Yesterday we looked at the Production Ratio of defensive ends in this year's draft class. Today we switch our focus to defensive tackles.
We've established in previous years that the Production Ratio looks like a solid indicator for how good a college player could be at the NFL level. If you are unfamiliar with the Production Ratio, follow the link above and read up on it. Here's how it's calculated:
|PRODUCTION RATIO = (SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF GAMES PLAYED|
The resulting number tells you the frequency of splash plays (sacks or tackles for loss) a player recorded per game in the offensive backfield. As usual, we'll look at two Production Ratios, 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), though we'll focus on the latter for most of this post. For defensive tackles, a number above 1.0 for the last two years of college is usually indicative of a disruptive defensive tackle, a number above 1.5 generally denotes elite talent for a defensive tackle.
But before we look at the defensive tackles in the 2015 draft class, let's look at the standout defensive tackles (as measured by total sacks) from the past five 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|
|1 (2)||Ndamukong Suh||DET||DT||36||24||50.5||53||1.41||2.07|
|4 (120)||Geno Atkins||CIN||DT||32||10.5||33.5||50||0.88||0.81|
|1 (3)||Gerald McCoy||TB||DT||27||14.5||33||40||1.19||1.44|
|Class of 2011|
|1 (3)||Marcell Dareus
|1 (30)||Muhammad Wilkerson
|3 (77)||Jurell Casey||TEN||DET||21||8||22||38||0.79||1.35|
|Class of 2012|
|1 (12)||Fletcher Cox
|1 (14)||Michael Brockers
|Class of 2013|
|1 (13)||Sheldon Richardson
|6 (198)||Chris Jones
|Class of 2014|
|1 (13)||Aaron Donald||STL||DT||9||29.5||66||51||1.87||2.54|
|2 (48)||Timmy Jernigan||BAL||DT||4||8.5||25||40||0.84||0.93|
For ten of the thirteen players 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. Michael Brockers also has a low college score, but he was drafted more on his raw athletic potential than on his college production. Timmy Jernigan entered his final college season with just two career starts, so looking at a two-year number for a guy who was a one-year starter may not do him full justice.
It is worth noting that in all five years listed above, a player not drafted in the first round makes the list of the most disruptive defensive tackles. As a general rule, if you want a disruptive guy in the middle, chances are you'll have to get him in the first round. However, if we were to extend the table above, 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.
2015 Defensive Tackle Prospects
The table below shows the current top-ranked defensive tackle prospects for the 2015 NFL draft. The table is sorted by their CBS Draft Ranking (Rank per January 21st), though you probably shouldn't attach too much weight to these early rankings. The table contains the top 28 DT prospects that were given a draftable grade by CBS. For your convenience, the table is sortable (just click on the blue column headers).
|Player ||College Stats ||Production Ratio
|Rank||Player||School||POS||Ht||Wt||Sacks||TFL||Games||College Career||Last two seasons|
|1||Leonard Williams||Southern California||DT||6-5||298||20||35.5||39||1.42||1.31|
|20||Eddie Goldman||Florida State||DT||6-3||320||7||12||35||0.54||0.63|
|43||Michael Bennett||Ohio State||DT||6-2||288||15||31.5||49||0.95||1.41|
|61||Xavier Cooper||Washington State||DT||6-4||298||13||31.5||36||1.24||1.32|
|137||Kaleb Eulls||Mississippi State||DT||6-3||295||3||8.5||52||0.22||0.29|
|157||Marcus Hardison||Arizona State||DT||6-4||300||11||16||26||1.04||1.04|
|177||Xavier Williams||Northern Iowa||DT||6-3||309||14||29.5||41||1.06||1.58|
|191||Tyeler Davison||Fresno State||DT||6-2||309||12.5||27.5||53||0.75||1.07|
|205||James Castleman||Oklahoma State||DT||6-2||300||4.5||18||48||0.47||0.63|
|246||Leterrius Watson||Central Michigan||DT||6-5||321||6||18.5||39||0.63||0.64|
|254||Travis Raciti||San Jose State||DT||6-5||290||13.5||27||49||0.83||0.65|
|340||Rakeem Nunez-Roches||Southern Mississippi||DT||6-2||305||4||22||30||0.87||1.35|
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 we are looking for disruptive guys. Guys who can make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Guys who can collapse the pocket and rush the passer from the DT spot. Guys who use brute strength and explosion to overpower their opponents or guys who can use their quickness to get off the snap and squeeze through gaps. And the best indicator for all of that (before we have NFL Combine numbers) is their college production.
There are guys on this list who are better suited for the 1-technique position, others are better suited for the 3-technique spot. But there's no reason why the Cowboys shouldn't be able to generate pressure from both positions.
Leonard Williams (1.31 Production ratio in his last two college years) and Danny Shelton (1.15) are the consensus top DTs in this draft, and both are out of reach of the Cowboys' 27th pick. But that doesn't mean the Cowboys don't have options. Nobody in this year's draft class comes close to Aaron Donald's ratio (2.54), but Michael Bennett (1.41), Xavier Cooper (1.32), and Malcolm Brown (1.21) are interesting prospects that could be in range for the Cowboys.
When we looked at the production ratio for the defensive tackles in last year's draft class on January 9, 2014, Aaron Donald was still ranked 53rd on the CBSSports Big Board. Fellow first-round pick Dominique Easley was ranked 99th, while Stephon Tuitt (ranked 21st) and Ra'Shede Hageman (24th) eventually ended up as second-round picks. Which just goes to show that where a given player is ranked in January doesn't mean all that much once the draft rolls around.
If the Cowboys want to invest a high pick in their defensive line, they'll have enough targets to choose from, chief among them Michael Bennett, though by the time of the draft, he will likely have moved up the board quite a bit.
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. Xavier Williams (Northern Iowa) and Derrick Lott (Chattanooga) both hail from small schools, so teams and their scouts will have to make the call as to whether their high production ratios have any chance of translating to the NFL level. As with all college stats, you'll probably have to factor in the fact that not every player will have played against SEC-level competition.
Ultimately, the Cowboys have to decide what type of players they want for their DT spots. If you want a big guy who can sit down on two offensive linemen, you can get a guy like that on the third day of the draft, or you can get a cheap, proven veteran in free agency to do just that job.
But if you're going to invest a high draft pick in a defensive tackle, you'd better make sure the guy you pick is going to be a difference maker. And the production ratio is one tool that may help narrow down that list of players to target.