What the Tape Saw: SackSEER

What the Tape Saw: SackSEER
What the Tape Saw: SackSEER
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Doug Farrar

After watching almost nothing but draft prospect tape from the day after the Super Bowl, I thought it might be interesting to continue the Cover-2 series with a different idea. I'm taking Football Outsiders' four primary college-to-pro projection models -- SackSEER, Speed Score, Playmaker Score and the Lewin Projection System (otherwise known as "Brandt 2.0") -- and adding two more variables to those projections. The first is college game tape from broadcasts, and the second is NFL scheme and personnel fit.

Of course, the frustrating thing with these projections when we let them fly before the draft is that we don't know certain specific and crucial things, especially with quarterbacks. How will the offensive coordinator adjust his West Coast offense to meet the speed option guy his GM just selected? Will Mr. Quarterback start or sit, and to what receivers will he be throwing? And of course, there's the ultimate variable none of us knows -- how long will these players be locked out? Right now they're unable to do anything more than work out at health clubs and high school fields while trying to make sense of bootleg playbooks from Kinko's or Google Docs.

The same is true of the defensive ends projected in Nathan Forster's SackSEER projection metric, which is based on vertical leap, short shuttle time, per-game sack productivity in college (with certain adjustments), and missed games of NCAA eligibility. These projections often miss the mark because they evaluate players in a vacuum, just as I have to use qualifiers in pre-draft evaluation because I don't know on what teams or in what schemes players will land.

In 2010, I saw two draft prospects that I considered scheme-transcendent -- Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh. You could have dropped either player on any NFL team, and they'd rip it up, playbook be damned. That's two more than I usually see. For most players, the reality is that they're more dependent on scheme personnel. So, with those projections out there, and hopefully the wisdom of enough game tape behind me, I thought I'd start with SackSEER, and I'll be looking at the players fitting into the other projection models through the offseason.

Von Miller, Texas A&M
Vertical: 37.0", Short Shuttle: 4.06, SRAM: 0.76, Missed Games: 4
Projection: 36.4 Sacks by Year 5
Selected: Round 1, Pick 2, Denver Broncos

It's no surprise that Elvis Dumervil was texting this year's highest-projected pass-rusher minutes after the Broncos made him the second overall draft pick: With Denver moving back to a 4-3 defense under John Fox, the Broncos will have one of the most dynamic edge-rushing duos in the NFL, just a year removed from finishing dead last in Defensive Adjusted Sack Rate as a result. Miller led the nation in 2009 with 17 sacks, and he put up 10.5 more in 2010 after recovering from an early season ankle injury.

Nathan points to various drill times as indicators of Miller's ability to explode off the snap and make agile turns on a dime, and those attributes absolutely transfer to the field. Miller has unquestionably the quickest first step I've seen from a draft prospect in a while. He exposes multiple offensive tackles by getting around the blocker's outside arm before the lineman can even get into his stance. I don't think that will get lost in translation, because I didn't see a huge dropoff in winning quickness battles against better opposition.

His skills also transfer well to the NFL because he has a comprehensive arsenal of hand moves and foot fakes -- he can rip and swim and take a step inside or outside before switching directions and leaving some other poor sucker in the dust. He will also pick up sacks by sheer determination. One of the things I like best about Miller is that he refuses to give up on a play after he gets beaten, or if it goes the other direction.

Of course, we're talking about pass rush value with SackSEER, but we also have to look at the complete potential of the player in an NFL sense. I can't wait to see what kind of base defenses Fox draws up. It's assumed that he'll run the 4-3 sets he was known for in Carolina and when he ran the defense for the New York Giants, but I wouldn't be surprised if Fox set up some four-man fronts disguising three-down principles that would set Miller up to be more of a LEO end, as opposed to the strong-side linebacker spot that is his initial projection.

Miller reminded me of Clay Matthews on tape because he could use his quickness to loop inside to slip through gaps, just as Matthews did for Pete Carroll at USC in 2009. Texas A&M had Miller designated with a moveable "Joker" position in 2010, and the Broncos could reap similar rewards with a like-minded concept -- especially given the fact that the Broncos have yet to solve their issues at defensive tackle. Miller's ability to meet that generous projection will now depend as much on schematic intelligence and positional versatility as pure talent.

Justin Houston, Georgia
Vertical: 36.5", Short Shuttle: 4.37, SRAM: 0.61, Missed Games: 3
Projection: 26.0 Sacks by Year 5
Selected: Round 3, Pick 6, Kansas City Chiefs

I had an early second-round grade on Houston based on tape, but that was before he blew a drug test at the Combine, which isn't the best indicator of functional intelligence. That test is about as random and unpredictable as New Year's Eve at Times Square. That said, one of the things that personnel execs had to like about Houston is that there was full-season tape of him operating both as an end on a four-man front and as an outside linebacker in a true 3-4.

Like Miller, Houston will line up opposite of an elite pass-rusher -- the Georgia grad will benefit from the presence of Tamba Hali. And I like Houston best outside the tackle, where he can use his surprising burst for his size. Despite outweighing Miller and Nevada's Dontay Moch by 25 pounds, Houston had a very similar 10-yard split (1.62) at the Combine. Houston possesses all the attributes required or a true edge rusher -- he gets off the ball quickly, turns the corner without losing that speed, and closes well on the quarterback.

Adding in his ability to peel off and play the run, and it's easy to see why Houston projects as a fine do-it-all defender for a team playing a lot of different fronts. He's going to have to develop his hand moves in order to disrupt NFL blockers, and I wonder if the Chiefs will use his impressive versatility (he can line up hand up or hand down on either side) in ways that produce more stops than sacks. He'll probably make his projection if he's on Hali's opposite side just because of the attention paid to Hali.

Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
Vertical: 33.5", Short Shuttle: 4.39, SRAM: 0.70, Missed Games: 1
Projection: 24.7 Sacks by Year 5
Selected: Round 1, Pick 16, Washington Redskins

The work Kerrigan did as a 3-4 linebacker at the Senior Bowl and at the Combine drew the attention of the Redskins coaching staff, who have had trouble switching to their 3-4 scheme. Kerrigan has the first-step quickness to succeed standing up and blowing stuff up off the snap, but I hope the 'Skins let him put his hand on the ground most of the time, because he is more explosive off the three-point stance than any other defender I saw in this draft class. It's amazing to me how often he was winning leverage battles when a lot of his peers were relying solely on speed.

Ostensibly, the idea will be to fit Kerrigan in as a 3-4 "endbacker," though defensive coordinator Jim Haslett certainly called his share of four-man fronts out of nickel defenses or hybrid concepts. I'm not generally a big believer in Haslett, but I do like what the Redskins did in the first two rounds of their draft -- not only did they get Kerrigan after trading down from the 10th overall spot with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but they also picked up Clemson's Jarvis Jenkins in the second round. Jenkins is a tackle who presents that same sort of front versatility inside. Like our top two projected players, Kerrigan is in a situation where he doesn't have to be "the guy" right away, which leads to a positive projection to me.

Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson
Vertical: 34.5, Short Shuttle: 4.45, SRAM: 0.60, Missed Games: 2
Projection: 22.0 Sacks by Year 5
Selected: Round 2, Pick 19, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Just one year after they selected defensive tackles (Gerald McCoy and Brian Price) in the first and second rounds of the draft, the Bucs went back to the well and took ends in the first two rounds this year. They selected Iowa's Adrian Clayborn in the first and Bowers in the second. And to put it bluntly, based on tape and nothing else, I don't know of too many people who would take Clayborn over Bowers -- Bowers flashed the skills that scream "Top 10." However, teams had concerns over the torn meniscus Bowers suffered halfway through the 2010 season. He played on the tear and put up about half of his 15.5 sacks after it happened, but he still dropped after not being able to participate in the Combine, canceling his original Pro Day, and not performing well at the rescheduled event.

If he's healthy, I see Bowers having more comprehensive value than pure sack terrorism -- he's more Justin Houston than Von Miller, and his stats could reflect that. While he can and will explode into the backfield, he's not exceptionally quick off the block (though he is off the snap), and he tends to wrestle when other ends are looking to disengage.

However, Bowers is, to me, the best run-stopping end in this class, and it's not even close. He's a violent and precise form tackler who smothers running backs one-on-one and can go sideline to sideline to crash in on downfield blocks at an elite level. If he stays healthy, Bowers still may not exceed that sack projection by too much -- and despite that, he could still wind up being the steal of the 2011 Draft.

Aldon Smith, Missouri
Vertical: 34.0", Short Shuttle: 4.50, SRAM: 0.62, Missed Games: 3
Projection: 20.0 Sacks by Year 5
Selected: Round 1, Pick 7, San Francisco 49ers

While I was very high on Smith from his tape, seeing him taken with Robert Quinn still on the board was a bit odd. I had Quinn ranked just behind Von Miller on my list of pure pass-rushers, and given the problems the 49ers have had with ends in recent drafts, I thought they might be more prone to go with the "sure thing" in Quinn. However, Smith's tape was nothing to sneeze at. He projected to me as one of the better pure four-man front ends in this class because he's so good at getting blockers off balance with foot fakes and hand moves. He's almost better stunting inside than he is coming off the edge, though he does have the speed to be a stronger outside linebacker in the James Harrison mold.

Initial word is that he'll play outside in Vic Fangio's 3-4 defense, but so few 3-4 defenses are truly that at all times anymore, and I think the 49ers picked Smith because they like his ability to put his hand down and pick it right back up again. Because of that, and because Justin Smith has been such an underrated disruptive presence on that front, I think Smith has a great chance to exceed his projection. In fact, I could see him surpassing it by Year 3. The question is how quickly and well he adapts if he's in more of a traditional 3-4.

Robert Quinn, North Carolina
Vertical: 34.0", Short Shuttle: 4.40, SRAM: 0.56, Missed Games: 13
Projection: 15.5 Sacks by Year 5
Selected: Round 1, Pick 14, St. Louis Rams

Of all the defensive ends in this class, none showed the kind of talent on tape that Robert Quinn did. And because of that, I can't knock him for the missed year. Put simply, this guy is a freak. The first time I saw him explode off the snap, I thought I was looking at someone of the approximate size of Miller or Moch, only to find that he had a playing weight of 265 pounds. I did not see any other end this year with Quinn's combination of initial burst, quickness and strength around the edge, closing speed to the quarterback, and upper-body strength to use a variety of hand moves and simply bull-rush weaker tackles into oblivion.

Quinn can loop inside and confound guards and centers. And for all of his pursuit speed, he really shocked me with his awareness to read run at or near the line of scrimmage. Putting him on the other side of Chris Long might be illegal, especially with Steve Spagnuolo overseeing the both of them. This is one of those times when I simply close the spreadsheet, watch him all over again, and wonder if I'm looking at the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Needless to say, I'm taking the over on this one.

Brooks Reed, Arizona
Vertical: 30.5", Short Shuttle: 4.28, SRAM: 0.34, Missed Games: 5
Projection: 15.1 Sacks by Year 5
Selected: Round 2, Pick 10, Houston Texans

Long, blond hair, force as a Pac-10 endbacker, high-motor guy. Yep, yep, yep. Brooks Reed passes the Clay Matthews Comparison Test on a photo and print basis, but those pesky DVDs of mine tell a different story. Reed is quick off the snap and can slip off a blocker if he's heads-up or in an over front, but he doesn't share Matthews' talent for using his speed at different angles; with Reed, it's pretty much straight-on, all the time. And the downside of his particular pursuit intensity is that Reed can be fooled on misdirection and will occasionally just blast right by a ball carrier. Add in a lack of lateral movement and bull-rush power, and I'm just not all that impressed with the guy I saw in college.

In fact, Reed and Wisconsin's J.J. Watt were the two defensive players I watched pre-draft who, in my opinion, had the biggest negative discrepancy between their athletic exploits in drills and what they did on tape, and both players were drafted by the Texans. I have no earthly idea what that means, except to say that Wade Phillips certainly can coach 'em up as a defensive coordinator, and he'll be a busy guy when he can finally begin.

Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh
Vertical: 31.5", Short Shuttle: 4.65, SRAM: 0.39, Missed Games: 5
Projection: 10.6 Sacks by Year 5
Selected: Round 2, Pick 5, Cleveland Browns

Sheard is living on both sides of the character debate. He saved an elderly woman from a burning building and received a bravery award; he was also charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest in July. On the field, he stepped up when Greg Romeus got hurt, amassing nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 2010.

The Browns took two interesting defensive linemen after trading down with the Falcons -- Baylor tackle Phil Taylor, who is built like a nose tackle but has an agility that makes him look more like a three-technique tackle exposed to radiation, and Sheard. Cleveland is another team moving back to 4-3, though it's unknown how much the Browns might think outside that particular box. In any event, Sheard is an ideal 4-3 end who can run some edge stuff in a linebacker role if need be. The high number of hurries has me looking at a more positive projection, but I certainly understand Nathan's concerns regarding Sheard's relatively unimpressive drill numbers.


64 comments, Last at 07 Aug 2011, 1:16pm

#1 by bubqr // May 06, 2011 - 11:16am

The B.Reed-C.Mathews comparison still baffles me. To me he looks way more like Woodley, T.Cole than C.Matthews.

I'm surprised you don't like JJ Watt that much: To me, a bit like your reaction on Quinn, he moves exceptionally well for a guy his size.

A bit of nitpicking:

Miller "has unquestionably the quickest first step I've seen from a draft prospect in a while"

Kerrigan "is more explosive off the three-point stance than any other defender I saw in this draft class"

So who wins all in all ? Von Miller on 2 point stance and Kerrigan on a 3 point one ?

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#3 by Doug Farrar // May 06, 2011 - 12:05pm

Not making the Matthews-Reed comp; just reacting to it.

Kerrigan and Miller are different players doing different things. Miller has the quickest first step of any pass rusher, regardless of scheme or stance, I saw in this draft class. Kerrigan illustrates the difference between quick and explosive -- he hits his blockers in a way that wins the leverage battle, and he does so partially because he's able to rise out of hand-on-the-ground stances so effectively.

As far as Watt's concerned, I think he's a lot like Adam Carriker -- a good fit in the right place, but not a guy you can move around a lot and blow people away.

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#10 by JS // May 06, 2011 - 3:06pm

The thing about Watt that always jumped out at me was his hands. So many guys get to where they need to be and then don't make the play. Watt made tackles when he could. Really, really impressive hands. I think that can get overlooked when watching for speed, moves, more 'visceral' stuff.

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#2 by Jimmy // May 06, 2011 - 11:22am

has an agility that makes him look more like a three-technique tackle exposed to radiation

I am pretty sure you are supposed to get bitten by something else that has been exposed to radiation not simply get exposed to radiation. Othrewise the league would soon be filled with Japanese superhumans (assuming they can't find anything better to do with their super powers, which may be unlikely).

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#4 by sanderrp@gmail.com // May 06, 2011 - 12:30pm

Clearly you haven't watched enough '50s SCIENCE! movies. I'd recommend The Incredible Shrinking Man.

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#11 by Whatev // May 06, 2011 - 3:17pm

I've always thought that the BEST thing to do with your superpowers is to get a huge professional sports contract.

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#63 by Jjerone (not verified) // Aug 07, 2011 - 1:11pm

Beast from X-Men played college football (and dominated) until it came out that he was a mutant and was kicked off the team

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#5 by sanderrp@gmail.com // May 06, 2011 - 12:30pm

Good piece, Doug, but why no info on Clayborn? He's the only edge rusher selected in the first two rounds not included here. In the previous SackSEER article he was excluded because he was supposed to be a 3-4 end, but that's not the case now. And the Bucs plan to line him up at right end (maybe they're forced to because of Erb's Palsy) and Bowers at left end.

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#12 by mm (not verified) // May 06, 2011 - 5:04pm

The Saints drafted Cameron Jordan to play end, though he may move inside on some passing downs.

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#16 by sanderrp@gmail.com // May 06, 2011 - 6:48pm

Yes, but not as an edge rusher, as a base (left) defensive end.

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#19 by AlanSP // May 06, 2011 - 7:02pm

He's still an edge rusher for the purposes of SackSEER, regardless of which side he'll play on and whether or not he was primarily drafted for his pass rushing ability. "Edge rusher" basically means anyone who primarily plays at 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB.

I'd add that this seems like a bad fit to me. Jordan would have been great as a 3-4 DE, but in a 4-3, you really want your DEs to be able to rush the passer.

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#20 by sanderrp@gmail.com // May 06, 2011 - 7:07pm

That seems counterintuitive to me. It seems to me that SackSEER would be most accurate for those players who will rush from the right side (or the weak side, depending on defensive scheme) most, as that's where the premier pass rushers all play. If someone's drafted to play left defensive end the team itself is already saying "you're not going to be an elite pass rusher for us".

But sure, if you count Jordan then him and Clayborn are the only 4-3 ends not included in this piece. I think I know why: because they weren't included in the original piece. I'd still love to see numbers for them.

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#24 by Kibbles // May 07, 2011 - 5:25am

This isn't true at all. It's true that teams put their best pass blocker on the offensive left (unless their QB is left handed, and even then their better pass protector is often on the left- when Tebow plays, Clady remains on the left, for instance). However, in terms of DEs, while teams frequently line their top pass-rusher up against the other team's top pass blocker, it's not always the case. I'm not sure if he still does in Chicago, but in Carolina, Julius Peppers usually went up against RTs. Same with Michael Strahan, the guy who owns* the single-season sack record. Denver used to line Trevor Pryce up against RTs, too.

Von Miller was drafted to play Sam linebacker, which means he'll be rushing from the strong side. Do you mean to tell me that Denver called Von Miller and said "hey, congratulations, we're going to make you the #2 pick in the NFL draft. Oh, and by the way, we don't think you're an elite pass rusher!"?

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#27 by sanderrp@gmail.com // May 07, 2011 - 7:53am

Fair enough, though I doubt Von Miller will be asked to actually go against OTs+TEs regularly, but that's beside the point.

I was more thinking of guys like, well, Cameron Jordan or J.J. Watt (had he been drafted by a 4-3 team): players who will be asked to be run defenders first and pass rushers second.

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#37 by Podge (not verified) // May 08, 2011 - 8:39am

From what I've seen, the Bears have had Peppers mainly over the LT.

The Rams have happened to have their best edge rusher at LE (over the RT) for the last 10 years - Leonard Little always played at LE and now he's gone Chris Long is over there.

Would be interesting to see the SACKSEER predictions for guys that were previously 3-4 ends but have been drafted to be 4-3 ends, but I suspect they would be a bit artificially low wouldn't they, as their college sack numbers wouldn't be as high?

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#40 by AlanSP // May 08, 2011 - 9:56pm

As far as I know, the only guy in the SackSEER data set who went from 3-4 DE to 4-3 DE was Chris Long, who was unusual in that he had a lot of sacks as a 3-4 end in college. It's really an uncommon transition, so it's hard to know how meaningful those sack numbers are without a lot more data.

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#64 by Jjerone (not verified) // Aug 07, 2011 - 1:16pm

Chris Long played his first 2 seasons at RE, but had trouble with the LTs he was facing so they moved the faster James Hall to RE which has allowed Chris Long to blossom quicker against RTs

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#21 by sanderrp@gmail.com // May 06, 2011 - 7:07pm

That seems counterintuitive to me. It seems to me that SackSEER would be most accurate for those players who will rush from the right side (or the weak side, depending on defensive scheme) most, as that's where the premier pass rushers all play. If someone's drafted to play left defensive end the team itself is already saying "you're not going to be an elite pass rusher for us".

But sure, if you count Jordan then him and Clayborn are the only 4-3 ends not included in this piece. I think I know why: because they weren't included in the original piece. I'd still love to see numbers for them.

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#22 by Thomas_beardown // May 07, 2011 - 1:19am

I think you are really wrong about "all premier pass rushers" playing from the right side. Peppers lines up where ever he feels like it, Strahan played LDE his whole career, and many teams have 2 guys who would be considered "premier pass rushers" like the Colts in Freeney and Mathis.

I am 100% positive every team in the league would like both of their ends to be able to apply pressure on the passer.

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#25 by Kibbles // May 07, 2011 - 5:26am

I wish I'd read on before replying, seeing as you'd already rendered my point redundant.

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#17 by sanderrp@gmail.com // May 06, 2011 - 6:48pm

Yes, but not as an edge rusher, as a base (left) defensive end.

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#6 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // May 06, 2011 - 1:35pm

Missed Games is designed to project for the effects of injury, right? What do Quinn's numbers look like if his missed games were 2 instead of 13?

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#13 by jimbohead // May 06, 2011 - 5:17pm

iirc, missed games metric is what it is b/c researchers found that missing games due to suspension has a negative effect on projection that is similar to missing games due to injury, so they pooled them. So, looking at SackSEER projection minus the games missed to suspension would fundamentally reject the original analysis.

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#30 by Aaron Brook's … (not verified) // May 07, 2011 - 1:34pm

Which is what I'm doing -- fundamentally rejecting SEER's definition of games missed. Is that a problem?

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#33 by Thomas_beardown // May 07, 2011 - 3:04pm

Unless you have evidence that your definition is superior, yes.

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#34 by jimbohead // May 07, 2011 - 3:57pm

*shrug* not really a problem to reject SackSEER on a whole, if you like. Even authors will agree that, since the sample size is too small to run regression against an independent sample, its not really rigorous. However, rejecting a part of the analysis (def. of games missed), and accepting the rest, without any particular quantitative or otherwise rigorous thinking seems odd.

Granted, as AlanSP mentioned, Quinn's situation seems relatively unique.

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#38 by Aaron Brook's … (not verified) // May 08, 2011 - 3:36pm

Which is the point. Games missed is designed to capture a parameter that does not correspond to Quinn's situation. And my question was only how Quinn's numbers change if his games missed is varied.

But apparently the unvalidated analysis of SackSEER is so sufficiently sacrosanct as to be unquestionable.

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#14 by AlanSP // May 06, 2011 - 5:32pm

Missed games cover more than just injury. It also includes suspensions and, most significantly, juco years (which I believe is the biggest factor driving it; juco players historically don't perform well and have by far the most missed games).

That said, there aren't many players with a situation comparable to Quinn's, so I can definitely understand some skepticism about how meaningful that missed year is.

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#9 by cisforcookie (not verified) // May 06, 2011 - 2:10pm

I wonder, is there some sort of use in a speed score for jumping? like jump score. that takes into account how much a guy weighs and comes up with a metric that scales long jump and high jump together into one metric of explosive leg power?

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#18 by AlanSP // May 06, 2011 - 6:48pm

My edge rusher database isn't quite the same as the one that generated SackSEER, but it's pretty similar, and I didn't get better results when I tried adjusting the jump scores for weight than when I used the raw scores. There haven't really been that many recent big DEs that have been highly successful, and the most noteworthy ones that have (Mario Williams, Julius Peppers) have been freakishly athletic to the point that they had great jump numbers despite their size.

I do think it's a good idea to combine the vertical and broad jumps into some sort of composite measure, as they're basically measuring the same thing, and using both might make it more robust to guys that just happened to have an unusually bad jump on one or the other.

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#15 by AlanSP // May 06, 2011 - 6:21pm

Sheard's career stats at Pitt really stand out to me because I always like to spot players with low (but ascending) sack totals and high-pressure numbers when looking for potential sack leaders. With his 19.5 sacks and 38 quarterback hurries, Sheard projects as such a player.

I'd strongly caution against taking hurry numbers seriously unless you're charting them yourself. Hurries vary wildly from team to team, as some teams are far more liberal than others when it comes to crediting their players with hurries. Consequently, they're nearly useless when comparing players from different schools.

As an example, consider Alabama and Florida State. This past season, Alabama defenders registered 27 sacks and were credited with 52 hurries (a ratio just under 2:1). Meanwhile, FSU defenders had 48 sacks and just 11 hurries, about a 1:4 ratio. It's completely implausible that a team generating half as many sacks had 4 times as many hurries if both teams were using the same criteria for what counts as a hurry. These ratio are also fairly consistent for those schools from year to year, which again strongly suggests different standards.

Pitt isn't as extreme as Alabama, but they're definitely more toward that end of the spectrum than the FSU end.

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#23 by Nathan Forster // May 07, 2011 - 2:38am

Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Vertical: 33.0”, Short Shuttle: 4.13, SRAM: 0.37, Missed Games: 1
Projection: 24.8 Sacks by Year 5

After a standout Junior season, Adrian Clayborn was considered to be a possible Julius Peppers clone until a 3.5 sack senior season deflated his stock considerably. The one number that stands out for Clayborn is his 4.13 second short shuttle, which suggests amazing quickness for a player who weighed in at 281 pounds. Other than Clayborn, no edge rusher over 280 pounds has run a shuttle under 4.20 seconds since at least 1999.

Clayborn’s shuttle, however, when paired with his other metrics, also makes him a prime candidate to underperform his projection. There is really not a lot of evidence that an elite shuttle helps a prospect all that much unless it is paired with an above-average vertical leap. For instance, the highly drafted edge rushers with above-average verticals and sub-4.20 second shuttles, when they have escaped injuries, have been truly special: Aaron Schobel, DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews, Kyle VandenBosch, Travis LaBoy, and Connor Barwin. Meanwhile, the highly drafted edge rushers with average to below average verticals and sub-4.20 second shuttles (like Clayborn) have been mediocre to disappointing: Mathias Kiwanuka, Jason Babin, Bryan Thomas, Turk McBride, Erik Flowers, and Jerry Hughes.

Cameron Jordan, California
Vertical: 31.0”, Short Shuttle: 4.37, SRAM: 0.37, Missed Games: 1
Projection: 16.5 Sacks by Year 5

One of the many surprising “scheme fits” in the 2011 NFL Draft was Cameron Jordan’s addition to the 4-3 defense of the New Orleans Saints. Jordan was widely hailed as the ideal 3-4 defensive end, considering that he was the rare prospect that actually played as an end in a 3-4 defense in college.

Although not as productive as Chris Long, who also played end in a 3-4 defense in college, Jordan’s sack production was, like Long’s, depressed by scheme. There is not an awful lot to suggest that Jordan can excel at crashing the edge—Jordan did not have any standout numbers in any of the “explosion” drills at the Combine and did not have a high sack rate in any of his four seasons at California. However, Jordan’s value will probably be stopping the run, and he will have plenty of opportunities to pick up occasional sacks if he is as good at holding the point as advertised.

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#26 by sanderrp@gmail.com // May 07, 2011 - 7:45am

Hey, thanks. I really would've expected Adrian Clayborn to do worse, but this suggests he's the 3rd best pass rusher selected in the draft.

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#28 by thesteve (not verified) // May 07, 2011 - 8:02am

Nice write-up on both players. Roughly, how do you adjust for being a 5 tech in college? I think a big part of why the Saints like Jordan is they're very multiple and play a lot of 30 fronts, although rarely a true 3-4, and they probably see him as a guy who'll also do well moving inside on passing downs. He's more of a guy who does a good job collapsing the pocket than a guy who'll get a lot of sacks himself.

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#31 by Aaron Brook's … (not verified) // May 07, 2011 - 1:37pm

Hughes, who is a year in and is playing behind Freeney and Mathis, is a disappointment? In what universe?

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#35 by Sifter // May 07, 2011 - 6:05pm

Our universe unfortunately which expects performances straight away. Ask Jimmy Clausen how he feels about it, or Beanie Wells, or Jahvid Best, or Linval Joseph, or Dexter McCluster, or Patrick Robinson. Those guys all had someone drafted last weekend who will either take their spot or put them back to spot duty and they've barely had a chance to prove themselves.

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#36 by DisplacedPackerFan // May 07, 2011 - 7:43pm

I'm not so sure about Jahvid Best. He only had 171 carries last year (some due to injuries) but I think Detroit wants to have a two back system. Leshoure is not the same style of runner as Best and I really think he was drafted to compliment the game. Sure Best may still feel slighted because he may want to be a feature back. But I could see this offense aiming for 25-30 carries a game with each back getting 10-15 carry split. So Best could still see 160-240 carries and be more effective. I think Detroit really wants to beef up the run not only to help take some potential pressure off Stafford (in the hopes of keeping him upright longer) but if he does get hurt, have a more stable offense for the back-up QBs that saw so much time last year.

I see your point, yes, but I just wanted to comment on a specific situation where I think a team is looking to do something like Kansas City did last year. They will have Best and Leshoure to keep the coverage honest, and Megatron and Titus Young to stretch the seems, with Pettigrew and Sheffler not only helping block for the run game but as middle options.

They'll need it too because the defense only has a defensive line and a safety (Delmas is legit). They are still going to give up points. The offensive line is still only mediocre as well.

Anyway way off point there. I think even if Best had gone for 1400 yards last year they would have still taken Leshoure in the draft because I think that is who they want the offense to work. Though it wouldn't have looked as smart in that case. :)

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#39 by Aaron Brook's … (not verified) // May 08, 2011 - 3:41pm

But you can't use his SackSEER analysis to show Hughes is disappointing. He's 1 year into a 5 year projection period. If 20% determined the outcome, then Shackleford won the Kentucky Derby.

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#42 by AlanSP // May 08, 2011 - 11:39pm

The point was that the players with good shuttles and average to below average jumps haven't been anything to write home about as a group, not that we should write off Hughes. If the point is that players with that profile haven't done much, Hughes hardly works as a counterexample because the best you can say is that he might do something in the future.

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#45 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // May 09, 2011 - 12:19pm

Hughes, though, is a poor example. He plays behind Freeney and Mathis. Which is sort of like how Brees would get no play on a team that already had Manning and Brady as their QBs. That says less about the performance of short QBs than it says about a rookie not being as immediately good as two established stars.

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#48 by Mr Shush // May 09, 2011 - 7:15pm

1. Ends get rotated in a way quarterbacks don't. If Hughes was already very good but not as good as Freeney or Mathis, he would still see plenty of playing time and put up more than 6 tackles and 0 sacks in 12 games. It's not impossible that he'll turn out to be a very good player, but if he is one right now the Colts coaching staff are implausibly inept.

2. I got the impression what was provided was in any case an exhaustive list of the players who met the criteria during the relevant period, not a selection of cherry picked examples.

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#29 by Nathan Forster // May 07, 2011 - 12:28pm

Nice article, Doug! I'm looking forward to the other entries in the series. Some thoughts.

As you point out, this was a really strange draft for edge rushers from a scheme perspective. I thought that Miller and Cameron Jordan would be best in a 3-4 and that Kerrigan, Houston, Watt, and Aldon Smith would be best in a 4-3. I was a little disappointed that Miller's ceiling will be governed, to some extent, by John Fox's creativity.

I was glad to see that the "tape" agrees with the projections for Miller and Kerrigan. Quinn is a strange case, and you can actually make a SackSEER-based argument for him if you think that the missed season doesn't matter and that Quinn is the guy who showed up at his pro day and not the guy who showed up at the Combine. I would be curious to know what you thought about the one tape based criticism that I hear about Quinn: that he racked up most of his sacks against poor competition.

The missed game metric is useful, but I will be the first to admit that it is an imprecise measure of factors outside of college performance that could cause a prospect to fail. Take Quinn and Houston. Houston missed a few games for a violation of a team rule (the nature of which, I believe, was not disclosed) during college and failed a drug test before the Combine, while Quinn was suspended for a whole season for improper contact with an agent. It is true that neither prospect is as squeaky clean as Von Miller or Ryan Kerrigan, which is why missed games are useful in the first place, but is Quinn really four times riskier for reasons outside of his performance than Houston? It's an imperfection that we have to live with until the 2100 NFL Draft, where we'll have a large enough sample size to model some of these issues individually.

Sorry JPP!

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#41 by AlanSP // May 08, 2011 - 11:25pm

Thinking about Cameron Jordan, how much value is there in a 4-3 DE who's a good, even great run defender, but a below average pass rusher? Any examples of players in that mold who have been really valuable?

It's the "below average pass rusher" part that's tricky here. Most of the 4-3 ends known for being good run defenders are also really good pass rushers (e.g. Trent Cole, Justin Tuck, Jared Allen). The closest I can think of is Justin Smith, but Smith has actually been an above average pass rusher, even if he's never had a double digit sack season.

The only guys I can think of who fit that description are role players like Brandon Whiting. Admittedly "guys I can think of" isn't a particularly rigorously defined group, but I'm having trouble seeing the upside with Jordan in a 4-3. Who would be an example of the type of player the Saints are hoping he becomes? Shaun Ellis maybe? That seems pretty optimistic on the pass rushing end of things.

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#43 by Thomas_beardown // May 09, 2011 - 5:21am

If it was the 1970s, extremely valuable. Since it's 2011 however, I'm not so sure. Phillip Daniels might be a player who fits that mold and had a nice long career.

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#44 by Podge (not verified) // May 09, 2011 - 8:07am

I dunno, I can't really think of any DEs that are known for their run defending without being good pass rushers. I believe those guys are called DTs...

Jordan's main value, from how I understand it, might be his flexibility. He's athletic enough that he can probably drop into coverage at times, allowing more zone blitzing, and probably big enough that he could borderline come inside on passing downs.

Although bearing in mind that the Saints have Sedrick Ellis and Shaun Rogers, both of whom are probably (IMO) better as pass rushers than run stuffers it would appear that Jordan has more value for the Saints than he might to other 4-3 teams.

That being said, a DE who is best as a run stopper without being much of a pass rusher is always going to be less of of an impact player. If he's that good, you can just run away from him, which is harder to do if its a DT who is good against the run.

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#46 by thesteve (not verified) // May 09, 2011 - 1:00pm

Former Saint Joe Johnson would be a good example of such a player. Base end who was a tremendous run defender and only put up big sack numbers once in his career, but that didn't adequately describe his value the rest of the time either as a pass-rusher or an overall player. I don't see Shaun Ellis as much of a stretch, either. Jordan was a more productive pass-rusher than Ellis was in college (17.5 sacks for his career vs. 12.5 for Ellis) and is pretty much identical physically.

But obviously, the Saints wouldn't have drafted Jordan if they thought he'd be a below average pass rusher (I think you ran the stats you'd find that 'average' pass rusher as a LDE, much like 5 technique, is a very low bar indeed, with a few system-specific exceptions like Robert Mathis). I think they see him as a guy who has Tuck-like versatility and who will have more freedom to get after the passer in a 4-3 than he did in Cal's 3-4.

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#53 by AlanSP // May 11, 2011 - 9:13am

I took a look at the stats for the primary LDE on the 17 4-3 teams last year, and they averaged 7.6 sacks (median 8). That number's actually a bit of an underestimate because I just used the guy who started the most games at LDE, and a few teams had two guys with several starts. It's certainly a more than your typical 5-technique.

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#54 by thesteve (not verified) // May 11, 2011 - 11:57am

That's actually astounding to me. I wouldn't have guessed it would be anywhere near that high, but then as a Saints fan I suppose I'm coming from the perspective where our starting LDE had all of two sacks last year and we haven't had a LDE reach 8 sacks since 2004. More a commentary on the pitiable pass rush they've gotten from that position than anything else.

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#61 by AlanSP // May 11, 2011 - 8:23pm

It actually probably says more about how many teams had really good pass rushers playing LDE. Tuck, Abraham, Mathis are all stars, and Jason Babin, Chris Clemons, and Charles Johnson had breakout years. All of those guys had at least 11 sacks. Still, you're right that Alex Brown isn't setting the bar very high.

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#47 by DisplacedPackerFan // May 09, 2011 - 5:27pm

Before the Packers changed to a 3-4, Cullen Jenkins was a 4-3 defensive end. He was good vs the run. He started playing in 2004, which was the year Aaron Kampman started to emerge as a pass rusher. Jenkins sack numbers in the 4-3; 4.5, 3.0, 6.5, 1.0, 2.5. In the 3-4 they are 4.5, 7.0. He only played in 4 games that last year in the 4-3 (so the 2.5 was on pace for 10 sacks), and only played in 11 games last year when he got the 7.

If you are wondering Kampman, with Jenkins there, while it was a 4-3; 4.5, 6.5, 15.5, 12.0, 9.5. He was at 3.5 in 9 games as an OLB in the 3-4 in 2009 before getting hurt.

I still don't think of Jenkins as a pass rusher. He has physical skills to do so, but most of his sacks in the 3-4 have come from a Capers scheme to try and get him a favorable 1 on 1 match-up, being on the same side as Clay Matthews doesn't hurt either. I think he is a better 4-3 end than a 3-4 end, though he doesn't really care which he plays in now (he did grumble a bit in 09 right after the switch but he now admits he hadn't fully bought into the change and when he did, he was much happier) and I don't think the Packers will drop off as much as folks might think if they lose him.

But he is another guy who was more of a run stopping end than a pass rushing end.

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#49 by Mr Shush // May 09, 2011 - 7:23pm

Antonio Smith is a solid but unspectacular player who has some value rushing the passer (particularly when moved inside on passing downs) but is primarily a good run defender. He's not what you're shooting for with even a late first round pick, but by no means a disaster either, and clearly worth more in the free market than Jordan will make on his rookie contract, even without a rookie wage scale.

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#50 by Karl Cuba // May 10, 2011 - 10:50am

I was a little perplexed when the niners took Smith over Quinn but I had been assuming from all the mocks and rankings that the 49ers would just take Quinn and so hadn't bothered to watch any tape of the other first round pass rushers. However, when I sat and looked at a few of his games, I really think that Smith and Quinn should have been rated closer together by more people.

Smith has the ideal edge rusher's build, great height and a wingspan like a condor on HGH (or CGH). He also has really fluid hips and a broad array of moves for such a young player, he has quick, strong hands and will club you to death if you get off balance. He has very good short area quickness but lacks speed after ten or fifteen yards, like a car with only four gears. I can completely understand why the 49ers felt that he was the safer pick.

What is bugging me is that while I do think he'll be able to handle the move to OLB, I think he might be better in a 4-3 as an end. This irks me because I think that there are quite a few 49ers who would be better suited to a 4-3: Manny Lawson has the length and speed to blanket tight ends but lacks the explosive strength to rush the passer; Willis would be protected behind Soapoaga and Franklin and Spikes or Bowman would be fine as 4-3 WILLs. Sigh.

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#51 by Doug Farrar // May 10, 2011 - 12:46pm

Karl, you probably have your ear a lot closer to the ground regarding what Vic Fangio's defenses might look like in SF. Based on Stanford tape, it was as much 3-3-5 and 4-2 nickel as "attacking" 3-4. I wonder if the plan is to alternate 3- and 4-down concepts, somewhat similar to what the Saints do. Have you heard anything?

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#52 by Mr Shush // May 10, 2011 - 1:00pm

Based on his last NFL defense, on the other hand, '9ers ought to expect a very conservative, infrequently blitzing but otherwise fairly standard 3-4. The San Francisco version probably won't suck quite so hard, of course, because it won't be starting such luminaries as DaShon Polk, Shantee Orr, Kailee Wong, Morlon Greenwood, Antwan Peek, Glenn Earl and, of course, C.C. Brown. In his rookie season.

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#55 by Karl Cuba // May 11, 2011 - 1:25pm

I don't think Fangio has been that forthcoming, the local beat writers have mentioned some multiple looks with 3 and 4 men on the line but very little specific detail. One quote that did stick in my head was that he said that the available options in coverage dictate the things you can do with your scheme. I know that isn't rocket science but it's a step up form the niners' more recent brain trust. If you bear that in mind then I doubt the niners coaches have much of a clue themselves because right now there might not be a single above average player in the secondary. Sorry I couldn't be more help.

My worry with Fangio is that he's been most effective when paired with Dom Capers and you have to wonder if he was being carried in New Orleans and Carolina.

Shush: That Texans defense never really had any pass rush and when Aaron Glenn regressed badly after a great first year in Houston they haven't had a good db since either. There wasn't a lot for him to work with and I hope that is the reason they sucked so much his last two years. They did run a weird defense though, a 3-4 with two mammoth ends and a quicker, rush guy playing over the centre. Might have worked better with some better endbackers.

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#59 by Mr Shush // May 11, 2011 - 3:24pm

I don't know that the defensive line was that wierd - you could look at Dallas with Ratliff as another example of a 3-4 defense where the NT is a clearly superior pass rusher to the ends. At any rate I don't remember them lining up in a particularly unusual way - just that the personnel weren't 100% prototypical.

If I didn't make it clear enough, the personnel Fangio had to work with in 2005 were terrible, and that was by far the most important reason for the suckitude. In 2004, Fangio's penultimate season, the defense was pretty average (2.3% DVOA, 18th) which, depressingly, makes it clearly the best in franchise history. I'd also take issue with the notion that 2004 Glenn was the last good DB the Texans had: Dunta Robinson may not have been worth what the Falcons paid him, but he's been a decent #1 CB. Bernard Pollard is also highly effective if he can be used in a way that takes advantage of his strengths and masks his weaknesses (ie as a pure box SS).

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#60 by Karl Cuba // May 11, 2011 - 3:39pm

I had thought of Robinson but his presence ruined my attept at snarky humour. As for the Ratliff thing, I reckon that Wade Phillip's 3-4s are a different breed to most. He will turn that defense around if given time, he always does. You can criticise his head coaching career but his defenses have always been excellent.

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#62 by Mr Shush // May 12, 2011 - 10:51am

Yeah, I think Wade's a terrific DC too. My nightmare is that the whole staff is cleared out at the end of the season and the new guy wants to switch back to a 4-3 again . . .

The Phillips 3-4 absolutely is different from most other versions, sure: 1-gap rather than 2. I didn't watch as closely or educatedly back in 2005 as I do now, but I'm fairly sure that wasn't true of Fangio's version in Houston. They just happened not to have a traditional nose tackle on the roster.

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#56 by bravehoptoad // May 11, 2011 - 2:14pm

Niners Nation had an interesting article on how the team would be a good fit for a 4-3 "under" scheme:


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#57 by Karl Cuba // May 11, 2011 - 2:41pm

I haven't read that yet but I'd been thinking the same thing myself.

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#58 by Karl Cuba // May 11, 2011 - 2:59pm

OK read it, and that's pretty much what I was thinking. You basically line up lop-sided and account for the weakness this creates in the run game by having good run stuffers at LDT and LE with a WLB who can go sideline to sideline. It's a very good fit with the niners. But is it really that different to a 3-4 with the ROLB as an elephant/rush type?

If they were going to use either scheme then I want Franklin and Lawson back, and some new dbs, preferably one with a Nigerian name that lives in the bay area already.

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