Force Players is an athletic threshold based off of combine performances of pass-rushers that I’ve been working on since 2011. It isn’t the end all be all for edge defenders, but it’s close. It works as a healthy risk analysis, based on a sample of the 2005 through 2015 draft classes.
It’s heavily based around the three-cone drill and both the vertical and broad jumps. The short shuttle and the 10-yard split from the 40-yard dash are weighted more than the 40-yard dash itself. Looking at these numbers, it’s pretty obvious that the least important drill is the one which gets the most publicity.
The other thing I’ll say about the process is that it’s density based. Do I know why it works? Not completely. I do speculate that it has to do more with a player’s body control rather than the actual generation of force, though. @JoshNorris suggested the name Force Players, and I regret not changing it back to Math Rushers or Computer Cowboys on a weekly basis.
@SmileyMoth wrote a piece for Playmaker Mentality about the perception of speed earlier this week. Prior to that piece, I had always used “Godzilla Theory” as my best explanation. In those old Godzilla movies, the monster looked slow because of his long, time-exhausting stride length, while all of the people running rapid like ants appeared faster juxtaposed to Godzilla. That doesn’t make them fast, though. Godzilla is still making it across Toyko in five steps and a faster pace of those humans. Ants are rapid, not fast. We want to find fast pass-rushers. This is an extreme example, but your eyes can lie.
I don’t put the formula out in public, as I hope one day I can swindle a professional franchise into buying it from me. I do post the results, though. Here they are from the first three rounds (2005-2015):
- Gam: games played in player X’s career
- Sta: starts in player X’s career
- AV: Approximate Value, an unbiased statistic to measure player X’s career. This is brought to us by the people at Pro Football Reference.
- Sea: seasons in player X’s career
- AV/S: Approximate Value divided by seasons played, essentially an AV efficiency metric for player X’s career
- St %: start percentage in player X’s career
There are three categories for EDGEs: Force Players, Mid Tiers and Non-Force Players. First-round Force Players basically yield double the AV/S and St % of Non-Force Players throughout their career.
In my opinion, in the first three rounds of the draft, the only glaring misses that the Force Players formula has filtered out have been Justin Tuck, Aldon Smith and Chandler Jones. It should be noted that Tuck was coming off an ACL injury at Notre Dame and that Smith played on a recently broken leg during his last season at Missouri. Jones might just be an alien.
Some players, like Tamba Hali and Shawne Merriman, weren’t included in the data. They didn’t complete their testing, or at least I wasn’t able to gather their numbers, so I couldn’t pin them down into a category. Merriman would have either finished as a Force Player or a Mid Tier, though.
Why does the combine predict success at pass-rushing positions? Every drill has their purpose. The three-cone drill measures hip flexibility, which is incredibly important for players who are asked to bend the edge against offensive tackles. The short shuttle measures ankle flexion and start-stop-start ability, which is why players who test well in every other drill might be athletic on paper, but never really appear to be super athletes on the field.
:glaring stare at Nick Perry and Vernon Gholston:
The 10-yard split and jumps obviously measure lower body explosion, while the 40-yard dash measures long speed, which pass-rushers rarely ever get to display. If a defensive end is running for even 10 yards without facing any sort of contact, someone either completely blew a play or the ball is already downfield, away from the defender.
I typically wait for the combine sheet that NFL teams receive to come across my screen before I plug in the official Force Player numbers. But…the plug is late, and the people keep asking me about what this year’s crop looks like.
Luckily, the NFL Draft Scout team have updated their combine numbers. This includes a 20-yard split, a number which wasn’t reported during the combine. That leads me to believe that the numbers posted came from a combine sheet. If they aren’t, I’ll adjust the numbers for this year’s class when I receive a sheet.
Unfortunately, this class as a whole isn’t very impressive at the top, and that reflects in the pass-rushing class. There is one Force Player: Shaq Lawson of Clemson. There is one Mid Tier player: Jonathan Bullard of Florida.
Lawson was a one-year wonder who replaced Vic Beasley, last year’s eighth overall pick and the top Force Player in the 2015 draft class. Bullard is a hybrid base defensive end and nickel defensive tackle.
Pending are the numbers of Charles Tapper of Oklahoma, Robert Nkemdiche of Mississippi and Jordan Jenkins of Georgia, who all need to finish their data samples at their pro days.
Tapper was an All-Big 12 player as a sophomore at Oklahoma who once ran down Amari Cooper. Oklahoma then moved him into a four-point stance for his junior and senior seasons. I wrote about him for Bleacher Report. Nkemdiche is a former super recruit who @PFF_Steve and I believe can play base end. Jenkins was just a very solid football player for Georgia who wasn’t moved off the ball like Leonard Floyd, who is currently Mike Mayock’s second overall pass-rusher in the draft class, behind Ohio State’s Joey Bosa.
I will likely be highlighting these combine numbers in future pieces I write. Earlier this week, I wrote about Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah who is being tabbed for having a great combine, but actually is just receiving incredible praise for a fast 40-yard dash, which as I’ve stated is the most overrated drill in Indianapolis.
Ogbah ran a 7.26-second three-cone. Here’s a list of EDGEs with three-cone times of 7.25 seconds or slower drafted in the first round from 2005-2015:
- Dante Fowler
- Bud Dupree (elite jumps)
- Shane Ray
- Jadeveon Clowney
- Marcus Smith
- Jarvis Jones
- Bjoern Werner
- Datone Jones
- Quinton Coples
- Nick Perry (elite jumps)
- Adrian Clayborn
- Aaron Maybin
- Brian Orakpo (elite jumps)
- Larry English
- Robert Ayers
- Derrick Harvey
- Tamba Hali
- Mathias Kiwanuka
- Erasmus James
I believe that the combine matters for pass-rushers. You should, too.