Read: 2016 Force Players
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.
Force Players is a risk analysis used for edge defenders, but if I were forced to translate it to the interior defensive line, which I get questions about weekly, it would be more of a highlighting function for one-gap defensive linemen. Below is a look at the active 2005-2014 Force Player (blue) and Mid Tier (yellow) interior defensive linemen who were drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.
There doesn’t seem to be any relationship between the difference of Force Players and Mid Tiers on the interior defensive line. This makes sense, as I’ve stated the difference between the two in edge defender evaluation is start-stop-start ability, which doesn’t really exist on the interior defensive line. On the inside, you need to burst out of your stance and go. There is no stop.
Force Players J.J. Watt, Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh top the list, but Tyson Alualu, Ra’Shede Hageman and Datone Jones are littered through the rest of the data. It should be noted that Alualu was held back by an early-season injury, Hageman is improving in Atlanta and Jones was drafted as a 3-technique in Green Bay right before the emergence of Mike Daniels. Jones moved to 3-4 outside linebacker late in the 2015 season.
Between Jones-Jerel Worthy and Alualu-Sen’Derrick Marks, the Packers and the Jacksonville Jaguars have gotten the short end of the stick on explosive interior defensive linemen. The bust rate for Force Players and Mid Tiers aren’t high, but interior defensive linemen are safer draft choices than edge defenders overall. As I’ve previously stated in the original Force Players piece, drafting a second-round edge defender is like taking a second-round quarterback.
At the combine, there were five players who qualified as either Force Players or Mid Tiers on the defensive line. The Force Player was Connor Wujciak of Boston College, who I can’t talk about, since I haven’t truly been able to see what he’s capable of as a prospect. Heading into Indianapolis, I hadn’t heard his name talked about as a potential top-150 pick.
The other four names, all Mid Tiers, are the well-known athletes. There’s Sheldon Rankins of Louisville, who is currently my sixth overall player in this draft class. Another potential first-round pick, Jonathan Bullard of Florida, is a hybrid defensive tackle-defensive end. I wrote about him this week for Bleacher Report.
One of my favorite players in the draft class, Javon Hargrave of South Carolina State, made the cut. Hargrave dominated on film. He dominated the East-West Shrine Game. He showed up late to the Senior Bowl as an injury replacement and dominated. He dominated at the combine. There’s isn’t more you could ask a small school prospect to do. The final player on the list is Vincent Valentine of Nebraska, who I thought flashed as a freshman, but I haven’t gone back to evaluate. I will do so soon.
Watching Randy Gregory today. I'm not sure he's the best player on Nebraska's DL. Vincent Valentine flashed like crazy as a RS FR. 15-17 DT.
— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) August 12, 2014
There are two other players, Robert Nkemdiche of Mississippi and Kenny Clark of UCLA, who are potential Force Players. They need to finish their workout data at their pro days. Prospects who just missed the cut are Chris Jones of Mississippi State, Dean Lowry of Northwestern, Maliek Collins of Nebraska, Hassan Ridgeway of Texas, Willie Henry of Michigan and Sheldon Day of Notre Dame.