Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kangaroo Court: The 2016 Linebackers

In general, examining the different linebacker prospects tends to be one of our favorite position groups to play around with.  We dump the data for the players into our computer, do a little sifting, and then sit down to watch some of the games for the players that have emerged through our different filters.  So, while we've been running a bit behind schedule this year, we've finally gotten around to looking at this year's prospects, just like we did last year.

One of the things we always enjoy about this group of players is the actual video portion of the examination.  Seeing whether the players demonstrate the behavior that their measurable athletic traits and statistical production would suggest, is entertaining to us.  There's just something peculiar about linebackers, that always leaves some added room for subjective judgments.  Perhaps more than any other position, we sometimes feel as if you can see the decisions that are running through their minds when they play, at least compared to other positions where someone might be  more clearly matched up in one-on-one situations that require less thought.  Seeing that added intangible spark of aggressiveness and quick decision making, often ends up being a final subjective ingredient in how we feel about a lot of these players.  So, the possibility that our judgment is out of whack, is something we have to consider. 

To some extent, we wondered if this potential flaw in our reasoning ability might be more of an issue this year.  We had a hard time feeling particularly excited about any of this year's linebackers, which made us wonder if we were missing something.  Maybe Reilly and I were a bit distracted and hard to please this year, because of issues elsewhere in our lives.  Or, maybe this year's crop of linebackers was a bit mediocre.  We're really not sure.  Either way, we just didn't seem to find ourselves having as much fun with the linebackers this year.

Since the athletic traits of players in this category are measured against all defensive prospects who are under 275#, this skews their results when it comes to the Kangaroo Score, because they don't have the same mass as some of the larger outside pass rushers in this weight class.  Since the goal is to see how many standard deviations away from an average result that a player is, we have to make some mental adjustments here.  For these (generally) lighter prospects, a Kangaroo Score of -0.800, would be the approximate point at which we would find the 'average' player in this group.  Among these lighter prospects, you typically start to see Pro Bowl and All Pro players reaching a score of -0.400, or better.  Just like the Kangaroo Score, the Agility Score (which comes from the short shuttle and 3-cone drill), will also be given in the form of how many standard deviations away from the  average result that a player is.  While the Kangaroo Scores for these players tend to suffer by comparison to heavier players, these lighter prospects generally make up for this by having an advantage when it comes to how nimble they are.  So, we prefer to see Agility Scores that are at least 1.000 standard deviation above average.   Normally, I would expect a player with a higher Kangaroo Score to be more of a hitter, and more productive on blitzes, while a player with a high Agility Score will probably be better in coverage.  Still, nothing is set in stone, and individuals do vary in how they perform.

This list will continue to be modified and updated, as new data and prospects come to my attention.  The list won't include every player. but instead, just the ones that I find interesting for one reason or another.  Last Updated: N/A

Myles Jack  OLB, UCLA
40 Time: ?    Kangaroo Score: 0.679   Agility Score:  ?
There are some serious limitations as to what we can say about Jack, because our data on him is very limited.  We can comfortably say that he has significantly better lower body power and explosiveness than you typically see in an outside linebacker, but we have nothing to weigh his agility or speed.  While most people seem to feel that his coverage ability is fairly exceptional, and this might minimize concerns over his missing agility results, this would just be speculation on our part.  To some extent, we thought the data pointed to Jack being most effective in coverage when his team's pass rush was operating effectively.  This isn't intended to be an attack on Jack, but instead is something that can be fairly typical for most linebackers.  While Jack might indeed be above average in coverage, we just thought that he sometimes might have benefited from his surrounding talent, at least a bit more than is sometimes acknowledged.  We also tend to find the idea of drafting a pure coverage linebacker in the top 5 picks to be a peculiar proposition.  When it came to his production as a run defender, his results seemed much closer to average, though he might have been improving in this area prior to his injury.  While his lower body power and explosiveness (his non-weight adjusted result would be about 1.493 standard deviations above average), would suggest that he could be effective as a pass rusher, his statistical history shows little production in this area, and somewhat humdrum production behind the line of scrimmage.  Some of this is might be due to how his team utilized him, and the lack of opportunities he had to rush the QB, but it is still difficult to confirm that he is exceptional in this area.  Then we have the issue of his knee injury.  Some people seem to think this won't be a lingering issue.  Others appear to be much more concerned about how he will recover from it.  While we have no interest in raining on the Myles Jack parade, and can understand how some people might be fascinated by him, the combination of a potentially limited skill set, along with injury concerns, would make us very nervous about selecting him as highly as he is expected to be taken.  We'd let someone else make that pick.

Darron Lee  OLB, Ohio State
40 Time: 4.47    Kangaroo Score: 0.018   Agility Score:  0.649
Darron Lee is a somewhat frustrating prospect.  The computer loves his physical potential, as his results suggest that he has excellent speed, lower body power and explosiveness, as well as somewhat respectable agility.  The problem is that his statistical production seemed to be a tad bit below average for someone at his position, outside of his high number of tackles for a loss.  It's also difficult to look at his results without considering the enormous benefit he might have received by being a part of a rather loaded Ohio State roster.  In the handful of games we saw him play, he also didn't manage to make much of an impression on us.  It's not that we felt he was bad.  He just didn't strike us as being clearly exceptional.  While I suppose we might give him some consideration if he fell to the 2nd round, simply because of his physical potential, we wouldn't be willing to select him in the 1st, where people seem to project that he will be taken.

Reggie Ragland  ILB, Alabama
40 Time: 4.72    Kangaroo Score: -0.739   Agility Score:  0.400
What are you feelings about C.J. Mosley?  Seriously, I need to know this before we proceed much farther.  You see, Reilly and I sort of placed our bets on Mosley becoming a fairly mediocre linebacker, a couple of years ago.  It seems quite likely that many people would say that we were wrong about this, though we're still not sure about that.  Regardless, we suspected that Mosley would get plenty of opportunities, be reasonably productive, and receive some acclaim, though we felt this would mainly be due to his 1st round status, and the confirmation biases associated with that honor. We're still sort of leaning in that direction, as Mosley stills strikes us as a fairly average middle linebacker, though perhaps a tad better than we initially expected.  With Ragland, we have another Alabama middle linebacker, who we feel even less confident about.  Athletically, he is a slightly worse version of the rather average C.J. Mosley.  Ragland's statistical production, is almost indistinguishable from that of Mosley, and we feel a tad below average.  When we watched Ragland play, we also saw nothing that got us the least bit excited.  We honestly don't see any reason why he should be selected before the 4th or 5th round.  People will probably disagree with us about this.  Still, we think there are a great number of reasons to worry about whether Ragland can truly become and exceptional linebacker, which is really what you should expect if you are going to select him in the 1st round.  So, obviously, based on our past misadventures in betting against highly touted players from Alabama, we recommend selecting him in the 1st round, sending him to a few Pro Bowls, and awaiting his Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Leonard Floyd  OLB, Georgia
40 Time: 4.60    Kangaroo Score: 0.829   Agility Score:  0.201
When we talked about this year's group of outside pass rushers, we had rather mixed feelings about Floyd.  Athletically, he struck us as a very interesting prospect.  He just didn't have the production to back that up.  There just seemed to be something missing when he attempted to go after the quarterback  We did suggest that he might make a more interesting 3-4 ILB or some sort 4-3 LB, as his athleticism also translated well to that position.  Even here, we still might feel a tad cautious about Floyd.  While he's clearly very capable physically, it's hard to say that he ever demonstrated dominance in any particular area.  He strikes us as someone who could be an interesting 3rd round pick, because of his physical potential, though everyone seems to expect that he will be taken well before that.  I'm not really sure what we can say about that.  While he's fairly interesting, it feels like someone is going to take more of a gamble than we think is wise.

Kamalei Correa, OLB, Boise St.
40 Time: 4.70  Kangaroo Score:  -0.567  Agility Score: 1.166   Avg TFL:  15
Like Leonard Floyd, we already discussed Correa a little bit, when we discussed this year's group of outside pass rushers.  Unfortunately, we just didn't think that Correa had the sort of lower body power or explosiveness, to be an ideal fit in that role.  As a linebacker who plays further off of the line of scrimmage, on the other hand, we think he has some fairly ideal traits.  Compared to this group of players, his lower body power is fairly respectable.  He also appears to have at least a respectable level of speed and agility for this sort of role.  While we wouldn't say that his production in college was terribly impressive, outside of the number of tackles for a loss that he produced, we think some of this could be attributed to these issues of how he was utilized.  When he was allowed to operate in space, which we think suits his athletic skills, he appeared to be a much better player.  When he was on the line of scrimmage, we thought his lack of power made him look a bit underwhelming.  While projecting him to a somewhat different position is a bit tricky, we think he could arguably end up being worth a 2nd round pick, if the team that selects him gives him the space to operate.  If, on the other hand, people insist on putting him up on the line of scrimmage, we suspect he might get buried a bit more than you might like to see.

Su'a Cravens  OLB, Southern California
40 Time: 4.66    Kangaroo Score: -2.151   Agility Score:  0.885
Cravens is sort of a weird prospect.  While his speed and agility results are fairly intriguing, we're really concerned about his Kangaroo Score.  His results there would suggest that he has extremely poor lower body power and explosiveness.  Our main concern here, is that he could simply get run over by more powerful opponents.  Since he only weighs 220 pounds, we considered the possibility that teams might be planning to transition him to the strong safety position, where his athletic traits might be a better match.  Unfortunately, when we compared him to players at that position, his speed, relative to strong safeties, becomes much less impressive, and his agility ceases to be above average as well.  When compared to strong safeties, his lower body power is also merely average and uninspiring.  So, I guess we are going to try to keep him as a linebacker, where he at least possesses some physical advantages.  While Cravens generally had respectable statistical production in college, and we felt he was an entertaining player to watch, we just aren't certain as to how a team should best use him.  Sure, he could be an interesting player to put on the field in obvious passing situations, but he'd probably get killed if he was lined up in a 3-4 base defense.  Even in a 4-3, where he might have a better chance of surviving, we suspect he would probably require a somewhat above average defensive line.  He's an interesting player, but as people start to push him up towards the top of the 2nd round, or even into the 1st, the potentially narrow window of what defense he should fit in, makes the value of such a high selection seem a bit questionable.

Joshua Perry  OLB, Ohio State
40 Time: 4.68    Kangaroo Score: 0.315   Agility Score:  -0.218
While we've been fairly busy making fun of all the prospects from Ohio State, we really don't have many serious complaints about Perry.  Athletically, he appears to have acceptable speed, as well as above average lower body power and explosiveness.  The only minor issue might be his somewhat mediocre agility.  Generally speaking, we think players like this fit better as inside linebackers in a 3-4.  When it came to Perry's production in college, everything checked out as solidly average, if not exceptional.  All of this sort of lines up with what we saw when we watched Perry play.  We might not think that he is a terribly rare prospect, but he seems to be fairly solid.  We think picking him up somewhere around the 3rd round could be a reasonable decision.

Kentrell Brothers  ILB, Missouri
40 Time: 4.89    Kangaroo Score: -1.572   Agility Score:  1.149
When we express our pessimism about Brothers' future, based on his numbers, the obvious response would maybe be to point to someone like Vontaze Burfict.  That's fair.  We admittedly would not have placed very good odds on Burfict surviving in the NFL, and it appears that we were probably wrong about him.  Still, we wouldn't feel comfortable making all of our decisions on peculiar examples such as that.  While Brothers does appear to have somewhat respectable agility, his other results give us some concerns.  His Kangaroo Score point to the likelihood that he has significantly below average lower body power and explosiveness, and his 40 time creates some worry about his effective range.  While we wouldn't say that we were struck by any amazing deficiencies when we watched him play, we still have to lean towards the idea that he is probably most effective within a somewhat limited radius of where the ball is being snapped.  While his statistical production seems to have been a good bit above average, we had some concerns in this area as well.  We generally don't like to make a big fuss about solo tackles versus assisted tackles, but in Brothers' case his results moved a tad outside of our comfort zone.  In 2015, his biggest statistical season, 51.9% of his tackles were assists, which is a fair bit higher than what we like to see, and can perhaps suggest that some of his overall results might have been inflated.  His solo to assist ratio prior to 2015 was a bit more respectable, but his overall results were also much more pedestrian.  We also have felt, in recent years, a tad wary of defensive players from Missouri.  The school has had a strange ability to produce players with below average athletic traits, with strangely outrageous statistical production.  Generally, this has applied more to their pass rushers rather than their linebackers, but it is still a thought that is rattling around in our heads.  Right now, people seem to expect that Brothers will be selected somewhere around the 2nd round, but that is well outside of our comfort zone.  Maybe Brothers will end up exceeding our expectations, but he just isn't someone we feel we can gamble on with such a high selection.

Nick Vigil, ILB, Utah State
40 Time: 4.71    Kangaroo Score: -1.146  Agility Score:  1.954
When it comes to his athletic ability, Vigil reminds us of a poor man's Ben Heeney.  Because of the way that his results tilt so strongly towards agility, with less evidence of lower body power and explosiveness, we would be somewhat afraid to see him playing inside in a 3-4 defense.  We suspect he would do much better in a 4-3, with a fairly stout defensive line to protect him from getting run over.  One of the peculiar things about Vigil, is that we would normally expect his excellent agility results to translate into superior ability in coverage, but it didn't seem to be clear that this was the case. While some of his tackle numbers appear to be a bit inflated with more "assists" than we typically prefer, it's hard to argue with the idea that his overall production in the last two years has been fairly impressive.  Overall, we suppose it wouldn't be crazy to spend a 3rd or 4th round pick on Vigil.

Jatavis Brown, OLB, Akron
40 Time: 4.44    Kangaroo Score: -0.647  Agility Score:  0.210
Despite hearing some quiet rumblings about Brown, we were a bit slow to investigate him.  Athletically, he just didn't appear to be particularly interesting, outside of his exceptional 40 time.  His agility results were fairly mediocre.  His Kangaroo Score suggested he had a fairly common sort of lower body power, though his unweighted results said his explosiveness was a more impressive 1.102 standard deviations above average.  It also doesn't help that he is a whisker under 5'11", and just 227 pounds.  All things considered, he didn't appear to be a particularly shocking athlete.  The interesting thing about Brown was his statistical production.  For an OLB, his numbers were well above what we normally expect to see at that position, and he managed to steadily produce these results for the past three seasons.  It would be tempting to say that his numbers were inflated because he played at a lower level of competition, but even when we made deductions (similar to what we sometimes do with pass rushers), his results were still significantly above average.  Based on the few games of his that we were able to see, he also struck us as one of the more entertaining players to watch.  While he is probably limited to playing in a 3-4, because of his size, and lower body power, it wouldn't shock us if he turned out to be one of the better linebackers in this class.  CBS currently seems to project that he will be a 4th round pick, which sounds fairly reasonable to us.

Joe Schobert, OLB, Wisconsin
40 Time: 4.76    Kangaroo Score: -0.383  Agility Score:  0.391
Reilly and I can't figure out Schobert at all.  Part of that is due to the somewhat peculiar way in which Wisconsin used him, as he would bounce around as an edge rusher, and then be lined up as a 4-3 OLB.  While he really doesn't fit the typical mold of an edge rusher, the odd thing is that he seems to have been surprisingly effective in that role.  Still, we have to suspect that those days are over for him, and he will most likely become a more conventional linebacker.  Athletically, he is sort of a mixed bag.  His speed and agility seem to be fairly mediocre.  On the other hand, his lower body power and explosiveness aren't so bad, and we could even stretch his Kangaroo Score to a more impressive 0.040, if we only considered the results from his vertical jump.  In the end though, it's his statistical production which actually makes him somewhat interesting, more so than his athleticism.  Over the past two years, Schobert put up somewhat above average results, and managed to be a surprisingly disruptive player.  Of course, the way that Wisconsin moved him around makes a lot of this production difficult to translate to what he will probably do in the NFL, in a more conventional role.  We sort of doubt that he could do particularly well in coverage, because of some of his athletic traits.  He also might struggle to keep up with faster running backs along the sideline.  Still, he struck us as a fairly interesting, and possibly underrated player.  We suspect his best fit might be as an ILB in a 3-4 defense, who can also be sent up the middle occasionally to get the QB.  He's an odd duck.

Blake Martinez  ILB, Stanford
40 Time: 4.71    Kangaroo Score: -0.788   Agility Score:  0.919
We may not be thrilled with Martinez, but since people are projecting that he might be selected somewhere around the 5th round, he at least seems to present a reasonably honest value.  While his timed speed, lower body power and explosiveness all appear to just be fairly average, that is at least better than being terrible.  His agility results are somewhat above average for a player of his size, but not necessarily shocking.  His statistical production in college was generally pretty respectable, even if he seems to have made fewer of the big impact plays than we might hope to see.  In the little we have seen of him, he appeared to be the sort of guy his results might suggest.  He seemed to do everything you might expect a linebacker to do, in a somewhat respectable manner, without doing anything that jumped out as being incredibly unusual or impressive.  He just strikes us as a serviceable sort of guy.  For where he is expected to be taken, that seems like a possibly acceptable deal.

Nick Kwiatkoski  OLB, West Virginia
40 Time: 4.71    Kangaroo Score: -0.511   Agility Score:  0.517
We could fiddle around with Kwiatkoski's numbers a bit, and tell a more interesting story, but that's probably unnecessary.  Let's just consider the worst case scenario, where Kwiatkoski possibly measures up as rather average when it comes to his speed, lower body power, explosiveness and agility.  There are some simple arguments to suggest he might be somewhat better than average athletically, but let's roll with this.  Okay, being an average athlete can still be perfectly acceptable.  When we look at his statistical production, on the other hand, Kwiatkoski appears to have consistently been more productive than your average linebacker, regardless of where he lined up.  Beyond just reaching the ball carrier, he even seems to have consistently made a somewhat above average number of higher impact plays, whether it was tackles for a loss, batted passes, or interceptions.  We'd also give him some credit for the possibility that West Virginia's pass rush has probably been a bit mediocre, which doesn't really help a linebacker look particularly good in coverage.  In the little we have seen of Kwiatkoski (I'm getting tired of typing that name), we wouldn't say that he was the most electrifying linebacker we have ever seen, but he generally appeared to be pretty competent.  What is all of this worth?  I don't know, maybe a 4th or 5th round pick?

Brandon Chubb, ILB, Wake Forest
40 Time: 4.68    Kangaroo Score:  -0.672   Agility Score:  1.114
Maybe it is partially due to the expected low cost of acquiring Chubb, and maybe it is because we find his last name somewhat amusing, but we actually like Chubb a fair bit.  He appears to have respectable lower body power and explosiveness.  His timed speed falls in a decent range as well.  His agility results also seem to be fairly good.  Overall, he looks like a pretty well rounded athlete, even if he isn't a shocking freak of nature.  We wouldn't say that his statistical production in college was amazing, but for the last two years fell into a solidly average range for someone at his position.  In the little we have seen of him, he seemed to look the part, and made a decent impression on us.  Considering that he is only expected to be something like a 7th round pick, he seems like a decent bargain. 

Will Ratelle  ILB, North Dakota
40 Time: 4.57    Kangaroo Score:  0.180   Agility Score:  0.647
At 5'9" tall, and 251 pounds, Ratelle is clearly a peculiar prospect.  While his agility results are perhaps a tad lower than our ideal target, his other results are a bit more interesting.  His Kangaroo Score would suggest that he has significantly above average lower body power, though his unweighted results suggest merely average explosiveness.  He also seems to be surprisingly fast, despite being such a weird little tank of a man.  While his level of competition was hardly top notch, we'd still say that his statistical production fell in the average to above average range during the past two years.  From the little we have seen, he mainly appeared to be a dispenser of concussions, who thumped people in the running game.  He's generally expected to go undrafted, but he strikes us as a somewhat interesting player, who could be amusing to watch as an ILB in a 3-4 defense.  The cost of acquiring him will probably be close to nothing, and there appears to be at least some potential hidden in him.

Micah Awe, ILB, Texas Tech
40 Time: 4.67    Kangaroo Score: 0.152   Agility Score:  0.629
There's really not much that we can say about Awe, since we haven't been able to find much information on him.  Athletically, he just strikes us as a fairly interesting player.  His Kangaroo Score might not seem terribly impressive, but for an inside linebacker this is actually a very good result, and suggests significantly above average lower body power.  When weight isn't factored into the equation, his lower body explosiveness is about 1.717 standard deviations above average, which is exceptional.  When it comes to his agility and straight line speed, his numbers are a bit more pedestrian, but nothing we would fret about too much.  His statistical production in college merely fell into the average range, though some of this is hard to judge since he was really only a starter for his final season.  It's hard for us to know how interested to be in Awe, without more data, but since he is generally only viewed as someone who will be an UDFA, there's no reason for us to get too crazy.  If a team had a chance to bring him into their training camp, maybe they will find a pleasant surprise.  Who knows?

1 comment:

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