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2011 NFL Draft: Finding Playmaking Linebackers For The Cowboys

This is the third and final post in a series of posts in which we look at a few specific ratios and measures to get a better feel for some of the draft prospects in this year's class. The previous two posts were about defensive linemen, today we'll use the same measures to look at linebackers.

As a reminder, below are the definitions for each of the measures we'll use.

PRODUCTION RATIO = (SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF GAMES PLAYED
EXPLOSION NUMBER = BENCH PRESS REPS + VERTICAL JUMP + BROAD JUMP
LATERAL AGILITY = 40-YARD DASH TIME - 20-YARD SHUTTLE

Before we get started though, a couple of very general observations about these numbers. These numbers are just one way of looking at the data we have for each prospect. They are not the be-all and end-all of statistical analysis. In fact, I'd be the first to argue that these numbers aren't even stats at all. These formulas group a bunch of numbers that may or may not correlate with each other, and infer causality where there may not even be a correlation.

But having said all that, we'll look at them anyway, cognizant of their flaws, because they do one thing well: they provide a different perspective by which to evaluate the draft prospects and draw our attention to a set of variables that we don't often look at. And in my book, anything that gets us off the beaten path is a good thing.

The Cowboys Linebackers

Again, as in the previous posts, we establish a benchmark for the 2011 draft class by looking at the Cowboys' linebackers.

Draft Round / Pick
Player Pos School Production Ratio Explosion Lateral Agility Bench Press Vert. Jump Broad Jump 40 time 20-yard shuttle
Round: 1 / Pick: 11 DeMarcus Ware
ROLB Troy 1.96 75.7 0.49 27 38.5 10'2" 4.56 4.07
Round: 4 / Pick: 110 Victor Butler OLB Oregon St. 1.32 67.1 0.36 24 33.0 9'11"* 4.76 4.40
Round: 2 / Pick: 55 Sean Lee ILB Penn State 1.12 71.5 0.44 24 37.5 10'0" 4.60 4.16
Round: 4 / Pick: 103 Bradie James*
ILB LSU 0.93 58.0 0.27 16 32.5 9'5" 4.65 4.38
Round: 1 / Pick: 26 Anthony Spencer
DE Purdue 1.38 71.9 0.27 30 32.5 9'4" 4.70 4.43
*Pro Day results, no Combine or college data for Keith Brooking found

We've talked about Spencer and Ware previously, so we'll skip those.

Bradie James was 'only' a fourth round pick in 2003 and the 15th linebacker taken overall that year, and the numbers show why: he did no reach the threshold value in any of the three measures above (1.0 Production Ratio, 70 Explosion Number and .50 Lateral Agility - marked in green in the table above). But the Cowboys must be thrilled with what they've gotten from Bradie since. He may not be the best inside linebacker in the game, but he makes up for that with his leadership and effort, and whenever there's been a problem with the Cowboys defense, Bradie James wasn't usually a part of it.

Sean Lee: Stud. Compare his numbers to the inside linebacker numbers below, and you may begin to understand why the Cowboys reportedly gave him a first round grade.

2011 Inside Linebackers

Overall, this appears to be a fairly weak draft class for inside linebackers. The following table shows the top ranked ILBs, sorted by their CBS Draft Rankings (OVR is the overall ranking on the CBS big board). As in the previous posts, parts of this data is taken from KaptainKirk of the MileHighReport.

OVR Player School P. Ratio Expl. No. Lat. Agil. SKS TFL Games Bench Vertical Broad 40 Time 20 shuttle
41 Martez Wilson Illinois 0.76 69.3 0.21 9 20 38 23 36" 10'4" 4.49 4.28
59 Greg Jones Michigan St. 1.21 62.2 0.48 16.5 46.5 52 21 31.5" 9'9" 4.75 4.27
89 Quan Sturdivant No. Carolina 0.75 64.5 - - 7 27.5 46 21 34" 9'7" DNP 4.5
108 Colin McCarthy Miami (FL) 0.77 69.3 0.45 4 33 48 23 36.5" 9'11" 4.65 4.2
136 Kelvin Sheppard LSU 0.59 64.5 - - 5.5 26 53 22 33.5" 9'2" DNP 4.28
147 Nate Irving No Carolina St 1.40 - - - - 9 40 35 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
162 Casey Matthews Oregon 0.79 - - - - 9 30.5 50 13 DNP DNP DNP DNP
180 Josh Bynes Auburn 0.42 - - - - 2 16.5 44 - - - - - - - - - -
200 Mike Mohamed California 0.52 62.5 0.7 6 20 50 21 32" 9'7" 4.7 4.00
245 Chris White Mississippi St. 1.04 60.5 0.43 6.5 19.5 25 17 34" 9'7" 4.68 4.25
265 Nick Bellore Central Michigan 0.85 64.5 0.84 11.5 32.5 52 23 32.5" 9'1" 4.84 4.00
271 Scott Lutrus Connecticut 0.67 - - 0.59 5 26 46 DNP 38" 10'1" 4.68 4.09

Josh Bynes did not receive a Combine invite, hence the missing numbers. The other players with missing numbers either sat out some of their drills, or the numbers haven't been released yet.

Where prospects have surpassed the thresholds for any of the three measures, I have marked those numbers green. Based on the numbers, I'm not particularly impressed with any prospect at ILB. In the first couple of rounds there will almost certainly be a handful of better players available at the positions where each of the ILBs is slotted.

The Cowboys could use some depth at ILB, and if Mike Mohamed or Chris White were available in the 6th or 7th rounds, they might be worth a consideration based on their somewhat intriguing numbers.

2011 Outside Linebackers

Obviously, there are a couple of DE's who may end up as OLB's depending on which team picks them. The table below contains only those prospects listed as OLBs by CBSsports.

OVR Player School P. Ratio Expl. No. Lat. Agil. SKS TFL Games Bench Vertical Broad 40 Time 20 shuttle
4 Von Miller Texas A&M 1.78 68.5 0.47 33 50.5 47 21 37" 10'6" 4.53 4.06
16 Aldon Smith Missouri 2.00 63.8 0.28 17 29 23 20 34" 9'10" 4.78 4.50
25 Akeem Ayers UCLA 1.17 58.7 0.52 14 29.5 37 18 31" 9'8" 4.8 4.28
29 Justin Houston Georgia 1.61 76.8 0.31 20 38 36 30 36.5" 10'5" 4.68 4.37
49 Brooks Reed Arizona 0.91 - - 0.4 17 25 46 DNP 30.5" 9'5" 4.68 4.28
68 Bruce Carter No. Carolina 0.66 - - - - 8.5 24 49 - - - - - - - - - -
80 Mark Herzlich Boston Coll. 0.66 70.8 0.46 5 31.5 55 29 32.5" 9'4" 4.92 4.46
86 Dontay Moch Nevada 1.99 73.7 0.06 28.5 71 50 21 42" 10'8" 4.44 4.38
102 Jeremy Beal Oklahoma 1.62 59.3 0.70 29 58.5 54 22 28.5" 8'10" 5.16 4.46
107 Lawrence Wilson Connecticut 0.86 65.8 0.19 9 35.5 52 24 32.5" 9'5" 4.69 4.50
109 K.J. Wright Mississippi St 0.65 62.0 0.29 8 22.5 47 20 32" 10'0" 4.75 4.46
125 Mason Foster Washington 1.11 53.3 0.30 12.5 44 51 22 21" 10'3" 4.75 4.45
155 Chris Carter Fresno St. 1.17 72.5 0.38 19.5 38 49 27 36" 9'6" 4.62 4.34
157 Ross Homan Ohio St. 0.41 76.7 0.31 5 17 54 32 35.5" 9'3" 4.65 4.34

Our own rabblerousr wrote an interesting post a few day ago in which he touched on the idea that as part of the pre-draft process, teams engage in "clustering" - determining where groups of players at a specific position might gather. Here's what he wrote:

If, for example, a team needs a center, a running back and an inside linebacker, they have to ascertain when in the draft a cluster of players with similar skills at each of those positions might be available. Thus a team drafting with the 23rd pick in each round might discover that they were most likely to find a cluster of similar center prospects at the bottom of the second round and a group of more or less equal ILB candidates at the bottom of the fourth round. So, they'd feel pretty secure that a player they like would be available when they were on the clock.

If you look at the table above, you notice three distinct OLB clusters with measurables above the thresholds we've established. There's an elite group which looks likely to go in the first round. A second, small cluster with Herzlich, workout warrior Moch and Beal sits at the bottom of the third, top of the fourth. Another little cluster with intriguing numbers sits waiting in the fifth.

If the Cowboys are looking for depth at OLB, they'll likely find clusters similar to what we see above come draft day, and can add depth in later the rounds. At ILB however, the pickings look slim, and outside of a late round surprise, the Cowboys' best option may be in free agency. Good thing we got ourselves a new linebackers coach who may have a candidate or two already in his sights.