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.
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