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Finding The Superior Athlete: SPARQ Cornerbacks In The NFL Draft

We check out the athletic markers of cornerbacks in the 2016 NFL draft and see which prospects emerge as the most productive AND most athletic.

If the Cowboys had a checklist for CBs, Xavien Howard would check all the boxes.
If the Cowboys had a checklist for CBs, Xavien Howard would check all the boxes.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In our ongoing series on superior athletes in the 2016 draft (on DEs, DTs, RBs, and LBs) we looked at a metric called SPARQ, which is a single number designed to summarize a player's athleticism. The number is calculated with a proprietary formula that incorporates player weight, bench press, broad jump, vertical jump, forty-yard dash, ten-yard split, short shuttle and 3-cone drill (details here).

In those four posts, we combined the SPARQ metric with a metric for the college production to see which draft prospects would emerge as the most productive AND most athletic. Today, we're turning our attention to cornerbacks and the metric we'll be using looks at the cornerback stats and weights them with a point system that gives you a single number which shows how many Production Points a player averaged per game (the metric is explained in detail in yesterday's post on linebackers).

Back in February, we looked in great detail at the college production of 33 draft-eligible cornerbacks, and showed how Production points could be a building block in the overall evaluation of a prospect. Today, we're going to build on that post by adding SPARQ numbers to the equation as a measure of a prospect's athleticism.

The NFL is obsessed with athleticism. No matter how fast a defender might recognize or diagnose, no matter how diligently he plays with technique, if a prospective NFL athlete doesn't meet certain athletic thresholds, he has little chance of being drafted and no chance of making an impact. That's why front offices pore over certain measurables; they offer a sense of whether players have the raw athleticism to survive in a league that quickly and brutally exposes all but the most genetically gifted.

The following table summarizes both the SPARQ and the Production Points of the top 25 cornerbacks in the 2016 NFL draft along with their SPARQ scores, courtesy of Zach Whitman of (click on the blue column headers to sort):

Cornerback SPARQ & Production Points, 2016
Player School Ht. Wt. Prod.
2 Jalen Ramsey Florida State 6-1 209 10.3 142.8 99.3
10 Vernon Hargreaves III Florida 5-10 204 8.4 137.2 97.3
21 William Jackson III Houston 6-0 189 9.8 110.8 26.7
28 Mackensie Alexander Clemson 5-10 190 3.1 115.3 42.4
59 Artie Burns Miami (Fla.) 6-0 193 6.8 105.7 13.3
65 Xavien Howard Baylor 6-0 201 10.2 127.8 84.6
84 Jalen Mills LSU 6-0 194 7.1 123.8 74.0
87 Sean Davis Maryland 6-1 201 13.0 134.6 93.3
95 Cyrus Jones Alabama 5-10 197 7.7 112.7 33.0
111 Jonathan Jones Auburn 5-09 178 10.0 121.8 67.2
117 Maurice Canady Virginia 6-1 193 7.4 122.1 68.1
131 Harlan Miller Southeastern Louisiana 6-0 182 9.2 99.9 4.7
134 Rashard Robinson LSU 6-1 171 2.9 97.6 2.9
137 Eric Murray Minnesota 5-11 199 8.8 128.9 87.1
149 Ryan Smith North Carolina Central 5-11 189 8.5 119.1 57.2
155 Kevon Seymour Southern California 5-11 186 5.6 119.8 59.7
160 Anthony Brown Purdue 5-11 192 8.9 114.4 39.2
162 Zack Sanchez Oklahoma 5-11 185 11.0 109.1 21.5
166 D.J. White Georgia Tech 5-11 193 9.2 114.2 38.4
178 Kalan Reed Southern Mississippi 5-11 192 9.4 123.7 73.3
193 James Bradberry Samford 6-1 211 5.8 132.2 92.6
203 Daryl Worley West Virginia 6-1 204 11.2 113.6 36.3
207 LeShaun Sims Southern Utah 6-0 203 8.6 112.2 31.5
224 Morgan Burns Kansas State 5-10 200 8.2 118.1 53.2
231 Deiondre' Hall Northern Iowa 6-2 199 11.4 112.1 31.0

Note that there are four players here (Ramsey, Mills, Davis, Hall) who may end up playing safety in the NFL, but they've also been mentioned as possible corners. I've included them here to get a feel for the whole cornerback class, but will include them as safeties in tomorrow's post on safeties as well.

For cornerbacks, a Production Score of 8.5 is average, a score above 10.0 suggests very high college productivity, thus possibly foreshadowing future NFL success, and anything above 12.0 is exceptional.

In the table above, "NFL%" refers to the NFL positional averages and not to the draft positional averages. This means that a 50.0 percentile represents a player who rates as a league-average NFL athlete at the position. If sort the table above by NFL% you'll see that this CB draft class includes some truly exceptional athletes, even compared to their NFL peers.

Jalen Ramsey, as measured by SPARQ, is the most athletic prospects in this class, almost on the same level as Byron Jones, who scored in the 99.9th percentile last year. In total, 13 players exceed NFL peer average with their athletic markers.

The following graph provides a visual representation of what happens when we plot Production Points against the SPARQ score for the 25 prospects above.


Going clockwise from the top left of the graph, the C quadrant features players with a strong record of production at the college level, but who have questions regarding their athletic ability. The A quadrant (top right) shows the players most likely to succeed at the NFL level; they have a strong track record of production and combine that with the necessary athleticism to allow them to compete at the NFL level. The B quadrant (bottom right) shows superior athletes whose college production has been sub par, leaving scouts to question why this might be the case. The D quadrant (bottom left) is a nasty place for a prospect to find himself; it's where the guys sit whose college production and athletic markers are both below those of their peers.

The good news for a CB-needy team like the Cowboys is that there are a good number of A-quadrant players in this draft class. There are six bona fide A-quadrant players here (Jalen Ramsey, Sean Davis, Eric Murray, Xavien Howard, Kalan Reed, and Jonathan Jones). Add the two borderline players Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith and you have eight players, which compares very favorably to the other position groups we've looked at so far (DE: 6, DT: 5, RB: 5, LB:2).

We know that the Cowboys prefer their corners to be long - at least 5'11", and preferably 6'0" or taller. So, just to see what happens, I'll limit my search to corners that are six feet tall or taller. If we do that, here's what the new graph looks like:

SPARQ CB 2016 6 feet

With this limitation, the A quadrant is comprised exclusively of players who score the scouting trifecta: they have length, production, and athleticism. Quadrants B and C are made up of players who exhibit two of these three desirable traits. Quadrant D offers players who might have skated a bit too long on the fact that they are blessed with NFL-sized bodies.

Applying such a rigorous height limit obviously reduces the number of options, leaving only Ramsey, Davis and Howard, as A-quadrant players. But even fully populated, the chart still leaves out four players that don't yet have a SPARQ number, and all of which could be considerations on the second day of the draft.

CBS Rank Player School Ht. Wt. Prod
19 Eli Apple Ohio State 6-1 200 7.0
48 Kendall Fuller Virginia Tech 6-0 197 9.6
81 Will Redmond Mississippi State 5-11 186 8.1
99 KeiVarae Russell Notre Dame 5-11 196 8.4

The Cowboys only invited two cornerbacks, Jalen Ramsey and Vernon Hargreaves, for official pre-draft visits. That doesn't mean they won't be looking at other corners in the draft. So it's good to know that at corner, the Cowboys will have choices throughout the draft.


To ease your mind about the methodology used, here's a chart of some historic corners and how they would have fared in our evaluation. There's not a lot of historic SPARQ data around, but these are the numbers I could get my hands on. Note that I've had to change the scale on the chart to accommodate some of the extraordinary numbers these players put up:

SPARQ QB historic


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