Post-Combine: Breaking down 3-4 OLB's and DE's

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on Tuesday, but it was front-paged after several other articles had been posted, so it never got the exposure it deserved. I've updated the date and time to ensure it receives genuine front-page exposure. -- creanium

I was watching the DL and LB day VERY closely this year as I think our first round pick should and will fall into one of those positions. Before watching the combine, I was very hesitant for the Chargers to take a 3-4 DE in the first round at pick #18, just seemed like a position that didn't have enough of an impact on every single down. I was convinced that there would be several players available at our pick at the OLB position that would be better options than the DE position, I could have been wrong.

After the jump I will break down the defensive prospects and rank them by both their athleticism exhibited in the drills at the combine, and their production in college. After all, a "workout warrior" does nothing in the NFL, as shown to us by Vernon Gholston and Aaron Maybin.

I have been reading Pat Kirwan's book recently, which is a great read and offers insight into the NFL from the views of a player, coach, and GM. Anyways, a whole chapter is devoted to breaking down pass rushers and some potential indicators that GM's and scouts look at to try to predict the next elite pass rusher at the NFL level.

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 0.583333333 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:

Name Broad Jump (Feet) Vertical Bench Total
JJ Watt 10 0 37 34 81.0
Justin Houston 10 0.416666667 36.5 30 76.9
Ryan Kerrigan 10 0.166666667 33.5 31 74.7
Dontay Moch 10 0.666666667 42 21 73.7
Cheta Ozougwu 9 0.916666667 34.5 26 70.4
Von Miller 10 0.5 37 21 68.5
Sam Acho 9 0.333333333 33.5 23 65.8
Robert Quinn 9 0.666666667 34 22 65.7
Aldon Smith 9 0.833333333 34 20 63.8
Akeem Ayers 9 0.666666667 31 18 58.7
Adrian Clayborn 9 0.416666667 33 42.4
Cameron Jordan 9 0.833333333 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. I think there are some distinct surprises in that list. JJ Watt absolutely blew this combine out of the water, and at 290 lbs, no less. Think about this one for a second, JJ Watt has the same vertical as Von Miller and was only a half inch less in the broad jump!

Ryan Kerrigan surprised a lot of people with his burst as well. Justin Houston surprised me with his numbers as well. Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith, and Akeem Ayers were all expected to perform much better and had disappointing combines in my opinion for guys that were heralded in their ability to explode off the end. You may also notice that some players have numbers missing and cannot properly be ranked against their peers as a result.

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.

Kirwan 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 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:

College Production

Name GP TFL Sks Plays/GP
Aldon Smith 23 29 17 2.00
Dontay Moch 50 71 28.5 1.99
Ryan Kerrigan 48 55.5 37.5 1.94
JJ Watt 26 36.5 11.5 1.85
Von Miller 47 50.5 33 1.78
Justin Houston 36 38 20 1.61
Robert Quinn 25 25.5 13 1.54
Akeem Ayers 37 29.5 14 1.18
Adrian Clayborn 51 37.5 19 1.11
Sam Acho 49 34 20 1.10
Cameron Jordan 50 34 17.5 1.03
Cheta Ozougwu 46 25 11 0.78

Now I know what you are saying, that some of these players were playing against more difficult opponents, or surrounded by better talent, than some of the other players. That is the biggest challenge in scouting, and you can’t avoid that.

This analysis isn’t an exact art by any means, but I think there are some names that really rise to the top. The two names that really stick out to me are Ryan Kerrigan and JJ Watt. Both of these guys stand out when you watch them in games because of their non-stop motor, both have had a lot of success in college, and both have shown elite athleticism at the combine when tested against their peers. Kerrigan could become that 3-4 Pass Rushing OLB that we need coming off the edge, and JJ Watt could solidify the 3-4 DE position opposite Castillo for years to come.

Some other names popped onto the list that I feel are potential candidates for a second round pick depending on the direction that we go in the first. A OLB like Justin Houston could be a great pick in the second round if we end up snagging JJ Watt in the first, and they would not only make each other better, but the entire front seven.

Anyways, hope you all enjoyed my breakdown of these numbers, look forward to seeing your feedback.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Bolts From The Blue community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bolts From The Blue editors or SB Nation.