Several weeks ago, I was perusing a fantastic article written by Pro Football Focus (PFF), offering unique insight on which NFL pass rushers were most productive. The formula was relatively simple, yet labor intensive. PFF used their own formula to come up with this metric by calculating the number of sacks, QB hits and hurries (hits and hurries count as 3/4 of a sack). Then divide that total by the number of pass rushing snaps (and then multiply by 100). This number gives a score, which they call the PRP rating: pass rushing productivity.
This useful metric reveals a great deal more than a player’s mere sack totals, which are only part of the equation. Ask Rex Ryan, and he will tell you that sacks are a glamor statistic, since the real objective is to generate pressure on the quarterback.
Armed with this knowledge, I was inspired to design a similar chart that focused on NFL draft prospects, especially since this information does not seem to be readily available elsewhere. Believing that Pro Football Focus’ method was sound, I decided to stick with their formula, with just a few additions. The main difference between their method and mine is that I chose to incorporate pass rushing turnovers (sack fumbles, strips, etc) and pass rush penalties generated (drawing a holding penalty counts as a QB hurry) into the equation.
Using Youtube videos showing every defensive snap for each game, I was able to review approximately five 2012 games for each prospect on this list (with the exception of Margus Hunt and Kawann Short). If the game was posted, it was included in the calculation. I also added tackles for a loss, since this reflects how disruptive each player proved to be in the running game.
The first chart covers DE/OLB prospects who are expected to go in the first 2 rounds of April’s draft. The second chart includes interior defensive linemen (DT) who should go in the first-early 2nd round. As a point of reference, both Ndamukong Suh and Von Miller’s stats (for roughly 3 and 2 games respectively) were added to show how well elite college pass rushers fared compared to the current group.
|Von Miller (2010)*||Texas A&M||5.5/18||30.6||4|
|Damontre Moore||Texas A&M||28.5/168||13.8||9.5|
|Bjoern Werner||Florida State||27.5/183||11.3||3.5|
Observations on the edge rushers:
Clearly the class of the group, Jarvis Jones consistently dominated all levels of competition. His performances against Missouri and Florida were outstanding. Plus, his production fell off very little against top opponents like Alabama and LSU.
Oregon’s Dion Jordan surprised me by coming up with the 3rd highest score. He is an amazing athlete who dropped into coverage quite a bit, and looked really comfortable doing so. I like how he seemed to get better throughout each game, racking up 11 of his 20 pressures in the second half.
Even more astonishing is the campaign that Margus Hunt of SMU has made in 2012. In the two games I tracked, he was clearly the best player on the field, looking far more nimble and athletic than a 6’8″ man. Not shown on film, but still worthy of note, Hunt is the NCAA record holder for blocked kicks with 18 careers blocks. Outstanding. In the bowl game, Fresno St. occasionally devoted 3 blockers to stop Hunt from disrupting the play.
Alex Okafor is truly a pass rush specialist, and can really apply the heat. He is not an outstanding run defender (1 TFL), but he has one of the best bursts of this entire bunch. He tended to show up best in the first half of games, when he had fresh legs. Nevertheless, a score of 18 is a great number, especially for a prospect who is currently somewhat under the radar as a late 1st round pick.
Damontre Moore is obviously athletic, and applied even pressure to QB’s throughout games. My caveats with Moore are that a higher than average number of his sacks came from hustle, rather than sheer dominance of the opposing lineman, and he got virtually stoned against top competitor Lane Johnson of Oklahoma. Nevertheless, his great length and speed stand out as prime factors in his high production.
Based on all the attention that Barkevious Mingo receives, Sam Montgomery was the better pass rusher in 2012. He may lack the lateral agility and elite upside of Mingo, but Montgomery is a relentless rusher who will give full effort, wearing down opponents and racking up stats in the latter half of games. His power for a 260 pounder is impressive, regularly walking offensive tackles back to the quarterback.
His counterpart, Mingo had a few outstanding performances (bowl game against Clemson), mixed in with some hold/cold performances. By the numbers, he was clearly used as a pass rush specialist at LSU, appearing heavily on obvious passing downs. Yet, he still was able to make 5.5 splash plays in the run game, even in limited time. His effect on opponents late game was best in the first half, producing 57% of his pressure early on.
Bjoern Werner, the highly productive sack master from Florida State strangely underperformed compared to my expectation. I fully thought he would be right along with Jarvis Jones, since his sack totals are almost identical. Against better competition (Miami and NC State), he was largely unable to apply pressure against big and athletic offensive linemen. But versus lower level players within the conference, he showed up in a big way. I wonder about the discrepancy between his score (11.4) and the top rushers like Jarvis Jones (28.2).
The one remaining edge rusher is the Ghanian Ezekiel Ansah. I like how versatile he is, playing on the edge, at nose tackle, defensive end, and he can drop really, really well into coverage. Against teams like Idaho and Utah State, you would think he would totally dominate, but he wasn’t a huge pass rushing factor in those games. However, he makes a ton of plays in run support, and can intimidate quarterbacks with the way he runs through them when he gets close enough. It is not surprising to see him not quite up there with the best rushers yet, because he is still very new to the game. It will also be nice to see his production spread out a bit more, since it tends to come in clumps.
|Ndamukong Suh (2009)*||Nebraska||15/113||11.1||4.5|
|Sylvester Williams||North Carolina||15.5/126||10.7||4.5|
Observations on the defensive tackles:
Though the edge rushing group has intrigue, the defensive tackle has depth and consistency. All 6 of the listed interior defenders have a strong chance of going in the first round of the draft.
At the top, no surprise here, is Star Lotulelei. Besides being disruptive in the run game, he can lay a lasting hit on quarterbacks. When he stays home or is unable to reach the quarterback, he showed quick hands and impeccable timing for batting down passes at the LOS. He has a diverse skill set and can play 1-gap, 2-gap defense in either 3-4 or 4-3 defensive fronts, and he can move around on the line as well. He is a safe pick.
Sylvester Williams and Kawann Short are both best suited as 3 technique tackles at the next level. They play with quickness more than power, and can disrupt the flow of the running game. They struggle to stack and read the plays, but could make an impact attacking offenses. Short brings special teams value, having blocked NCAA best 4 kicks this season. Based on their scores, whoever gets either of these two players could get great value, especially since they are expected to go late round 1 or early 2.
Lately, I have heard a great deal of buzz around Sharrif Floyd of Florida. Daniel Jeremiah and Mike Mayock of NFL.com both have suggested that he is a top 10 pick and maybe the best of this group. I will agree that he is a very good player, one that gives great effort and can get you lots of TFL. But from what I saw, he wasn’t pressuring the quarterback in the passing game as much as I hoped.
I like the last two names on this list very much. Datone Jones (UCLA) and Sheldon Richardson (Missouri) are big factors because of their quickness and versatility. Richardson lines up everywhere and makes plays way of the tackle box. Opponents game plan against him, and his stats are good considering the competition level he faced. Datone Jones blew up more plays in the backfield than any other player I charted. His 11 TFL were better than even Jarvis Jones. At UCLA, he moved around a lot, playing both DT and DE in their 3-4 defensive looks.
The most pleasant surprises were Sylvester Williams, Dion Jordan, and Margus Hunt, who all appeared in the top 4 at their positions. I will be indicative of future success.
On the other side of the coin, I was disappointed to see the low scores for Bjoern Werner, Damontre Moore and Sheldon Richardson. I felt that Richardson especially was going to score through the roof.
My hope is that these scores will have some predictive value for the draft and even more so for shedding light on future production in the NFL. Only time will tell.