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Bringin' The Heat: Evaluating Potential Edge Rushers in The 2011 Draft

Von Miller demonstrates his elite measurables at the Combine. What other edge rush candidates measure up?
Von Miller demonstrates his elite measurables at the Combine. What other edge rush candidates measure up?

Last year, the fine folks at Football Outsiders introduced SackSEER, a statistical formula designed to predict the NFL success of college "edge rushers." Looking at a multitude of variables, they concluded that the strongest indicators of sacking success in the Big Show are vertical leap (the idea being that a 270-pound defensive end who can  jump 40 inches in the air from a standing position is highly likely to burst quickly and powerfully off the line of scrimmage); the short shuttle time, which measures change of direction speed, burst, and hip flexibility; SRAM, or adjusted sacks per game; and missed games of college eligibility, which includes games lost because the player was enrolled at a junior college. Surprisingly, this last factor is the strongest predictive of the four. 

As you may remember, one of our most statistically-minded members, the illustrious Fan in Thick and Thin, has not only promoted SackSEER, using it to analyze the Dallas front seven, but also issued a pre-Combine challenge to BTB members: guess these key measureables for the top pass rush candidates. If you've got nothing better to do, compare the numbers below to what some of your fellow Cowboys fans predicted. I have here taken a page from FiTT and included the top defensive tackle candidates; although they are clearly not "edge rushers," it's interesting to compare their numbers.

At any rate, with all the talk of the Cowboys drafting a front seven player in the draft, likely in the first couple of rounds (although it correlates to late rounders as well, the guys at FO use SackSEER only for the first two rounds), I thought it might be useful to look at where this year's top "edge rush" candidates fall in terms of their vertical and short shuttle scores to see what we might find. Bear in mind that the desirable combination is a 4.2 or faster in the short shuttle and/ or a 4.4 or slower shuttle time with a 40-inch vertical. Lastly, know that Da'Quan Bowers did not participate in the Combine drills, so he's not on this chart.


Weight

Short Shuttle

Vertical

Von Miller

246

4.06

37

J.J. Watt

290

4.21

37

Adrian Clayborn

281

4.13

33

Dontay Moch

248

4.38

42

Aldon Smith

263

4.50

34

Justin Houston

270

4.37

36.5

Martez Wilson

250

4.28

36.5

Robert Quinn

265

4.40

34

Cameron Jordan

287

4.37

31

Ryan Kerrigan

267

4.39

33.5

Nick Fairley

291

4.56

31

Marcel Darius

314

4.62

27

 

Looking at these numbers, a couple of obvious things leap out: first, as much as the DE class has been highly touted by draft pundits, the numbers don't show a particularly quick or explosive group overall. Second, there are some notable exceptions: Von Miller's short shuttle time is elite; Adrian Clayborn's is close--and perhaps more impressive given his size; and J.J. Watt's combination of short shuttle and vertical is impressive. And, lastly, scouts are going to have to reconcile Dontay Moch's elite speed (recall his 4.44 40 time) and explosiveness (42 inch vertical? Wow!) and his merely adequate shuttle mark.

In terms of sacks per game, however, Aldon Smith tallied a whopping .9 sacks every game. Both Miller and Ryan Kerrigan come in at an impressive .7 per, followed by Justin Houston and Moch at .6. Quinn and Fairley average .5 sacks a game, and Clayborn registers .4 per contest.

The FO guys claim that SackSEER does a better job of predicting busts than successes. In the past, the metric has accurately forecasted NFL mediocrity--or worse--for the likes of highly-touted first rounders Erik Flowers, Erasmus James and Jerome McDougle. Given that, I'm inclined to stay away from the likes of UNC's Quinn and Smith of Mizzou, who not only demonstrate mediocre measureables here, but have missed time due to injuries and/ or ineligibility.

If I'm looking to boost the Dallas pass rush in the first round, I'm praying that Von Miller falls to # 9. If not, then who, according to these numbers, is the optimal candidate? What think ye, BTB Nation? If Miller's off the board, who would you pick?