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2016 NFL Combine Tale Of The Tape: Defensive Ends

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We take a very close look at the defensive end numbers and try to figure out whether there's anybody the Cowboys could really like in that group.

Joey Bosa has been a popular mock draft pick for the Cowboys.
Joey Bosa has been a popular mock draft pick for the Cowboys.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As we try to figure out what the defensive end numbers from the Combine could mean, we're going to use the same format we used for the defensive tackles yesterday: We'll look at how each edge rusher performed against expectations in the various drills, and then look at a handful of metrics that allow us to perhaps understand the individual results a little better.

We'll start by looking at how the DEs fit the target test results for Combine measurements, with the Combine numbers for DeMarcus Ware and J.J. Watt included as a reference:

Drill Significance Defensive Ends Target
D. Ware J.J. Watt
40-yard dash Speed over distance 4.85 4.56 4.81
225-pound bench press reps Upper body strength 24 27 34
Vertical jump Explosiveness, leg strength 33 38.5 37
Broad jump Explosiveness, leg strength 9'9'' (117 inches)
10'2'' 10'0''
20-yard shuttle Flexibility, burst, balance 4.30 4.07 4.21
3-cone drill Agility, change of direction 7.35 6.85 6.88

Watt weighed in 40 pounds heavier than Ware at the Combine, so his speed results are not comparable, but the explosiveness and agility markers are. You'll notice that Ware and Watt beat every single one of the six targets on this list, some of them quite significantly. One could argue that comparing two studs like Ware and Watt to this year's crop of edge rushers is not fair. Then again, one could also argue that if the Cowboys invest their top pick in an edge rusher, they'd better make sure that investment pays off the way it did with Ware (drafted 11th overall) or J.J. Watt (also drafted 11th overall).

Football Outsiders have their own unique way of assessing the potential of edge rushers, which they call SackSEER. SackSEER uses four metrics: Vertical leap, short shuttle, adjusted sack rate in college and missed games in college. Here's what FO had to say about the short shuttle in the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac, and about the vertical leap on the FO website:

The vertical leap's importance is based on simple physics. If a 270-pound defensive end has the leg strength to jump 40 inches in the air from a standing position, it is very likely that he will be able to employ that same functional strength to burst quickly and powerfully off the line of scrimmage.

...

SackSEER’s other workout metric is the short shuttle run. The drill measures change-of-direction speed, burst, and hip flexibility, which are understandably important to rushing the passer. DeMarcus Ware had a jaw-dropping short shuttle of 4.07 seconds, Aaron Schobel ran the shuttle in 4.03 seconds, and Kyle Vanden Bosch ran the shuttle in 4.08 seconds. No elite edge rusher has emerged from any round of the NFL Draft since at least 1999 with a short shuttle slower than 4.42 seconds.

FO haven't released their SackSEER numbers for this year yet, but with the above in mind, let's take a look at the 2016 class of pass rushing prospects, paying special attention to their short shuttle and vertical leap results. For your reading convenience, the targets for each drill are included in the column headers, small--school prospects are marked in yellow.

Defensive Ends, 2016 Combine results (click column header to sort)

Rank Player Height Weight Proj.
Round
40 yds
(4.85)
Reps
(24)
Vert
(33)
Broad
(117'')
20 S
(4.30)
3 Cone
(7.35)
Targets
met
1 Bosa, Joey 6'5'' 269 1 4.86 24 32" 10' 4.21 6.89 4
8 Buckner, Deforest 6'7'' 291 1 5.05 - - 32" 9'8" 4.47 7.51 0
13 Lawson, Shaq 6'3'' 269 1 4.70 - - 33" 10' 4.21 7.16 5
22 Spence, Noah 6'2'' 251 1 4.80 25 35" 10'1" 4.35 7.21 5
28 Dodd, Kevin 6'5'' 277 1-2 4.86 - - - - - - - - - - 0
31 Ogbah, Emmanuel 6'4'' 273 1-2 4.63 20 35.5" 10'1" 4.50 7.26 4
53 Calhoun, Shilique 6'4'' 251 2 4.82 23 35" 9'7" 4.25 6.97 4
68 Nassib, Carl 6'7'' 277 2-3 4.84 21 28.5" 9'6" 4.37 7.27 2
79 Kaufusi, Bronson 6'6'' 285 2-3 4.87 25 30" 9'3" 4.25 7.03 3
92 Oakman, Shawn 6'7'' 287 3 4.96 23 32" 10'3" 4.56 7.53 1
107 Correa, Kamalei* 6'3'' 243 3-4 4.69 21 33" 9'0" - - - - 2
109 Tapper, Charles 6'3'' 271 3-4 4.59 23 34" 9'11" - - - - 3
113 Fanaika, Jason 6'2'' 271 3-4 4.92 23 35.5" 9'5" 4.39 7.06 2
126 Ward, Jihad 6'5'' 297 4 5.11 20 25" 9'3" 4.63 7.38 0
133 Cowser, James 6'3'' 248 4 4.82 21 31.5" 9'3" 4.31 6.8 2
145 Blair, Ronald 6'2'' 284 4-5 5.15 32 30" 9'5" 4.53 7.95 1
164 Nicholas, Dadi* 6'3'' 235 5 4.74 14 41" 9'8" 4.38 7.04 3
170 Ochi, Victor* 6'1'' 246 5 4.86 - - 32" 9'11" 4.4 7.24 2
173 Okwara, Romeo 6'5'' 265 5 4.90 23 33" 10' 4.53 7.38 2
187 Pettway, DJ 6'2'' 265 5-6 4.99 17 28" 9'0" 4.69 7.74 0
199 Ngakoue, Yannick* 6'2'' 252 6 4.75 26 34.5" 9'10" 4.50 7.35 5
231 Judon, Matt 6'3'' 275 6-7 4.73 30 35" 9'1" 4.52 7.67 3

If we take the short shuttle times and the vertical leap numbers that Ware and Watt posted at their workouts as a measuring stick, then this year's class comes up waaay short. Shaq Lawson and Joey Bosa (both at 269 pounds) are the only prospects with a faster short shuttle than J.J. Watt (at 290 pounds), and Dadi Nicolas (at 235 pounds) is the only prospect to beat both Ware and Watt in the vertical jump. All of that is a little disappointing, even if Watt and Ware are two of the best in the game.

While all of the prospects listed here worked out in the defensive line group at the Combine, not all will be suitable as defensive ends in the Cowboys' scheme. Some of the lighter guys like Dadi Nicolas, Kamalei Correa, Victor Ochi, or Yannick Ngakoue (denoted with a '*' in the table) probably project better as OLBs, while others may be better suited as 3-4 defensive end than as 4-3 defensive ends (Deforest Buckner, Bronson Kaufusi, Shawn Oakman, Jihad Ward, or D.J. Pettway, to name a few).

No prospect manages to tick off all six boxes here, though three prospects tick five boxes: Clemson's Shaq Lawson and Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence along with Maryland's Yannick Ngakoue. Three more guys manage to check four boxes: Ohio State's Joey Bosa, Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun, and Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah. Note that of these six guys that tick four of five boxes, all but one are projected to go in the first or second round.

If we focus only on the SackSEER stats, vertical leap and short shuttle, there are only two prospects who meet the DE targets in both drills: Shaq Lawson and Shilique Calhoun.

The biggest disappointment here has got to be DeForest Buckner, who doesn't check a single box for the DE targets, though he would check all boxes for a defensive tackle. Buckner projects as a classic 3-4 defensive end but lacks the "quick twitch" the Cowboys are looking for in the defensive ends or 3-techniques.

Let's now look at five different metrics to better understand the Combine performance, the definitions of which I'm repeating here for readers who may have missed the rundown of the defensive tackle numbers:

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 player's college production. What you want in a Production Ratio is a score of 1.5 or better. For pure pass rushers, a number above 1.5 is considered good, a number above 2.0 is often indicative of elite talent - if achieved against quality competition.

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. But since only five prospects exceeded 70, we'll make an allowance for this draft class and assume that anything above 65 is still 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. If you think of the KEI as horsepower, then think of the Explosive Power metric as torque. 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 DEs. A good score for an edge rusher is 100 or higher.

The table below summarizes the five metrics above for the 2014 DEs. The green cells show where a prospect exceeded the figures outlined above, the column on the far right shows how many of the five targets a prospect met or exceeded.

Defensive Ends, 2014 Combine additional metrics (click column header to sort)

Rank
Player Height Weight Prod. Ratio (1.5)
Expl. Indx (65)
Expl. Power (1.0)
Speed (100)
Targets met
1 Bosa, Joey 6'5'' 269 2.06 66.0 0.92 96.4 2
8 Buckner, Deforest 6'7'' 291 1.59 - - 0.96 89.5 1
13 Lawson, Shaq 6'3'' 269 1.89 - - 0.98 110.3 2
22 Spence, Noah 6'2'' 251 3.09 70.1 0.94 94.6 2
28 Dodd, Kevin 6'5'' 277 1.41 - - - - 99.3 0
31 Ogbah, Emmanuel 6'4'' 273 2.25 65.6 1.00 118.8 4
53 Calhoun, Shilique 6'4'' 251 1.70 67.7 0.90 93.0 2
68 Nassib, Carl 6'7'' 277 1.58 59.1 0.86 101.0 2
79 Kaufusi, Bronson 6'6'' 285 2.02 64.3 0.89 101.3 2
92 Oakman, Shawn 6'7'' 287 1.98 65.3 0.96 94.8 2
107 Correa, Kamalei* 6'3'' 243 1.81 63.0 0.83 100.4 2
109 Tapper, Charles 6'3'' 271 1.06 66.1 0.95 122.1 2
113 Fanaika, Jason 6'2'' 271 1.12 68.0 1.00 92.5 2
126 Ward, Jihad 6'5'' 297 0.66 54.3 0.88 87.1 0
133 Cowser, James 6'3'' 248 3.02 61.8 0.84 91.9 1
145 Blair, Ronald 6'2'' 284 1.78 71.5 0.96 80.7 2
164 Nicholas, Dadi* 6'3'' 235 1.38 64.8 0.94 93.1 1
170 Ochi, Victor* 6'1'' 246 2.71 - - 0.86 88.2 1
173 Okwara, Romeo 6'5'' 265 1.13 66.0 0.93 91.9 1
187 Pettway, DJ 6'2'' 265 0.45 54.0 0.85 85.5 0
199 Ngakoue, Yannick* 6'2'' 252 1.88 69.6 0.90 99.0 2
231 Judon, Matt 6'3'' 275 2.73 74.1 0.97 109.9 3

Keep in mind that most of the metrics we've looked at in the two tables above are simple athletic markers. So what you see here are young men who've won the genetic lottery in terms of their athleticism, but whether that athleticism translates onto the field in the NFL is an entirely different issue.

Overall, this is a rather disappointing class for 4-3 edge rushers. Emmanuel Ogbah is the only player here to show up with four green boxes in the table above, and Grand Valley State's Matt Judon is the only one to check three boxes, though Shaq Lawson may have checked three as well if he had participated in the bench press at the Combine. Everybody else has two or less.

If you sum up both tables, Emmanuel Ogbah checks eight of a possible 10 boxes, Shaq Lawson checks seven of a possible eight (no bench press and no explosion index), and Noah Spence also checks seven boxes. Matt Judon, Shilique Calhoun, and Joey Bosa check six.

So where does this leave the Cowboys?

Based on these metrics, there's no edge rusher that's worth the fourth-overall pick. That's not a slam on Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner, who are both projected as top 10 picks and might be great players in their own right, but their athletic markers, especially compared to guys like J.J. Watt or DeMarcus Ware, do not warrant the fourth-overall pick.

Of course, there's more to evaluating prospects than just looking at athletic markers. But the key to evaluating prospects is the ability to take what you're seeing on tape, in practice, and in games at the college level and projecting it to the NFL level. And one way to do that is by looking at the prospects' athleticism, because it will be their superior athleticism that will allow them to replicate what they showed in college against "bigger, faster, stronger" competition in the NFL.

If the Cowboys want another QB Hunter, they'll probably have to take him at the top of the second round - if their targets last that long. Shaq Lawson, Noah Spence, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Shilique Calhoun fit the Cowboys profile to varying degrees, but that's probably it. These four guys are projected to go anywhere from the mid first round to the mid-second-round. After that, the Cowboys probably don't need to bother with an edge rusher anymore, unless they want to take a flyer on a small-school prospect like James Cowser, Ronald Blair, or Matt Judon on the third day of the draft.

I understand that we're stacking hypothetical on hypothetical here, but if the Cowboys want a pass rusher, but pass on both Bosa and Buckner at No. 4 (be it for the reasons outlined above or simply beacuse they like another player better), and suddenly see an early run on the four pass rusher that fit their target profile, could they "pull a Demarcus Lawrence" and move up from the 34th pick to make sure they get their guy? In his latest mock, Rob Rang of CBS Sports for example envisions just such a scenario: he has Shaq Lawrence going 10th overall, Noah Spence 29th, and Emmanuel Ogbah 30th, which would leave the Cowboys with Shilique Calhoun as their only viable pass rushing option - and there's no telling whether they even like the guy.

We'll look at more positions in the coming days. For now though, which DEs would you like for the Cowboys out of this group?