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It's not entirely the computer's fault. Compared to past years, this crop of pass rushers does appear to be a bit more murky than usual. There are several players with great athletic potential. There are others with proven performance. Unfortunately, there seems to be relatively little overlap between these two groups, and that overlap is the sweet spot that we are normally seeking to find. It's something we talked about when exploring the topic of Explosive Pass Rushers, and served as the basis for a little game where we pitted the computer's imaginary selections against those of some NFL GMs. As things currently stand, we might be tempted to avoid a lot of the more highly touted pass rushing prospects that are available this year.
When we made our list of 3-4 OLB and DE prospects last year,we just felt there was a clearer divide between the players we would take a shot at, and the ones who were likely to disappoint. This year, it feels like there is a lot more of a gray area, and a lot more risk. Player's who we would normally find to be interesting mid-round selections, are being projected to go in the 1st round. One year wonders, players with injury concerns, or unproven athletic potential, are getting pushed higher than we normally feel comfortable with accepting. I keep hearing how this is supposedly a great draft for pass rushers, and though there are a few prospects we really like, we suspect this year could be a bloodbath for a lot of teams, that leaves many people feeling very dissatisfied. Perhaps, worst of all, it just doesn't seem like a great year for finding a huge bargain or undiscovered gem in the later rounds. As more pro day results roll in, our opinion on that might change.
As always, we will list the player's Kangaroo Score (which measures 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 our opinion, would have a Kangaroo Score that is at least one standard deviation above average, at least an average Agility Score, and be averaging about 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. Last Updated: 4/20/2015
Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida
Kangaroo Score: -0.215 Agility Score: -0.222 Avg TFL: 12.75
While his results from the combine produced rather unexceptional scores, I can't entirely dismiss the possibility that he will succeed. Players like Terrell Suggs and Tamba Hali were both fairly pedestrian athletes, and they have done well for themselves, so it is a possibility. Unfortunately, Suggs and Hali both showed much greater statistical production in their college years, to hint at their potential upside. For the most part, the computer saw nothing terribly interesting in Fowler's production, though there were some signs that he was gradually improving. If he had returned to Florida for his senior year, it is possible that we might have a somewhat higher opinion of him. As things stand, we feel that Fowler presents a high degree of risk, at least for someone who is generally projected to go in the 1st round, and even more so if he is taken in the first 10 picks of the draft.
Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
Kangaroo Score: 1.305 Agility Score: 1.192 Avg TFL: 22.25
Well, according to our typical methods for evaluating these things, Beasley does have the athletic traits and statistical production that would merit a 1st round pick. Even when we attempt to factor in the potential benefits of playing alongside Stephone Anthony, Grady Jarrett, and Corey Crawford, his results still remain rather impressive. I suppose that his relatively low number of tackles might raise some concerns, and make him appear to be a Freeney-esque type of player who only goes after the QB (a somewhat legitimate concern), but the positive side of this is that his tackle numbers were largely of the 'solo' variety, with very few assists. Still, he probably isn't the most amazing tackler in the world, or a huge force against the run. We think some of these minor problems might be alleviated by no longer playing DE, and switching to 3-4 OLB, or even as a 4-3 OLB. Whether he can keep the added weight he has recently put on, would have a significant impact on which of these roles he is better suited to play. While some people compare him to Von Miller, which may seem ridiculous, this is probably a more reasonable comparison than the one that some people make to Bruce Irvin, who I think Beasley is vastly superior to. So, in the end, we'll stick with the 1st round grade that the computer gave him.
Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska
Kangaroo Score: -0.130 Agility Score: 1.182 Avg TFL: 14.5
I have to admit that I am a bit biased against players like Gregory, though I am trying to keep an open mind. While we prefer pass rushers with greater lower body power, we wouldn't deny that high agility players like Gregory do sometimes produce rather good results. The problem is that they tend to be more of a crap shoot, and their ceiling doesn't tend to be quite as high as their peers with higher Kangaroo Scores. A player like Clay Matthews is sort of the ideal (but unlikely) outcome for a player like this. There also seem to be issues with how to maximize the chances that a player like Gregory can succeed. Like we said when discussing Jason Worilds and Jerry Hughes, giving these types of nimbly toed individuals some space to operate in, might be a requirement. When players like this are asked to directly take on opposing offensive tackles, there's a good chance they are just going to get demolished. While Gregory might do okay as a 3-4 OLB, we think that playing LB in a 4-3 might be even more advantageous. When the computer weighs the athletic potential and statistical production of someone like Randy Gregory, the best we can do is to give him a 3rd round grade. At that point in the draft, his odds of success line up a bit better with the cost of your investment.
Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
Kangaroo Score: -0.215 Agility Score: -1.327 Avg TFL: 15.75
We're gradually developing a serious distrust of pass rushers from Missouri. It's actually starting to rival our paranoia about prospects from Alabama. In the past year, a total of 4 defensive ends have come out of Missouri (Ray, Golden, Sam, and Ealy), all of whom had rather excellent statistical production, and 2 who were even selected as the SEC defensive player of the year (Ray and Sam). In pretty much every single case, they demonstrated athletic ability that made us wonder if they had just hobbled out of an emergency room. Of these four prospects, Ealy was the only one we could make some argument for, and even then, the computer only thought he was worth a selection in the 4th-6th round range. We're starting to wonder if team's should be looking at Missouri's defensive coordinator rather than the players that this school is cranking out. There is definitely something odd going on here. So, instead of asking whether Ray is worth a top 10 pick, we're going to suggest that he might not be worth drafting at all. Good luck to whoever decides to take him.
Alvin Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky
Kangaroo Score: 3.155 Agility Score: -0.896 Avg TFL: 11
This is going to give me an ulcer. I'm probably one of the last people who would want to downplay the importance of good combine results, but in Dupree's case, I think it might be warranted. Look, there is no denying that Dupree has freakish explosiveness. In many ways, he is the exact sort of physical specimen that normally causes me to start drooling, though the initial (and still unofficial) reports from his pro day suggest some potentially worrisome issues with his agility. The problem is that these sorts of measurable traits are only supposed to be ways of gauging a player's potential. Whether a player has the sort of physical advantages that will make the transition to a higher level of competition relatively effortless, is interesting. At the same time, you really would like to see a player with this sort of potential display some evidence of their dominance while in college. It's hard to say that Dupree really accomplished that mission. While Dupree was the primary pass rushing threat at Kentucky, and shouldered his share of the load without much assistance, he never really seemed to have a statistical breakout, and become a terror. On a per snap basis, he disrupted plays behind the line of scrimmage at a reasonable rate, but there was really nothing exceptional about it. He just sort of cruised along for 3 years, being consistently good, but never great, with almost no signs of real statistical progress. We might blame some of this on the poor talent that surrounded him, and the fact that his team frequently was playing from behind. Still, when you are as physically gifted as Dupree appears to be, wouldn't you expect him to be a bit more unstoppable, regardless of his circumstances? When Reilly and I sat down to watch a handful of his games, we came away feeling a bit underwhelmed. While Dupree showed occasional flashes of his ability, it just wasn't enough to set our nipples on fire. Even if we weighed him solely on his best two college seasons, the computer wouldn't let us give him a grade any higher than the 3rd round. At this point, selecting Dupree in the 1st round feels like choosing your wife based solely on the size of her breasts, without ever finding out if she is also good at making sandwiches. Hey, call me a crazy feminist, but it's important to weigh some of these less superficial factors. Because of his freakish athletic abilities, I wouldn't be stunned if he outperforms our expectations, but I wouldn't want to gamble on that. Based on the initial reports from his pro day, and what this might suggest about his agility, I would have to lean towards Dupree being used as a 4-3 DE. Honestly though, I'm perfectly happy with the thought that Dupree will probably be selected well before Team Kangaroo is on the clock, just so I won't be tempted to do something potentially risky.
Owamagbe "Supercalifragilistic" Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA
Kangaroo Score: 1.928 Agility Score: 0.214 Avg TFL: 8.75
Because of the way his results tilt rather strongly towards power over agility, I suspect Odighizuwa is probably better suited to playing defensive end in a 4-3, rather than making any attempt to use him as a 3-4 OLB. It's not that playing 3-4 OLB is an impossibility, it just might not entirely play to his strengths. In the handful of games where we were able to watch him, Reilly and I both found him to be a rather interesting and capable player, and our lying eyeballs probably preferred him to someone like Bud Dupree. While he is a rather interesting athlete, the computer still has some enormous issues with him. Even if we just graded him based on his 2014 performance, the one year when he was a regular starter, his results wouldn't allow us to give him a grade higher than the 4th round. Some of his production issues prior to that point might be excused by missing a significant amount of playing time due to two hip surgeries, but I fail to see how that should make me feel any more comfortable. While hip surgery might be an expected outcome for your grandmother or a German Shepherd, it isn't something we like to see in defensive ends. It wouldn't shock us if Odighizuwa turns out to be a better pro player than he was at the college level, but the possibility that he will be selected in the first 2 rounds strikes me as an insanely unreasonable gamble to take based purely on potential. We kind of see Odigizuwa as one of the bigger wild cards in this years draft. Even if he turns out to be an exceptional player, which he might, that wouldn't change our opinion about the wisdom of taking such a risk.
Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia
Kangaroo Score: 0.137 Agility Score: 0.856 Avg TFL: 14.75
When it comes to athletic ability, Harold has a lot in common with Randy Gregory, though he is perhaps a little bit less explosive. He's fairly agile, but probably not very powerful. Perhaps because of his rather mediocre Kangaroo Score, we seem to see him get easily overpowered by opposing offensive tackles much more than I would hope for, especially when lined up as a defensive end. If he continues to be used primarily as a 3-4 OLB, where he would have a bit more space, he does have some reasonable potential. Based on his athletic traits, and his fairly good statistical production, the computer wouldn't allow us to select him before the 3rd round, which is probably lower than where he will actually be taken. When we eventually end up discussing the other linebacker positions, I think our opinion of him might improve somewhat.
Danielle Hunter, DE, LSU
Kangaroo Score: 0.989 Agility Score: 0.523 Avg TFL: 10.5
The widely varying opinions on where in the draft that Hunter will be selected is kind of comical. Some people (idiots) are suggesting that he should be taken in the 1st round. Others, suggest that he is just a project, and shouldn't be taken until the 5th round. Now, based on his athletic ability, I have to say he is fairly interesting, but overlooking his extremely weak college production isn't something we are inclined to do. While I hate to discuss "technique" because we aren't really qualified to delve into that particular brand of witchcraft, Hunter did convey a sort of 'chicken with his head cut off' vibe, when we watched him play. He truly appeared to have no idea what he was supposed to be doing half of the time. He has interesting athletic potential, but we just view him as a project. Based on our normal criteria, we wouldn't take him until the 5th round.
Hau'oli Kikaha, OLB, Washington
Kangaroo Score: -0.462 Agility Score: 0.101 Avg TFL: 16
When you consider Kikaha's history of torn ACLs, his forty time in the 4.93 second range, and the results listed above, he does become a very troubling prospect. If a team actually selects him somewhere in the first 3 rounds, as people suggest may happen, and things don't work out, the GM who made this selection won't be able to claim that there weren't numerous warning signs.
Nate Orchard, DE, Utah
Kangaroo Score: -0.664 Agility Score: -0.295 Avg TFL: 15
I have to admit that Nate Orchard somewhat annoys me. I kind of liked him as a player, and there was some extremely encouraging data related to his statistical production that I felt was worth pursuing. Unfortunately, his athletic traits would make it impossible for me to take a gamble on him, especially with a pick as high as the 2nd round, which is where he seems to be projected to be taken. Hopefully he will defy the odds, but that's not the sort of bet we like to make.
Mario Edwards, DE/DT, Florida State
Kangaroo Score: 1.018 Agility Score: -0.936 Avg TFL: 10.25
The tricky thing with Edwards, is trying to guess what position he will end up playing. At his current weight of 279 pounds, he could be used as a 4-3 defensive end, or a team could try to bulk him up and turn him into a defensive tackle. For the moment, we're leaning towards the DT option. The scores that we have listed above would be altered rather significantly, depending on this decision, because he has to be compared to a completely different group of athletes, with very different expectations. Based on the little we have seen of him, he really didn't seem nearly as stiff as his Agility Score would have led us to expect. At the same time, he didn't really do anything to blow us away, or make us want to take him in the 2nd-3rd round range, where we frequently see him projected to be selected. He didn't strike us as a bad player, we just have some doubts about how much upside there is here.
Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi St.
Kangaroo Score: 1.005 Agility Score: 0.524 Avg TFL: 10.75
In one of our previous posts, we kicked around the possibility of force feeding Preston Smith cheeseburgers, and turning him into a 3-4 DE. Because of his height (a hair short of 6'5") and arm length (about 34"), we still think that that is our preferred position for Smith. When projected as a 4-3 DE, and compared to a different group of athletes, his results get almost completely flipped around. While his athletic traits provide some fairly wide ranging possibilities as to what position he could play, this potential versatility is a good thing. Unfortunately, when it comes to his statistical production, he was a bit of a late bloomer, and the data gives us some significant reasons to be concerned. The degree to which his production was hindered by playing all along the defensive line, including quite a few snaps at DT, also makes things a bit tricky to judge. Based on our normal criteria, the computer would only allow us to give Smith a 5th round grade. Still, I kind of like Preston Smith, and I've been arguing with Reilly that we should bend the rules a bit because of the numerous ways in which he could be used. I don't necessarily think Smith will become a star, but I suspect he could be a fairly solid player. Personally, I could be tempted to select Smith in the 2nd or 3rd round, which is still later than many people project him to be taken. Reilly, of course, says that I am being an idiot, and is threatening to stop talking to me if we choose Smith with that high of a pick.
Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas
Kangaroo Score: 1.142 Agility Score: -0.328 Avg TFL: 14.5
The more that we see of Flowers, the more we find ourselves liking him. He just grows on us, like tentacles in Japanese erotica. Based on his athletic ability and production, the computer gave Flowers a 2nd round grade. That's where we run into a problem. We're just not sure if we like him enough to take him that high in the draft. His athletic results, point to him strictly being a 4-3 DE, not that this is a problem. Flowers' sluggish 40-yard time of 4.93 seconds, with a 10-yard split of 1.73 seconds could both be seen as a bit worrisome, and does drop his value a bit for us. In a number of ways, his results kind of remind us of his former teammate Chris Smith, who was drafted in the 5th round in 2013. Compared to Smith, Flowers is probably a slightly better athlete, though their production was really quite similar, even if Smith converted more of his pressures into sacks. To some extent, they are almost clones of each other, with Smith being perhaps a tad quicker and more explosive, and Flowers being a touch more nimble. While Flowers seems to do a number of things rather well, we're not sure if we would say that he is truly amazing in any one area. We're sort of leaning towards the idea that Flowers might become a good solid player, but probably not a star. That's causing us to want to wait a bit. If he fell to the 3rd round, we'd be rather tempted to select him. In the 2nd round, we suspect there will be players at other positions, whose upside might be more tempting.
Za'Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky
Kangaroo Score: -0.118 Agility Score: -1.202 Avg TFL: 7
We don't really see any reason to take Smith seriously, and have no idea why he is projected by some people to be a 3rd round prospect. Still, Za'Darius is a fairly awesome name. Maybe he is a wizard.
Markus Golden, DE, Missouri
Kangaroo Score: -0.957 Agility Score: -0.890 Avg TFL: 16.5
Consider our previously expressed lack of interest in Shane Ray. Now, lower your expectations even further. That is where you will find Markus Golden.
Davis Tull, OLB, Chattanooga
Kangaroo Score: 1.623 Agility Score: ? Avg TFL: 16.5
At this point in time, it seems we will never be able to get the data to calculate Tull's Agility Score, which is a bit frustrating. Normally, I assume that players who avoid doing the short shuttle and 3-cone drill, because of a "pulled hamstring", are bullshitting us in order to avoid an area where they expect to test poorly. Still, he does have that lovely Kangaroo Score to fall back on, and I find myself slightly aroused by the power and explosiveness that it suggests. Now for the bad news. He already has a titanium rod in his leg. He had labrum surgery in March. Then, we have those repeated hamstring injuries, which may or may not exist. We're also just a tiny bit concerned about his stubby 31.25" arms. When you combine all of that with his lower level of competition, you have some reasons to slow the hype train. In the little we have seen of him, we honestly didn't find him to be nearly as terrifying as his numbers might suggest. While Tull has some potential to become a 3-4 OLB, we somewhat wonder if he might fit better as a 4-3 OLB. With the normal deduction we give to players who compete at a lower level, and without the agility data we would like to have, the computer would hesitantly give him a potential 3rd round grade. In reality, we would hedge our bets a bit more. If he was still around in the 5th round, we might be interested.
Kyle Emanuel, OLB, North Dakota St.
Kangaroo Score: 0.201 Agility Score: 0.549 Avg TFL: 21.25
There's really nothing terribly shocking about Emanuel's athletic ability. In most areas he is just a tiny bit above average. On the other hand, his statistical production is something we have to pay attention to. Even though the bulk of his production came in his final year, at which point he was already 23 years old, and against a lower level of competition, you have to take somebody like this somewhat seriously. While he may not possess the sort of athletic gifts that Davis Tull has, I have to admit that I still found him to be a more interesting player to watch. I probably wouldn't pursue him, but he is a curiosity.
Zach Wagenmann DE, Montana St.
Kangaroo Score: -0.309 Agility Score: 0.579 Avg TFL: 19.5
If we adjusted for the rather enormous difference in the results of his vertical jump and his broad jump, we might be able to make an argument for raising his Kangaroo Score. But we won't. He would still just be a slightly above average athlete, which doesn't really interest us that much. It's really his statistical production that makes people wonder if Wagenmann might be a bit of a sleeper prospect. While those results are fairly impressive, even if they came against a lower level of competition. we just weren't terribly impressed when we watched him play.
Frank Clark DE, Michigan
Kangaroo Score: 1.498 Agility Score: 1.141 Avg TFL: 12.75
If I was willing to sell you a Ferrari 250 GT, for a quarter of its normal cost (gotta make room in the garage), would you still insist on asking about the bloodstains in the trunk? If the car is cheap enough, maybe you can just tell yourself that those red flakes are rust. Because of his arrest on domestic violence charges, Frank Clark was booted out of Michigan, and we face a similar question. Do you care if he is an asshole, if you can acquire him cheaply? Based on his athletic ability and statistical production, this is a prospect that the computer would typically give a late 3rd round grade to, which is significantly higher than the late round pick most people expect him to be. When we watched him play, we also found him to be an interesting player. He also struck me as a little bit soft in the old melon, so I'm not sure how much I would trust this bozo. While beating women seems to be as fashionable as ever in the NFL, it does seem like the NFL is gradually becoming more wary of blatantly ignoring their employees' criminal tendencies. If I was placing a bet, I'd say that Frank will go undrafted...though someone will quietly sign him eventually. Hooray for having flexible principles!
Shaq Riddick DE, West Virginia
Kangaroo Score: 0.186 Agility Score: 1.294 Avg TFL: 15
Max suggested that we add Riddick to this list, and I thought that seemed like a good idea. Since he is generally projected as just a late round pick, the balance of risk versus reward is rather favorable. His TFL result sort of needs to be taken with a grain of salt, since the bulk of his production came in 2013, when he played at Gardner Webb. Still, I would say that his results at WVU might have been hindered a bit by the way that the team used him. If moved outside, and given a bit more space to operate in, I suspect he might do a pretty good job, so the 3-4 OLB position is probably calling his name. At about 6'6" tall, and 244 pounds, he could stand to add some weight, but I don't really see any reason why he shouldn't be taken as seriously as some of the other high agility pass rushers like Randy Gregory, and I'd probably even commit to saying that I prefer Riddick.