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NFL Draft 2019: Finding play-making defensive tackles

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Is there a DT in the 2019 draft that could provide an upgrade for the Cowboys defensive line?

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Every year since 2011, I’ve used a metric called the ‘Production Ratio’ to assess who the potential playmakers in the draft might be. The Production Ratio alerted us early to the likes of Kawann Short in 2013 or Aaron Donald in 2014.

As there are bound to be playmakers available to the Cowboys outside the first round, the Production Ratio can help us get an early indication of who those playmakers might be.

The Production Ratio was initially proposed by Pat Kirwan, and is really a very simple metric that adds up sacks and tackles-for-loss and divides the sum by the number of college games played. The resulting ratio is one tool among many - albeit a pretty good one - that measures the playmaking potential of front four players coming out of college. The Production Ratio is calculated as follows:

PRODUCTION RATIO = (SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF GAMES PLAYED

The resulting number gives you a metric with which to evaluate a player’s playmaking ability, even if it isn’t a one-to-one measure of the frequency of splash plays (sacks or tackles-for-loss) a player recorded per game. That’s because officially, a sack also counts as a tackle for loss, so adding up the two numbers is a bit of double-counting. But in terms of the Production Ratio as originally described by Pat Kirwan, sacks plus the total number of TFLs go into the formula.

The ratio is usually calculated over the entire college career of a prospect, but that method can be inaccurate because not every prospect has a four-year career in college. To correct for that, we’ll only look at the last two seasons of a player’s college career.

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 this year’s draft class, let’s look at the standout defensive tackles (two seasons and at least four sacks per NFL season to qualify) from 2010-2017 and see what their college Production Ratios looked like.

Top Edge Rushers drafted 2010-2017
Year Rnd (Pick) Tm Player Total Sacks Sacks/Year Prod Ratio
2014 1 (13) STL Aaron Donald 59.5 11.9 2.54
2016 2 (37) KAN Chris Jones 24.0 8.0 0.63
2010 4 (120) CIN Geno Atkins 71.0 7.9 0.81
2012 1 (12) PHI Fletcher Cox 44.5 6.4 1.15
2010 1 (2) DET Ndamukong Suh 56.0 6.2 2.07
2010 1 (3) TAM Gerald McCoy 54.5 6.1 1.44
2011 3 (77) TEN Jurrell Casey 46.0 5.8 1.35
2011 1 (30) NYJ Muhammad Wilkerson 44.5 5.6 1.58
2013 2 (44) CAR Kawann Short 32.5 5.4 1.79
2016 1 (12) NOR Sheldon Rankins 14.0 4.7 1.56
2012 5 (137) DEN Malik Jackson 32.5 4.6 1.18
2011 1 (3) BUF Marcell Dareus 37.0 4.6 1.24
2016 2 (49) SEA Jarran Reed 13.5 4.5 0.45
2012 4 (132) GNB Mike Daniels 29.0 4.1 1.35
2016 5 (152) WAS Matthew Ioannidis 12.0 4.0 1.13

Five of the 15 players shown above have a Production Ratio above 1.5 (blue cells), seven more have a ratio between 1.0 and 1.5 (green cells). So for 12 of the 15 players listed, the Production Ratio over their final two college years appears to have a correlation with 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. Chris Jones is the other obvious exception, but while he always had the physical potential (6-6, 310), he never put it all together in college, and didn’t even start until his final college season.

In many ways, Jones is similar to David Irving (6-7, 290), except Irving never put it together in the NFL outside of an 11-game stretch (games 14-16 in 2016; games 5-12 in 2017) in which he put up 10 sacks and 11 TFLs.

Just how impressive Irving’s run over that 11-game stretch was becomes clear when you understand the full scope of the table above: of the 169 DTs drafted between 2010 and 2017, only 15 averaged more than four sacks per season.

As a general rule, if you want a disruptive guy in the middle, chances are you’ll have to get him at the top of the draft. But it’s also a fact that of the 15 most disruptive defensive tackles listed above, only seven were drafted in the first round, an indicator that it may be worth looking a bit closer at the college production of defensive tackle prospects, especially in the later rounds where the Cowboys will be drafting.

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.

2019 Defensive Tackle Prospects

The table below shows the current 34 top-ranked defensive tackle prospects for the 2019 NFL draft. The table is sorted by their ranking on draft website Great Blue North (GBN), with each player’s ranking on Draftcountdown (DC) and Drafttek (DT) added for further reference.

It’s still early February, so you probably shouldn’t attach too much weight to these early rankings. But with the Cowboys picking 58th, and the depth of this year’s DT class, there’s a good chance eight DTs get picked before the Cowboys are on the clock. Similarly, players ranked 25th or lower are unlikely to get drafted at all, so the Cowboys’ sweet spot is likely somewhere between the 9th and 25th-ranked players.

For your convenience, the table is sortable (just click on the blue column headers).

Rank GBN Rank DC Rank DT First Last School Ht Wt Sacks TFL Games Prod. Ratios
1 1 1 Quinnen Williams Alabama 6040 295 21.5 14.5 29 1.24
2 2 2 Ed Oliver Houston 6030 292 8.5 31.0 20 1.98
3 3 4 Jeffery Simmons Mississippi St. 6040 300 7.0 29.0 26 1.38
4 5 3 Christian Wilkins Clemson 6040 315 10.5 23.5 29 1.17
5 4 5 Dexter Lawrence Clemson 6040 350 4.0 10.5 25 0.58
6 8 7 Jerry Tillery Notre Dame 6070 305 12.5 19.5 26 1.23
7 6 6 Dre’Mont Jones Ohio St. 6030 286 9.5 18.0 26 1.06
8 7 8 Gerald Willis III Miami (FL) 6040 300 5.5 23.5 21 1.38
9 13 16 Daylon Mack Texas A&M 6010 320 6.5 15.0 26 0.83
10 15 14 Terry Beckner, Jr. Missouri 6040 295 10.5 22.0 26 1.25
11 41 10 Marquise Copeland Cincinnati 6020 287 7.5 15.5 25 0.92
12 18 11 Demarcus Christmas Florida St. 6040 305 1.0 7.5 24 0.35
13 19 15 Greg Gaines Washington 6020 316 6.0 11.5 27 0.65
14 14 13 Daniel Wise Kansas 6030 290 12.0 28.5 24 1.69
15 22 25 Dontavius Russell Auburn 6030 320 4.5 12.5 27 0.63
16 20 51 Ed Alexander L.S.U. 6030 331 2.0 4.0 21 0.29
17 12 27 Kingsley Keke Texas A&M 6040 305 8.0 13.5 26 0.83
18 10 23 Renell Wren Arizona St. 6060 297 1.5 7.5 26 0.35
19 - - 22 Youhanna Ghaifan Wyoming 6040 282 9.0 23.5 20 1.63
20 21 - - Cortez Broughton Cincinnati 6020 290 6.5 20.0 25 1.06
21 27 21 Olive Sagapolu Wisconsin 6020 342 5.0 8.0 22 0.59
22 9 19 Khalen Saunders Western Illinois 6020 310 14.0 25.0 23 1.70
23 25 17 Ricky Walker Virginia Tech 6020 300 6.5 23.0 25 1.18
24 31 - - Kenny Bigelow, Jr. West Virginia 6040 307 2.0 4.5 18 0.36
25 24 28 Chris Slayton Syracuse 6040 309 4.5 16.5 25 0.84
26 16 41 Albert Huggins Clemson 6030 315 4.0 8.5 28 0.45
27 50 42 Khairi Clark Florida 6010 311 2.0 4.0 24 0.25
28 51 44 Ryan Bee Marshall 6070 280 9.5 14.5 24 1.00
29 46 47 Shy Tuttle Tennessee 6030 300 1.0 5.0 22 0.27
30 23 36 Trysten Hill Central Florida 6020 315 5.0 15.0 24 0.83
31 33 59 Bryan Mone Michigan 6040 335 0.5 2.5 26 0.12
32 26 50 Chris Nelson Texas 6010 315 1.0 8.5 26 0.37
33 17 55 Kevin Givens Penn St. 6010 285 8.5 14.5 25 0.92
34 35 - - PJ Johnson Arizona 6040 335 3.0 8.5 10 1.15

Overall, this is not a particularly impressive DT class. Ed Oliver is the clear standout here, but he’ll be long gone before the Cowboys even turn on the lights in their war room.

But there are three players above the 1.5 point threshold that currently look like they could be available when the Cowboys are on the clock, Khalen Saunders, Daniel Wise, and Youhanna Ghaifan.

Khalen Saunders has been called the “Aaron Donald of the FCS”, and while he has a different body type than Donald, there’s no denying that he has some impressive athleticism for a 310-pound guy:

Want to see that again?

At Western Illinois, Saunders flew under the national radar most of his college career, but drew more attention during his senior year when he was named to multiple FCS All-American teams. But will his FCS production translate to NFL-level production?

Daniel Wise. Kansas went 6-42 in the four years Wise played for the Jayhawks, so it’s no surprise he’s been flying under the radar in the build-up to this year’s draft. His production over the last two years (12 sacks, 28 TFLs, 87 tackles) is especially impressive given that he was probably the biggest threat on a bad Kansas defense and likely received a lot of attention from opposing teams.

Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com liked what he saw from Wise in the Week 6 game against West Virginia last year.

Wise was unstoppable most of the game and beat blockers off the snap, showed explosion to the action with a great closing burst and easily moved laterally in pursuit of ball carriers. He’s a terrific three-technique prospect who could end up as a second-day pick.

Youhanna Ghaifan comes with some serious red flags, as Rotoworld summarizes:

The 6-foot-4, 282-pounder’s collegiate career came to an unfortunate close after he was arrested in October and charged with misdemeanor false imprisonment and harassment. In a plea deal, he copped to the harassment charge, with the false imprisonment one dropped. So long as he adheres to the agreed upon parameters of the plea deal, he will no longer be facing any charges after July 5. Obviously, this case will be one which is combed over by interested NFL parties, but on a pure talent level, Ghaifan intrigues. He was a first-team All-Mountain West performer during the 2017 season, recording 69 tackles (15.5 for loss), seven sacks and a pair of fumbles forced across 12 games played.

Based on his talent, Ghaifan looked like an early-round candidate for next year’s draft, but his legal troubles had him declare early. Whether those troubles will scare off NFL teams remains to be seen.

And that’s it as far as Production Points stand-outs. What you will find in this draft class are lots of players that can stop the run, can occasionally get into the backfield, can take on double teams, and have the anchor to hold their ground. But you won’t need to invest a premium pick for one of those guys.

If the Cowboys are looking for that twitchy 3-technique they like for their scheme, their options appear slim, at least from a Production Ratio point of view.

But they can find a lot of guys suited for the 1-technique position all over the draft. Of course, the idea of investing a high draft pick in a guy who can stop the run but can’t pressure the passer in a league that’s all about the pass seems to be kind of counter-intuitive, but so be it. The question is whether any of the prospects available for the Cowboys offer anything beyond what the Cowboys already have in guys like Antwaun Woods, Daniel Ross, and Maliek Collins (when he moves to the 1 on occasion), or a low-cost free agent signing.

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 - and invest your picks in positions that may be harder to find.


The Production Ratio, like every other stat-based projection tool, is not going to be a perfect predictor of how successful these players are going to be in the NFL. But it does give you something to think about as you evaluate these players and their potential, and it may be one building block in identifying who this year’s playmakers will be - and who won’t. The NFL Combine will soon provide us with even more metrics, giving us an even bigger data base from which to assess players.