NFL Draft 2013: Finding Playmaking Defensive Ends

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

We look at the college production of the defensive end prospects in this year's draft class to try and find the players who could provide the biggest pass-rushing updgrade to the Cowboys defensive line.

Yesterday we looked at the Production Ratio of outside linebackers in this year's draft class. Today we switch our focus to defensive ends. If you are unfamiliar with the Production Ratio, follow the link above and read up on it in yesterday's post. Here's how it's calculated:

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

In yesterday's post, we looked at the production ratio of the top pass rushers from the last two draft classes and found that almost all of the top rushers coming out of college in the last two years had outstanding Production Ratios. So instead of repeating that, we'll look at how the Cowboys' current crop of defensive ends stacks up, also because it helps establish a baseline of what type of numbers to expect from this year's draft prospects.

Draft Round / Pick Player POS School Sacks TFL Games Production Ratio
3 (92)
Jason Hatcher DE Grambling 18.5 31.5 28 1.79
3 (81)
Tyron Crawford DE Boise State 13.5 27 26 1.56
1 (20)
Marcus Spears DE LSU 19 34.5 48 1.11
5 (147)
Kenyon Coleman DE UCLA 16.5 34 47 1.07
7 (234)
Sean Lissemore
DE/NT William & Mary 13.5 28 43 0.96

If you want a penetrating defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, you'll probably want someone with a Production Ratio of at least 1.0, and probably higher. J.J. Watt would probably be considered the prototype of a pass rushing DE and he had a 1.85 ratio. As you look at the Cowboys defensive ends, you may wonder why Jason Hatcher didn't get 20.5 sacks last year like Watt did - after all, their production ratios are similar.

Keep in mind that these ratios are very susceptible to the level of competition a player faced in college. Jason Hatcher for example joined the Cowboys from Division I-AA Grambling State, not exactly a football powerhouse, which probably needs to be factored into his Production Ratio.

Similarly, what role a player played on his team also impacts the numbers. Jay Ratliff for example has a career Production Ratio of only 0.50. But 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. There's no way to factor those things into these metrics.

What the Cowboys have along their 2012 defensive line is Jason Hatcher and potentially Tyron Crawford as pass rushing threats, but little more than that. Lissemore may be better suited inside, Marcus Spears has two sacks over the past three seasons, and Kenyon Coleman has only had one sack in his two years in Dallas. The Cowboys need to beef up their line with somebody who can rush the passer and collapse the pocket. They need a "Pressure Five".

Pressure Fives

Traditionally, the 3-4 DEs have been big-bodied, 300+ pound players whose primary focus has been on stopping the run and keeping multiple blockers tied up so that they cannot release upfield to take on a LB or DB. Often, this role meant the DE's in a 3-4 were not the players who made the most tackles or sacks, and have been derisively called "run-stuffers".

But that has been changing of late. Arizona's Calais Campbell, San Francisco's Justin Smith and Houston's J.J. Watt demonstrated just how disruptive a pass rushing five technique - or Pressure Five - can be.

Keep in mind that in a 3-4, you are basically pressuring a five-man offensive line with just three defensive linemen. And you're already asking them to take on two guys at a time, stop the run and keep blockers from releasing upfield. And you now want them to rush the passer as well? It takes a very special kind of player who can do all of that.

That is why Pressure Fives are so hard to come by. And you simply cannot pass them up if you get the opportunity to get one. Here are this year's candidates for the job:

3-4 Defensive Ends

The table below shows the current top-ranked defensive linemen who could potentially play defensive end in a 3-4. The table is sorted by their CBS Draft Rankings (Rank per January 10th), though you probably shouldn't attach too much weight to these early rankings.

The table features two Production Ratios, one for the entire college career and one for the last two seasons of a player's college career. The former gives a good indication of how consistent a prospect has been over his entire time in college, the latter may be more indicative of his potential.

College Production Production Ratio
Rank Player School Ht Wt Sacks TFL Games College Career Last two seasons
13 Johnathan Hankins Ohio State 6-3 320 4 15.5 38 0.51 0.68
15 Sheldon Richardson Missouri 6-3 295 6 18.5 24 1.02 1.02
19 Jesse Williams Alabama 6-3 320 1.5 6.5 26 0.31 0.31
39 Shariff Floyd Florida 6-3 303 4.5 26 37 0.82 1.00
42 Margus Hunt SMU 6-6 280 13 25.5 40 0.96 1.15
46 Kawann Short Purdue 6-3 315 18 49.5 50 1.35 1.79
65 Datone Jones UCLA 6-4 275 13.5 36.5 51 0.98 1.25
72 Sylvester Williams North Carolina 6-3 320 8.5 20.5 25 1.16 1.16
86 Malliciah Goodman Clemson 6-4 280 12.5 23.5 54 0.67 0.87
106 William Gholston Michigan State 6-6 278 10 30.0 36 1.11 1.48
230 Craig Roh Michigan 6-4 280 10.5 26.5 50 0.74 0.83
388 Quinton Dial Alabama 6-5 304 2.5 8.0 24 0.44 0.44
436 Spencer Nealy Texas A&M 6-5 277 4.5 21.0 52 0.49 0.73
469 Baker Steinkuhler Nebraska 6-5 290 8 16.0 50 0.48 0.64

At first glance, this year's defensive end class does not look overly promising. Only four players have a career Production Ratio above 1.0, but that number increases to seven players if we limit the data to only the last two college years.

Note that Jonathan Hankins and Jesse Williams (and perhaps a few others) would likely play nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, and we'll include both players in the next post on nose tackles as well, but for now they are listed here.

Easily the most impressive prospect per the Production Ratio is Kawann Short out of Purdue. Short has been a wrecking ball for offensive lines almost his entire college career. In addition to his impressive production ratio, Short has also notched 15 pass breakups over his four-year career. The guy's stats are through the roof, and if the Cowboys want an interior pass rusher, Short could be their guy. His Production Ratio over his junior and senior seasons is 1.79. That's J.J. Watt territory (1.85) - and Purdue and Wisconsin play in the same conference, so those numbers are as comparable as it gets. Here's a detailed breakdown of both players in their last two college season:

Player Games Tackles TFL Sacks INT PBU
J.J. Watt
26 105 36 11.5 1 12
Kawann Short 26 97 33 13.5 0 6

Of course, the 6-6, 287 Watt put up measurables at the NFL Combine that the 6-3, 315 Short will never reach, but in terms of raw college production the two are very comparable. And Short is scheme-versatile: he can play nose tackle and he can play defensive end.

There's no consensus yet on where Short ranks in this year's draft. Drafttek have him 71st, CBS have him 46th, The National Football Post has him 30th and Scott Wright at draftcountdown.com has him 8th. A lot will depend on his Combine performance, but it's not out of the question that Short could be a prime target for the Cowboys’ 18th pick, and the Cowboys may end up being lucky if he’s still around by then.

William Gholston is another standout player according to the Production Ratio metric. He looks like a prototype 3-4 DE and he'd be another player the Cowboys could well use. His draft stock will likely rise once he's able to display his tremendous athleticism at the Combine. Yet another interesting player here is Margus Hunt, who has a spotty record of production over his short college career, but oozes potential.

The Production Ratio is not the be-all and end-all of prospect evaluation of course. There's always the cautionary tale of Vernon Gholston, who notched 30.5 TFLs and 22.5 sacks in 34 games for a Production Ratio of 1.56 but never recorded a single sack in the NFL.

The Production Ratio, 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. So if you find a player here who intrigues you or whose score worries you, take it as a sign that you may have to do a little more research on that prospect.

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