Post Combine 2012: Breaking down the OLB's and DE's

Feb 27, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive lineman Melvin Ingram hits the tackling dummy during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Hello again everyone, it's been a while since i posted on here but the combine has come and gone and I'm back with my analysis of the OLB's/DE's like I did in this article last year.

I will start this breakdown by quoting from my article last year since I am lazy and I know that you are too lazy to click that link that I provided for you above, so here it goes.

The first thing that scouts and GM's look for is explosiveness. Explosiveness can be measured in several ways, but the best drills in the combine that show lower body explosiveness are the broad jump and the vertical jump. The only measure of explosiveness in the upper body at the combine is the bench press. What Kirwan recommends doing is adding up the results from these three tests to determine a player's athletic explosiveness. First off, let's take a look at a prototypical NFL 3-4 OLB and how he fared at the combine in these tests:

Name Broad Jump (ft.) Vertical (in.) Bench Total
DeMarcus Ware 10 0.583 38.5 27 76.1

Now obviously not every prospect is going to match up with these results, as Ware has been an elite talent ever since he was drafted, but that is the bar by which these defensive players will be measured by. Below are the results from the 2011 Combine in the same drills and with the same calculations:

Explosiveness
Name Broad Jump (Feet) Vertical Bench Total
JJ Watt 10 0 37 34 81.0
Justin Houston 10 0.417 36.5 30 76.9
Ryan Kerrigan 10 0.167 33.5 31 74.7
Dontay Moch 10 0.667 42 21 73.7
Cheta Ozougwu 9 0.917 34.5 26 70.4
Von Miller 10 0.5 37 21 68.5
Sam Acho 9 0.333 33.5 23 65.8
Robert Quinn 9 0.667 34 22 65.7
Aldon Smith 9 0.833 34 20 63.8
Akeem Ayers 9 0.667 31 18 58.7
Adrian Clayborn 9 0.417 33 42.4
Cameron Jordan 9 0.833 25 34.8

A number anywhere in the 70’s would raise the eyebrow of an NFL GM and make him take a closer look at that player.

If you look at those results from last year's class, you can see that explosion number was a pretty good predictor of the success of JJ Watt and Ryan Kerrigan, although Aldon Smith had a pretty good season as well despite having a less than elite explosion number (when you look at his college production numbers as I will later on in this article, you can see where that production came from). Although Von Miller didn't quite surpass 70 in his number, he was pretty darn close. Obviously there is more to predicting an elite pass rusher than adding up some numbers, but it's still fun so after the jump I will break down the results from this offseason's combine and we can attempt to figure out the next elite pass rusher.

So what's the verdict for this season's combine as far as explosiveness number? Take a look below:

Name Broad Jump (ft) Vertical Jump (in) Bench Press Total
Nick Perry 10.33 38.5 35 83.83
Ronnell Lewis 9.33 31 36 76.33
Melvin Ingram 9.08 34.5 28 71.58
Whitney Mercilus 9.83 32 27 68.83
Quinton Coples 9.08 31.5 25 65.58
Malik Jackson 8.75 28 25 61.75
Shea McClellin 9.83 31.5 19 60.33
Courtney Upshaw DNP DNP 22 INC
Jake Bequette 9.42 34 DNP INC
Vinny Curry 9.17 32 DNP INC
Cam Johnson 8.75 35 DNP INC
Donte Paige-Moss DNP DNP 26 INC

It's hard to get a perfect picture of the class as a whole because there are some players that didn't participate fully in all three events we were concerned with here. I was really hoping to be able to stack up Courtney Upshaw with the others, and interested in Curry and Johnson as well as later round options.

So what else stands out? Well Nick Perry out of USC just leaps off the page (or screen) here. His athleticism is through the roof, it appears. He might be on the rise into the top 10 and out of range of the Chargers. As expected, Melvin Ingram also tested quite well in the explosiveness category.

Now when evaluating talent one has to be careful not to put too much weight into how a player performs in shorts and spandex at the Combine. These guys are going to be earning a lot of money playing on Sundays wearing pads, so we have to keep that in mind. In fact, many GM’s have the propensity to fall too much in love with a "workout warrior" who’s skills don’t translate to the field for one reason or another.

Pat Kirwan (former NFL coach and GM) has a metric that he uses in an effort to rule out these "workout warriors". When analyzing a pass rusher or defensive end, you are looking for a guy that not only gets sacks, but makes plays behind the line of scrimmage. Kirwan takes the number of TFL, add them to the sacks, and divides by the number of games played in college to calculate the number of impact plays per game. This metric below is making an attempt to find those player’s who have the ability to take their athleticism and use it to make plays behind the line of scrimmage:

Name GP TFL Sacks Plays/Game
Vinny Curry 45 49 26.5 1.68
Nick Perry 37 29.5 21.5 1.38
Quinton Coples 50 40.5 24 1.29
Whitney Mercilus 37 29 18 1.27
Jake Bequette 48 31 23.5 1.14
Cam Johnson 42 33.5 12.5 1.10
Shea McClellin 49 32 19.5 1.05
Malik Jackson 39 27.5 13 1.04
Melvin Ingram 50 30.5 21 1.03
Courtney Upshaw 53 35.5 16.5 0.98
Ronnell Lewis 34 20.5 10 0.90
Donte Paige-Moss 34 19.5 11 0.90

Some things that stand out here is the relatively low number of plays per game that were made by both Ingram and Upshaw, two of the highly touted pass rushing prospects. Granted, both players were in a very tough conference, and therefore the level of competition may have been tougher (and you could argue both players also had talented players on their teams effectively stealing their stats, but I won't). I never said this was an exact art.

However, looking at this metric in comparison to last years, it seems that the pass rushers in this year's draft had a tougher time translating their athleticism to consistently making plays on the field. Last year's draft had some standouts in that category: Aldon Smith (2.00 plays/game), Ryan Kerrigan (1.94 plays/game), JJ Watt (1.85 plays/game), and Von Miller (1.78 plays/game) all took that production in college and showed that they could make plays in the pros as well. All of those players would top the Plays/game board in this year's draft.

Of the players who tested in all events, Nick Perry appears to be the frontrunner when using the analysis above. He is the only one that fell out near the top in both categories. However, while last year's analysis led to a few pass rushers that appeared to be "sure things" with Kerrigan and Watt, I don't see the same in this year's class. Of the choices available, Nick Perry appears to be the best bet.

What do you think? Please feel free to comment below.

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