For some positions, the athletically gifted simply stand out more than they do for others. We’ve already looked at how it is the elite athletes that dominate at offensive tackle, so it’s no surprise that the position across from them has a similar dependance on elite athleticism. Using Relative Athletic Scores (RAS), we find that more than half of Pro Bowl defensive ends scored higher than 8.00 out of 10.00 athletically while less than a quarter scored below the 5.00 average. It’s a position where the big, the fast, the strong and the quick win, so let’s take a look at how this year’s combine crop measured out.
2017 DE RAS
The Elites (8.00 and up)
As mentioned earlier, more than half of all Pro Bowl defensive ends fall into this range, so it’s good company to be in. Mario Williams, Vic Beasley, and “the Freak” Jevon Kearse all fall into this range, as well as Detroit Lions pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah. Presumed No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett measured just above Mario Williams for RAS and only below some seventh rounder no one has heard of who happened to be a great athlete. Fast riser Jordan Willis and Lions dream pick Solomon THomas also measured in this range. Surprisingly, if we consider Haason Reddick a pass rusher and not a linebacker (he measured with the linemen) he comes in above this range. Other mocked players to the Lions like Carl Lawson and (in later rounds) Daeshon Hall also finished here. This is the group you want to be in if you want teams to take you high in the draft, it’s where you are likely to find successful pass rushers.
Above average (5.00 and up)
Recent Pro Bowlers like Cam Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan and Chandler Jones fall into this group along with Aldon Smith and Elvis Dumervil. Surpisingly, this is the range that “Athletic Phenom” Jason Pierre-Paul falls into, not the elite group. You can find plenty of good pass rushers in this area and a ton of NFL contributors and even double digit sack players measured here. Deatrich Wise, who many have mocked to the Lions in the second and third rounds, measured in this group as did human mutant Tanoh Kpassagnon. Michigan’s Taco Charlton measured in this group as well, but there’s an interesting caveat to that. RAS is only separated into DE and DT, it isn’t yet broken out into EDGE and IDL, other such designations, so hybrid players like Charlton and Solomon Thomas aren’t fully represented as accurately as I’d like. While a 7.00 range DE score is good, Charlton measured well above 9.5 when put as a DT. Averaging the two scores puts Charlton into that elite range, which is right about where many expected him to be.
Below Average (Below 5.00)
There are outliers who have found success in the NFL despite poor measurements. The most obvious trend when looking back historically is that 3-4 DE like Calais Campbell and Antonio Smith fall into this range along with Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. The biggest outliers here are Michael Bennett (who went undrafted), Greg Hardy (sixth round) and Tamba Hali. Has anyone ever watched Tamba Hali and thought he wasn’t athletic? Cripes. In most instances, however, a RAS this low tends to signal NFL failure, and it’s important to put into context that a huge majority of those in this range do not succeed. Potential first-round picks Charles Harris, Dawuane Smoot!and Derek Barnett fell into this range. I should note that many expected Barnett to measure lower than this and he pulled in an only slightly below average score despite being terribly ill at the combine (he looked awful). The biggest surprise in this group is Jonathan Allen of Alabama, but that requires some context which I’ll go into below.
I’ve covered a bunch of them, but I wanted to go into detail about 3-4 DE and hybrid players. I’m still working on a formal system for this, but as a rule of thumb I look at both the DE and DT scores of 3-4 DE and hybrid players who play inside and out rather than just pigeonholing them into one position or the other. Calais Campbell may have scored only a 1.61 as a DE, but he’s a 7.42 as a DT. Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are in a similar boat. This trend line holds for recent high draft picks like DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead as well. So when a guy like Jonathan Allen scores poorly at DE, I’m less concerned if they score well as a DT. Allen sits just barely below 5.00 as a DT now, but his 20 split will pull him above that and he has shuttle and cone times yet to be measured. It’s even more notable when a player like Solomon Thomas measures out elite in both categories. That’s JJ Watt rare and isn’t something we see often.
Pro Bowl DE RAS
|Kyle Vanden Bosch||9.96|
|Will Smith DE||8.71|
|Michael Bennett DE||1.15|