by Nathan Forster
With the 2015 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. In recent years, SackSEER has correctly predicted a number of busts at the edge rusher position (including Dion Jordan, Jarvis Jones, and Courtney Upshaw), and identified both Justin Houston (a third-rounder for Kansas City) and Jamie Collins (taken in the late second round by New England) as significant sleepers. SackSEER is far from perfect, however. For example, it predicted big things for Cleveland's Barkevious Mingo, who has yet to make a major impact.
SackSEER is based on a statistical analysis of all of edge rushers drafted in the years 1998-2013, and measures the following:
- The edge rusher's projected draft position. These projections use a transformed variable based on NFL Draft Scout's rankings.
- An "explosion index" that measures the prospect's scores in the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump, and the broad jump in pre-draft workouts.
- The prospect's score on the three-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 in the NFL draft and position switches during college.
- The prospect's college passes defensed divided by college games played.
- The number of medical redshirts the player either received or for which he was eligible.
SackSEER projects the number of regular season sacks that the edge rusher will record over the course of his first five NFL seasons.
This year, there is considerable uncertainty concerning who will be the first edge rusher selected in the NFL draft. Randy Gregory, Dante Fowler Jr., Shane Ray, or Vic Beasley could each conceivably hear his name called before any of his peers. SackSEER, however, sees this class as night and day: it thinks two of the four are excellent prospects, and the other two are highly likely to become busts. Here's a look at how SackSEER judges the edge rushers among the 2015 NFL Draft's top prospects, plus a look at our top sleepers.
Vic Beasley, Clemson
SackSEER Projection: 34.0 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 95.7%
Vic Beasley gives you almost everything you want in an edge rusher prospect. He was consistently productive at Clemson, recording 32 sacks and nine passes defensed over a four-year college career. Beasley really shined at the combine, where he recorded a 4.53-second 40-yard dash; a 41-inch vertical jump; a 12-foot, 10-inch broad jump; and a 6.91-second three-cone, all of which are well above average.
Randy Gregory, Nebraska
SackSEER Projection: 32.2 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 89.7%
Randy Gregory caused some concern when he weighed in at only 235 pounds at the combine (and then 238 pounds at his pro day), but scouts should not let Gregory's weight dissuade them from taking an otherwise talented player. The lightest edge rushers have been some of the best values in the draft, with later-round picks Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, and Leonard Little weighing in at 235, 236, and 237 pounds, respectively. Gregory is an all-around good edge rusher prospect: he has solid combine numbers, good college sack production, and one of the stronger pass-defensed rates in this class. SackSEER does not consider Gregory's failed marijuana test from the combine or other questions about his character.
Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Kentucky
SackSEER Projection: 29.2 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 94.6%
Bud Dupree had a superlative combine that quietly eclipsed the performance put up by Jadeveon Clowney last year. Dupree, who weighed in 1 pound heavier than Clowney, ran only three-hundredths of a second slower than Clowney but obliterated him on the jumps, besting Clowney's vertical jump by 4.5 inches and his broad jump by 16 inches. Dupree, however, did not run the three-cone until his pro day, where he recorded a 7.49-second run, which is below average generally and far below expectations for an athlete who is otherwise as demonstrably explosive as Dupree. (Players with fast 40-yard dash times tend to perform strongly on the other drills as well.) The pattern of Dupree's workouts might suggest that he might be a straight-line athlete who is too "stiff" to play the position, but other players such as Will Smith and Michael Johnson have recorded similar numbers and had success as NFL pass rushers.
Eli Harold, Virginia
SackSEER Projection: 24.9 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 67.8%
According to SackSEER, the talent available at the edge rusher position begins to fall off sharply after Dupree. The next prospect up is Eli Harold, who had a good combine workout that you might have overlooked given the eye-popping performances put up by some of his peers. Harold's production in college was a little below average, which adds up to Harold being a thoroughly average prospect.
Preston Smith, Mississippi State
SackSEER Projection: 22.3 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 75.2%
Preston Smith only had seven sacks through his first three years of college football, then nine sacks as a senior. These numbers are well below average for a top-tier edge rusher prospect, but Smith salvaged his projection somewhat with a good pass defensed rate, as he managed to intercept two passes and bat down seven others.
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Dante Fowler Jr., Florida
SackSEER Projection: 21.7 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 43.3%
Dante Fowler's forecast is boosted by his high projected draft position. Otherwise, SackSEER thinks that Fowler is an excellent candidate to join Derrick Harvey, Jarvis Moss, and Jermaine Cunningham in the ever-growing stable of disappointing Florida Gators edge rushers. There does not seem to be anything magical about Florida that causes their edge rushers to bust -- Harvey, Moss, and Cunningham each had poor SackSEER projections, and Fowler fits the same mold. Fowler recorded only 14.5 sacks during his entire three-year career; that's only 2.5 more than Vic Beasley recorded in his senior year alone. Fowler had a nice 4.60-second 40-yard dash, but he performed poorly on the vertical jump, the broad jump, and the three-cone, which are equally important, but often overlooked.
Note that many scouting reports on Fowler emphasize his versatility, as he is also prized for his ability to set the edge against the run and drop into coverage. (Yesterday's Futures column by Matt Waldman gives some good examples of why Fowler is not just an edge rusher.) SackSEER is only projecting his pass-rushing performance in the NFL, so perhaps he is a more valuable player than this forecast would indicate. However, you may remember another recent prospect who was rated as mediocre by SackSEER despite his overall versatility: Dion Jordan.
Shane Ray, Missouri
SackSEER Projection: 20.4 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 18.5%
Of all the edge rusher prospects available in the 2015 NFL draft, Shane Ray is the most likely to disappoint. As far as similar edge rusher prospects, Ray draws the most dreaded comp of all: Vernon Gholston. Like Ray, Gholston rocketed to the top of draft boards on the strength of his strong junior year, but he also had an exceptionally poor pass defensed rate, with only three passes defensed during a three-year career. Ray was even worse on this score, recording only one pass defensed during his entire college career.
Ray finished third in FBS with 14.5 sacks last year, but he had no sacks as a freshman and only 4.5 as a sophomore, so he scores just decently in the SRAM metric. Players who have benefited from SRAM boosting their SackSEER projections are guys like Terrell Suggs, who had 44 sacks in three years at Arizona State. Historically, too many players who have thrown down multiple double-digit sack seasons in their college careers for SackSEER to be terribly impressed with Ray's one good season.
The other dilemma is how to interpret Ray's workout results from Missouri's pro day. Despite a reputation as an athletic player, Ray was just a little better than average on his 40-yard dash, and inconsistent on his jumps. However, he may have been hampered by a foot injury suffered during the Citrus Bowl, which prevented him from working out at the combine. The foot injury could be why Ray had a horrible three-cone time of 7.70 seconds, which would rank as the 12th slowest in SackSEER's entire database.
It is not all bleak for Ray, as similar players such as Ray Edwards, Derrick Burgess, and Calvin Pace had some pass rushing success. However, Ray's profile makes him a huge risk in the top half of the first round. You're gambling that his inconsistent workouts were the result of an injury from 10 weeks prior; that his lack of performance as a freshman and sophomore came because lesser NFL prospects Kony Ealy (round two) and Michael Sam (round seven) kept him on the bench; and that his lack of passes defensed is a massive statistical fluke. That's a lot of gambles.
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Lynden Trail, Norfolk State
SackSEER Projection: 19.8 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 84.0%
Lynden Trail is a former four-star prospect who originally matriculated at Florida, but eventually transferred to Norfolk State after Urban Meyer left Gainesville. Trail's sack production is just OK, but his pass defensed rate is amazing -- Trail intercepted two passes and deflected 18 others. The problem is that Trail bombed the combine, running a 4.91-second 40-yard dash and failing to impress in any of the other drills. Trail is strikingly similar to David Bass, a seventh-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2013. Bass, like Trail, had a freakish passes defensed rate for a small school but had lousy workout numbers. Bass has four career sacks, which doesn't exactly make him the second-coming of Jared Allen, but is nevertheless more than what you get out of a typical seventh-round pick.
Davis Tull, Chattanooga
SackSEER Projection: 17.8 Sacks through Year 5
SackSEER Rating: 89.5%
Davis Tull had an amazing set of workouts. At the combine, he recorded vertical and broad jumps of 42.5 inches and 11 feet, respectively, and he added a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. Tull had an inferior level of competition in the FCS Southern Conference, but history teaches us that nearly all late draft successes at the edge rusher position come from smaller schools. That said, Tull is far from a guaranteed draft-day steal. Tull's sack production was good, but it falls short of some of the real standout late-drafted edge rushers, such as Jared Allen and Robert Mathis, and he had only one pass defensed in a four-year career, which is a major red flag. For more about Tull, you can read what Mike Tanier wrote about his story over at Bleacher Report.
Below is a chart listing the SackSEER projections and ratings for all of the edge rusher prospects who received an invite to the combine.
|Preston Smith||Mississippi State||1.5||0.56||0.31||0.19||7.07||22.3||75.2%|
|Lynden Trail||Norfolk State||3.5||-0.25||0.42||0.57||7.32||19.8||84.0%|
|Nate Orchard||Utah||2||-0.15||0.48||0.18||7.28||17.3||41.6%||Edge Rusher||College||Proj.
|Anthony Chickillo||Miami (FL)||4||0.07||0.34||0.12||7.17||9.3||50.7%|
|*e = estimated|
Portions of this article appeared previously on ESPN Insider. Playmaker projections may differ slightly from those on ESPN Insider because these numbers use NFLDraftScout.com projections of draft position rather than Scouts Inc. projections, and because SRAM for the ESPN Insider projections mistakenly did not account for sacks in 2015 bowl games.