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Football Outsiders' SackSEER: Potential Edge Rushers In The 2015 Draft

The Cowboys may face a tough choice on the first day of the draft: Should they add an edge rusher or should they shore up their secondary in the 2015 NFL Draft?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

We've been so busy with Production Ratios, SPARQ, A-quadrant players and much more in the lead-up to the 2015 draft, that we've almost overlooked another great source of data for potential Cowboys draft targets. A few years back, the fine folks at Football Outsiders introduced us to SackSEER, a regression-based formula developed to predict the NFL success of edge rushers selected in the NFL Draft.

The current formula ( it seems to change on an almost yearly basis) is based on five metrics:

  • an explosion index combining forty-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump results
  • a prospect's three-cone drill results
  • adjusted sacks per game in college (with some playing time adjustments)
  • passes defensed per college game played
  • number of medical redshirts the player either received or for which he was eligible

Additionally, the formula now incorporates an edge rusher's projected draft position (per NFL Draft Scout).This is a very interesting addition as the formula now includes a scouting element, where previously it was almost exclusively a stat-based metric.

Earlier this month, Football Outsiders published their SackSEER numbers for college edge rushers in the 2015 NFL Draft class. SackSEER is not the be-all and end-all of statistical analysis, and FO themselves have argued that it is more accurate at identifying busts than it is at singling out potential stars, but it is definitely worth a detailed look. Which is exactly what we'll do today.

If you're not familiar with SackSEER, here's a brief outline of how it works: Using the metrics outlined above, the SackSEER formula projects each prospect's total sacks through five NFL seasons. Although there are always outliers in the individual projections, when accumulating all the individual numbers, FO have found that the formula projects sack production about three times more accurately than simply going by a player's draft position within the first two rounds.

The model is not without its detractors, and the initial model famously missed on the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, who met his five-year sack projection in his first year in the league. In 2011, the model completely missed out on Bruce Irvin, who had eight sacks for the Seahawks. In 2013, FO projected Barkevious Mingo as the top pass rusher in the draft, but in FO's own words, Mingo "has yet to make a major impact." This is one key reason why FO continuously work on improving their model

But harping on a few high-profile misses is always easier than looking at the overall accuracy of the model. Applying the model to edge rushers drafted into the NFL since 1999 yields more accurate predictions than misses. So don't discard the model just because of some high profile misses. For the most part, the model is fairly accurate.

But before we dive into this year's class of edge rushers, let's review the top eight prospects from last year's draft lass as measured by SackSEER, keeping in mind that the projection is for five years, and not just the rookie season:

Player College Round (Pick)
5-Year Sack
Projection
Sacks 2014
Khalil Mack
Buffalo
1 (5)
38.9
4.0
Anthony Barr
UCLA
1 (9)
31.4
4.0
Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina
1 (1)
30.2
0
Kony Ealy
Missouri
2 (60)
29.3
4.0
Kyle Van Noy
BYU
2 (40)
27.3
0
Trent Murphy
Stanford
2 (47)
25.8
2.5
Jackson Jeffcoat Texas - -
23.3 1.0
Carl Bradford ASU 4 (121)
22.6 0

Not a bad start for this draft class. Where's DeMarcus Lawrence, you might wonder. Lawrence was one of the also-rans on the FO list, and was projected for just 12 sacks though five NFL seasons. It remains to be seen whether Lawrence will exceed that career projection, but he may find some hope in two outside linebackers who led last year's rookie edge rushers in sacks: the 49ers Aaron Lynch recorded 6.5 sacks last year, almost beating his five-year projection of 7.5 sacks. Colts OLB Jonathan Newsome, also with 6.5 sacks, wasn't even included in FO's ranking.

Here's how the top eight edge rushers of this year's draft class stack up:

Player College Proj. Round
5-Year Sack
Projection
Vic Beasley Clemson 1 34.0
Randy Gregory Nebraska 1 32.2
Alvin Dupree Kentucky 1 29.2
Eli Harold Virginia 2 24.9
Preston Smith Mississippi State 2 22.3
Dante Fowler Jr. Florida 1 21.7
Shane Ray Missouri 1 20.4
Danielle Hunter LSU 2 20.1

Cowboys fan favorites like Owamagbe Odighizuwa (15.3 sacks) or Frank Clark (5.0) fail to make the list entirely, and if the Cowboys draft either, we can only hope the Cowboys' scouting acumen tops FO's statistical acumen.

Overall, the model suggests that this year's class is weaker at the top than last year's class. The three top players (Beasley, Gregory, Dupree) are unlikely to fall to the Cowboys, which would leave Eli Harold or Preston Smith as two prospects with a high SackSEER projection who would likely be within reach for the Cowboys. Here's what FO wrote about both:

Eli Harold: According to SackSEER, the talent available at the edge rusher position begins to fall off sharply after Dupree. The next prospect up is Eli Harold, who had a good combine workout that you might have overlooked given the eye-popping performances put up by some of his peers. Harold's production in college was a little below average, which adds up to Harold being a thoroughly average prospect.

Preston Smith: Smith only had seven sacks through his first three years of college football, then nine sacks as a senior. These numbers are well below average for a top-tier edge rusher prospect, but Smith salvaged his projection somewhat with a good pass defensed rate, as he managed to intercept two passes and bat down seven others.

If you're in the Cowboys front office and looking to improve the Cowboys' defense, what do you do? Do you go after an edge rusher like Harold or Smith, even though FO rates them as average? Do you go after a player like Odighizuwa who may not have top college production but has elite athleticism?

Or do you go after a corner instead?