Football Outsiders' SackSEER: Potential Edge Rushers In The 2014 Draft

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys face a pass-rush conundrum: Should they add an edge rusher or should they shore up their interior pass rush in the 2014 NFL Draft?

A few years back, 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. Two years ago, with a bit of experience under their belt, they upgraded their methodology and introduced SackSEER 2.0

The new formula is based on four metrics: an explosion index combining forty-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump results; SRAM or adjusted sacks per game in college (with some playing time adjustments); passes defensed per college game played and how many eligible games worth of NCAA football the player missed.

On Thursday, Football Outsiders published their SackSEER numbers for college edge rushers in the 2014 NFL Draft class. SackSEER is not the be-all and end-all of statistical analysis, and FO themselves have argued 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 below.

If you're not familiar with SackSEER, here's a brief outline of how it works: Using the four metrics outlined above, the SackSEER formula projects each prospect's total sacks through five NFL seasons. Although there are always outliers in the individual projections, when accumulating all the individual numbers, FO have found that the formula projects sack production about three times more accurately than simply going by a player's draft position within the first two rounds.

The model is not without its detractors, and the initial model famously missed on the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, who met his five-year sack projection in his first year in the league. In 2011, the model completely missed out on Bruce Irvin, who had eight sacks for the Seahawks. FO have since improved their model further, and have added the three-cone drill to the metric along with some other tweaks.

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.

But before we dive into this year's class of edge rushers, let's review the top eight prospects from last year's draft class as measured by SackSEER, keeping in mind that the projection is for five years, and not just the rookie season:

Player Team Round (Pick)
5-Year Sack
Projection
Sacks 2014
Barkevious Mingo
Cleveland
1 (6)
34.5
5
Ezekiel Ansah
Detroit
1 (5)
30.3
8
Bjoern Werner
Indianapolis
1 (24)
28.5
2.5
Jamie Collins
New England
2 (52) 27.2
- -
Dion Jordan
Miami
1 (3)
24.6
2
Jarvis Jones
Pittsburgh
1 (17)
23.7
1
Damontre Moore New York Giants 3 (81) 23.5 - -
Margus Hunt Cincinnati 2 (53) 22.4 0.5

Good early results at the very top, no clear read on the later picks in the 2013 draft class. Note that the model applies only to 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers. Here's how the top eight edge rushers of this year's draft class stacked up:

Player College Proj. Round
5-Year Sack
Projection
Khalil Mack
Buffalo
1
38.9
Anthony Barr
UCLA
1
31.4
Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina
1
30.2
Kony Ealy
Missouri
1
29.3
Kyle Van Noy
BYU
1-2 27.3
Trent Murphy
Stanford
2
25.8
Jackson Jeffcoat Texas 2-3 23.3
Carl Bradford ASU 2 22.6

The folks at FO have calculated the SackSEER values for all combine participants, including those of Cowboys mock draft favorites Scott Crichton, both Smiths, Larry Webster and DeMarcus Lawrence, all of whom fail to make the top eight list above.

The model suggests that this year's class is stronger at the top than last year's class. Players like Mack, Barr and Clowney are regularly mocked at the very top of the draft, and Mack comes in with the best ever SackSEER score for an edge rusher. All three are waaay out of the Cowboys range, but Kony Ealy is a guy who has regularly appeared in mock drafts as the Cowboys' top pick. His score compares with that of Ezekiel Ansah last year, and having Ansah's first-year production from a rookie in Dallas would be a big win. Here's what FO write about Ealy:

Kony Ealy has an excellent combination of size and quickness, which obviously gives him great value as a pass-rushing defensive end in the 4-3 who can also contribute against the run. Ealy was strong at batting down passes as well. However, he falls just short of the top edge rushers in this draft due to his poor explosion index and his mediocre sack production. Ealy was just okay in his junior season, with eight sacks in 14 games, and only had a total of 4.5 sacks over the two years prior.

If you're in the Cowboys front office and looking to improve the Cowboys' pass rush, what do you do? With the loss of DeMarcus Ware and questions at defensive tackle, do you go after an edge rusher if one of the premier guys falls to you, or do you go after an interior pass rusher?

After all, interior pass rushers are becoming more and more important, as offenses 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 another 8-8 record.

Would you be more likely to draft one of the premier edge rushers listed in the table above, or would you target one of the top defensive tackles?

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