by Nathan Forster
The top of the 2019 NFL draft is likely to be dominated by the edge rushers. As many as four edge rushers are projected to go in the top ten, and thus a team with a high pick and a need to upgrade their pass rush is likely to have plenty of highly touted options. But will this group live up to the hype? Will the 2019 draft be to edge rushers what the 1983 draft was to quarterbacks?
SackSEER, Football Outsiders' statistical system for projecting college edge rushers to the next level, wants to throw just a bit of cold water on the hype following the edge rushers in this draft. Although SackSEER agrees that it is a reasonably deep draft for edge rushers, it also believes that this draft lacks a truly top-tier prospect like Khalil Mack or Von Miller. Rather, SackSEER lumps this year's top edge rushers together in a group of good but not great prospects that are all more likely than not to have at least some success at the NFL level, but could also easily bust. Additionally, SackSEER's best prospect this year -- who wins that distinction by a projection of less than half a sack -- is a player who may not even go in the first round.
SackSEER is based on a statistical analysis of all edge rushers drafted in the years 1998-2017, and measures the following:
- The edge rusher's projected draft position. This year's projections use the rankings from ESPN's Scouts, Inc.;
- 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 in 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 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 in which a prospect will be drafted according to ESPN's Scouts, Inc.
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. 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, you can look at SackSEER projection.
Below, we take a look at some of SackSEER's top prospects in the 2019 NFL draft, along with some similar prospects from previous drafts.
Brian Burns' good combination of production and athleticism earns him the top spot in this year's SackSEER projections. Burns recorded 23 sacks and seven passes defensed in only three seasons with the Florida State Seminoles. Burns' workouts, however, were even better. Burns ran a freakish 4.53-second 40-yard dash -- the same time that Jadeveon Clowney recorded in 2014. Burns' broad jump and vertical jump were not quite as good, but were still well above average, leaving Burns with an excellent explosion index. Burns also recorded a strong 7.01-second 3-cone time.
The greatest knock on Burns is that he played light at Florida State -- he tipped the scales at only 235 pounds. However, Burns bulked up to 249 pounds for the combine and obviously did not lose much of his athleticism. Burns may have to play as an outside rush linebacker at the NFL level, but he has a great chance to excel in that role.
(Click here for Derrik Klassen's analysis of Burns' film in Futures.)
Josh Allen has an all-around good, but not great, projection. Allen had 17 sacks in 13 games as a senior. Those are really good numbers, but almost all senior edge rushers drafted in the first few rounds have good senior numbers, so those 17 sacks do not give Allen the boost you might otherwise expect. Similarly, Allen had a good combine workout, but it was far from historically great. Allen ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, which is a great time for a 262-pound player, but he was only average on his jumps, recording vertical and broad jumps of 33.5 inches and 9 feet, 10 inches, respectively.
Continuing the theme, Allen had above average passes defensed numbers, but they are only slightly above average. Allen had one interception and eight passes batted away, which is again good not great. For perspective, Allen's passes defensed are way better than famous bust Vernon Gholston (who only had one pass defensed in his college career), but not quite as good as superstar Khalil Mack (who had 25 passes defensed).
The upside to Allen's SackSEER is that his numbers are all-around good and he has no glaring weaknesses (at least from a statistical standpoint). In that regard, Allen is similar to Ryan Kerrigan, who was also unusual in his uniformly good but not quite great SackSEER numbers.
(Click here for Derrik Klassen's analysis of Allen's film in Futures.)
Montez Sweat proved at the combine that he is explosive, fast, and quick. He recorded a 2019 edge rusher-best 4.41-second 40-yard dash as well as good jumps and a good 3-cone time. Sweat also proved that he was good at sacking the quarterback at Mississippi State, recording 22.5 sacks in just 26 games for the Bulldogs.
The one black mark on Sweat's SackSEER is his zero career passes defensed. In that regard, Sweat is very similar to former first-round edge rusher Bruce Irvin. Irvin, like Sweat, entered the draft as a senior after only playing two seasons of major college football. Irvin also had good combine numbers and lots of college sacks, but only one pass defensed. Irvin finished his first five years in the NFL with 29 sacks, which is very close to Sweat's projection.
Despite being ranked No. 1 overall on many boards, Nick Bosa just does not have the numbers to top SackSEER's list of top edge rushers. Bosa had good college sack production, but much of it is uncertain. Bosa was on the way to having a breakout season as a junior, but he only played four games, so there is no way of knowing whether he would have kept up that pace. Bosa also has only two career passes defensed, which is below average for a drafted edge rusher. Bosa's explosion numbers at the combine were also below average.
None of his metrics doom him to failure -- far from it. Bosa is still an above-average edge rusher prospect, but he does not possess the typical indicia of a future NFL star at the position.
To be fair to Bosa, SackSEER somewhat underprojected his brother, Joey Bosa. It could very well be that Nick has the same qualities that allowed his brother to overperform his SackSEER projection. That said, Joey Bosa's projection was similar, but stronger than Nick's. Joey had slightly above average passes defensed numbers, while Nick's are below average. Joey's and Nick's explosion numbers were similar, but Joey was much quicker, recording a 6.89-second 3-cone time as opposed to Nick's 7.10-second time. Nick Bosa's uncertain SackSEER should at least give teams pause before they assume he will be able to replicate his older brother's success in the NFL.
Rashan Gary is the quintessential raw talent at the position. Gary has amazing athleticism for his 277-pound size. Gary ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, which he paired with a 38-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot-flat broad jump. However, Gary does not have much sack production -- his best season is 5.5 sacks in 13 games as a sophomore. Also, he did not record a single pass defensed.
Luckily for Gary, there are certainly examples of successful edge rushers in the NFL who had the athletic measureables but lacked college production. For example, Frank Clark, who also attended the University of Michigan, had good explosion numbers for his size, but few college sacks. Despite his lack of college bona fides, Clark has 35.0 NFL sacks in just four years. Gary could follow a similar career trajectory; however, he could just as easily end up like Margus Hunt, a freakish athlete who has mostly been relegated to role player status in the NFL.
Zach Allen is a big defensive end at 280 pounds who might be better suited as a 3-4 defensive end or a run-stopping end in a 4-3. Allen is far from a Julius Peppers-level athlete, running the 40-yard dash in a glacial 5.0 seconds. However, Allen leads the class in passes defensed rate, intercepting two passes and batting down 14 others for the Eagles, suggesting possible untapped pass-rushing potential.
Oshane Ximines is a small-school prospect who is worth a flyer in the late second or early third round. After all, Jared Allen and Robert Mathis, two highly successful edge rushers in the NFL, attended Idaho State and Alabama A&M, respectively. Although Ximines had only a mediocre combine, he was extremely productive in college, with over 30 sacks along with 13 passes defensed.
Clemson has sent a lot of edge rushers to the NFL with varying degrees of success. According to SackSEER, Ferrell is a thoroughly average draft prospect who probably does not belong in the first two rounds. Ferrell had few passes defensed in college and his sack numbers were just OK. Ferrell did not do a complete workout at the combine and did not work out at his pro day due to a toe injury. The only SackSEER-relevant drill Ferrell performed was the 3-cone, which was a below-average 7.26 seconds.
|Full SackSEER Projections, 2019 Prospects|
|Brian Burns||Florida State||1-2||1.61||0.75||0.21||7.01||26.6||96.1%|
|Montez Sweat||Mississippi State||1||1.74||0.62||0.00||7.00||25.7||89.7%|
|Nick Bosa||Ohio State||1||-0.11||0.65||0.07||7.10||22.1||67.4%|
|Zach Allen||Boston College||2||-1.08||0.40||0.43||7.34||19.6||71.8%|
|Oshane Ximines||Old Dominion||2-3||0.08||0.67||0.27||7.13||18.0||80.6%|
|L.J. Collier||Texas Christian||1-2||-0.65||0.40||0.18||7.71||16.6||40.8%|
|Ben Banogu||Texas Christian||5||1.97||0.48||0.08||7.02||12.2||85.6%|
|Maxx Crosby||Eastern Michigan||6||0.83||0.45||0.14||6.89||9.4||75.6%|
|Jordan Brailford||Oklahoma State||5-6||1.21||0.50||0.06||7.22||8.4||66.7%|
|Wyatt Ray||Boston College||5||-0.07||0.38||0.11||7.34||5.2||25.5%|
|Sutton Smith||Northern Illinois||UDFA||0.13||0.60||0.11||6.75||3.9||44.2%|
|Shareef Miller||Penn State||4-5||-0.39||0.33||0.00||7.25||2.3||7.3%|
|Gerri Green||Mississippi State||UDFA||0.38||0.17||0.18||7.27||2.0||23.7%|
|Darryl Johnson||North Carolina A&T||UDFA||-0.31||0.63||0.19||7.33||1.3||7.1%|
|Malik Carney||North Carolina||UDFA||-0.14||0.45||0.11||7.40||1.0||21.2%|
Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN+.