Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Kangaroo Court: The 2014 DEs & 3-4 OLBs

Well, I guess it is about time to start talking about the 3-4 OLBs and 4-3 DEs  that will be available in the draft.  When discussing pass rushers, people will sometimes say that it is just as important for a player to be good against the run, as it is for them to be good at rushing the QB.  These people are wrong, and quite possibly brain damaged.  Much like the way that a girl with a "great personality" might relate to run defenders, it is rather easy to scientifically demonstrate the obvious superiority of the open minded and ample-bosomed alternative that is our more flashy pass rusher.  I'm still unsure about the role that an emotionally distant and neglectful father plays in the development of pass rushers, but at least for the female half of this comparison it seems to be a bit beneficial, at least when it come to creating the necessarily lowered standards I generally appreciate/require.

With that in mind, we are going to look for some large breasted dimwits, metaphorically speaking.  To narrow down the search for the bimbo pass rusher of our dreams, I am going to use the old standby method that I sort of laid out in the post about Explosive Pass Rushers (and if you are really bored, there is another post about High Agility Pass Rushers).  Basically, this all boils down to weighing a player's athletic ability as well as the average number of tackles for a loss that they had in their final two years in college, to generate a score that dictates in what round we would be willing to select them.  This has generally worked out quite well in the past, though a lot of that is because we set rather high standards, and don't really take a lot of risks.  A player either falls to us, at the price we are willing to pay in terms of draft picks, or we simply pass on them.  There are plenty of fish in the sea, and no reason to chase after them.

To a rather large extent, I would say that the computer's above average success rate with this position group really hinges on having a very dim view of most prospects.  By sticking rather rigidly to the draft grades that the computer assigns, which are often lower than where the players end up being selected, NFL teams end up doing a lot of the work for us.  They draft the players that we are wary of, or just have a passing interest in, well before we would be willing to, leaving us to just go after the players that we feel really secure in pursuing.

As always, I will list the player's Kangaroo Score (which measure lower body power), and their Agility Score (which comes from the short shuttle drill and the 3-cone drill).  The scores are shown in the form of how many standard deviations that a player is above, or below, the average result for a player in their position group.  The ideal prospect, in my opinion, would have a Kangaroo Score that is at around one standard deviation above average, an at least average Agility Score, and have averaged at least 15 tackles for a loss in his final two college seasons.  Of course, in the end, we often have to make some compromises here.

This list will continue to be modified/updated as new data and prospects come to my attention.  I don't plan to list every prospect here, but instead will just show the ones that I think are interesting for either good or bad reasons.  Updated: 5/4/14

Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Kangaroo Score:  1.313   Agility Score:  0.781   Avg TFL:  20
He is an extremely impressive athlete, with proven and consistent production.  What's not to like?  Not much really.  The only criticism I can come up with is his age, as he will turn 24 at the start of the 2014 season.  In the end though, I think he is still the best/safest pass rushing prospect in the draft, and I have a much higher opinion of him than I do of his main rival Jadeveon Clowney.  Some will say that he is best suited to play OLB in a 3-4, which I might agree with, but I wouldn't rule out playing DE in a 4-3, as he has the power and reach to survive there, despite his somewhat smaller frame.  I see Mack as a potentially very special talent, with the rest of the field lagging quite a few steps behind him.  The computer gives him a very solid 1st round grade, and he strikes me as a rather safe bet.

Jadeveon "Bonzo"Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Kangaroo Score:  1.473   Agility Score:  -0.276   Avg TFL:  17.5
Yes, he is physically gifted, and did well in college.  Despite that, he isn't nearly as freakish or unusual as people are leading us to believe.  That doesn't mean that I don't think he can do well.  I just think people have become a bit deranged in hyping him.  I think some of the maturity/effort concerns are valid, and wouldn't be surprised if it takes him a year or two to adjust to the NFL.  Still, the computer gives him a 1st round grade, and I am fine with that.  Probably best suited to continue playing as a 4-3 DE, though 3-4 OLB is a possibility too.  If I have one gripe about him, which pushes him below Mack, it relates to his speeding tickets, though not for the obvious reasons.  If you are going to blatantly accept a car from boosters (because he obviously couldn't afford this car as a college student), you should hold out for something nicer than a Chrysler 300.  Yup, I have to deduct some style points for that.  Should have gone with something German instead.

Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Kangaroo Score:  0.563   Agility Score:  1.255   Avg TFL:  20.75
I have somewhat mixed feelings about Barr.  As a pass rusher, he seems to get ragdolled by offensive tackles more than I would like, though some of that may be due to a lack of experience, since he has only been playing defense for two years.  Still, there's no point in having a system for picking players, if you're not going to trust it, and the computer did give him a 1st round grade.  He may or may not become a great pass rusher, but the odds are in his favor that he should at least become a good player of some sort.  Personally, I think he would make a more interesting 4-3 outside linebacker, since he looks pretty good dropping into coverage, which probably isn't surprising when you consider his Agility Score.  Among the few pass rushing prospects that the computer gave a high draft grade to, Barr makes me the most nervous, though mainly for subjective reasons that probably can't be backed up with data.

Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Kangaroo Score:  1.014   Agility Score:  0.142   Avg TFL:  18.5
Since there was some curiosity about how Aaron Donald would project as a 4-3 DE, I thought I would throw this in here.  I normally wouldn't include him in this group, since at 285# he is somewhat outside of the weight class of these other prospects.  As a DT, his scores come out a bit differently, as we are comparing him to a different sort of player.  For a DT his Kangaroo Score would be 0.195, and his Agility Score would be 1.517.  So, as a DT he would be much more nimble than his average peer, but only shows slightly above average power.  As a DE he is more powerful than his average peer, but only moderately more nimble.  A good argument could probably be made for either position.  Either way, he has been insanely productive during his last three years in college, and seems well worth a 1st round pick, though I think he is much more likely to succeed in a 4-3 defense, as I'm not sure what role he would be able to play in a 3-4.

Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Kangaroo Score:  0.370   Agility Score:  0.515   Avg TFL:  12.25
He's not a bad athlete, but when we also factor in his college production, the best I can do is to give him a 6th round grade.  Sounds harsh, I know, but I think there is significant bust potential here.  Like his fellow Missouri teammate Michael Sam, he really produced very little before this past season.  Even if I did judge him solely off of only his final year, the best I could do would be to give him a 4th round grade, but I place too much value in seeing players have more than one year of success to make that sort of compromise.  Risk, risk, risk, risk...I don't like it.

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Kangaroo Score:  0.118   Agility Score:  -0.721   Avg TFL:  10.5
There has been a fair amount of attention given to Dee Ford, and much of it relates to his performance at the Senior Bowl.  My question would be, what was he doing before the Senior Bowl?  Prior to his senior year, he produced very little, which would scare the hell out of me if I was seriously considering him in the first 2 rounds of the draft.  While his production in his senior year did go up (which if judged on its own, might merit a 2nd round grade from the computer, if his athletic ability was better), it was very much of the Dwight Freeney variety, where he seemed to strictly go after the opposing QB, with little production outside of this area.  Oh, and how can I forget to mention this, he also seems to have recurring issues related to a back injury.  I'm sure there's no reason to worry about that.  I would have to strongly bet against a positive outcome here.

Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Kangaroo Score:  -1.002   Agility Score:  0.456   Avg TFL:  19.75
Despite his somewhat impressive production in college, his limited athletic ability makes him too much of a risk to take in the first couple of rounds, where he is generally projected to go.  That he will also be 24 at the start of the 2014 season, is a bit of a concern.  Generally, the history for players like Van Noy has been extremely poor.  If we also factor in his somewhat smaller size (243#), I think he is a better fit as a 4-3 linebacker, though even there I probably wouldn't take him before the 4th or 5th round.  He's not the droid I am looking for.

Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Kangaroo Score:  -0.092   Agility Score:  0.265   Avg TFL:  18.25
Weighing the value of Scott Crichton puts me in a weird position.  Athletically, there is nothing wrong with him.  There is also nothing terribly exceptional.  He is just a somewhat average guy.  At the same time, what he accomplished with his mediocre physical abilities is rather impressive.  When I picked apart his numbers, the same way I did for Jeffcoat and Murphy, his results were rather compelling.  I really wouldn't want to bet against Crichton doing well, but at the same time, I have to admit I wouldn't gamble on him in the first few rounds because his lack of exceptional athletic ability makes him really hard to read.  It wouldn't be unprecedented for someone like him to do quite well, but it is more of a gamble than I like to take at the top of the draft.  The odds are strongly stacked against him, but he could be interesting.

Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
Kangaroo Score:  1.776   Agility Score:  0.135   Avg TFL:  18.5
When I think of Kareem Martin, I  hear Jeremy Clarkson's voice in my head screaming "POWER!!!".  That is what you have with Martin, a pure power player, with gracefulness taking a backseat.  This is a very interesting prospect.  Despite all of the Clowney hype, I would argue that Martin is potentially just as good of an athlete, and in some cases actually better.  While people discuss Clowney's impressive 40 time (which is of debatable value for a DE), they ignore that at the 10-yard split Martin is actually slightly ahead of him (1.53 seconds for Martin, 1.56 seconds for Clowney).  Since Martin is generally projected to be a late 1st to early 2nd round pick, this creates an interesting situation.  If it were me, and I was picking at the top of the 1st round, with my sights on someone like Clowney, I would seriously consider trading back, and picking Martin instead.  Will Martin actually turn out to be as good as Clowney?  Who knows?  But I think netting the extra pick from such a trade, and potentially getting a player who might be as good, is worth considering.  Another point in Martin's favor is the likelihood that he wasn't benefiting from surrounding talent as much as Clowney was, as North Carolina has mostly been a middle of the road program recently, while South Carolina has been packed with freaks for the last few years.  Despite all of that, Martin produced roughly comparable results on the field.  Because of his size, a lot of people would rule out having Martin play as a 3-4 OLB, but really his Agility Score puts him in a similar position to people like Ryan Kerrigan, and LaMarr Woodley, while only being about 6# heavier.  I would say his potential to drop back into coverage is actually higher than what you see with someone like Brian Orakpo (Agility Score of -0.312) or Adalius Thomas (Agility Score of -0.306), and people appeared willing to overlook their potential limitations.  Yes, feel free to laugh at my dreams of converting him into a 3-4 OLB (admittedly, a reduction in his cheeseburger intake might help with this conversion plan).  Either way, he should most likely become a respectable DE.

In the end, Martin was a bit of a late bloomer, but I think he has significant potential.  He may, or may not, become a star.  I would expect him to become a useful player though, which is more than I can say about most prospects.  The computer gives Martin a pretty solid 1st round grade.

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Kangaroo Score:  0.275   Agility Score:  0.993  Avg TFL:  16.5*
Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
Kangaroo Score:  0.064   Agility Score:  1.304   Avg TFL:  21
These two fall into a similar category, since they are both players who seem to rely on exceptional agility, rather than raw power.  They also manage to back up this ability with significant statistical production (Jeffcoats' Avg. TFL would be virtually the same as Murphy's, but he missed games due to injury in his junior year).  The problem is that high agility pass rushers are always a bit riskier than more power oriented prospects.  Only about 40% (it's probably closer to 37%) of comparable players ever became very significant, and even then they tend not to be of the consistent double digit sack variety.  Players like Jerry Hughes, Rob Ninkovich, and Shaun Phillips would probably be the best case comparisons.  A Clay Matthews type of outcome, is also a possibility, though the likelihood of that is very slim.  In general, players of this sort probably do better when playing in space, where their agility can be more of a factor, and are probably much better suited to being in a 3-4 defense.  If put into a 4-3 defense, I would expect that both of them might struggle.  While it's true that their chances are worse than the players with better Kangaroo Scores, these two still have a better shot than most, as a typical run of the mill prospect's likelihood of succeeding is even worse.  The computer gives 3rd round grades for both of them, because that is the point in the draft where these sorts of risks balance out a bit more favorably.  Still, it's fairly likely that they will probably be taken higher than that, so I will attempt to dig a bit deeper. 

To identify which of these two players was more likely to emerge as the potential 'Chosen One' of the 2014 draft, I tried to breakdown their stats a bit further.  I factored in their respective teams' average scoring differential, as pass rushers have an advantage when their team is playing with a lead.  I looked at the ratio of assisted tackles to solo tackles, since a lopsided result here could point to pile jumper syndrome.  I also looked at what percentage of their teams' total tackles for a loss and sacks that they were each responsible for, to see how much their team relied on them to create pressure, versus the pressure coming from multiple directions.  Then I tried to normalize the results to account for age differences relative to their peers, since an older, potentially more physically developed player, shouldn't be allowed to benefit from beating up on younger less mature opponents.  In the end, I have to say that the general consensus that Jackson Jeffcoat is the safest of the two, is probably correct.  Murphy (who I am increasingly growing very wary of as a draft pick) appeared to be benefiting to a significant degree from surrounding talent and his age (he turns 24 this year), so I am striking him out as a prospect altogether.  After watching the two of them play, I would say that my worthless and totally subjective opinion similarly points to Jeffcoat as the safest of the two, though none of this changes the 3rd round grade the computer gave to this pair..

Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
Kangaroo Score:  0.213   Agility Score:  -0.542   Avg TFL:  12.75
He's projected by many people to go in the 2nd-3rd round, but I wouldn't touch him with a ten foot pole in the top half of the draft.  I'm still trying to sort out his Agility Score, because there was a significant difference between his combine results and what he did at his pro day.  Either way, it probably falls in the -0.542 to 0.228 range, neither of which is sufficient to boost his stock in the computer's eyes or to justify being selected as highly as he is projected to go.  While he did well in his senior year, it was too much of a leap from his previous level of production for me to be certain that this reflects his actual ability.  Even if he fell quite a bit, I'm not sure I see anything too compelling here.

Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona St.
Kangaroo Score:  0.571   Agility Score:  0.122   Avg TFL:  19.75
He's a good, but not necessarily great athlete, but when you factor in his college stats, the computer gives him a 3rd round grade.  That's a smidge lower than most people have him going, so there is a good chance I wouldn't even need to make a decision about him.  When I watched him play, he struck me as a fairly interesting and solid prospect, who managed to make impressive plays in more varied ways than a lot of the other prospects listed here.  From game to game, he was also a very consistent and versatile performer.  Still, it is hard to know how much his production was inflated by the surrounding talent at Arizona State, which has several fairly well regarded prospects coming out this year.  The more I look into him, the more interested I become, though I only view him as a 3-4 OLB.  I might find myself interested in him, if he slipped into the 3rd round.

Ben Gardner, Stanford, DE
Kangaroo Score:  1.448   Agility Score:  0.808   Avg TFL:  12.5*
Gardner is quickly becoming one of my favorite mid-to-late round pass rushing prospects.  In terms of athletic ability, he is stunning.  People might want to criticize his 4.83 40-time, but this doesn't really bother me since his 10-yard split is supposedly in the 1.67 second range.  That's still not a stunning result, but is perfectly acceptable.  Either way, it's his power and agility that really interests me, and he is truly impressive in those areas.  Much like his teammate Trent Murphy, I have some nagging concerns about the degree to which Gardner was surrounded by above average talent at Stanford, and played on a team that generally had a lead on their opponents, but when you factor in how much more affordable Gardner will probably be, and how much more athletic he is, these concerns largely disappear.  I'm also curious if Gardner could turn out to be a better pro than college player.  In the limited sample of his games that I managed to see, Stanford seemed to line him up everywhere along the defensive line, including at defensive tackle, where he would clearly be rather undersized.  The degree to which this would have hindered his ability to accumulate stats is a rather interesting question, I think.  I should mention that I had to estimate what Gardner's Avg. TFL result would be, since he missed 5 games in his senior year.  Without this adjustment, his result would have been an average of 11 TFLs.  This minor adjustment changes the computer's grade for him from a 5th round, to a 4th round grade.  He could end up being a target for Team Kangaroo, though his arm length of just 30.75" does worry me a bit.

Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
Kangaroo Score:  1.216   Agility Score:  -0.898   Avg TFL:  12.25
Because of the way his athletic ability leans so heavily towards power, over agility, I would say he is strictly a 4-3 DE.  While he is moderately interesting because of his Kangaroo Score, the computer only considers him a 4th round prospect, which is a bit lower than he is generally projected to go by most people.  I am open to the possibility that the computer is being an asshole here, and making an overly harsh judgment based on Smith's wretched Agility Score.  He's been pretty steady and consistent on the field, even if his results aren't very gaudy.

James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
Kangaroo Score:  0.938   Agility Score:  -0.149   Avg TFL:  10.25
He has intriguing athletic potential, but hasn't really lived up to it so far.  He has been steadily just slightly above average for most of his college career.  I wouldn't mind taking a shot at someone like him late in the draft, as the risk vs reward potential works out better here than it does with more highly regarded and costly prospects like Dee Ford or Kyle Van Noy.  The computer gives him a 5th round grade.

Prince Shembo, OLB, Notre Dame
Kangaroo Score:  0.858   Agility Score:  0.017   Avg TFL:  8
His college production wouldn't normally be too intriguing to me, but he is on my radar.  So far, he has been extremely inconsistent at creating pressure on the QB, or making plays in the backfield.  He is currently projected to be a 4th or 5th round pick, which is a bit more than I would be willing to pay, but if he drops a bit I could be interested.  Has lined up as a DE and an OLB, and personally I think he looked a bit better than his stat sheet would have led me to expect.  I would be looking at him as just a player to provide depth, but one that might have some untapped potential.  With that said, I wouldn't take him until the 7th round.

Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
Kangaroo Score:  -0.374   Agility Score:  -2.044   Avg TFL:  13
In a lower gravity environment, perhaps on Mars, his athletic ability would be terrifying.  On Earth, not so much.  I know the league is looking to expand its popularity in other lands, so keep your fingers crossed Mr. Sam.  In terms of athletic ability, in a non-Martian environment, he is terrible.  His statistical production, outside of his final year in college, was virtually nonexistent, and even as a senior his most significant results all came from just 3 games.  As far as I am concerned, he is practically undraftable.

Terrence Fede, Marist
Kangaroo Score:  1.003   Agility Score:  -0.061   Avg TFL:  15.25*
Why is there an asterisk next to Fede's Avg TFL result?  This is because we obviously have to give a penalty to players who are from really low levels of competition.  If you consider Marist to be a terrifying program that is fine, and entirely your own business.  Either way, even if I knock off a third of his TFLs, he is still a fairly interesting prospect, and the computer would give him a 6th round grade.  Finding sufficient information on Fede is a bit of a problem, let alone getting to watch him play.  If push came to shove, I might still be willing to draft him, sight unseen, in the last two rounds, simply because the options thin out a bit.  We know he has rather impressive athletic ability.  We know he produced at a high level, even if it was against lesser competition.  We know that at least half of the defensive ends in the league probably aren't that good to begin with, and could stand to be challenged some.  So why not take a shot?  Were you just going to select a long snapper with that late round pick instead?  At 277 pounds, and with a short shuttle time of 4.45 seconds, I would suspect his best fit would be as a 4-3 DE, though he didn't look terrible standing up, in the little I was able to see of him.  Obviously, picking Fede should probably be viewed as a project.


  1. I never understood the Clowney hype. He's spent most of his college career playing along side guys like Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram. Wouldn't you want guys like Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald(Is he a high-agility DT?) who had to play along side bums?

    1. Yup, that's pretty much my view of the Clowney situation too. I definitely prefer players who did well, while being in less beneficial situations. Still, I suspect Clowney should turn out to be pretty good, just not the monster some people expect him to be.

      As for Aaron Donald, I'm going to include him in the defensive tackle group, since weighing in at 285#, he sort of fits better there. I wouldn't rule him out as a 4-3 DE though. He could be very interesting such a role.