kevin Dodd Clemson 1–2 -0.68 0.20 0.00 7.32 11.9 9.0%
Jason Fanaika Utah 3–4 -0.30 0.31 0.21 7.06 11.3 57.1%
Eric Striker Oklahoma 4 -0.23 0.43 0.23 7.30 10.5 11.7%
Jordan Jenkins Georgia 3–4 0.61 0.37 0.10 7.39 10.0 25.8%
Dadi Nicolas Virginia Tech 5–6 0.87 0.35 0.17 7.04 9.4 46.7%
Shawn Oakman Baylor 3 -0.08 0.35 0.07 7.53 8.4 46.2%
Scooby Wright Arizona 4 -0.57 0.62 0.07 7.39e 7.6 9.0%
Matt Judon Grand Valley State 4 0.39 0.71 0.27 7.67 7.5 14.9%
Yannick Ngakoue Maryland 6 0.40 0.62 0.11 7.35 7.0 55.7%
Dean Lowry Northwestern 7–UDFA -0.31 0.26 0.41 7.26 6.6 90.8%
Alex McCalister Florida 7–UDFA 0.78 0.50 0.09 7.01 6.1 53.3%
Victor Ochi Stony Brook 6 -0.04 0.76 0.00 7.24 5.7 38.3%
Ron Thompson Syracuse UDFA -0.96 0.44 0.30 7.46 3.0 22.0%
Romeo Okwara Notre Dame 5 -0.01 0.29 0.02 7.38 3.0 17.7%
Drew Ott Iowa UDFA -0.41 0.52 0.12 7.37e 1.7 48.6%
D.J. Pettway Alabama 5–6 -1.35 0.22 0.14 7.74 0.0 1.6%
Jimmy Bean Oklahoma State UDFA -0.36 0.34 0.03 7.37e 0.0 15.2%
Branden Jackson Texas Tech UDFA -0.95 0.20 0.15 7.40 0.0 10.9%
Ronald Blair Appalachian State 4–5 -1.38 0.38 0.08 7.95 0.0 0.8%
e = estimated numbers (for players who have not recorded workout numbers)

(Ed. Note: a condensed version of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.)

Posted by: Nathan Forster on 05 Apr 2016

17 comments, Last at 08 Apr 2016, 3:25pm by Travis

Comments

1
by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 04/05/2016 - 6:38pm

Question about SRAM; does it take into account plays where the prospect fell back in coverage? Floyd was used all over the place at Georgia, and did drop in coverage a decent amount. I'm pretty sure SackSeer pays attention to this, otherwise Mingo wouldn't have been rated so highly.

Also, any chance Javon Hargrave was studied for this? He did have about 29 sacks the last two years lining up at Nose Tackle for a small school.

Thanks, I love this feature.

2
by Grendel13G :: Tue, 04/05/2016 - 9:37pm

It seems like passes defensed is a good proxy for number of plays dropping into coverage, and furthermore gives some indication of "successful" coverage.

3
by OSS117 :: Wed, 04/06/2016 - 7:44am

I would guess that the lion's share of passes defensed are balls knocked down while rushing. Not sure the thought for including this in the equation, other than discovering a high correlation between PDs and Sacks. But I can't really think of an explanation for why they might be connected. Maybe generally high motor disruptive players, dunno.

5
by Alex51 :: Wed, 04/06/2016 - 9:47pm

I imagine that the closer you are to the QB, the easier it is to knock down a pass. After all, if the QB wants to avoid an interception, he can't put too much arc on the pass. So, maybe passes defensed are a proxy for how much push a DE gets on an OL on plays that don't end in a sack. And that would mean that the system is not just factoring in sacks, but also near-sacks. Given the small sample sizes involved, it makes sense that getting more information about how much overall pressure a DE is bringing would help make the projection more accurate.

6
by OSS117 :: Thu, 04/07/2016 - 8:53am

That's kinda what I was driving at with the last sentence. But why not then just use QB Hurries, if wanting to boost sample size by including near-sacks? Those would all seem legit since every one of those Hurries would be the result of rushing the passer. That can't be said of PDs. While I think the majority do come from rushing, there's no way to quantify without visual support of each. Some/many may very well be passes defensed while in coverage.

I dunno how those hurry stats are produced. Passes defensed is pretty straight forward, where Hurries are more subjective and often vaguely defined or far from universal. Just look at any NFL teams in-house stats versus NFLGSIS to get a strong whiff of home-cooking. Maybe that's why Hurries aren't used?

Maybe they've done this in past editions, but it would be helpful if they explained the connection for why they used certain data and why they did not use other. Maybe it does churn out useful results, and some ingredients are self-explanatory, but without explanation of others it comes off as alchemy or a witch's brew.

7
by Alex51 :: Thu, 04/07/2016 - 10:14am

Passes defensed is pretty straight forward, where Hurries are more subjective and often vaguely defined or far from universal. Just look at any NFL teams in-house stats versus NFLGSIS to get a strong whiff of home-cooking. Maybe that's why Hurries aren't used?

That seems like the most likely explanation. And I didn’t even know that Hurries were tracked for college players. Not having access to the numbers would make it difficult to include them in a projection.

Maybe they've done this in past editions, but it would be helpful if they explained the connection for why they used certain data and why they did not use other.

I could be wrong, but I think they just look for correlations that are reliable and predictive, regardless of whether there’s any obvious connection between the statistic involved and the one they’re trying to predict.

8
by OSS117 :: Thu, 04/07/2016 - 11:04am

Cfbstats dot com has hurries. Where they get them or how they define them, no idea.

10
by tuluse :: Thu, 04/07/2016 - 12:44pm

I think it's a measure of a player's ability to understand the situation, read the QB and offense, react *very* quickly, and physically be able to fight off a block well enough to get his hands up.

13
by lightsout85 :: Thu, 04/07/2016 - 2:19pm

I definitely would say that some players are better at what you've described, if we were to examine film & note the attempts to bat a pass.

But, the fact that 9 PDs in 3 years (Ogbah) is above average (as well as just observations looking over NFL DL PD rates), it seems to be that PDs (for DL) could be like INTs, where there are so many variables involved in the *opportunity* to get one, that PD-total is not a great measure of performance on the players' part.

4
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 04/06/2016 - 8:05pm

Does SackSEER take age into account? Kaufusi is six years out of high school because he went on a Mormon mission and has more time for his body to fill out than your average senior.

9
by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 04/07/2016 - 12:20pm

Don't think it does. Trevor Reilly scored alright on it, and he also was an over aged prospect (not as good a prospect as Kaufusi though). Given the way first contracts work in the NFL now, drafting a 25 or 26 year old means you get them in their prime with a relatively cheap rookie contract. Sione Pouha worked out alright for the Jets, even though it took him a couple of years to blossom in the NFL. It made sense to avoid over aged prospects when free agency was minimal, but now drafting a 20 year old may mean training him and then letting him go somewhere else for his prime years. Not sure if it's such a good idea for teams to take guys like Kaufusi off their boards.

11
by tuluse :: Thu, 04/07/2016 - 12:46pm

"drafting a 25 or 26 year old means you get them in their prime with a relatively cheap rookie contract"

Or it means you drafted someone with a huge physical advantage over 18 year olds who will significantly underperform at the next level.

12
by justanothersteve :: Thu, 04/07/2016 - 1:32pm

Thanks tuluse. This is what I'm getting at. Back in 2005 - pre-SackSEER - the Packers drafted Brady Poppinga who had a similar history to Kaufusi. Two-year mission before four years of college. He was more a speed guy than Kaufusi and not as big. But I wondered if he also had an advantage over less physically mature players while at BYU. Poppinga was in the NFL for eight seasons but mostly was a typical JAG.

14
by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 04/07/2016 - 4:46pm

Honestly, both ideas have a lot of truth to them. The age difference is a lot like figuring out how much playing inferior competition matters; whether James Cowser's 80 sacks in 4 years against FCS competition means he'll become a stud pass rusher in the NFL, or if it's just fool's gold. That's why scouts look at tape against other dominant prospects, and see if the player holds his own. But there's little reason to not spend a mid or late round pick on someone like this, when there are plenty of other prospects we can be certain won't be any good in the NFL. In the case of Trevor Reilly, it hasn't really worked out, but it only cost the Jets a seventh round pick. On the other hand, Sione Pouha became one of the best Nose Tackles in the league after a couple of years, so that 4th round pick was well spent.

By the way, I can't find Kaufusi's actual age online. The BYU site doesn't list birthdates, and every article I could find didn't list it.

17
by Travis :: Fri, 04/08/2016 - 3:25pm

According to this tweet, Kaufusi was born on July 6, 1991.

15
by Vincent Verhei :: Fri, 04/08/2016 - 1:04am

From the SackSEER 2012 article:

Finding passes defensed stats for college edge rushers drafted nearly fifteen years ago is not easy, but I have data for all but a few edge rushers in the database now, and the inquiry turned out to be well worth the effort. (For those who are still missing, SackSEER assumes an average pass defensed rate.) Passes defensed per game turns out to be a stronger indication of pass rushing proficiency than interceptions, and indeed, is a stronger indicator than even sacks. The highest pass defensed rate for any prospect in our data set belonged to Jared Allen, a fourth-round steal. Other later-round picks with strong pass defensed rates included Robert Mathis, Shaun Phillips, and Raheem Brock.

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2012/sackseer-2012

16
by OSS117 :: Fri, 04/08/2016 - 7:30am

Thanks for that. I was wondering how Jared Allen faired so well. Other than maybe weight, he didn't really check any other boxes. Poor combine/LOC. Would seem to suggest the still enigmatic, but nonetheless highly related PDs is the mainspring in the equation.