Monday, December 12, 2011

Inching closer to the 2012 Draft

With 3 weeks to go in the 2011 season, the draft order picture is starting to shape up! Let's check in and see how the top 10 picks might play out based on current finishing projections.

1. Indianapolis - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Still a sure thing.

2. St Louis - Ryan Kalil, OT, USC
The Rams continue to slide and struggle with all aspects of their offense. It's clear they can't create an effective run block or protect Sam Bradford. Kalil is the top tackle in the draft and a complete package. Jason Smith's time on the team is probably coming to and end. This is a perfect blend of value and need.

3. Minnesota - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St
This will come down to how Blackmon grades out compared to Claiborne. It's hard to imagine the Vikings using the 3rd pick on a corner, and Blackmon seems like a sure thing from both a physical and mental perspective. I think the Vikings look to upgrade their offense and pair another playmaker with Percy Harvin.

4. Carolina - Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
I still have Carolina picking an impact defensive playmaker here. They could use help in both run and pass defense, but top-5 picks are usually reserved for defensive linemen. Coples is the only such player grading out well enough. This pick may change a lot once the scouting cranks into full gear.

5. Cleveland - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
By all accounts, Richardson is a special talent. By all statistics, the Browns have no viable running back. They've had a 100-yard runner once this year, and haven't had a 50-yard rusher in half their games. Colt McCoy may not be in Cleveland's long-term plans, but he's passable. Cleveland could opt to pick up their favorite of the remaining 3 top passing prospects, but I think they're more likely to lock up a dynamic playmaker and make a move for a quarterback later in the 1st round with the pick they received from Atlanta in the Julio Jones trade.

6. Tampa Bay - Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Buccaneers can't stop anyone on the ground or through the air. They've invested their 1st and 2nd round picks the last 2 years on their defensive line, so it's time to build elsewhere. Claiborne will the turn the page from the Aqib Talib chapter.

7. Jacksonville - Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina
The Jaguars have the worst passing offense in the league, averaging a disheartening 140 yards per game through the air. I don't see them bailing on Blaine Gabbert yet, though his rookie year hasn't had the upside of any of his peers; Newton, Dalton, Locker, and Ponder have all shown a lot more (the last 2 without much better support). Jeffrey is probably a reach here, so trading back should be high on the Jags' list of options, especially considering all the quarterback-needy teams clamoring for the next-best choice after Andrew Luck.

8. Washington - Matt Barkley, QB, USC
The Redskins jump with joy to find an upgrade with the 8th pick. Grossman has upside and downside, and John Beck clearly didn't work out as Mike Shanahan had expected. It's time for the Redskins to move on, and this pick is perfect for them.

9. Philadelphia - Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Eagles still have trouble along their line, and Martin is a great find with the 9th pick. He may not be as complete as Kalil, but he's an upgrade. This is a safe pick for them.

10. Miami - Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Just 5 games ago the Dolphins were in contention for Andrew Luck. Their recent run has been fueled by a defense that's suddenly shutting teams down. Matt Moore has provided decent but unspectacular play. Tony Sparano is gone and new leadership won't (and probably shouldn't) be loyal. They will be happy to find a highly-rated prospect available here.

I'm expecting at least one trade into the top-10 by a team looking for a quarterback, and another swap between top-10 teams. This will be a great draft to watch!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week 10 Draft Peek

2 weeks have passed since the last draft peek. Miami is the big mover, playing themselves out of the likely running for Andrew Luck. Was it worth it? Let's see how the remaining games project to records, and what picks are present.

1. Indianapolis (1.8 wins) - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford.
Speculation is rampant over whether Peyton Manning will return this season and spring Indy for a few wins and deny them the first pick, or if he'll try to talk his management out of drafting his heir. Luck simply has too much value compared to anyone else on the board, whether as the Colts' next franchise quarterback, or as tantalizing trade bait.

2. Carolina (4.0 wins) - Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The previous mock calls for DT Brandon Thompson, but the value probably isn't there at #2. Carolina's pass rush is fairly weak as well, so a complement to Charles Johnson would have a significant impact.

3. Miami (4.3 wins) - Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Miami needs a franchise quarterback and will get one this draft.

4. Minnesota (4.3 wins) - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St
Christian Ponder is progressing well, but Minnesota lacks consistent playmakers in the passing game. Morris Claiborne is a possibility as well since the Vikings have one of the worst pass defenses in the league (and their pass rush is certainly not to blame).

5. St Louis (4.3 wins) - Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Rams sport the worst run defense in the league, so Thompson is an option here. The pick is a bit complicated since the Rams are fine with Rodger Saffold's play on the left side. The new regime admits that Jason Smith is not meeting expectation and they bring in a highly touted replacement and will let training camp work out the details of who starts where. Kalil's value is simply too high here.

6. Cleveland (5.0 wins) - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Cleveland will likely cut ties with Peyton Hillis this off-season, leaving them no credible running threat. Richardson's upside is too high to pass on. Cleveland does have some options here. DT Thompson is a possibility to shore up their horrid run defense, but an impact offensive player is the most likely choice. WR Alshon Jeffrey is a possibility as well.

7. Arizona (5.3 wins) - Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Cardinals would love to swap places with the Rams, but they get the 2nd best tackle on the board. They would also consider an elite pass rusher but the one top-10 quality player is off the board already.

8. Washington (5.6 wins) - Matt Barkley, QB, USC
The Redskins inch up the draft board just enough to snag the 3rd top-rated quarterback. This season has shown that neither Beck or Grossman are convincing as starters and the Redskins are lucky to be in a position to draft a player with great growth and upside.

9. Jacksonville (5.6 wins) - Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
The Jaguars stick to the script and pick up a big-time weapon for Blaine Gabbert. They might consider an elite pass rusher if another one demonstrates his value by the end of the college season.

10. Seattle (5.9 wins) - Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Seattle's big win over the Ravens probably pushes them out of the running for a franchise quarterback. Their defense continues to play well every game, but their offense needs help. They are not running the ball effectively and they're giving up sacks in bunches. They've given it a fair bit of attention, but their offensive line is struggling. It needs help.

I'll continue to update the projected wins and mock draft every few weeks.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Building Through the Draft

General wisdom tells us that filling too many positions with free agents and trades is expensive and unsustainable; teams need to build rosters through the draft. So, which teams have done a good job of that? The answers may surprise you!

For this study, I've charted all 1st and 2nd round picks between 2006 and 2010, whether they made a Pro Bowl, start, play as backups and if they're still on their original team. A successful pick is one that starts for his original team, and teams get bonus accolades for Pro Bowl picks. I've chosen to focus on the top 2 rounds because a quick survey of 3rd round picks reveals a pretty consistent stream of backups and misses. And, anecdotes tell us a team needs to make its first pair of picks count.

I'll start by throwing out some general numbers to show what the average level of success (and failure) is across the 319 qualifying picks:
1. 51% (162) of the picks start on their original team
2. 13% (41) picks are Pro Bowlers on their original team
3. 33% (106) of the picks are no longer with their team
4. 16% (52) of the the picks are no longer playing in the NFL
5. Teams keep over 83% starters they drafted

Keeping those trends in mind, let's see who has fared well in drafting starters. Here is the list, sorted by current drafted starters. Pro Bowl selections are in parentheses.

TeamStarters (PB)PicksSuccess Rate
Kansas City8 (3)1173
New York Jets7 (3)1070
San Francisco7 (2)1070
Cincinnati7 (0)1070
New York Giants7 (0)1164
Detroit7 (2)1354
Carolina6 (3)1060
Atlanta6 (1)1060
Cleveland6 (1)1250
New England6 (2)1346
Washington5 (1)771
San Diego5 (1)771
Houston5 (3)863
New Orleans5 (1)863
Baltimore5 (2)956
Jacksonville5 (1)956
Oakland5 (0)956
Arizona5 (0)1050
St Louis5 (0)1050
Minnesota5 (1)1145
Tampa Bay5 (1)1145
Green Bay5 (2)1242
Miami5 (1)1242
Dallas4 (2)850
Pittsburgh4 (2)850
Tennessee4 (2)944
Chicago3 (1)650
Indianapolis3 (0)933
Philadelphia3 (1)1030
Seattle3 (0)1030
Buffalo3 (1)1225
Denver3 (1)1421

There's a pretty amazing spread of success. Some teams are hitting on 70 percent or more of their picks, while others miss that often. Some of the numbers fly in the face of convention. Some explain team and divisional trends. Let's call a few out!

San Francisco is the only NFC West team to start a Pro Bowler they have drafted in the last 5 years. In fact, they have 2. They also have at least 2 more drafted starters than their division rivals. The 49ers are actually the best impact drafting team in the NFC. How many people have you heard say that before?

The 2 best teams in the NFL are the Jets and Chiefs. This may not surprise some people, but a few teams that are regularly praised don't quite play out how we'd expect. Baltimore, Green Bay and New England all hover around an average success rate, though they all get credit for hitting on multiple Pro Bowlers. Turns out New England doesn't spend draft capital particularly efficiently, they are just masters at having more to spend than almost anyone else. Only Detroit and Denver have had as many picks. The Lions spent them wisely, but the Broncos splurged for all the wrong stuff. They edge out the Bills as the worst drafting team over the last 5 years. You'll notice both teams have eroded and have more questions than answers.

Draft gurus regularly beat up Washington for trading away future picks, but the Redskins are the most efficient drafting team in the NFL. They've brought in a league-average number of starters with the fewest picks, and hit on a Pro Bowler as well. 2011 pick Ryan Kerrigan is off to a good start too. San Diego and Houston achieved similar results with relatively few picks, and the Texans join the Chiefs, Jets and Panthers as the only teams to have drafted 3 Pro Bowlers.

Despite the average being 1.3 Pro Bowlers per team, 7 teams (Cincinnati, New York Giants, Arizona, St Louis, Oakland, Indianapolis, Seattle) aren't starting a single Pro Bowl player they've drafted. Bill Polian has a good reputation for evaluating personnel, but his leadership has achieved a bottom-5 effort, and perhaps it's not surprising that Peyton Manning's absence is proving just how porous the Colts' talent base is.

I've wanted this list for a while so I could see how teams really are doing in the draft. I'm a firm believer that picks made in rounds 3 and on yield impact players so rarely that it's effectively just luck. Rounds 1 and 2 are where teams have be smart, scout well and take advantage of available impact talent.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kolb's Progress

Many in Arizona are questioning the trade to get Kevin Kolb. After all, he's struggling.... right?

There are some comparisons to go against. There have been a few quarterback trades similar to the Kolb one in recent years: Matt Cassell, Jay Cutler and Brett Favre. Let's take a look at each of these and how they fared their first year in a new system.

Matt Cassell (and Mike Vrabel were traded for the Chiefs' 34th pick) was traded by the Patriots after he led them to an 11-5 record when Brady's knee was injured. Cassell completed 63% of his passes, threw for almost 3700 yards (7.16ypa) and 21 TD with only 11 interceptions and finished the season with a passer rating of 89.4. In his first year under center in Kansas City, those numbers fell to just over 2900 yards on 55% passing, 16 TD and 16 INT and a passer rating of 69.9. His yards per attempt also fell dramatically to 5.93. The Chiefs stuck with him and the next year his numbers improved to 3100 yards on 63% passing (6.92 ypa), 27 TD and a mere 7 INT and a passer rating of 93.0.

Jay Cutler (and the Broncos' 140th pick traded for Kyle Orton and the Bears' 18th and their following year's 84th pick) was jettisoned from Denver after it was clear he couldn't mesh with the team. The Bears paid a hefty price and their first year was rewarded over 3600 yards on 60% passing (6.61 ypa), 27 TD, but also 21 INT and a passer rating of 76.8. Cutler had never been very careful with the ball, but his first year completion percentage was 3 points lower than his previous 2 full seasons in Denver, his interception rate went higher (as compared to 45 vs 32), his ypa fell significantly from 7.4 and his passer rating was down about 10 points as well. The following year, he rebounded right back in line with his numbers as full-time Bronco.

Brett Favre (traded to the Jets for a 3rd round pick) was coming off one of his best seasons in Green Bay, but his indecision on retiring (or not) drove the Packers to cut ties with him and let Aaron Rodgers take over. Favre had thrown for over 4100 yards on 67% passing (7.8 ypa), 28 TD, 15 INT and a passer rating of 95.7, along with getting Green Bay to the brink of another Super Bowl appearance. In his year as a Jet, his numbers dropped significantly: under 3500 yards on 66% passing but only 6.7 ypa, 22 TD and 22 INT for a passer rating of 81.0. The verdict was that he was done, worn down, an old man ... but going to Minnesota (back to a west coast passing scheme) proved this false. He had the best statistical season of his career: 4200 yards on 68% passing, 7.9 ypa, 33 TD with only 7 INT and a passer rating of 107.2. All but the yardage and TDs were personal bests.

Kevin Kolb (traded to the Cardinals for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd round pick) was never a starter for a season, and we don't yet know what next season will bring. His stats through 7 games are 1706 yards on 57% passing, 7.5 ypa, 8 TD and 8INT for a passer rating of 77.8. Projecting those numbers to a full season gives 3900 yards, 18 TD and 18 INT (ypa and rating remain 7.5 and 77.8, respectively). He'd have the highest yardage and yards per attempt by a wide margin of this group, and his rating would be 2nd to only Favre. Cutler is the only player in the group who threw more scores than picks, and an even ratio is par for that course. Oh, and Kolb contends for the worst pass protection and weakest running game too.

I think it's time to not panic and let history calm our nerves.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mid-Season Draft Peek

After lots of off-season drama, we've quickly reached the halfway point of the season. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are busily refining their draft boards. Until we actually slot the teams, it's all somewhat meaningless ... so it's time to take a stab at which team will pick where! I've picked the teams with 2 or fewer wins and projected a range of likely wins over the rest of their schedule. Then, I've added the midpoint of that range to their current number of wins to come up with the following projection:

1. Miami (1.0 wins)
2. Indianapolis (1.5 wins)
3. Jacksonville (2.5 wins)
4. Denver (3.0 wins)
5. St Louis (3.5 wins)
6. Minnesota (4.0 wins)
7. Arizona (4.0 wins)
8. Carolina (4.0 wins)
9. Seattle (4.5 wins)
10. oh, I dunno ... Washington seems to be imploding, I'll go with them.

A few things stand out: there is a very real chance that not 1, but 2 teams to go undefeated. Also, there are a ton of teams with awful records this year. This might be a historically bad season at the top of the draft boards. Perhaps Suck for Luck is real?

Now on to the big money question: who picks what player? Given the current draftnik boards, we can venture a few guesses.

1. Miami - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford. The biggest no-brainer of the draft. They need a QB, he's a can't-miss guy, they gotta do it, right? Then again, this was the team that picked Ted Ginn, Jr when faced with a similar need a few years ago ...

2. Indianapolis - Matt Kalil, OT, USC. Indy's offensive line was never great, but it's downright bad now. They can't run, and their franchise QB can't get on the field. Indy tends to make solid picks, I don't see how they can go any other way here.

3. Jacksonville - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St. The Jags need some big-time playmakers for new QB Blaine Gabbert. Their investment in him makes picking another QB unlikely, and their formerly absent pass rush is showing a few signs of life by committee. This is a team that has scored over 14 points once this season. Their line is fine, they need weapons.

4. Denver - Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma. Jon Elway hit a homerun with Von Miller last year, and he'll be looking to dump the Tim Tebow experiment in the dumpster. Tebow has a chance to save his job between now and then, but I just don't see it happening. If it does, Denver could grab Trent Richardson since the aging Willis McGahee's performance makes it clear that Knowshown Moreno is underperforming.

5. St Louis - Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford. The Rams can't keep their promising young QB upright, nor mount a convincing rushing attack. While their defense leaves plenty to be desired, this is too high of a pick for Morris Claiborne and pass rushing is actually an area of strength, which leaves Quinton Coples on the board.

6. Minnesota - Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina. The Vikings are loaded in the run game and sacks have dropped dramatically since Christian Ponder took over the starting job. Pass rush is already an area of strength for the Vikings, but 55% of their sacks come from Jared Allen who'll be turning 30 this offseason. Minnesota would also love to see Justin Blackmon available here.

7. Arizona Cardinals - Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa. Fans will hold their breath, remembering the Cardinals ill-fated reach for Levi Brown in 2007. With Blackmon off the board and Ryan Williams waiting to come back from injury, offensive skill players are probably not in play. Kevin Kolb will get some benefit of the doubt in the face of horrific line play. Morris Claiborne is a possibility, but Greg Toler will be back next year.

8. Carolina - Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson. Carolina's offense can keep up with anyone, but they are incapable of stopping the run. They need a top interior lineman, and Thompson will fit the bill. Beason's return from injury should eliminate their interest in one of the top inside linebackers.

9. Seattle - Matt Barkley, QB, USC. Tarvaris Jackson has been statistically decent, but Seattle's offense is completely anemic. Their biggest issue is their offensive line, but there's no other lineman worthy of a top-10 pick left on the board. Let's not kid ourselves, Jackson is not the long-term answer in Seattle either.

10. Washington - Vontaze Burfict, ILB, ASU. The ubiquitous London Fletcher's career is winding down and it's time to think of a replacement in the middle. Upgrading Josh Wilson (I've never been a DeAngelo Hall fan either ...) with Morris Claiborne is a solid option as well. The Redskins would really like to get a top-notch QB or offensive lineman, but both positions have been picked clean in this scenario.

I'll have to remember to check back in at the end of the season to see how the rankings played out, and update picks based on scouting changes!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Drafting a quarterback on upside

Virtually every year there's one (or more) quarterback in the draft that scouts are mixed on: he has great physical tools, size and mobility, yet there are questions about his ability as a pure passer. Can his physical skillset compensate? Is his upside worth the risk? Looking at the recent Scouts, Inc list of the projected starting [non-rookie] quarterbacks in the league reveals a clear answer: No.

I've charted the height and weight, runs, rushing yards, touchdowns and interceptions per game and rating over the career of the players in their Scouts, Inc ranking order (and attempted to remove stats that came from mopup duty when the player was a backup):


A squint at the table reveals that there's a pretty even smear of heights across the rankings. I would consider the top 6 in this table to be the elite quarterbacks of the NFL, and 2 of them are short enough that draftniks would be waving a red flag around them. Both of them dropped in the draft. It's tricky to play the numbers games with whether being shorter actually leads to a higher failure rate (teams may avoid shorter players unless they are otherwise really good prospects ...), we can agree that being under the prototypical 6'4 mark is not a clear indicator of professional failure. Recently retired quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett Favre were also 6'2, and Donovan McNabb was also one of the better quarterbacks in the league until the last few years.

Only one of the elite QBs, Rodgers, actually gains significant yards with his feet, the rest who rush for over 10 yards per game are clustered right in the middle of the pack. Rodgers is also the most effective passer in the league. What really separates the top quarterbacks from the rest is their pure passer rating (all career 91.7 or higher) and decision making. 4 of the elite have TD:Int ratios over 2, all are better than 1.67. The vast majority of the rest are under a 1.5 ratio and mid-80s rating. The top quarterbacks make plays with their arms and brains, not their feet.

It remains a mystery why teams use high draft picks on players who didn't demonstrate sustained success in passing the ball. There's a reason for the 26-27-60 and Bill Parcells rules. They ensure that quarterback draft prospects pass the smell test. I haven't inspected draft picks' success with respect to these rules, but my general sense is that failing them does indeed predict NFL failure.

Generally speaking, project quarterbacks don't turn out well. The list is long, and most of these highly drafted players don't currently project well:

2011 (preseason games only so far)
Cam Newton: 5.3 ypa on 40% passing
Blaine Gabbert: 4.6 ypa on 51% passing
Jake Locker: 6.1 ypa on 54% passing, 1 TD, 1 INT

Tim Tebow*: recently demoted to 3rd string
* - passes all the rules, but serious red flags around length of delivery

Matthew Stafford: promising but has missed a lot of time to injury

Joe Flacco: has taken the Ravens to 3 straight playoffs
Josh Freeman: projecting as franchise QB for the Buccaneers

Jamarcus Russell: out of football
Brady Quinn: couldn't beat out Derek Anderson in Cleveland, backup with Denver

Vince Young: promising player, but couldn't seem to get it together mentally
Jay Cutler: traded to Bears due to personality, leads the NFL in interceptions over the last 2 years

Alex Smith: Getting his 4th fresh start with the 49ers
Aaron Rodgers: Well on his way to meeting the requirements, but left a year early. Is one of the best QBs in the NFL

Missing from the list are the players who passed the smell test:
Sam Bradford: solid rookie year, promising future
Matt Ryan: established himself as Falcons' franchise QB
Matt Leinart: fizzled out in Arizona, now dink 'n dunking in Houston

Depending on which group Rodgers falls into and not including the 2011 picks, the 1st round players who pass the smell test as passers have a 67 or 75 percent success rate compared to a 40 or 33 percent success rate for those who didn't. In other words, the smell test accounts for a doubling of the success rate in drafting quarterbacks. The comparison goes to a factor of 3 if you believe me that none of this year's top picks will become franchise QBs.

Why, oh why, do teams keep thinking they are smarter than common wisdom?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Flagging this year's pass rushers

This is a great year for pass rushers, but history tells us many of these great prospects will not turn into NFL stars. A previous post outlines measurables that can be used to eliminate players as possible future Pro Bowlers. Here's a look at this year's top players and how they stack up to the filter. I'll be using a combination of Mel Kiper and Todd McShay's mock drafts to get a list of possible 1st round talents who project as either 3-4 outside linebackers or 4-3 defensive ends.
NamePosition40 dash10yd splitBroad jumpVertical
Robert QuinnDE4.70?9'834
Da'Quan BowersDE????
Von MillerOLB4.521.5710'637
Akeem AyersOLB4.88?9'831
Ryan KerriganDE4.711.6110'233.5
Brooks ReedDE4.651.549'530.5
Adrian ClaybornDE4.831.619'533
Allen BaileyDE4.771.679'936.5
Aldon SmithDE4.781.669'1034
Justin HoustonDE4.681.6210'536.5

I've marked scores that meet the guidelines in green, ones that fall below but have precedent for other players succeeding with yellow, and no previous successes with red. Overall, the group measures fairly well, but without a single player who meets every guideline for their projected position.

The numbers don't dispute everyone's opinion that Von Miller is a can't-miss prospect. He is just 1 inch short of the guideline on his vertical jump, and far exceeds all other guidelines. Perhaps surprisingly, Justin Houston passes every guideline for a future Pro Bowler, and by this metric has the highest upside.

The next thing that stands out is Akeem Ayers shortcomings across the board. This is not a guy who should go in the 1st round, or that a team should expect a strong pass rush from. He seems entirely miscast in this role.

Brooks Reed flashes good speed and a blazing 10 yard split, especially for a 4-3 DE, but he also has a curiously low vertical jump. He clearly fails the guidelines, but so does Clay Matthews in this respect. Perhaps he could make the transition to a 3-4 OLB by shedding some weight in exchange for more speed.

Clayborn, Kerrigan, Smith and Allen show good promise as 4-3 ends. All suffer from a lack of pure speed, but show great short-area quickness. There's some talk of Kerrigan player 3-4 OLB, but his lack of pure speed would become a liability unless he can shed some weight and gain speed.

This leaves us with our two most unknown commodities. Da'Quan Bowers has no reliable measurables. Watching him on film reminds me of Calais Campbell, and perhaps he's actually best suited to be a 3-4 end, or even a 4-3 tackle. He does a great job of locking out, shedding blocks, but I don't seem the explosiveness required to be a pass rush threat. Robert Quinn's numbers put him squarely into the 4-3 role, where nothing about his measurables is a turnoff.

Overall, the top prospects come with a few concerns, and all but Ayers should make an impact at the next level. Miller proves his upside. Kerrigan and Reed are both possibly interesting for conversion to 3-4 edge rushers. Bowers is a big question mark still. I'm skeptical about Bowers and down on Ayers, but the other players have the tangibles to challenge for at least occasional Pro Bowl consideration, and at least be solid career starters worth taking in the 1st round.

The Outside Linebacker Smell Test

No, this isn't a deodorant commercial.

There's a lot of debate every year heading into the draft about how to select the next great pass rusher. Do you take college production? Raw potential? One-year wonders? Can a non-stop motor make up for limited physical skills?

The numbers are a little spotty because not all players run every event, but over the last 10 years virtually all Pro Bowl 3-4 outside linebackers have elite measurables in a number of combine events:
  • 40 time of 4.64 or better
  • 10 second split of 1.62 or better
  • Broad jump of 10' or better
  • Vertical of 38" or better

    There are remarkably few exceptions to these rules.
  • Julian Peterson ran a 4.68, Terrell Suggs ran a 4.81. Neither had any other measurement available.
  • Clay Matthews's vertical was only 35.5", but his 10-yard split was the fastest of the group at 1.49

    Of course plenty of players have similar measurables and never work out ("Vernon Gholston" should be familiar somehow). It's interesting to note that bench press and 3-cone seem unrelated to future success.

    A similar list can be constructed for 4-3 defensive ends, and the values don't look too much different:
  • 40 time of 4.68 or better*
  • Vertical of 37" or better**
  • Broad jump of 9'9 or better
  • 10-yard splits are far too sparse to call out values
    * There is a group in the 4.70-4.76 who are notorious motor guys (J.Allen, K.Vanden Bosch, A.Kampman, A.Schobel).
    ** Allen and Kampman posted verticals of only 33"

    A followup post will evaluate this year's prospects against these guidelines.
  • Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Risky picking a quarterback

    There's a lot of debate about how and where a team should draft a quarterback, but it's pretty clear players outside the 1st or 2nd round are unlikely to succeed. Players drafted over the last 15 years have accounted for 48 pro bowl appearances, and a few clear trends jump out:
    1. 40 of those 48 appearances are by players drafted in the first 11 picks
    2. 35 of those 48 appearances are by players drafted in the first 5 picks
    3. 24 of those 48 appearances are by players drafted in the first 2 picks
    4. 18 of those 48 appearances are by players drafted with the top overall pick
    5. Only 13 of those appearances are by players drafted after another player who never made a pro bowl.

    In other words, franchise quarterbacks come from high picks, and usually the ones people expect to be the stars. But, there's a catch. Those pro bowl appearances come from a lot of repeats, and those high picks also have a lot of misses. Peyton Manning has 11 appearances by himself, and there isn't another top pick AFC pro bowl quarterback for 5 years (Carson Palmer). Another set of much uglier truths emerges:

    1. 12 of 25 top 11 picks never make a pro bowl
    2. 10 of 20 top 5 picks never make a pro bowl
    3. 7 of 12 top 2 picks never make a pro bowl
    4. 6 of 10 top picks never make a pro bowl
    5. 5 of 15 draft classes have no pro bowlers in the first 2 rounds

    In other words, not every year has a franchise quarterback, and even if it does, picking that guy from the obvious choices doesn't pan out about half the time. Teams need to be smart and know if they are really getting a great player, or just the best guy in that particular class (or perhaps not even that).