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|
|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%|
|Courtney Brown||2000||1||CLE||Penn State||31.2||97.3%|
|Jadeveon Clowney||2014||1||HOU||South Carolina||29.1||94.0%|
|Joey Bosa||2016||???||???||Ohio State||26.8||87.8%|
|Andre Wadsworth||1998||3||ARI||Florida State||24.1||88.6%|
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|
|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%|
|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%|
|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%|
|Dadi Nicolas||Virginia Tech||5–6||0.87||0.35||0.17||7.04||9.4||46.7%|
|Matt Judon||Grand Valley State||4||0.39||0.71||0.27||7.67||7.5||14.9%|
|Victor Ochi||Stony Brook||6||-0.04||0.76||0.00||7.24||5.7||38.3%|
|Romeo Okwara||Notre Dame||5||-0.01||0.29||0.02||7.38||3.0||17.7%|
|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.)