Force Players is a combine metric study I have been running for pass-rushers for years. You can find most of the numbers I’m going to cite, updated through the 2016 draft class, on Playmaker Mentality.
Here’s the gist of it:
The athletic backgrounds of pass-rushing prospects matters a lot. The problem is, many don’t realize that combine numbers need to be adjusted for density when talking about line of scrimmage defenders. While 10-yard splits are more important than 40-yard dashes, I still have yet to see a defensive lineman run 10 yards straight into the backfield untouched and make a play. When adding density into the equation, these numbers essentially turn into body explosion and body control through contact, which is exactly what you’re looking for in edge defenders and one-gap defenders in general.
There are three types of categories for pass-rushers: Force Players (elite athletes), Mid Tiers (near elite athletes whose 10 splits/short shuttles don’t totally add up) and non-Force Players (non-elite athletes).
First- and second-round Force Players were 8.21 times more likely to be retained by their original team than non-Force Players by their sixth season in the NFL (2005-2011.) I will update these numbers sometime in the offseason for the 2012 class.
First- and second-round non-Force Players were 12.69 times more likely to be out of the league by their slated sixth season in the NFL than Force Players (2005-2011.) I will update these numbers sometime in the offseason for the 2012 class.
A third-round Force Player, on average, is equal to a first-round non-Force Player in terms of the player’s averaged three best sack totals in his career. When you take into account of the draft value of first-round picks relative to third-round picks, that’s very interesting. Here is the 2017 update for those numbers. See for yourself.
Using Force Players/Mid Tiers/non-Force Players, it’s fairly easy to pick who is and isn’t going to be a successful pass-rusher at the NFL, based on their production as a 23-year-old. These thresholds lead me to labeling players as “Prodigy” pass-rushers, on top of their athletic background.
Before I update the Prodigy numbers for the 2016 regular season and tell you what to look out for, I wanted to do a run through of the 2005 through 2014 pass-rushing draft classes to explain some common themes over that decade about drafting pass-rushers. I have the data sets for these players through the fourth round, which is really about where the draft ends, so we’ll be looking at those snapshots. There are plenty of stories as to why players, who did or didn’t test well at the combine, did or didn’t succeed in the NFL.
Class Review: The 2013 draft class was bad across the board, and the pass-rushers weren’t exempt from this list. Some of these top players, like Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo, Jarvis Jones, Datone Jones and Margus Hunt, are trying to make rosters with their second or third teams now, so it’s far from a closed book, but it’s real close four years in.
Best Pick: Ezekiel Ansah, BYU (fifth overall selection) [Force Player]
This was the easiest call of any draft class so far. Ezekiel Ansah came in over-aged and only had one real year of college football experience, but he is a prime example about how projecting college pass-rushers into the NFL is about relative athleticism to on-field talent and nothing much deeper than that. Ansah was a quick riser as an interior player who saw playing time because of injuries in front of him on the depth chart. The Ghana-born former track and basketball athlete finally “clicked” in 2012, but only had 4.5 career sacks to show for it. At the Senior Bowl, against veteran competition compared to his experience, he recorded two sacks and four tackles for a loss in the game to win MVP honors. He had 14.5 sacks in 2015, which is more than the best three years combined of any other pass-rusher at the top of the class combined so far. Ansah is in a contract year with the Detroit Lions after missing some time in 2016 due to injury.
Best Value: Jamie Collins, Southern Miss (52nd overall selection) [Force Player]
There’s few combines more impressive than Jamie Collins’ 41.5″ vertical jump and 11’7″ broad jump at 250 pounds. A college pass-rusher, Collins recorded 39.5 tackles for a loss and 16.5 sacks in his final two years at Southern Miss. He was drafted by the New England Patriots, though, who played him as an off the ball linebacker, where he’s recorded 12.5 sacks in his four-year NFL career. Less than one year after being named to the Pro Bowl, Collins was traded to the Cleveland Browns for a conditional third-round pick. He has since signed a $50 million contract with Cleveland to make him one of the most respected off the ball linebackers in the NFL. I wouldn’t rule out a conversion to the line of scrimmage at some point for Collins, though.
Other Names of Note
Dion Jordan, Oregon (third overall selection) [non-Force Player]
This was an interesting case study on density mattering for pass-rushing prospects. A 4.60-second 40-yard dash and a 7.02-second three-cone time are good in a vacuum, but not for 248 pounds stretched over a 6’6″ frame. Dion Jordan never really truly rushed the passer at Oregon, either, as he often dropped into coverage in their three-man-rush-heavy defense. Heading into Year Five of his NFL career, Jordan has three sacks to his name. Suspensions have derailed his career, as it’s been hard to even tell if he would or wouldn’t have been successful in the NFL if he were a clean prospect. The Seattle Seahawks brought him in as an inside rusher apparently, which is really interesting considering his size. Jordan once set himself on fire trying to siphon gas with a vacuum.
Datone Jones, UCLA (26th overall selection) [Force Player]
I think that if anyone has a chance at a bounce back later on in their career, it’s Datone Jones. He flashed potential at times in Green Bay, but he never really found a position to land in for their 3-4 scheme. Lack of depth on the defensive line consistently kicked him from outside linebacker, where he had spent offseasons, to the defensive interior, which wasn’t ideal for a player who was visibly losing weight from his college days. The signing of Hall of Famer Julius Peppers and the breakout of former first-round pick Nick Perry also made it hard for Jones to get on the field as an outside linebacker. He’s now on a $3.75 million, one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings, where he projects to play under tackle.
Tank Carradine, Florida State (40th overall selection) [not enough data]
After a junior college stint, Tank Carradine transferred to Florida State. In 24 games there, he recorded 16.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss before he tore his ACL. He was an over-aged prospect to begin with, and him not being able to compete in all-star games or participate in the combine hurt him, as he was once viewed as a potential first-round pick. He was drafted in the second round by Trent Baalke of the San Francisco 49ers, who used plenty of picks on injured players. Carradine has four sacks in four NFL seasons, is a 28-year-old and is under contract with the team through 2018.
For better understanding of some of these numbers referenced in these pieces: Read 2017 Force Players