After we posted a similar list last year, Reilly and I started to feel a bit depressed with the results. There were just so incredibly few defensive tackles last year, about whom we felt any real confidence, that we started to wonder if we were being overly harsh and pessimistic. Perhaps we should have been a bit more open minded about the subject. Maybe, we were setting the bar a bit too high.
It's hard to say why we are sometimes so difficult to please. It's not like we had parents who failed to love us, and constantly made our accomplishments feel insufficient, leading to a tendency to harshly judge others as well. No, that can't be it. I vividly recall being a young child and gluing some macaroni onto construction paper, to depict our childhood home, and having my father respond with one of the most heartwarmingly dismissive and blank expressions that I've ever seen from him. He was clearly restraining himself from displaying the sort of cold disapproval that he normally broadcast to the rest of the world. Surely, that's pretty much the same thing as love, isn't it?
Hmm, maybe we are operating under the influence of some sort of childhood neglect. Still, my parents aren't getting any younger, and with their inevitable and rapid decline looming on the horizon, I'm sure we will only grow much closer. As they physically collapse, and become more dependent on me to do things that their withered, and shriveled bodies can no longer perform, their appreciation for my efforts should steadily grow. Hell, they could break a hip at any moment! Then, right when I have them where I want them, and their dependency is at its peak....that's when we'll toss them in an old folks home, declare them mentally incompetent, and throw away the key. Any weekend visits we deign to throw their way, will be viewed as a great relief from the Jello slurping doldrums of their everyday life, and I will be seen as a brief ray of sunlight in their sad, lonely, Bingo playing existence. I will be loved...like a mid-round 3-technique defensive tackle, with modest physical skills.
But enough about the tightly knit bonds of my wonderful family. Let's talk about angry fat men in unflattering and tight fitting pants.
As I've mentioned recently, we've been trying to somewhat rebuild our database of players, and reexamine what their statistical production in college could tell us about a prospect. To some extent, we're trying to separate the noise of their surrounding circumstances, and get a better grasp on whose results were exceptional, and whose results might be artificially inflated or inappropriately valued. Unfortunately, this is a bit tricky, and I suspect it could be a while before we really complete this task. Still, we're taking a stab at it. We see some potential with these experiments, and we're going to start to quietly and surreptitiously
apply it to some of the players in this year's class, at least on somewhat limited basis.
There is a bit of a problem we've run into with these efforts. Instead of making us feel more open minded about defensive tackle prospects, I think it has had something of an opposite effect. We're actually seeing more and more mediocrity than we really hoped to find. In the end, this really shouldn't be too surprising, since what we consider to be average does naturally tend make up the bulk of any group. Still, this just makes us feel more and more uncomfortable with a lot of the hype that surrounds so many of the prospects, and somewhat underscores the true uniqueness of the really superior and rare monsters that we think should be the high priority targets in the NFL Draft.
Let's give some examples of DTs who were selected in the 1st round in the past few years. What do you think of Panther's defensive tackle Star Loutlelei? To us, he appears to be a potentially above average run stuffer, with limited effectiveness as a pass rusher. What about Viking's DT Sharrif Floyd? Well, he seems to finally be showing signs of life, but is he really what you would call a terror? How about Lions' DT Nick Fairley? He appears to have become a moderately above average pass rusher, though perhaps to a lesser degree than you would expect based on the talent that surrounds him, and where he was selected. What about Cardinals' nose tackle Dan Williams? People don't seem to be calling for his blood, and fans generally appear to be reasonably satisfied with his efforts.
In all of these cases, the players seem to be making some reasonable effort to satisfy their team's (and fan's) expectations. It's probably unlikely that you would call any of them busts, though our computer suggested that they all presented some significant risks. At the same time, you probably would have a hard time arguing that any of these players was terribly unique, or especially valuable, which is arguably what you should be hoping for when you select somebody in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. It seems to me that these are the sorts of players that you give a team's GM a 'pass' for selecting, simply because things could have been much much worse. The possibility of making a truly embarrassing decision is obviously significant, so there is something to be said for finding a serviceable, but perhaps not sterling, type of prospect. They are also probably the types of players that local fans may love, because we all tend to accentuate the positive, and eliminate the negative. While that may be a perfectly acceptable viewpoint, I'm still not entirely comfortable with the idea of hanging your hat on Mister In-Between.
Now, let's get back to our normal business of being unreasonable assholes...
As always, I will include the player's Kangaroo Score (our measure of lower body power), and the Agility Score
(which comes from their short shuttle drill and 3-cone drill). Each
score is given in the form of how many standard deviations that a player
is above, or below, the average result for someone in their position
group. If you want to, you can also read the post on Athleticism and the Defensive Tackle, to see why we think these traits might have an impact on a player's likelihood of succeeding. Based on the role we expect a player to play, and the type of defense we expect them to be in (3-4 vs 4-3), we will sometimes shift the degree to which we value one attribute over another. I will also list the average number of tackles for a loss (TFL)
that a player had in their last two years in college, just to provide
some rough measure of how disruptive they were.
This list will continue to be modified/updated as new data and
prospects come to my attention. I won't list every prospect
here, but will just focus on the ones that I think are interesting for
one reason or another. Last updated: 4/17/2015
Leonard Williams, DT, USC
Kangaroo Score: -0.183 Agility Score: 0.379 TFL: 11.5
It would probably be unwise for us to bet against most peoples' top rated DT prospect, despite his fairly pedestrian measurable traits. Still, it does make me a bit wary. At the same time, his statistical production was typically somewhat above average, and very consistent over the last 3 years, especially for a player who is still only 20 years old. If I had a concern with his stats, it would be that USC generally got to play with a lead, increasing Williams' opportunity to rush opposing QBs, who needed to throw the ball to keep up. His high tackle count also leaned a bit more towards the 'assist' variety, rather than the 'solo' tackle, at least relative to some other prospects. The rate at which he disrupted plays behind the line of scrimmage also appeared to steadily decline over the past 3 years. When I've watched him play, I thought he looked fairly quick, and perhaps better than his results might indicate. Still, I have my doubts about whether he really is the monster he has been portrayed as. For someone who is apparently a lock to be a top 5 pick, I would prefer to see him tick off a few more boxes.
Danny Shelton, NT, Washington
Kangaroo Score: 0.604 Agility Score: -0.576 TFL: 10
Don't you love it when the steroids kick in just in time for your senior season? Prior to his surge in statistical production in the 2014 season, I suspect Shelton would have been seen as little more than a 5th or 6th round prospect. Now we're left to wonder if he is a freak or a fraud. Well, I'm not really concerned about his below average Agility Score, because nose tackles almost always do horribly there. For nose tackles, I am much more concerned with their lower body power (the Kangaroo Score), where Shelton produced just a moderately above average result. Unfortunately, there were some inconsistencies here, and his Kangaroo Score in the vertical jump was actually significantly better, at 1.260 standard deviations above average, and more in line with what I expect out of a nose tackle. Even if we accept that possible explanation, we would still have some concerns with his wretchedly poor 5.64 second 40-yard time. Yes, he's a nose tackle, and it might seem ridiculous to be overly concerned about this, but my god that is a slow man. In the end, I have to question the value of drafting a nose tackle as highly as Shelton is supposedly going to be selected. As the league becomes more and more tilted towards the passing game, picks like this just seem to make far less sense than they might have in the past. I also think there are a number of other players, that can be had for less, who can probably fill the 'immovable fat man in the middle' role in a perfectly adequate manner.
Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
Kangaroo Score: -0.117 Agility Score: -0.148 TFL: 13.5
While Malcom Brown's statistical production might appear somewhat similar to that of Leonard Williams, and perhaps even superior in some ways, we don't think that is actually the case. The Texas pass rush was significantly more productive than the one at USC, making Brown's contribution to things somewhat less impressive than it might initially appear to be. While his athletic results aren't much worse than those of Williams, there are fewer positive anomalies to make me wonder about hidden potential here. While landing on a team with a highly talented defensive line could obviously aid the eventual perception of his performance, the computer would suggest that a 1st round pick is too much to spend on someone like him.
Jordan Phillips, NT, Oklahoma
Kangaroo Score: 0.964 Agility Score: -0.473 TFL: 4.5
Phillips' statistical production is fairly run of the mill stuff for a nose tackle, though he only appears to have been a starter for one year. While his athletic traits generally line up with what we hope to see in a nose tackle, nothing really leapt out at us when we watched him play, and we found him to be a bit uninspiring. While CBS seems to be projecting that Phillips will go in the 1st round, we think they might have lost their minds. If he goes before the 3rd round we'd be somewhat surprised.
Eddie Goldman, NT, Florida State
Kangaroo Score: -0.938 Agility Score: -0.402 TFL: 5.5
Based on the initial reports from his pro day, I am now selling Goldman stock at an all time low price. Who will give me a ham sandwich for this barely used defensive tackle? Okay, okay, how about a pickle? The first bidder to offer me a pickle, even a slightly dried out one, can have this fresh off the showroom floor nose tackle.
Arik Armstead, DT/DE, Oregon
Kangaroo Score: 0.896 Agility Score: 0.412 TFL: 4
Because of his physical dimensions (about 6'7" and 292 pounds) people are naturally jumping to the conclusion that Armstead will wind up as a 3-4 defensive end. That actually seems fairly sensible. Teams do tend to position players somewhat predictably in that way. While his lower body power, and agility also fit the mold for a guy who is going to play this role, I do have to wonder if some degree of insanity is creeping into the Arik Armstead hype parade. I've been seeing a number of people making comparisons between Armstead and the somewhat similarly proportioned Calais Campbell. The problem here is that Campbell was a vastly more productive player than Armstead has ever shown himself to be. In his last two years at Miami, Campbell averaged 16.5 tackles for a loss, to Armstead's piddly average of just 4. Campbell also brought in a total of 16.5 sacks in those two years, to Armstead's 3.5. With the sort of leads that Oregon typically played with during the past few years, it's hard to say that Armstead would have been suffering from a lack of opportunity here. If anything, I think the situation he found himself in was much more advantageous than the one Campbell found himself in. Then we throw in the issue of DeForest Buckner, who played opposite from Armstead, and accumulated 13 TFLs and 4 sacks in this past season. It makes me wonder if Armstead was even the most talented defensive lineman on his own team. While Armstead's physical potential is very appealing, I'd have a hard time justifying how a team could spend a 1st round pick on someone with these sorts of question marks surrounding his statistical production. Armstead strikes me as a very interesting prospect, but the risks do appear to be significant.
Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
Kangaroo Score: 0.912 Agility Score: 0.008 TFL: 6.5
Like his former teammate, Brandon Scherff, Davis appears to have been another Leisure Studies major. When the NCAA investigation into Iowa begins, I think we know which department is going to be getting the most scrutiny. I've run across some criticisms of Davis, that question his lack of production as a pass rusher. This seems like a fairly odd bit of nitpicking to have of a player who is basically a nose tackle, even if he isn't always listed as such. Davis seemed to play as the power guy, opposite to Louis Trinca-Pasat's more nimbly-toed penetrator role. It's just this sort of pairing that I think is sort of the key to getting the most out of some of the more agile types of DTs that we'll end up discussing as we go along. Regardless, I thought Davis looked fairly good, in the little I have seen of him. He seems to play with the sort of power his numbers would suggest, and is relatively nimble for a nose tackle. The rumors seem to be suggesting that Davis has interviewed rather poorly, when talking to teams, and I have to admit he does strike me as a someone who might potentially be a dimwit. Once again, I think the guys at CBS might have gotten into the bad acid, when they projected Davis to be selected in the 1st round, and suspect he could slide a bit. If he is available closer to the 3rd round, I might be interested in him.
Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
Kangaroo Score: ? Agility Score: ? TFL: 12.75
Still waiting for data.
Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi St.
Kangaroo Score: 0.174 Agility Score: 1.860 Avg TFL: 10.75
While his listed weight of 271 pounds might make his inclusion in this group seem a bit peculiar, we think that his height (6'4.7") and arm length (34"), along with his other athletic traits, might make him an interesting prospect to convert to the 3-4 DE position. Unfortunately, that might mean his rookie season could a bit of a waste, since he'd spend it being locked in seclusion being force fed cheeseburgers through a funnel. Still, it might be worth it down the road. How does this work exactly? Well, after 80 quarter pounders with cheese, we could probably have Smith weighing closer to 290#, a fairly ideal weight for a 3-4 DE. While his Agility Score is obviously excellent, his Kangaroo Score doesn't really suggest an amazing amount of lower body power (at least compared to DTs). When we remove weight as a factor, his explosiveness appears to be 1.923 standard deviations above average for a DT. Of course, this is a less power oriented measure of explosiveness. As he gains weight, I would expect this result to drop a bit, along with his Agility Score (though his Kangaroo Score should remain somewhat unchanged). Fortunately, he's far enough above average in these areas to give up a little ground, and still be ahead of many of his peers. His statistical production was fairly weak, prior to the 2014 season, though some of that might relate to the way he was moved around on the defensive line, sometimes even playing as a quasi DT. While he might end up playing as a 4-3 DE, and we would view his results very differently at that position, we'll examine that in a different post. Overall, we think he is an interesting prospect, even if there are some areas that concern us. As a potential 3-4 DE, we might consider him worth a 3rd round pick, though that seems to be a bit lower than where he is often projected to be selected. If we judged him solely off of his final college season, our rating would be even higher, but we don't like to make those sorts of exceptions. Even though we have some concerns, we really do like him, and might take a bit of a risk here to acquire him.
Mario Edwards, DT/DE, Florida State
Kangaroo Score: 0.276 Agility Score: 0.573 TFL: 10.25
We're not really sure what to do with Mario Edwards. At 279 pounds, the question seems to be, do you bulk him up, and turn him into a proper DT, or slim him down, turning him into a 4-3 DE? At this point, we're leaning towards the DT option, but we thought we should include him in this list anyway. Regardless of the role he winds up in, we have some doubts about how well he would end up doing. Almost nothing about his statistical production really stood out to us, and we somewhat wonder whether playing alongside Eddie Goldman might have aided him a bit too much. Even if he was available in the 2nd round, we probably wouldn't feel comfortable with all of the risks he might present.
Xavier Cooper, DT, Washington State
Kangaroo Score: -0.339 Agility Score: 1.371 TFL: 11.5
While I'd like to see Cooper's Kangaroo Score be a bit higher, I'm not sure if this is a huge concern. In college he was used as a 3-4 defensive end, but I think those days are over. I just don't think he has the arm length (31.5") or lower body power to continue playing that role. With his exceptional agility score, playing as a general run of the mill 3 technique is probably a better fit. Opposing interior offensive linemen generally are a bit lacking in lower body power themselves (though their agility scores tend to be above average), so it seems like a better match up for someone like Cooper. His statistical production, relative to his team, was a bit above average in most areas, and generally quite consistent from year to year. I would probably give him some additional credit in this area for playing on a team that typically wasn't operating with a lead, and the possibility that he wasn't playing a position that truly suited him. Because of his relative lack of power, I wouldn't expect him to become much of a run stuffer. I suspect his best role would be playing alongside a larger nose tackle type, and being used as more of a slippery pass rusher. In the little I have seen of him, he seems to play like the quick and nimble individual that his numbers would suggest. He also struck me as a reasonable and amusing guy in interviews, unlike some of the mentally unhinged individuals that many teams employ. While I might not bet on him becoming a star, I think he has a reasonable chance of becoming at least a decent player within this new role, and wouldn't mock a team that selected him in the 2nd or 3rd round.
Gabe Wright, DT, Auburn
Kangaroo Score: -1.195 Agility Score: 0.075 TFL: 6.5
I really have no idea why some people are projecting Wright to be a selection in the first half of the draft. I've seen ham sandwiches with more athletic ability than this guy.
Henry Anderson, DT/DE, Stanford
Kangaroo Score: -0.068 Agility Score: 1.876 TFL: 9.5
CBS currently seems to be listing Anderson as a 4th round prospect, but we somewhat doubt that he will last that long. Because of his unusual physical proportions (a little over 6'6" and 294 pounds), it seems likely that some team will view him as a 3-4 DE, and take him a bit higher than some might expect. While his Agility Score is exceptional for a player of his size, the computer would suggest that his lower body power and raw explosiveness is a bit more on the fringe, relative to some of the players who have achieved acclaim at this position. Athletically, he is probably somewhat similar to players like Brett Keisel or Derek Wolfe. His statistical production was slowed by an injury in 2013, but overall the computer also thinks his results were probably inflated by the surrounding talent at Stanford, except for his 2014 season, which was a bit above average. We've only seem a small sample of him actually playing, and had somewhat mixed feelings about him. While we probably wouldn't bet on him becoming a star, we do suspect he could have a long and useful NFL career. If he is still available in the 3rd round, we'd probably give him some serious consideration.
Marcus Hardison, DT, Arizona State
Kangaroo Score: -0.606 Agility Score: 0.796 TFL: 8
I have to admit that I am a bit disappointed with the initial reports of Hardison's pro day results. His results were all over the map, so the scores we have listed here may conceal some debatable potential. There is a possibility that these numbers are also flawed since he is coming off of an injury, but they are all we really have to go on. While his production was fairly impressive in his final year, I do tend to fret about one year wonders. In many ways, he is in a similar position to his former teammate Will Sutton who was drafted in the 3rd round last year, but with a less established history. While I find Hardison to be a somewhat interesting prospect, I'd have to toss him into the pile of players that I would avoid. There are just too many risks and unknown factors at play with him.
Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson
Kangaroo Score: 0.606 Agility Score: 0.662 TFL: 10.25
Athletically, Jarret might be a mildly interesting prospect, even if he is a bit on the smaller side. The problem is that the computer thinks his stat sheet could have been heavily inflated by the talent that surrounded him at Clemson. In the little we have seen of Jarrett, he looked like a passable prospect, who might do okay in the right circumstances, but not somebody we would view as anything more than a 5th round pick. Currently, that appears to be a bit lower than he is supposedly going to be taken.
Xavier Williams, DT, Northern Iowa
Kangaroo Score: -0.761* Agility Score: -1.552* TFL: 13
Hmmm, we were very curious about Williams, but it looks like we are going to have to scratch him off of our shopping list. There's just a bit too much risk here for our tastes.
Louis Trinca-Pasat, DT, Iowa
Kangaroo Score: -0.393 Agility Score: 1.271 TFL: 9.75
The yin to Carl Davis' yang. While Davis appears to have been Iowa's powerful mauler, Trinca-Pasat seems to fit more in the mold of the nimble 3 technique. Athletically, he is almost a clone of Xavier Cooper, right down to his somewhat short arm length of 31.875". Again, similar to Cooper, I think Trinca-Pasat could have a reasonable chance of becoming a respectable DT, if he continues to be paired with someone to play the power role that Davis provided for him in college. Otherwise, I think opposing teams might just run over him. His statistical production generally wasn't too remarkable until this past season, at which point he was already 23, so that is a mark against him. The biggest difference between Cooper and Trinca-Pasat, at least in our eyes, is that Cooper appeared to be in a significantly worse situation, and yet managed to routinely outproduce Trinca-Pasat. If he continues to be viewed as a late round draft pick (at least that is where I typically see him projected to be selected), there might be some upside here.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DT, Southern Mississippi
Kangaroo Score: 1.374 Agility Score: -0.155 TFL: 10
People are probably going to look at Nunez-Roches very average size (6'2.25" and 307 pounds) and classify him as a typical 3 technique DT. I'm not sure if that is really the best view to take of him. Despite the odd fit of his physical dimensions, his athletic traits actually have much more in common with what I would expect to see in a nose tackle. He's kind of like the sexy librarian of defensive tackles, if you know what I mean. Once you get past your preconceived notions about a nose tackle needing to be a 350 pound tub of lard, and actually watch this guy play, I think this starts to make much more sense. Despite his smaller size (god, it's weird to refer to a 307 pound man as small), his Kangaroo Score suggests that he has the power of a much bigger player. In the little I have seen of him, I am perfectly willing to buy into the idea that this is true. Compared to some of the other DT prospects, he is still relatively young (21 until July), which is a point in his favor. His statistical production was hindered a bit by an injury that forced him to miss most of his 2013 season, though his results were quite excellent in 2014. I suspect people will downplay his accomplishments due to playing at a somewhat lower level of competition, but as long as he remains a late round prospect, I think this factor has already been discounted enough to compensate for that concern. He majored in biological sciences, which has to be seen as some improvement over the vast number of pottery majors you usually deal with. If the NFL doesn't work out, he supposedly aspires to become a veterinarian, so he gets Reilly's vote. My biggest concern might be that he was born in Belize, so he could have a paralyzing fear of the chupacabara. While I generally see him listed as someone who might not be taken until the end of the draft (some say he won't be drafted at all), I'd probably start to target him in the 5th round. I might even be willing to argue that he should go even higher than this. While his eventual success or failure will hinge on many things beyond his actual abilities, I think he might be one of the more underrated prospects in this draft.
Quayshawne Buckley, DT, Idaho
Kangaroo Score: 0.782 Agility Score: 0.092 TFL: 15.75
I suspect that Key and Peele were responsible for giving him his name, but let's ignore that. Let's start off by listing some of Buckley's negatives. He is older than we would like, and will be turning 24 in August. His level of competition wasn't exactly awe inspiring. He seems to have a bit of a reputation for collecting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. He was also suspended after receiving a DUI, when he crashed his vehicle into a pair of parked cars. So, he might not be the sharpest of individuals. On the other hand, his Kangaroo Score suggests that he has good lower body power and explosiveness. In fact, this might be underestimating his abilities, since the results from his vertical jump would have been 1.281 standard deviations above average, which is quite excellent. His Agility Score isn't remarkable, but is acceptably average. While his statistical production was exceptional, the computer also suggests that his numbers might be a bit underrated here. When you consider how Idaho was generally playing from behind, and how little his teammates appeared to contribute to the pass rush, Buckley's results start to look even more impressive. There are actually some very interesting parallels that can be drawn between Buckley, and the statistical production of players like J.J. Watt and Ndamukong Suh though I am certainly not claiming that he will reach that level of success. Either way, there is an argument to be made for the possibility that Buckley might have been the most productive interior pass rusher in this entire draft class. In the few games of his that I was able to watch, I also thought he appeared to live up to what his numbers would suggest he was. Because of his somewhat smaller size (a hair under 6'2" and 296 pounds) as well as an arm length of just 32.75", he seems best suited to playing in a 4-3 defense. Though he has some issues that might concern us, it strikes us as a bit peculiar that Buckley is generally listed as a player who might not get drafted at all. It seems to us that spending a late round pick on someone like this is probably a small price to pay, for a player that might have significant upside.
Christian Ringo, DT, Louisiana Lafayette
Kangaroo Score: ? Agility Score: ? TFL: 11
Still waiting for data.
Kristjan Sokoli DT, Buffalo
Kangaroo Score: 1.548 Agility Score: 1.364 TFL: 4
I have to give credit to the president of the Taylor Swift fan club, Max Mulitz, for tipping me off to this guy. Based on the initial, and unofficial, reports from Buffalo's pro day, Sokoli does seem to possess a very particular set of skills that we might find appealing. There just doesn't appear to be a lot of evidence of statistical production to back it up. Still, he is only expected to be a late round or undrafted type of prospect, so it might be worth treating him as a lottery ticket. This peculiar Albanian prospect has only been playing football for a short time, and it is probably worth encouraging him to continue pursuing his NFL dreams. It's certainly a better career path than kidnapping Liam Nesson's daughter.
Brian Mihalik, DT, Boston College
Kangaroo Score: 1.995 Agility Score: 1.371 TFL: 5.75
Well, it looks like we've stumbled across another bizarre physical freak, with questionable statistical production. When it comes to athletic ability, Mihalik's results are simply outrageous. The only question is, why didn't he accomplish more during his time in college? One weird possibility is that being almost 6'9" tall isn't really an advantage for a defensive lineman. There are still bits and pieces of data we'd like to find to help explain who this guy is, and we haven't been able to find any Youtube clips that actually show him playing, so we just view Mihalik as an interesting oddity. We do kind of wonder if some team will try to turn him into an offensive tackle, since that seems to be a position where people seem to find a large physical frame like this to be rather appealing. In the end, we suspect he will only be an UDFA, but we suppose it's possible that he could get selected somewhere at the end of the draft.