Football Outsiders' SackSEER: Potential Edge Rushers In The 2011 Draft

Last year, the fine folks at Football Outsiders introduced us to SackSEER, a regression-based formula developed to predict the NFL success of edge rushers selected in the NFL Draft.

The formula is based on four metrics: vertical leap, short shuttle time, SRAM or adjusted sacks per game in college (with some playing time adjustments), and how many eligible games worth of NCAA football the player missed for any reason (includes games lost because the player was enrolled at a junior college, but excludes early entry into the NFL Draft).

Yesterday, Football Outsiders published their SackSEER numbers for college edge rushers in the 2011 NFL Draft class. SackSEER is not the be-all and end-all of statistical analysis, and FO themselves argue that it is more accurate at identifying busts than it is at singling out potential stars, but it is definitely worth a detailed look. Which is exactly what we'll do after the break.

If you're not familiar with SackSEER, here's a brief outline of how it works:

There are four main factors that correlate to sack success in the NFL: vertical leap, short shuttle time, sacks per game in college (with some playing time adjustments), and how many eligible games worth of NCAA football the player missed for any reason (except early entry into the NFL Draft). SackSEER projects each prospect's total sacks through five years, which is roughly the average length of the rookie contract received by a first- or second-round pick.

Although the individual trends are small, when considered together, they project sack production approximately three times more accurately than a player's draft position within the first two rounds. Overall, SackSEER accounts for approximately 40 percent of the historical variation among these players' accumulated five-year sack totals.

The model is not without its detractors, and the model has predicted a number of head-scratchers last year, most notably underestimating the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, who met his five-year sack projection in his first year in the league. It completely missed on the Bengals' Carlos Dunlap, who led all rookies with 9.5 sacks last year, and it also may have overrated the Colts' Jerry Hughes, who played little in 2010 but was touted as the best pass rushing prospect of the 2010 class.

But their other six projections from last year look to be solid, and harping on a few high-profile misses is always easier than looking at the overall accuracy of the model. Applying the model to edge rushers drafted into the NFL since 1999 yields more accurate predictions than misses. So don't discard the model just because of some high profile misses. For the most part, the model is fairly accurate.

Note that the model applies only to 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers, but not to 3-4 defensive ends. This means that players like J.J. Watt, Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan, Allen Bailey, and Cameron Heyward, all potentially on the Cowboys shopping list, are not included in SackSEER.

Here's how this year's draft class stacked up:

Player College Vertical Short Shuttle SRAM Missed Games 5-Year Sack
Projection

Von Miller

Texas A&M

37.0"

4.06

0.76

4

36.4

Justin Houston

Georgia

36.5"

4.37

0.61

3

26.0

Ryan Kerrigan

Purdue

33.5"

4.39

0.70

1

24.7

Da'Quan Bowers

Clemson

34.5"

4.45

0.60

2

22.0

Aldon Smith

Missouri

34.0"

4.50

0.62

3

20.0

Robert Quinn

North Carolina

34.0"

4.40

0.56

13

15.5

Brooks Reed

Arizona

30.5"

4.28

0.34

5

15.1

Jabaal Sheard

Pittsburgh

31.5"

4.65

0.39

5

10.6

[Hat tip to Fan in Thick and Thin for the Fanshot]

It is worth noting that missed games are the factor in the model correlating most strongly with the final projection:

SackSEER suggests that a college edge rusher who misses numerous games for any reason other than early declaration for the NFL Draft has little chance of succeeding as a professional.

This includes players who miss games due to injury, suspensions, academic standards, or sickness. Medical redshirts are included, although standard freshman redshirts are not. Players with health issues in college tend to have health issues in the NFL (Erasmus James, for example). Missing games for other reasons is also indicative of failure at the NFL level. 

As such, the model comes down particularly hard on Robert Quinn, whom most pundits see as a top ten pick in this year's draft. If you're in the Cowboys front office and looking to improve the Cowboys' pass rush, what do you do?

Of course, you can always hope that Von Miller falls your way, but barring that minor miracle, who, according to these numbers and their position on your draft board, is the optimal candidate? Or would you go after a 3-4 DE?

After all, interior pass rushers are becoming more and more important, as teams are increasingly adapting to the more traditional outside edge rushers with short drops and quick throws. If all a QB has to do to avoid the pass rush is step up in the pocket, you've got a pass rushing problem. One that could leave you with a 6-10 record.

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