Clowney And Who Else? Finding Playmaking 4-3 Defensive Ends In The 2014 NFL Draft

Ronald Martinez

In a defensive end class that has been described as a little thin at the top, we review the college production of 30 draft prospects, and in addition to some of the better-known names, we unearth a couple of other prospects with intriguing college stats.

Last week we looked at the Production Ratio of defensive tackles in this year's draft class. Today we switch our focus to defensive ends.

We've established in previous posts that the Production Ratio looks like a solid indicator for how good a college player could be at the NFL level. If you are unfamiliar with the Production Ratio, follow the link above and read up on it. Here's how it's calculated:

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

The resulting number tells you how many splash plays (sacks or tackles for loss) a player recorded per game in the offensive backfield. Today, we'll look at two Production Ratios, one for the entire college career (an indicator of consistency) and one for the last two seasons of a player's college career (an indicator for potential). For pure pass rushers, a number above 1.5 is often indicative of elite talent, a number above 2.0 is truly exceptional.

But before we look at the defensive ends in the 2014 draft class, let's look at the top four pass rushers (DEs/OLBs as ranked by total sacks) from each of the 2010-2012 draft classes 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 2010
6 (175) Greg Hardy CAR DE 33.0 26.5 39.5 39 1.69 1.74
1 (15) Jason Pierre-Paul NYG DE 29.5 5.5 15.5 13 1.61 1.61
2 (54) Carlos Dunlap CIN DE 27.5 20 26.5 39 1.19 1.61
2 (52) Jason Worilds PIT DE 18.0 15 34 39 1.26 1.62
Class of 2011
1 (7) Aldon Smith SF OLB 42.0 17 29 23 1.96 1.96
1 (11) J.J. Watt HOU DE 36.5 11.5 36.5 26 1.85 1.85
1 (2) Von Miller DEN OLB 35.0 33 50.5 47 1.78 2.52
1 (14) Robert Quinn STL DE 34.5 13 25.5 25 1.54 1.54
Class of 2012
1 (21) Chandler Jones NWE DE 17.5 10 27 32 1.16 1.28
3 (72) Olivier Vernon MIA DE 15.0 9 20.5 30 0.98 1.13
1 (26) Whitney Mercilus HOU OLB 13.0 18 29 37 1.27 1.63
1 (15) Bruce Irvin SEA OLB 10.5 22.5 29 26 1.98 1.94

Just as we saw for DTs, the Production Ratio for DEs/OLBs also looks like a good indicator for the success of a college player at the NFL level. The numbers above also illustrate just how exceptional the 2011 draft class was, both in terms of actual NFL production, but also in terms of college production ratio. 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 use it as one of the tools with which to evaluate college prospects.

The 2014 prospects are split into two tables. The first table below shows the top 24 DE/OLB prospects (per the CBS Sports big board), all of whom are ranked in the Top 200 by CBS and are projected to be drafted in rounds one through six. The second table a little further down shows a couple of prospects who are projected as seventh-rounders or free agents, but who could be intriguing prospects on the strength of their college production. Let's start with the top 24 DE prospects:


College Production Production Ratio
Rank Player School Ht Wt Proj. RD Sacks TFL Games College Career Last two seasons
2 Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina 6-5 274 1 24.0 47.0 36 1.97 2.22
11 Kony Ealy Missouri 6-5 275 1
12.5 27.0 39 1.01 1.37
25 Vick Beasley Clemson 6-2 235 1 21.0 31.0 35 1.49 2.00
32 Trent Murphy Stanford 6-6 261 1-2 32.5 52.5 43 1.98 2.38
38 Scott Crichton Oregon State 6-3 265 1-2 22.5 51.0 38 1.93 2.04
46 Trevor Reilly Utah 6-5 255 2 20.5 36.5 49 1.16 1.52
63 Dee Ford Auburn 6-2 240 2 20.5 27.5 52 0.92 1.63
64 Chris Smith Arkansas 6-2 268 2 21.0 30.5 43 1.20 1.77
69 Michael Sam Missouri 6-2 255 2-3 21.0 36.0 52 1.10 1.62
75 Jackson Jeffcoat Texas 6-4 250 2-3 27.5 57.0 40 2.11 2.47
86 Marcus Smith Louisville 6-3 252 2-3 24.0 33.0 45 1.27 1.69
92 Dominique Easley Florida 6-2 285 2-3 5.5 18.0 34 0.69 0.97
99 Demarcus Lawrence Boise State 6-3 245 3 19.0 33.5 23 2.28 2.28
101 Kareem Martin North Carolina 6-5 265 3 19.5 45.5 49 1.33 2.10
117 Josh Mauro Stanford 6-6 282 3-4 11.0 21.5 48 0.68 1.10
129 George Uko USC 6-3 275 3-4 11.5 17.5 39 0.74 0.96
133 Aaron Lynch South Florida 6-5 244 4 10.5 18.5 24 1.21 1.38
156 Adrian Hubbard Alabama 6-6 252 4-5
10.0 18.0 36 0.78 0.98
158 James Gayle Virginia Tech 6-4 255 4-5
22.0 40.5 53 1.18 1.25
159 Ed Stinson Alabama 6-3 292 4-5 5.5 15.5 49 0.43 0.56
168 Ben Gardner Stanford 6-4 277 5 17.5 34.0 46 1.12 1.55
180 Taylor Hart Oregon 6-6 287 5-6 16.0 22.0 53 0.72 1.10
183 Devon Kennard USC 6-3 260 5-6 13.0 24.0 39 0.95 1.57
189 Larry Webster Bloomsburg 6-6 240 5-6 26.0 31.0 24 2.38 2.38

There are some guys on here, like Vick Beasley and others, whose playing weight may make them more suited to play pass rushing OLBs in a 3-4 scheme. I don't think that a 4-3 DE absolutely has to be a 280-pound guy. DeMarcus Ware is 6-4, 254; Anthony Spencer is 6-3, 250. But I think 250 is probably the limit at which a 4-3 DE can be effective.

You may have heard that this year's pass rushing class is not very deep. That may be true in the first round, but going by the production ratio numbers, this is an exceptional class. Last year's draft class had eight prospects in the Top 200 with a ratio higher than 1.50, this year's class has 15, almost twice as many. It is particularly noteworthy that almost every prospect from the top of the second round to the bottom of the third has a very strong track record of production in college. And Scott Wright of Draft Countdown agrees, even though he arrives at his conclusion differently:

The obvious standout in this draft class is Jadeveon Clowney, but he will gone by the time the Cowboys are on the board with their first-round pick. But there'll be plenty of exciting prospects left for the Cowboys to pick from, chief among them Trent Murphy, Scott Crichton, Jackson Jeffcoat as well as the auspiciously named Demarcus Lawrence.

Imagine one of these guys paired with the equally exciting Aaron Donald on the Cowboys' defensive line in 2014. Good things could be in store for the Cowboys defense in such a scenario.

Last year, Ezekiel Ansah entered the league with a very pedestrian college production ratio of 0.70, yet he still topped the rookie list in 2013 with eight sacks. Which just goes to show that pure athleticism can be just as important as college production (Chandler Jones is also nodding knowingly). Could Kony Ealy be a similar case, or is his relatively low level of production something to worry about, given that he's emerged as one of the early favorites for the Cowboys?

Small-school product Larry Webster rounds out the list of players in the table above, and that allows us to segue nicely into an overview of small-school prospects with sometimes ridiculously high production ratios:


College Production Production Ratio
Rank Player School Ht Wt Sacks TFL Games College Career Last two seasons
189 Larry Webster Bloomsburg 6-6 240 26.0 31.0 24 2.38 2.38
344 Ethan Westbrooks West Texas A&M 6-4 275 26.5 47.5 29 2.55 2.55
372 Colton Underwood Illinois State 6-3 255 21.5 44.0 45 0.45 1.88
393 Zach Moore Concordia-St. Paul 6-6 285 33.0 45.0 39 2.00 2.34
449 Terrence Fede Marist 6-3 285 30.5 47.0 41 1.89 2.39
644 Jake Metz Shippensburg 6-6 245 30.0 55.0 46 1.85 2.48
846 Chris Schaudt Minnesota State 6-3 270 33.5 58.5 49 1.88 1.79

The thing to keep in mind with these guys is that they did not face the same level of competition as the players in the previous table. And while their numbers look fantastic, they will not translate easily to the NFL. Two years ago, the Cowboys signed Prairie View standout Adrian Hamilton as an UDFA on the strength of the 22 sacks he had notched in his senior season. The Cowboys ended up releasing him, as they saw that he wasn't particularly effective against the run and didn't have a lot of pass rush moves. The Ravens picked him up and he played ten snaps for them in 2012 before they stashed him on IR in 2013 to allow more time for "seasoning". He may still emerge as an NFL-ready pass rusher, but he exemplifies the tough road to the NFL most of these small school prospects face.

The 2014 draft looks to be chock full of pass rushers with great potential. It's up to the Cowboys to decide which of the many prospects best fit into the Cowboys scheme, but this year there will be absolutely no excuse for not picking a pass rusher.

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