In 2013, the Cowboys recorded only 34 sacks, just three more than the worst teams in the league. 34 sacks is the same low total as in the previous season and the lowest sack total since 2006. It stands to reason that the Cowboys will want their sack total to increase in 2014, and one way of making that happen is to draft a player who can rush the passer. But finding effective pass rushers in the draft, either at DE or DT, is not an easy thing. If it was, everybody would be doing it.
Over the last few 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 the sum 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. 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 (an indicator of consistency) and one for the last two seasons of a player's college career (an indicator for potential). For the two-year measure, a number above 1.5 is often indicative of elite talent for pass rushing defensive ends, while for defensive tackles a number above 1.0 can be taken as a measure of a player's disruptiveness.
But before we look at the defensive tackles in the 2014 draft class, let's look at the standout defensive tackles (as measured by total sacks) from the past four 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|
|4 (120)||Geno Atkins||CIN||DT||29||10.5||33.5||50||0.88||0.81|
|1 (2)||Ndamukong Suh||DET||DT||27.5||24||50.5||53||1.41||2.07|
|1 (3)||Gerald McCoy||TB||DT||18||14.5||33||40||1.19||1.44|
|Class of 2011|
|1 (3)||Marcell Dareus
|1 (30)||Muhammad Wilkerson
|Class of 2012|
|2 (36)||Derek Wolfe
|1 (14)||Michael Brockers
|1 (12)||Fletcher Cox
|Class of 2013|
|6 (198)||Chris Jones
|1 (13)||Sheldon Richardson
|1 (14)||Star Lotulelei
For ten of the twelve selected here, the Production Ratio over their final two college years appears to have been a good indicator of future NFL success. Geno Atkins is the most obvious exception, but nobody in 2010 had any notion of what Atkins would become in the NFL. Brockers also has a low college score, but he was drafted on raw athletic potential, not on his college production.
Chris Jones is an interesting case study: A small-school prospect from out-of-the-way Bowling Green, he was drafted by the Texans in the sixth round last year, released after camp, picked up by the Bucs, released a week later and finally found a home in New England. With the Patriots, Jones emerged as a 3-down player after Vince Wilfork's season-ending injury. He's terrible against the run, he's a bad fit for the Patriots two-gap scheme and Pro Football Focus grades him as the worst run-defender in the league (behind even the Cowboys' Nick Hayden). But he did pick up an impressive six sacks in 11 starts this year. And while very few late-round draft picks with high Production Ratios hailing from small schools pan out, some do, so we'll take an extra look at small-school standouts later in this post.
It is worth noting that nine of the twelve players listed above are first-round picks. If you want a disruptive guy in the middle, chances are you'll have to get him in the first round. However, there are three players on here who were not taken in the first round, and if we were to extend this list, we'd find more players from later rounds, an indicator that it may be worth looking a bit closer at the college production of defensive tackle prospects, especially in the later rounds.
Again, the mandatory caveat: There are a multitude of factors that determine how well a prospect will do in the NFL. College production is just one of them, but at the very least, the correlation shown above is intriguing.
2014 Defensive tackle prospects
The table below shows the current top-ranked prospects who could potentially play defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. The table is sorted by their CBS Draft Rankings (Rank per January 8th), though you probably shouldn't attach too much weight to these early rankings. The table contains the top 28 defensive tackle prospects who were given a draftable grade, or in the case of the last seven names, could be considered priority free agents.
|College Production||Production Ratio|
|Rank||Player||School||Ht||Wt||Sacks||TFL||Games||College Career||Last two seasons|
|14||Louis Nix||Notre Dame||6-2||345||2.5||14.0||34||0.49||0.55|
|40||Timmy Jernigan||Florida State||6-2||298||8.5||25.0||40||0.84||0.93|
|46||Will Sutton||Arizona State||6-0||305||19.5||45.5||51||1.27||2.04|
|69||DaQuan Jones||Penn State||6-3||318||4.5||15.5||46||0.43||0.71|
|77||Kelcy Quarles||South Carolina||6-3||298||13.0||23.5||35||1.04||1.50|
|135||Calvin Barnett||Oklahoma State||6-2||300||3.0||14.5||25||0.70||0.70|
|163||Ryan Carrethers||Arkansas State||6-1||330||6.5||14.5||49||0.43||0.63|
|187||Eathyn Manumaleuna||Brigham Young||6-2||305||4.5||13.5||43||0.42||0.71|
|286||Ken Bishop||Northern Illinois||6-1||308||3.5||16.5||28||0.71||0.71|
|298||Demonte McAllister||Florida State||6-2||290||6.5||13.0||48||0.41||0.40|
|308||Lawrence Virgil||Valdosta State||6-4||284||15.5||29.0||45||0.99||1.29|
|338||Justin Ellis||Louisiana Tech||6-2||357||2.5||8.5||39||0.28||0.32|
There are probably many defensive tackles in this draft that can stop the run, take on double teams and have the anchor to hold their ground. But if you think that investing in a run-defender in a pass-first league is a good idea, then this post is not for you.
A quality defensive tackle needs to be able to collapse the pocket and rush the passer. They can do this with brute strength and explosion to overpower their opponents or they can do it using their quickness - both lateral and vertical - to get off the snap and squeeze through gaps. And the best indicator for that ability (before we have NFL Combine numbers) is their college production.
There are a couple of players on this list who may be better suited for the 1-technique position that Jay Ratliff should have played in the Cowboys 4-3 defense, others may be better suited for the 3-technique spot that Jason Hatcher played so well last season. But there's no reason why the Cowboys shouldn't rush the passer from both positions.
If we limit the data to only the last two college years, Aaron Donald (2.54), Will Sutton (2.04), Caraun Reid (1.71), Kelcy Quarles (1.50), Stephon Tuitt (1.48) and Ra'Shede Hageman (1.10) are the top six players who could perhaps provide a pass-rushing threat from the DT position for the Cowboys and will likely be available early in the draft.
That gives the Cowboys two legitimate first-round targets in Tuitt and Hageman, but also offers quality in what are currently perceived as second-round prospects in Sutton, Donald and Quarles, though by the time of the draft, all three of these players will likely have seen their stock rise quite a bit. Similarly, Princeton's Caraun Reid is unlikely to remain a fourth-round prospect.
One thing to always keep in mind with these numbers is that they don't factor in the level of competition a player faced in college. As with many college stats, you'll probably have to factor in the fact that not every player will have played against SEC-level competition. Lawrence Virgil for example played for Valdosta State, a member of the Gulf South Conference (GSC) in NCAA Division II, so teams and their scouts will have to make the call as to whether his production ratio of 1.29 has a chance of translating to the NFL level.
Which, in a round-about way, brings us to four small-school standouts in this year's draft class. Keep in mind that these guys are ranked as low as they are for a reason. At the same time, they still offer at least the hope of some serious pass rushing potential. The Cowboys, courtesy of a couple of trades and some compensatory picks, will probably have quite a few seventh-round picks this year; I'd consider the guys in the following table priority free agents and wouldn't be mad if the Cowboys took a flyer on one of them with a late-round pick.
|College Production||Production Ratio|
|CBS Rank||Player||School||Ht||Wt||Sacks||TFL||Games||College Career||Last two seasons|
|702||Sullivan Grosz||Cal Poly||6-3||295||22.0||40.5||46||1.36||1.75|
|- -||Adham Talaat||Gallaudet||6-6||292||15.5||33.0||37||1.31||1.64|
|308||Lawrence Virgil||Valdosta State||6-4||284||15.5||29.0||45||0.99||1.29|
Perhaps the most intriguing prospect on this list is Adham Talaat, who hails from Division III Gallaudet, the only university in the world that serves the deaf and hard of hearing. Talaat is classified as severely-to-profoundly deaf, but can hear pretty well when he has his hearing aids in - although he usually plays without them - explains a recent and very readable profile of Talaat by Bruce Feldman of CBSSports. According to Feldman, scouts from 24 NFL teams have already been to Gallaudet to evaluate Talaat and those scouts said he "looks like a D-I player." His coach, Chuck Goldstein, says Talaat's college stats, as impressive as they are, actually are very misleading:
"The NFL scouts came in and said, 'Hey, you have to be dominant,' and he has done that this year. Adham dominates. He's been double-teamed almost every play and he's seen triple teams, which I've never seen here. He's been unselfish. He's been amazing. I know we're never gonna have another guy like him in our program again."
NFL teams are similarly intrigued by Cal Poly's Sullivan Grosz, according to Grosz himself:
"About half of the NFL teams had come in during the season," Grosz said, "so my agent was calling those teams as well as the teams that haven’t come in, saying, ‘You have to see this guy.’ There’s a little bit of buzz in the league about ‘Have you seen the D-lineman from Cal Poly?’
Grosz is a two-time team captain, has never missed a game in college and was named Big Sky Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. He even has his own website if you want to check him out.
Jamie Meder from Division II Ashland is a guy who can bench press 500 pounds. He may not be the greatest athlete, but he's been one of the most productive players in the country over the last three years. Meder is a four-time All-GLIAC first team pick and was named the GLIAC defensive lineman of the year in 2012 and 2013. And just like the other guys here, Meder is on the NFL radar. According to the team website, over 20 NFL teams have already made the trip to Ashland in Ohio to scout him.
Lawrence Virgil is the highest-ranked of the four guys on this list, and was named second-team All-Gulf South each of the last two years. He won the NCAA Division II National Football Championship with Valdosta State in 2012 and he and Jamie Meder are on the Senior Bowl watch list.
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 little over a month, 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.