The combine matters for edge defenders, whether or not we would like to admit it. This first came to my attention in 2011, when a poster on Football’s Future under the user name of Waldo56 dropped his study on 3-4 outside linebackers, the pass-rushing position in an odd front defense.
Since then, I’ve been working on how to refine a predictive model using combine numbers for 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers. Is it perfect? No.
So, what are Force Players? They are athletically gifted pass-rushers who show out at the combine and have a significantly higher “hit rate” than those who don’t pass the filter. Starting this year, I’m also tracking a “Mid Tier” category for the EDGE position.
I do not post the formula in public, but I am open to giving out the results. How successful is it? Take a look for yourself.
Above is the first-round split for the 2005 through 2015 classes at the EDGE position. In total, by my count, there have been 56 prospects who were considered as either 4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers during the pre-draft process.
24 of them (42.86 percent) are filtered in as Force Players. Nine of them (16.07 percent) are in the Mid Tier category. 21 of them (37.5 percent) are filtered out as poor athletes on the surface, listed simply as “Non.” Two, Tamba Hali and Shawne Merriman, have incomplete numbers, but Merriman is either a Force Player or a Mid Tier prospect.
I would also like to make the case for Aldon Smith and Jadeveon Clowney. Smith was coming off of a leg fracture when he performed at the combine, and Clowney has had documented bone spur issues. Those are the two players I would say may not have truly tested 100 percent to their ability. Josh Norris of Rotoworld also noted Chandler Jones’ health pre-combine when I was on his podcast, Process the Process, last spring.
If you’re willing to exclude those players, who had potentially combine-impacting injuries, then the best first-round Non-Force Players since 2005, based on Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value metric, are Gaines Adams, Quinton Coples, Whitney Mercilus and Bjoern Werner. That’s not great.
I have divided every player’s AV by the amount of years they’ve been in the league, giving us a per year AV mark. Why AV? I just needed an unbiased metric to assign players a value in some way when comparing and contrasting the different categories. What I’ve found is AV is very close to about one point per sack. That’s the “AV/Y” column next to players’ names in the graphic above.
(All AV/Y numbers were calculated prior to the 2015 regular season.)
The results the of AV/Y study are so:
-First-round Force Players average an AV of around six per year.
-First-round Mid Tiers average an AV of around four per year.
-First-round Non-Force Players average an AV of around three per year.
That may not seem like a lot, but, essentially, you’re getting double the value when you take a Force Player over a Non-Force Player. Below are 2005-2015 first-rounders sorted from highest to lowest in AV/Y.
I’ve highlighted the AV/Y column for those in the average range of Force Players, Mid Tiers and Non-Force Players in blue, yellow and red, respectively. As you can see, only two Non-Force Players (Jones and Smith) could be considered “above average” if they were Force Players, and I’ve already stated my concern about assuming they were healthy.
The only two Force Players below the Non-Force Players average are Brandon Graham and Melvin Ingram. Graham was buried in the depth chart for years, but recently signed a $26 million contract with the Eagles. Ingram had his fifth-year option picked up by the Chargers. The teams who selected those two in the draft seem to be doubling down on their potential.
The splits are significant, and they only get bigger as the draft gets deeper. In the first round, 42.68 percent of EDGE prospects are filtered as Force Players. After the first round, that number drops closer to 20 percent.
For now, though, the first-rounders will be all I’m giving you.
I hope to develop this site into a one-stop shop for pass-rusher evaluation, covering both draft prospects and the professional game. If you have any comments or questions, make sure to either email me at [email protected] or
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