2012 NFL Combine: Outside Linebacker Prospects Under The Microscope

Is the next DeMarcus Ware among this year's draft class?

Shortly after he arrived at the Combine, Jerry Jones walked by a couple of microphones, stopped as if forced by an invisible hand, and began talking. Somewhere along the way, he mentioned that the Cowboys' biggest defensive need is an improved pass rush.

"For defense, I'm into the pressure for us right now, above the corner, even if we franchise Spencer," Jones said.

At the time, Jerry Jones wasn't sure an elite pass-rusher would fall to the Cowboys at No. 14 overall, but thought there were a number of pressure players who would be picked in the first two rounds. Yesterday's drills at the Combine may have changed some of that thinking. Some edge rushers may have made a case yesterday for being selected ahead of the no. 14 spot, and we're likely to see a lot of movement in the later rounds as the various teams draft analysts adjust their big boards to account for the Combine results.


Related: Combine Tale Of The Tape For Defensive Linemen

After the break, we'll look at some of the standout performances the edge rushers delivered at the Combine yesterday and try to figure out whether metrics like the Short Shuttle, Explosion number, Speed Scores, Lateral Agility and more can help us identify potential Cowboys pass rushing target.

For this post, in addition to looking at the target numbers for 4-3 outside linebackers, as outlined by Gil Brandt last year, I've decided to add the Combine numbers of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer as a reference:

Drill Significance Outside Linebackers DeMarcus Ware Anthony Spencer
40-yard dash Speed over distance 4.70 4.56 4.70
225-pound bench press reps Upper body strength 23 27 30
Vertical jump Explosiveness, leg strength 36 38.5 32.5
Broad jump Explosiveness, leg strength 9-9 10-2 9-4
20-yard shuttle Flexibility, burst, balance 4.10 4.07 4.43
3-cone drill Agility, change of direction 7.10 6.85 7.14

Don't get me wrong, this isn't supposed to be a slam on Spencer. I think most of us can agree that Spencer was probably drafted a little too high for what he's shown so far, and let's leave it at that. You'll notice that Ware beat every single one of the six targets on this list. Spencer on the other hand only met two, and perhaps those were the wrong ones.

Football Outsiders have their own SackSEER metric to assess the potential of edge rushers. SackSEER uses four metrics: Vertical leap, short shuttle, adjusted sack rate in college and missed games in college.

Here's what FO had to say about the short shuttle and the vertical leap in the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac, with the vertical leap part taken from the FO website:

The vertical leap's importance is based on simple physics. If a 270-pound defensive end has the leg strength to jump 40 inches in the air from a standing position, it is very likely that he will be able to employ that same functional strength to burst quickly and powerfully off the line of scrimmage.

...

SackSEER’s other workout metric is the short shuttle run. The drill measures change-of-direction speed, burst, and hip flexibility, which are understandably important to rushing the passer. DeMarcus Ware had a jaw-dropping short shuttle of 4.07 seconds, Aaron Schobel ran the shuttle in 4.03 seconds, and Kyle Vanden Bosch ran the shuttle in 4.08 seconds. No elite edge rusher has emerged from any round of the NFL Draft since at least 1999 with a short shuttle slower than 4.42 seconds.

The importance of the short shuttle appears to be a well-kept secret. There is no significant correlation between draft position and the short shuttle, which suggests that teams basically ignore it. In contrast, research suggests that teams put a fair amount of weight on 40- yard dash times when drafting edge rushers - more weight than any other workout number. Although there is some relationship between the 40-yard dash and pass rushing success, the 40-yard dash is collinear with both the vertical leap and the short shuttle and does not materially increase the strength of the regression when introduced into the model. Stated more simply, the 40- yard dash is only useful in projecting edge rushers to the extent that it identifies prospects who already have good vertical leaps and short shuttle times.

A great example of the short shuttle’s predictive power relative to the 40-yard dash is Terrell Suggs. Suggs had a phenomenal collegiate sack record, but ran a number of 40-yard dashes at his pro day and only managed to score a poor average of 4.88 seconds. Suggs’ poor 40 time was widely reported (as well as his attendant drop in "draft stock") and it was a mere footnote that Suggs had, on the same day, logged a respectable 4.33-second short shuttle time. Ultimately, the Baltimore Ravens were rewarded handsomely for not overly relying on Suggs’ 40-yard dash.

FO haven't released their SackSEER numbers for this year yet, but with the above in mind, let's take a look at the 2012 class of pass rushing prospects with an eye towards their short shuttle and vertical leap results:

Edge Rushers, 2012 Combine measurables (click column header to sort)

Rank Player 3-4 POS College HGT WGT Arms 40 Time 225 Reps Jump 3 Cone Vert Short Shuttle
16 Ingram, Melvin OLB South Carolina 6014 264 31 1/2 4.79 28 9'1 6.83 34.5 4.18
17 Upshaw, Courtney OLB Alabama 6015 272 32 DNP 22 DNP DNP DNP DNP
28 Perry, Nick OLB Southern California 6026 271 33 4.64 35 10'4 7.25 38.5 4.66
31 Mercilus, Whitney OLB Illinois 6035 261 33 7/8 4.68 27 9'10 7.17 32.0 4.53
35 Branch, Andre OLB Clemson 6042 259 34 4.70 DNP 10'0 7.19 32.5 4.25
55 Lewis, Ronnell OLB Oklahoma 6016 253 32 1/2 4.69 36 9'4 7.09 31.0 4.4
59 Curry, Vinny OLB Marshall 6031 266 32 3/4 4.98 DNP 9'2 6.9 32.0 4.4
60 Jones, Chandler OLB Syracuse 6053 266 35 1/2 4.87 22 10'0 7.07 35.0 4.38
62 Massaquoi, Jonathan OLB Troy 6021 264 34 1/8 4.89 20 10'0 7.38 33.5 4.53
64 Mcclellin, Shea OLB Boise St 6033 260 32 3/4 4.63 19 9'10 7.07 31.5 4.33
77 Johnson, Cam OLB Virginia 6034 268 33 1/2 4.81 DNP 8'9 7.2 35.0 4.38
95 Bradham, Nigel OLB Florida St 6017 241 33 3/4 4.64 24 10'1 7.18 37.0 4.37
109 Irvin, Bruce OLB West Virginia 6030 245 33 3/8 4.50 23 10'3 6.7 33.5 4.03
129 Jackson, Malik OLB Tennessee 6046 284 33 3/4 4.91 25 8'9 7.38 28.0 4.41
148 Lindsey, Brandon OLB Pittsburgh 6015 254 32 5/8 4.93 23 9'9 7.36 33.0 4.28
154 Wilber, Kyle OLB Wake Forest 6036 249 33 1/4 4.86 25 9'9 7.11 33.5 4.31
160 Bequette, Jake OLB Arkansas 6045 274 32 4.82 DNP 9'5 6.90 34.0 4.07
170 Crawford, Jack OLB Penn St 6047 274 33 1/2 4.89 28 9'5 7.09 33.0 4.44
181 Vernon, Olivier OLB Miami-Fl 6021 261 33 4.80 31 10'2 7.39 34.5 4.5
198 Smith, Jacquies OLB Missouri 6025 253 32 4.81 21 9'2 7.25 35.5 4.31

In terms of vertical leap, only Nick Perry matches DeMarcus Ware. Nigel Bradham comes close, and Jacquies Smith at least comes close to the 36' benchmark. But that's it. This of course is more an example of what an exceptional athlete Ware is, and not an indictment of the 2012 class.

In the short shuttle, Bruce Irvin delivered a better performance than DeMarcus Ware, a fact that will see his draft stock rise significantly. Unheralded Jake Bequette matches Ware, which should make him the number one sleeper candidate. Melvin Ingram and Andre Branch solidify their high draft rating with very solid numbers. However, don't sleep on the rest of this class. 14 of the 19 edge rushers in the list come in under FO's cut-off mark of 4.42 seconds.

Nick Perry's short shuttle mark is perplexing. I did not see him run, so I don't know what was going on there, but for a man of his athletic ability that is a stunningly bad number. And pre-Combine mock draft favorites Whitney Mercilus and Jonathan Massaquoi loose a little of their appeal with disappointing short shuttle results.

Now on to four additional metrics to get a better feel for what all of these Combine numbers mean (Forgive me for the copy/paste from the defensive line post, but there are always readers who didn't read the previous post):

1. Production ratio: [(SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF COLLEGE GAMES PLAYED = PRODUCTION RATIO]

This number measures the playmaking potential of front seven players coming out of college. 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.

2. Speed Score: [(WEIGHT * 200) / (40-TIME ^ 4) = SPEED SCORE]

Not all players are created equal, and it doesn't make a lot of sense comparing 40-times of players who may have a weight difference of 60 pounds. The Speed Score takes into account both a player's time in the 40-yard dash as well as his weight.

The ratio was initially developed for running backs, but works just as well for defensive linemen: It multiplies a player's weight by 200, and then divides that number by his 40 time, taken to the fourth power. This may sound weird, but is actually quite simple. The multiplications give each measurement roughly equal weight and ensure that an average score comes out at about 100. The higher the resulting number, the better the combination of size and speed in a player.

3. Explosion Number: [BENCH PRESS REPS + VERTICAL JUMP + BROAD JUMP = EXPLOSION NUMBER]

This is a simple addition that adds up the number of bench press reps with the broad and vertical jump values. Technically, this isn't even mathematically correct, because you can't just add reps, inches and feet into one aggregate number, but so be it (Heck, this is the NFL. People have been struggling with the passer rating for 40 years, so math must be bad, right?).

What this number gives you is an idea of the explosive strength of a lineman.=An explosion number over 70 is considered a very good result. We'll make an allowance for this draft class and assume that anything above 65 is still good.

4. Lateral Agility: [40-YARD DASH TIME - 20-YARD SHUTTLE = LATERAL AGILITY]

This number uses the differential between the 40-yard dash time and the 20-yard shuttle to get a better feel for the lateral agility of a player, as the differential provides information beyond simple long speed and short-area quickness. Generally speaking, a player who notches a .50 or better is considered to have outstanding lateral agility, a quality highly sought after in interior linemen who usually operate in very tight spaces.

Edge Rushers, 2012 Combine additional metrics (click column header to sort)

Rank Player 3-4 POS HGt WGT Production Ratio Speed Score Explosion Lateral Agility
16 Ingram, Melvin OLB 6014 264 1.03 100.3 71.6 0.61
17 Upshaw, Courtney OLB 6015 272 0.98 - - - - - -
28 Perry, Nick OLB 6026 271 1.38 116.9 83.9 -0.02
31 Mercilus, Whitney OLB 6035 261 1.27 108.8 69.0 0.15
35 Branch, Andre OLB 6042 259 1.07 106.2 - - 0.45
55 Lewis, Ronnell OLB 6016 253 0.90 104.6 76.4 0.29
59 Curry, Vinny OLB 6031 266 1.68 86.5 - - 0.58
60 Jones, Chandler OLB 6053 266 1.16 94.6 67.0 0.49
62 Massaquoi, Jonathan OLB 6021 264 2.02 92.3 63.5 0.36
64 Mcclellin, Shea OLB 6033 260 1.05 113.2 60.5 0.30
77 Johnson, Cam OLB 6034 268 1.10 100.1 - - 0.43
95 Bradham, Nigel OLB 6017 241 0.58 104.0 70.5 0.27
109 Irvin, Bruce OLB 6030 245 1.98 119.5 66.8 0.47
129 Jackson, Malik OLB 6046 284 1.04 97.7 61.9 0.50
148 Lindsey, Brandon OLB 6015 254 1.24 86.0 65.9 0.65
154 Wilber, Kyle OLB 6036 249 1.14 89.3 68.0 0.55
160 Bequette, Jake OLB 6045 274 1.14 101.5 - - 0.75
170 Crawford, Jack OLB 6047 274 0.83 95.8 70.5 0.45
181 Vernon, Olivier OLB 6021 261 1.00 98.3 75.7 0.3
198 Smith, Jacquies OLB 6025 253 0.76 94.5 65.7 0.5

Couple of observations about the numbers:

  • Melvin Ingram is the only player to hit all the marks in this table, which should make him a candidate for the Cowboys' no. 14 draft pick.
  • Jake Bequette comes in a close and surprising second. He would need 27 reps to hit a 70 Explosion number, which would make him just the second edge rusher on this list to hit all four marks.
  • Bruce Irvin is also tantalizingly close on acing every one of these metrics. Andre Branch is in a similar situation, missing the lateral agility by fractions and needing 28 reps to hit the Explosion mark
  • Nick Perry and Bruce Irvin hit astonishing speed scores. For comparison, Chris Johnson had a 121.9 speed score. Unfortunately, while Irvin also did exceptionally well in the short shuttle, Perry did not. We'll want to watch Perry's Pro Day carefully, but unfortunately the times there won't really be comparable to the Combine times, for a number of reasons.

Knowing that the Cowboys are not averse to drafting an edge rusher, who'd be your pick, and in which round?

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