Finding Playmakers In The 2011 Draft For The Dallas Cowboys

KaptainKirk, a staff writer for SB Nation's excellent Broncos blog Mile High Report, wrote a very interesting post yesterday titled "Finding Playmakers For The Broncos Using The Production Ratio". I liked it so much that I asked for, and received permission to copy his data and present it here.

What KaptainKirk did is take a statistic called 'Production Ratio' as proposed by NFL.com's Pat Kirwan in his book  titled "Take Your Eye Off the Ball" and apply it to the 2011 draft class.

The Production Ratio is really a very simple formula that adds up sacks and tackles-for-loss and divides them by number of college games played. The resulting ratio is one tool among many - albeit a pretty good one - that measures the playmaking potential of front seven players coming out of college. After the break we look at how many defensive line playmakers will be available for the Cowboys in the draft - and there may be less than you think.

If the Cowboys stay in the ninth spot for the draft, chances are good that they'll draft a defensive lineman. Robert Quinn (although he projects as a 3-4 OLB), Cameron Jordan, Marcell Dareus and even J.J. Watt are all names that frequently pop up in mock drafts in the ninth spot. But are they the playmakers that you want to make sure you get with such a high draft pick?

The Production Ratio for front seven players is good indicator for just what the Cowboys could be getting, and it is calculated as follows:

(SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF GAMES PLAYED  = PRODUCTION RATIO

What you want in a Production Ratio is a score of 1.0 or better. Effectively, a score of 1.0 says that a player recorded one splash play in the defensive backfield per game.The higher the number, the better.

But before we look at the 2011 draft class, let's look at the Cowboys 2010 starting lineup at DL & OLB and their college Production Ratio. What stands out immediately is that the Cowboys front five were all picked very high, with Ratliff being the odd man out. Three first rounders in Ware, Spears and Spencer - and Igor was taken at the very top of the second round.

Draft Round / Pick
Player Pos School SKS TFL Games P. Ratio
Round: 1 / Pick: 11 DeMarcus Ware
ROLB Troy 27.5 57 43 1.96
Round: 2 / Pick: 35 Igor Olshansky RDE Oregon 11.5 27 38 1.01
Round: 7 / Pick: 224 Jay Ratliff NT Auburn 2 15 34 0.50
Round: 1 / Pick: 20 Marcus Spears LDE LSU 19 34.5 48 1.11
Round: 1 / Pick: 26 Anthony Spencer
DE Purdue 21 44 47 1.38

Not unsurprisingly, all the high picks had a Production Ratio in college above 1.0. Granted, Olshansky and Spears are barely above the 1.0 mark, but those are still pretty good numbers. Intuitively, I believe those numbers make sense: Ratliff did not have a stellar college career and only really blossomed when moved from DE to NT in Dallas. Ware's numbers show why he is the monster that he is, and also show why Spencer may never reach the lofty statistical heights that Ware regularly reaches.

Olshansky and Spears, more than good enough in college, are perhaps somewhat limited by their roles as DE's in a 3-4. Here’s an excerpt of something Ross Tucker wrote for SI.com a while back about the difference between 3-4 and 4-3 DE's:

Defensive lineman in the 3-4 are taught to play off the blockers in front of them and as such the position is not nearly as fun as a 4-3 gap-penetrating scheme in which they just line up between offensive linemen and attempt to wreak havoc in the backfield.

... Their statistical numbers, especially in terms of both tackles for loss and sacks, would be far below their [4-3 DE] peers as a result of the difference in scheme.

2011 Defensive Ends

Now on to this year's draft class. The following table was compiled by KaptainKirk and shows the current top ranked defensive ends, sorted by their CBS Draft Rankings (OVR is the overall ranking on the CBS big board). For your reference, last year's highest drafted DE, Tyson Alualu had a 0.81 ratio.

OVR Player Pos School SKS TFL Games P. Ratio
3 Da'Quan Bowers DE Clemson 19.5 43.5 37 1.70
6 Robert Quinn DE No. Carolina 13 25.5 25 1.54
13 Cameron Jordan DE California 17.5 34 50 1.03
17 Adrian Clayborn DE Iowa 19 37.5 51 1.11
20 Ryan Kerrigan DE Purdue 37.5 55.5 48 1.94
22 J.J. Watt DE Wisconsin 11.5 36.5 26 1.85
27 Cameron Heyward DE Ohio St. 15.5 37.5 52 1.02
41 Jabaal Sheard DE Pittsburgh 19.5 35.5 46 1.19
44 Christian Ballard DE Iowa 12 21.5 49 0.68
61 Allen Bailey DE Miami (Fla.) 20 30 61 0.82
70 Sam Acho DE Texas 20 40 49 1.22

Couple of things stand out here. Based on these Production Ratios, you're looking at elite talent in Bowers and Quinn, and it's no surprise they'll both likely be taken in the top 10. Ryan Kerrigan's numbers are very surprising, but at 255 lbs he is one of the lightest DE's in the draft, and not an option at DE for a 3-4 team. But he might make an outstanding 3-4 OLB if his Production Ratio is anything to go by.

Another thought to consider (again with the caveat that Production Ratio is only one part of the total picture) is that purely based on these numbers, it doesn't look like drafting a DE with the 9th pick would be a marked improvement over the DE's the Cowboys already have - unless they're named Bowers or Quinn, and Quinn would be an OLB anyway. Thankfully, we have the Combine in a couple of weeks that will give us some more metrics to look at. And of course, there's always film to look at too.

2011 Defensive Tackles

Same principle here as with the defensive ends above. Again for reference, last year's #2 pick Ndamukong Suh scored 1.53 over his college career. He also just walked away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year award for 2010, and if you watched the Cowboys - Lions game, you can't not have been impressed by the guy. Here are the top ranked DT's of 2011.

OVR Player Pos School SKS TFL Games P. Ratio
2 Nick Fairley DT Auburn 13 27.5 27 1.50
5 Marcell Dareus DT Alabama 11 20 33 0.93
23 Corey Liuget DT Illinois 8.5 25.5 36 0.94
37 Stephen Paea DT Oregon St. 15 30.5 38 1.20
42 Phil Taylor DT Baylor 5.5 16 37 0.58
45 Drake Nevis DT LSU 12 29.5 45 0.92
49 Muhammad Wilkerson DT Temple 17 26 36 1.94
65 Marvin Austin DT No. Carolina 9 13.5 38 0.59
68 Jurrell Casey DT USC 8 22 38 0.79
79 Kenrick Ellis DT Hampton 7 37.5 43 1.03
90 Jarvis Jenkins DT Clemson 4.5 23.5 48 0.53
97 Jerrell Powe DT Mississippi 6 24 37 0.81

At first glance, it would appear that based on these numbers, Fairley might follow the same trajectory as Suh did, but that is not quite the case and brings us to some of the limitations of the Production Ratio.

Suh's 1.53 was achieved over 53 college games, Fairley's 1.50 in 'only' 27 games. Also, if you take just Suh's junior and senior year stats then his ratio was an astonishing 2.24. You can look at these numbers in many different ways: total games, only games started, only last two years etc. and all will deliver different results.

Did you know for example that Ratliff originally began his Auburn career as a tight end, moved to defensive end as a sophomore and then to defensive tackle in his final season? How do you account for that with these stats?

Muhammad Wilkerson has an amazing number, but you'll probably have to factor into that number the fact that Temple is playing in the MAC, which may not have quite the level of competition the SEC has. Then again, Troy isn't exactly a powerhouse either and produced DeMarcus Ware and the Giants' Osi Umenyiora (1.33).

This formula, like every other stat-based projective tool, is not going to be a perfect predictor of how successful these players are going to be in the NFL, and Jay Ratliff is just one example for this. But it does give you something to think about as you evaluate these players and their potential.

With the ninth pick, the Cowboys must draft a playmaker, or trade down. The Production Ratio may be one building block in identifying who that playmaker will be - and who won't.

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