One way of assessing the NFL Combine performance of draft prospects is to look at the raw numbers from the position drills. Sure, running 40 yards in a straight line doesn't necessarily tell you all that much about how a guy can play football, but when teams look at rookie prospects, one of the first things they look at is whether the player meets the physical prototype expected from the position. And the Cowboys are no different, as Cowboys Assistant Director of Player Personnel Will McClay recently stated:
You talk about trying to get the jobs done at certain positions where we have criteria or standards that have been tried and true that we have to meet. So you can love a player on tape and not have a true measurable on him, and then you go and you think he’s 6-2 and he ends up being 5-11 or 6-0. That kind of changes your view on that player a little bit.
A while back, Bill Parcells explained in an interview on TV why teams have a set of criteria or standards they work against: For every position, there is a certain combination of physical measurables that has proven successful in the NFL, and deviating from this success model doesn't have high chances of success.
So the first thing we need to do is understand what NFL teams are looking for in their prospects. Gil Brandt, former Cowboys personnel man, published a set of target test results for Combine measurements a while back. The table below shows the numbers for defensive tackles. For good measure, I've included the Combine numbers for Jason Hatcher and the pro day results for Jay Ratliff.
|40-yard dash||Speed over distance||5.15||4.82||4.85|
|225-pound bench press reps||Upper body strength||26||28||26|
|Vertical jump||Explosiveness, leg strength||30||35.5||33.5|
|Broad jump||Explosiveness, leg strength||8'9"
|20-yard shuttle||Flexibility, burst, balance||4.55||4.50||4.23|
|3-cone drill||Agility, change of direction||7.75||7.68||7.35|
Notice how both Hatcher and Ratliff check off every one of the target measurables. If you consider that Ratliff was initially supposed to be the 3-technique in the new scheme, and Hatcher ended up playing that role highly successfully, the two may be a good template for what the Cowboys are looking for in a potential 3-technique. So how many of this year's draft prospects meet those criteria? Not too many.
The next table shows all the basic measurements for the defensive tackles at the Combine. The "Targets Met" column on the far right shows how many of the six target measurements a prospect was able to meet. For your convenience, the table is sortable, so you can sort and re-sort to your heart's delight. "Rank" indicates where a player is currently ranked on the CBSSports big board.
Defensive Tackles, 2014 Combine measurables (click column header to sort)
|Rank||Player||Height||Weight||Proj. Round||40 yds||Reps||Vert||Broad||20 S||3 Cone||Targets met|
There are quite a few measurables missing, which makes it a little hard to make an accurate read on this year's DT class. But from the data we do have, it looks pretty grim. Aaron Donald is the obvious standout, but Ra'Shede Hageman also checks off quite a few boxes, even though he may not be "quick-twitch" enough for the Cowboys.
After that though, it's slim pickings. Caraun Reid could be an option in the mid rounds, but outside of him, there aren't many prospects that fit the template, until you get into the late rounds. But while some of those late-rounders, like Kerry Hyder, Jason Bromley, Tenny Palepoi, and Khyri Thornton looked good in tights, there's a reason they are ranked as low as they are. The Cowboys seem to be aware of that, as Will McClay also recently indicated:
So, there’s some good football players and then there’s some guys that have some traits that are not in the first three rounds that we are going to continue to look at. You’ve got to be aware of that as you build the team, and you want to be able to find value in those lower rounds in guys that can come in and help you.
The thing to keep in mind here though is as you look at the prospects that seem to have done particularly well, they're all bunched pretty tightly around 300 pounds or slightly lower. The heavier guys understandably didn't do quite as well in these drills as their somewhat lighter colleagues. To get a better handle on that, we'll look at a handful of other metrics to assess our prospects, because being successful in the NFL is about more than simply ticking the right boxes.
1. Production ratio: [(SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF COLLEGE GAMES PLAYED = PRODUCTION RATIO]
This number measures the playmaking potential of front seven players coming out of college. In our table below, the number is based on the last two years of a players' college production. What you want in a Production Ratio is a score of 1.0 or better. Effectively, a score of 1.0 says that a player recorded one splash play in the defensive backfield per game.The higher the number, the better.
2. Kirwan Explosion Index: [BENCH PRESS REPS + VERTICAL JUMP + BROAD JUMP = EXPLOSION NUMBER]
First proposed by Pat Kirwan, this is a simple addition that adds up the number of bench press reps with the broad and vertical jump values. What this number gives you is an idea of the explosive strength of a lineman. An explosion number over 70 is considered a very good result, with anything above 65 still being good.
3. Explosive Power: (VERT+3.5*BROAD)*(WEIGHT/HEIGHT)/3000
This is a metric that was developed, as far as I know, by Tony Wiltshire, a writer for BuffaloBillsDraft.com. Where about half of Kirwan's Explosion Index (KEI) is made up of upper body strength, the Explosive Power metric focuses on lower body strength relative to a player's physique. This metric gives you a good idea of how strong a lineman is off the snap and the amount of pure physical force he can generate out of his legs. A value over 1.05 is elite, a value over 1.0 is excellent.
4. Speed Score: [(WEIGHT * 200) / (40-TIME ^ 4) = SPEED SCORE]
Not all players are created equal, and it doesn't make a lot of sense comparing 40-times of players who may have a weight difference of 60 pounds. The Speed Score takes into account both a player's time in the 40-yard dash as well as his weight. The ratio was initially developed for running backs, but works just as well for DTs. A good score for an interior defensive lineman is 95 or higher.
Defensive Tackles, 2014 Combine additional metrics (click column header to sort)
||Player||Height||Weight||Prod. Ratio||Expl. Indx||Expl. Power||Speed||Targets met
With NFL fans caught up in the excitement of the Combine, sometimes it's easy to forget that a one-day workout session cannot trump four or more years of game film. Particularly in cases where freakish athleticism does not match on-field production, teams will need to take a closer look at why that is the case. It's not necessarily a red flag, but it warrants a closer look. Similarly, one bad day of working out will not discount consistent production at a high level in college.
Couple of observations about the numbers:
1 vs 3: Some of the prospects in the list above will be 1-techniques, some will be 3-techniques. If you want a penetrating 3-technique, you'll want a guy with a good track record of production in college. And if you look at the top guys in the table above, there actually are a handful of guys projected for the first three rounds that had good to great production ratios. However, not all of them have the prerequisite athletic markers, and there's a risk that most of the guys here will be average 3-techniques.
The Marcus Spears factor. At his pro day, Marcus Spears ran a 5.05 forty, had a 31 inch vertical jump and a 4.44 20-yard shuttle, all at 307 pounds. Additionally, Marcus Spears had a 1.60 production ratio (28 games, 15 sacks, 30 TFLs) over his final two seasons at LSU. Compared to this year's draft class, Spears would have been one of the top prospects. And ultimately, that's the risk with this group: Will they be better than Marcus Spears?
What about Ra'Shede Hageman? The knock on Hageman seems to be that he is not "quick twitch" enough. That may or may not be the case, but going by our athletic markers and the various metrics we can derive from them, he has an intriguing height-weight-speed ratio with good athleticism, strength and explosion. And he has the one thing Aaron Donald will never have: height.
Late round prospects? If you sum up the green cells in both tables above, there are a few interesting late-round prospects assembled here. Donald leads all top prospects with 10 green cells, and Hageman follows with 8. But Tenny Palepoi (7), Jay Bromley (6), Khyri Thornton (6), Kerry Hyder (5) and Zach Kerr (5) could be very interesting late-round picks. All of these guys showed intriguing athleticism during the Combine, but I know next to nothing about any of them. I guess I'll have some research to do on those guys.
In the next installment of our look at the Combine results, we'll look at how the defensive ends performed.