In 2012, the Cowboys recorded only 34 sacks, their lowest sack total since 2006. It stands to reason that they'll want that sack total to increase in 2013, and one way of making that happen is to draft a player who can rush the passer.
In a 3-4 defense, the outside linebackers have traditionally been responsible for the pass rush. Without players who are both able set the edge and rush the passer, a 3-4 defense is doomed. The defensive ends in a 3-4 have traditionally been taught to play off the blockers in front of them and primarily play the run. As such, their statistical numbers, especially in terms of both tackles for loss and sacks, had usually been far below their 4-3 DE peers, but that has changed recently. Players such as Calais Campbell and J.J. Watt have shown that a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme can create just as much pressure as an outside linebacker in the same scheme.
But finding effective pass rushers in the draft, either at OLB or DE, is not an easy thing. Over the last couple of drafts, we've used a metric called the 'Production Ratio' to assess who the potential playmakers in the draft might be. The Production Ratio was initially proposed by NFL.com's Pat Kirwan, and is really a very simple metric that adds up sacks and tackles-for-loss and divides them by the 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 five players coming out of college. The Production Ratio is calculated as follows:
|PRODUCTION RATIO = (SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF GAMES PLAYED|
The resulting number basically tells you how many splash plays (sacks or tackles for loss) a player recorded per game in the offensive backfield. For pure pass rushers, a number above 1.5 is often indicative of elite talent. The ratio is usually calculated over the entire college career of a prospect, but that method can be inaccurate because not every prospect has a four-year career in college. To correct for that, we'll look at two Production Ratios today, 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.
But before we look at the 2013 draft class, let's look at the standout pass rushers (as measured by total sacks) from the past two drafts and see what their college Production Ratios looked like:
|NFL||College Production||Production Ratio|
|Round (Pick)||Player||Team||POS||Career Sacks||Sacks||TFL||Games||College Career||Last two seasons|
|Class of 2011|
|1 (2)||Von Miller||DEN||OLB||30||33||50.5||47||1.78||2.52|
|1 (11)||J.J. Watt||HOU||DE||26||11.5||36.5||26||1.85||1.85|
|1 (16)||Ryan Kerrigan||WAS||OLB||16||37.5||55.5||48||1.94||2.77|
|Class of 2012|
|1 (15)||Bruce Irvin||SEA||OLB||8||22.5||29||26||1.98||1.94|
|1 (21)||Chandler Jones||NWE||OLB||6||10||27||32||1.16||1.28|
|1 (26)||Whitney Mercilus||HOU||OLB||6||18||29||37||1.27||1.63|
|2 (36)||Derek Wolfe||DEN||DT||6||19.5||37||45||1.26||1.62|
Overall, the Production Ratio appears to be a good indicator for how good a college player could be at the NFL level. Of course, there are a multitude of other factors that determine how well a prospect will do both at the college and NFL level, but the correlation between college production and NFL production is strong enough to take a long hard look at the 2013 class using that stat. We'll start today's post with the outside linebackers before moving to defensive ends and nose tackles in the next two posts.
2013 Outside Linebackers
Now on to this year's draft class. The following table shows the current top-ranked outside linebackers, sorted by their CBS Draft Rankings (Rank is the overall ranking on the CBS big board from January 9th). And like in the table above, the Production Ratio (P.R.) is calculated both for the career and the last two years.
Outside Linebacker prospects in the 2013 draft:
|2||Bjoern Werner||Florida State||6-4||256||23.5||35||41||1.43||1.81|
|4||Damontre Moore||Texas A&M||6-4||250||26.5||45||38||1.88||2.38|
|24||Ezekiel Ansah||Brigham Young||6-5||270||4.5||13||31||0.56||0.70|
|64||John Simon||Ohio State||6-2||260||19.5||43||50||1.25||1.94|
|71||Cornellius Carradine||Florida State||6-4||265||16.5||21||25||1.50||1.50|
|75||Brandon Jenkins||Florida State||6-3||260||22.5||37.5||36||1.67||1.57|
|92||Jamie Collins||Southern Miss||6-3||240||19||42||39||1.56||2.15|
|113||Travis Long||Washington State||6-4||245||18.5||41||47||1.27||1.59|
|156||Devin Taylor||South Carolina||6-6||267||18.5||35.5||52||1.04||1.00|
Stat geek alert: Click on the column headers to sort the table to your liking
A couple of things stand out here. Based on these Production Ratios, this looks like a very promising draft class for playmaking outside linebackers, possibly on the level of the 2010 draft class, and certainly ahead of the 2012 class. In 2012, Vinny Curry (1.68) was the only player with the experience of more than 30 college game with a production ratio above 1.4 - this year there are seven players who fit that bill.
The top of this year's class looks to be filled with pass rushing studs. If Jarvis Jones' spine issues don't impact his NFL career and production, he looks like one of the best talents in recent drafts, and Damontre Moore is right there with him. Bjoern Werner rounds out an extremely strong top three group.
But quality can also be found later in the draft. John Simon from Ohio State is a particularly intriguing prospect, who'll likely be a steal if he remains ranked at the bottom of the second round. In his senior season, John Simon was team captain for the second time, making him just the seventh two-time captain in Ohio State history (the last was James Laurinaitis in 2007 and 2008), and his production since being moved to OLB in 2010 is pretty impressive.
Chase Thomas out of Stanford looks and feels like a Bjoern Werner clone and will undoubtedly see his draft stock rise as teams try to "get the next J.J. Watt".
Jamie Collins was a standout on a terrible team that didn't win a single game last season in its Conference USA division, not exactly a ringing endorsement for his draft stock. But Collins was incredibly productive. He recorded 266 tackles over 39 games in three years, more than any other OLB in this draft class by a significant margin, and his 2.15 Production Ratio over the last two years should garner a lot of interest from the draftniks. He's variously listed as between 6-4 and 6-1, so there are questions about his size, but Collins will be at the Senior Bowl, so keep an eye out for him.
According to CBS (others disagree) Alex Okafor and Sam Montgomery both look to be in range of the Cowboys' first pick. Okafor was forced to play DT in 2010, so his early numbers don't look that impressive, but he's notched it up over the last two years. Okafor has also recorded a very high 31 QB pressures and seven forced fumbles during his time in Texas. Montgomery plays with a lot of strength and is a formidable run defender, but also put up strong production ratios at LSU. At around 6-5 and 260, both are tweeners that could play in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme, and their performance at the NFL Combine may end up determining which scheme they are better suited for.
This metric is unflattering for players like Ezekiel Ansah to pick on just one name here. Ansah is a physical freak, and that alone could warrant a high draft pick, but in cases like this, the lack of elite-level production needs to be fully understood by teams before making a selection based largely on physical measurements. Jason Pierre-Paul is often cited as an example of a player taken high based on measurables only, but only people unfamiliar with the Big East actually believe this. Pierre-Paul had a Production Ratio of 1.61 (15.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks in 13 games) in his one year in South Florida, so while that may have been a low base from which to project his potential, the production was there.
The Production Ratio, like every other stat-based projection tool, is not going to be a perfect predictor of how successful these players are going to be in the NFL. But it does give you something to think about as you evaluate these players and their potential, and it may be one building block in identifying who this year's playmakers will be - and who won't. In a couple of weeks, the NFL Combine will provide us with even more metrics, giving us an even bigger data base from which to assess players.
Up next: defensive ends and defensive tackles.