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Football Outsiders’ SackSEER predicts weak edge rusher draft class in 2018 NFL Draft

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Should the Cowboys add another edge rusher or should they go OL, WR, or DT on the first day of the draft?

Virginia Tech v Boston College Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

In 2010, 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 incorporates an edge rusher’s projected draft position (as per Scouts Inc.). This is a very interesting addition as the formula now includes a scouting element, where it was almost exclusively a stat-based metric in its early years.

This week, Football Outsiders published their SackSEER numbers for college edge rushers in the 2018 NFL Draft class. SackSEER is not the be-all 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 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 GiantsJason 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 class 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 2017
Myles Garrett Texas A&M 1 (1) 31.9 7.0
T.J. Watt Wisconsin 1 (30) 26.5 7.0
Tyus Bowser Houston 2 (47) 26.5 3.0
Derek Barnett Tennessee 1 (14) 25.5 5.0
Solomon Thomas Stanford 1 (3) 24.2 3.0
Jordan Willis Kansas State 3 (73) 23.6 1.0
Takkarist McKinley UCLA 1 (26) 22.7 6.0
Taco Charlton Michigan 1 (28) 20.8 3.0

This list has got to be a little disappointing for Cowboys fans, given that Taco Charlton failed to make much of an impact as a pass rusher in his rookie season. But Cowboys fans don’t have to look far to get their hopes up: DeMarcus Lawrence was one of the also-rans on the FO list in 2014 (ranked 16th overall) and was projected for just 12 sacks though five NFL seasons. To date, Lawrence has 23.5 sacks, second among all 2014 edge rushers behind only Khalil Mack. Perhaps Charlton will similarly outperform his projection.

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

Player College Proj. Round 5-Year Sack
Projection
Marcus Davenport UTSA 1 25.9
Bradley Chubb N.C. State 1 24.6
Harold Landry Boston College 1 22.6
Sam Hubbard Ohio State 2 18.1
Josh Sweat Florida State 3 17.5
Tyquan Lewis Ohio State 2-3 16.0
Lorenzo Carter Georgia 2 15.9
Uchenna Nwosu USC 3 14.7

Overall, this is the weakest class of edge rushers since at least 2011, according to the Football Outsiders metrics. Not a single prospect is projected above 30 sacks (Avg. between 2011-2017: 2.3 players per year), and only three are projected to have between 20 and 30 sacks (Avg. '11-'17: 6.4), the lowest value since FO started this exercise.

So far, the Cowboys have invited only one edge rusher (Harold Landry) for an official pre-draft visit this year, focusing instead on offensive and defensive linemen, wide receivers, and linebackers. Obviously, that number might change once the names of all top 30 visitors become available. But given the FO numbers, this looks like a good year to sit out the edge rusher frenzy during the draft, and look to the edge rushers already on the roster to step up, and perhaps hope that something materializes out of the Kony Ealy (29.3 sack projection) visit or Randy Gregory's (32.2 sack projection) potential return. And if the Cowboys do draft Landry, we can always hope the Cowboys’ scouting acumen tops FO’s statistical acumen the way it did with DeMarcus Lawrence.

If you’re in the Cowboys front office and looking get the Cowboys back into the playoffs, do you invest a day one or day two pick in an edge rusher, even though FO doesn’t rate them quite as high as some previous prospects?

Or do you go after an offensive lineman or defensive tackle instead?