by Nathan Forster
Last year, the Cleveland Browns used the first overall pick in the NFL draft on Myles Garrett, a highly regarded pass-rusher out of Texas A&M. Both the advanced stats and the scouts agreed: Garrett was a bona fide prospect who was a legitimate No. 1 overall talent. Although Garrett struggled with injuries in his rookie year, overall the early returns have been positive -- Garrett recorded 7.0 sacks in only 11 games played.
North Carolina State's Bradley Chubb, another highly rated edge rusher prospect, likely sits near the top of many teams' draft boards this year. However, according to SackSEER, Football Outsiders' model for projecting edge rushers, the case for drafting Chubb is not quite as clean as the case for taking Garrett No. 1 overall was last year.
SackSEER's projections are based on a statistical analysis of the factors that have historically correlated to success as an NFL edge rusher. Specifically, SackSEER includes:
- The edge rusher's projected draft position. These projections use the rankings from NFL Draft Scout.
- 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 in the NFL draft and position switches during college.
- The prospect's college passes defensed divided by college games played.
- Finally, the number of medical redshirts the player either received or was eligible for.
SackSEER projection projects the number of regular season sacks that a prospect will record in his first five seasons in the NFL. Unlike SackSEER rating, SackSEER projection incorporates the projected round a prospect will be drafted according to NFLDraftScout.com.
SackSEER rating provides a historical percentile rating on the college edge rusher's prospects for success as compared to the other prospects in SackSEER's database, irrespective of projected draft position. So, if you want to see how the prospects stack up based on SackSEER's trends alone, you can look at SackSEER rating, and if you want to see how the prospects stack up based on SackSEER's trends when balanced against conventional wisdom, you can look at SackSEER projection.
SackSEER has predicted success for current stars Von Miller, Khalil Mack, and Justin Houston. SackSEER has also identified several high-profile busts at the edge rusher position, including Dion Jordan, Marcus Smith, and Jarvis Jones. SackSEER had its fair share of misses as well, but it nevertheless provides a good starting point for discussing the likelihood that an edge rusher prospect will collect high sack numbers at the NFL level.
In 2018, SackSEER's favorite rusher comes not from North Carolina State, but from another ACC school.
Harold Landry, Boston College
SackSEER Projection: 26.0 Sacks Through Fifth Season
SackSEER Rating: 83.9%
SackSEER makes Harold Landry the best overall prospect in this year's draft by the slimmest of margins. Landry has a solid all-around SackSEER projection with no major weaknesses. Landry had slightly better sack production than Marcus Davenport or Chubb. Landry also had an above-average passes defensed rate. Landry's workouts were not quite as good as Davenport's or Chubb's, but they were well above average. SackSEER sees little difference between this year's top three prospects, so whichever team ends up with Landry could end up getting the best value.
Marcus Davenport, University of Texas-San Antonio
SackSEER Projection: 25.9 Sacks Through Fifth Season
SackSEER Rating: 84.9%
As Clay Matthews and his 4.5 career college sacks can tell you, success at the edge rusher position can often be more about potential than production. Marcus Davenport shows statistical signs that he could be ready to similarly blossom in the NFL. For one, Davenport had a strong combine workout, running the 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.58 seconds with a strong broad jump. Davenport also had a slightly above-average passes defensed rate.
Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
SackSEER Projection: 24.6 Sacks Through Fifth Season
SackSEER Rating: 81.5%
There is no question that Bradley Chubb is a good edge rusher prospect, but SackSEER is ambivalent regarding Chubb's prospects as a top-five selection. Chubb's prospects are quite a bit weaker than many of the edge rushers who were recently drafted high in the first round. Below is a chart of the SackSEER projections for every edge rusher taken in the top five picks since 1998.
|Edge Rushers Drafted in Top 5, 1998-2017|
SackSEER has graded almost every top-five edge rusher as a good prospect, but some have been clearly better than others. As the table above shows, SackSEER is cooler on Chubb's prospects than the typical top-five selection.
Chubb's production was good, but he never dominated like a Von Miller or a Julius Peppers. Miller and Peppers each had seasons where they averaged more than a sack per game. Chubb had only 0.83 sacks/game in his best season. Chubb's 4.65-second 40-yard dash and his jumps were excellent, but his workouts do not quite match the show that Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney put on in 2013. Chubb's passes defensed rate was a little below average. Mario Williams and Julius Peppers had passes defensed rates that would make Dikembe Mutombo jealous.
So should the Browns or some other team in the top five select Chubb? The choice is not quite as easy as the one that the Browns made to select Garrett just one year ago. It all depends on the weight that potential suitors place on positional value (i.e., edge rushers are extremely valuable) and their tolerance for risk.
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Uchenna Nwosu, USC
SackSEER Projection: 20.1 Sacks Through Fifth Season
SackSEER Rating: 67.8%
Uchenna Nwosu is an interesting prospect because he had only 12.5 career sacks in four years at USC, but somehow managed to record a staggering 19 passes defensed. Nwosu had 6.5 more passes defensed in his college career than sacks. Of the 400-plus edge rushers drafted since 1998, only two -- Dean Lowry and Ezekiel Ansah -- had a larger difference between passes defensed and sacks.
Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
SackSEER Projection: 18.9 Sacks Through Fifth Season
SackSEER Rating: 60.2%
Hubbard's best metric is his 3-cone drill time -- he led all prospects in this year's draft by running the drill in just 6.84 seconds. His projection suffers most from his 40-yard dash, which drags down his explosion index. Hubbard did not run the 40-yard dash at the combine, but he ran a glacially slow 4.95-second 40-yard dash time at Ohio State's pro day.
Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
SackSEER Projection: 18.3 Sacks Through Fifth Season
SackSEER Rating: 55.4%
There is no question that Lorenzo Carter is a great athlete. Carter's 4.50-second 40-yard dash, 36-inch vertical leap, and 10-foot, 10-inch broad jump make him the most "explosive" edge rusher in this draft. However, Carter's big combine advantage is wiped out by his poor production. Carter is a senior, played a full four years, and ended his career with only 14.5 sacks. Edge rushers with poor sack production have been successful in the past, but typically they have poor production in a small sample size (for example, Ezekiel Ansah had only 4.5 career sacks, but played only one season as an edge rusher). Carter also had only one pass defensed in four seasons.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma
SackSEER Projection: 16.1 Sacks Through Fifth Season
SackSEER Rating: 71.2%
Like Landry, Ogbonnia Okoronokwo is a good all-around prospect. His production in college was almost exactly average for a drafted edge rusher prospect, but his combine performance was a little better.
Josh Sweat, Florida State
SackSEER Projection: 15.9 Sacks Through Fifth Season
SackSEER Rating: 89.5%
Josh Sweat, rated as a fourth-round pick by NFL Draft Scout, is the closest thing to a SackSEER sleeper in this year's draft. Sweat's blazing-fast 4.53-second 40, as well as his excellent vertical leap and broad jump scores, make him the second-most explosive edge rusher in this draft in terms of workout numbers. Sweat only had 14.5 sacks over his three-year career, but his sack production on a per-game basis is not much less than the more highly rated Sam Hubbard, who had much less impressive scores on the "explosion" drills. Moreover, Sweat had a strong 0.20 passes defensed per game rate, which suggests that he may have been more disruptive than his sack numbers alone suggest.
In a draft that lacks top-end edge rusher prospects, Sweat is actually SackSEER's favorite prospect if you remove the adjustment for projected draft position.
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Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest
SackSEER Projection: 14.6 Sacks Through Fifth Season
SackSEER Rating: 57.3%
Duke Ejiofor has some of the best production in this class. In his four-year career at Wake Forest, Ejiofor notched more than 20 sacks and had seven passes defensed. His projection is a bit of an unknown, however, because Ejiofor could not work out at the combine or at his pro day. NFL Draft Scout projected Ejiofor to run a slow 4.84-second 40-yard dash. NFL Draft Scout is usually pretty good at getting in the ballpark of a player's workout performance, so SackSEER assumes that Ejiofor's combine performance would be consistent with a 4.84-second 40-yard dash, which is not good.
Arden Key, LSU
SackSEER Projection: 14.5 Sacks Through Fifth Season
SackSEER Rating: 33.9%
Arden Key is a highly regarded prospect who had relatively good sack production at LSU. However, his sack production was not good enough to overcome his poor to mediocre scores on all of the other SackSEER metrics. Key weighed in at only 238 pounds. Typically, small players make up for their lack of size by recording strong workout numbers, but Key's workouts were well below average: Key recorded only a 31-inch vertical leap and a 9-foot, 9-inch broad jump. Key has not yet run the 40-yard dash, but typically a player who has poor jumps also has a poor 40-yard dash as well. Scouts rate Key as a second-round prospect, but SackSEER thinks he is closer to a fifth- or sixth-rounder.
What follows is a chart that provides the SackSEER projections and ratings for each edge rusher prospect who received an invitation to the NFL combine:
|SackSEER Projections for Edge Rushers Invited to 2018 NFL Combine|
|Edge Rusher||College||Proj. Round||Explosion Index||SRAM||PD/Rate||3-Cone||Sack Proj.||Rating|
|Harold Landry||Boston College||1||0.72||0.57||0.18||6.88||26.0||83.9%|
|Bradley Chubb||North Carolina State||1||0.80||0.54||0.13||7.37||24.6||81.5%|
|Sam Hubbard||Ohio State||1-2||-0.45||0.49||0.10||6.84||18.9||60.2%|
|Josh Sweat||Florida State||4||1.63||0.47||0.20||6.95||15.9||89.5%|
|Duke Ejiofor||Wake Forest||2-3||-0.42||0.61||0.18||7.35e||14.6||57.3%|
|Tyquan Lewis||Ohio State||4||0.70||0.50||0.11||7.20||12.2||75.4%|
|Marquis Haynes||Ole Miss||5-6||0.51||0.66||0.17||7.14||8.6||57.3%|
|Edge Rusher||College||Proj. Round||Explosion Index||SRAM||PD/Rate||3-Cone||Sack Proj.||Rating|
|Chad Thomas||Miami (FL)||4||-0.88||0.21||0.18||7.35e||7.0||23.2%|
|Jalyn Holmes||Ohio State||3-4||-0.55||0.14||0.11||7.62||6.1||12.9%|
|Kentavius Street||North Carolina State||4-5||-0.59||0.17||0.11||7.37e||4.9||16.6%|
|Ja'von Rolland-Jones||Arkansas State||7-UDFA||-0.64||0.87||0.08||7.37e||4.0||50.7%|
|Hercules Mata'afa||Washington State||5-6||-0.59||0.67||0.00||7.24||3.8||27.3%|
|Anthony Winbush||Ball State||7-UDFA||-0.69||0.56||0.03||7.34e||0.0||10.0%|
|Bunmi Rotimi||Old Dominion||UDFA||-1.40||0.45||0.05||7.46||0.0||8.8%|
|Darius Jackson||Jacksonville State-AL||7-UDFA||-1.11||0.55||0.10||7.52||0.0||3.7%|
|e = estimated numbers (for players who have not recorded workout numbers)|
Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider. Differences in projections between this article and the ESPN version are caused by using NFL Draft Scout round projections here but Scouts Inc. round projections on ESPN.