2014 Pass Rushing Prospects: Analyzing Athleticism

Kareem Martin has been overlooked despite production and an ideal frame but is picking up steam after testing tremendously well in Indy (Photo: US Presswire)

By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer

Athleticism in a broad sense can be analyzed and measured, but it only gains meaning with context. Being able to run in a stright line for forty yards measured linear speed but explains very little about an athletes agility or strength. If the person is an Olympic sprinter the latter qualities are discarded as they are rather unimportant. If you’re looking at an NFL pass rusher, however, all of the aforementioned qualities have tremendous value.

The NFL Scouting Combine developed as a central location for evaluators to convene and, well, evaluate future NFL talent. There are multiple drills, tests, medical checks and grueling interviews designed to analyze everything about a prospect and whether or not he’s worth the million dollar investment.

But how exactly do we judge a prospect’s potential based on the information we gather at the combine? To be honest a lot of what’s televised and reported is for show. I mean does an offensive lineman ever run 40 yards in a straight line? However, it does give you a picture of his overall athleticism, movement skills and coordination. In fact the combine is built to do just that: gauge athleticism. There is a clear distinction between athleticism and skill.

Skill refers to the acquired or learned abilities you can actively practice, improve and eventually master. An example of a football skill would be for a running back to carry the ball high and tight, an offensive lineman to execute a proper cut block or for a quarterback to master a seven step drop. All those skills are vital to being successful at the NFL level, but to be elite it requires talent.

Talent is the inherent raw ability to jump higher and run faster than the competition. Although yes its possible to “learn” to run faster through technique and practice, but everyone is limited by their genes. And you certainly can’t learn to be taller. So, let’s focus on the main aspect the combine helps to evaluate. Talent. Every position needs a different type of athleticism. Height is great, especially for receivers who need to attack the ball at its highest point, but interior offensive linemen lose leverage at anything over 6’5 or so.

Pass Rushers:

Most art forms take time and a diversified skill set to fully master. The art of pass rushing is no different. Just ask Bruce Smith, Reggie White or some of the current masters of disruption Jared Allen, Von Miller or DeMarcus Ware and they’ll surely tell you it takes athleticism but also technique and a natural feel to get after the passer with regularity. Like any art form it will never be distilled down to pure arithmetic or established science and with that means opinions of what it takes to be the best will differ.

Some scouts prefer long, rangy athletes whose arm lengths are exceptional and able to control blockers at a distance. Others overlook such measureables and seek fast, quick twitch athletes who can explode off the edge avoiding blockers altogether.

There are an array of potential Patriots with the ability to make an impact at the next level. Here is a quick look at how those who participated in a meaningful way at the combine (Dee Ford and others excluded) stack up in terms of their measured athleticism.

The following is my attempt at being creative. I took the most athletic prospects at each position and used the intensity of the color green to map each prospects level of talent at each attribute or measurement. The darker the green the better or more elite a prospect is in terms of that particular trait. Height and weight are listed first and then what I consider to be the most important trait next. Notice how the 40 is one of the last indicators for this group. The prospects not reviewed here will be covered in the next post.

Player Ht Wt 10 Split AL Broad J Vert HS 3 Cone 20 YSH 40 Bench
Jadeveon Clowney 6’5 ¼ 266 1.56 34 ½ 124 37.5 10 7.27 DNP 4.53 21
Kareem Martin 6’5 7/8 272 1.53 35 129 35.5 10 7.2 4.33 4.72 22
Khalil Mack 6’2 5/8 251 1.56 33 ¼ 128 40 10 ¼ 7.08 4.18 4.65 23
Anthony Barr 6’4 7/8 255 1.56 33 ½ 119 34.5 9 3/8 6.82 4.19 4.66 15
Larry Webster 6’5 ¾ 252 1.57 33 ½ 123 36.5 10 1/8 7.29 4.44 4.58 17
Adrian Hubbard 6’6 257 1.62 34 ½ 117 38.5 9 ¼ DNP DNP 4.69 DNP
Jackson Jeffcoat 6’3 247 1.6 33 7/8 123 36 9 5/8 6.97 4.18 4.63 18
Marcus Smith 6’3 251 1.57 34 121 35 10 7.48 4.47 4.68 23
Chris Smith 6’1 266 1.59 34 1/8 121 37 9 ½ 7.55 4.46 4.71 28
Ronald Powell 6’3 1/8 237 1.56 32 ½ 114 35.5 9 3/8 DNP DNP 4.65 21
Demarcus Lawrence 6’2 7/8 251 1.62 33 ¾ 113 34.5 11 7.46 4.31 4.8 20
Tyler Starr 6’4 1/8 250 1.65 32 ½ 116 32 9 ½ 6.64 4.15 4.95 24
Kyle Van Noy 6’3 1/8 243 1.6 31 5/8 112 32.5 9 5/8 7.22 4.2 4.71 21

Jadeveon Clowney is a freak, but won’t be available for the Pats so let’s leave it at that.

 

Kareem Martin is a real X-factor among this group of pass rushers. He stuffed the stat sheet with 21.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in 2013 but looked stiff and without elite burst at times. Then he goes and busts out at the combine athletically testing out at or darn near close to Clowney. Scouts have always taken notice of his ideal frame and long arms but in Indy he effectively dispelled any concerns about his explosiveness and physical ability. The 1.53 10 yard split he ran was insane and far and away the fastest for any lineman. While getting to take that unadulterated start is not quite the same as lining up outside across an NFL left tackle, it does show his natural get off is elite.

 

His overall lower body explosiveness is solidified by a strong showing at both the broad and vertical jumps, which when paired with his arm length could become a lethal combination allowing him to not only get on a tackle quickly but also keep space and control the interaction while pursuing the quarterback. Going back to the awesome work by Greg Peshek we see that even the advanced stats paint Martin as underrated. His sack time of 3.62 isn’t special but he did show that he can make an impact in a variety of ways. He had an evenly distributed sack profile with 50% coming on outside rushes and 50% on bull or inside rushes. In addition none of his 11.5 sacks were coverage sacks and only 8.3% were unblocked. The final landing spot for Martin will come down to tape, but there are some intriguing tools to work with and certainly merit further study.

 

Khalil Mack, like Clowney, will not be a worthwhile target where the Pats currently stand. The one thing that stands out about Mack’s physical profile is his height at just under 6’3. The fact that his arm length is in fact all but equal to a taller and seemingly lankier Barr means that height actually lowers his center of gravity without losing the advantage of length.

 

Anthony Barr is a premium prospect to some and an overrated and underdeveloped gamble to others. Such a deviation in opinions makes the UCLA product a realistic possibility at #29 overall. His athleticism and natural ability would seem in a fit in any system, but his game is actually very limited. Ask him to explode off the snap, dip and flex his body under a tackle while he turns the corner into the backfield and he’s got it covered. But making him do much else and you might not be satisfied.

 

One thing that could surprise the casual fan on draft day is how high relatively unknown prospect from no name schools are selected. Larry Webster of Division II Bloomsburg University is one of those prospects. A former basketball player with excellent size and athleticism didn’t make the usual conversion to tight end, but instead defensive end. The tallest of these selected prospects Webster does look awkward at times but is still learning the ropes of football.

However his natural flexibility and body control is evident and could be molded into a solid NFL defensive end. Last year 6’7 Devin Taylor from South Carolina was similarly raw but played pretty well for the Lions, so we know its possible for a player of his size to win at the line even with an inherent leverage disadvantage.

Tags: 2014 Pass Rushing Prospects, Anthony Barr, Jadeveon Clowney, Kareem Martin, Khalil Mack, Larry Webster

26 Responses to “2014 Pass Rushing Prospects: Analyzing Athleticism”

  1. Pete says:

    Any thoughts on Kony Ealy? Great 3 cone time and measurables. Stout against the run. Some scouts have him in the 20-30 range, but others aren’t as high on him.

    • acm says:

      I am one of those who aren’t as high on Ealy. And he is anything but stout vs the run; if anything, that’s one of the bigger issues with him – setting the edge.

      He is one of those players who would measure well (better pro-day than combine) and attract looks with his athleticism but doesn’t overly impress on tape. Best thing about him is his versatility to move inside on passing downs – like Michael Bennet and Everson Griffen in the NFL. When it comes to technique, strength, explosiveness (both off the snap and in his hands), misreads, inability to set the edge, etc he just doesn’t speak 1st round prospect to me … a 1st round athlete yes, but not a football player.

      Pats wouldn’t be doing justice to their 1st round pick if they went with Ealy there, imo. I like players like D. Lawrence and J. Attaochu better than Ealy, even if KE has the more prototypical size, and they should be available in the 2nd, in case of a trade.

  2. Russell says:

    I would look at Dee Ford as a Nickovich type player, with high up side.

    • MaineMan says:

      Nink is bigger than Ford and put up better workout numbers than Ford did at his pro day. Ford is also widely acknowledged as being a poor edge-setter and generally weak in run-D, two of Nink’s greatest strengths, in addition to being the Pats’ most consistent edge-rusher.

      So, I’m kinda failing to see the similarity.

      • acm says:

        not a big fan of Dee Ford myself. In fact, considering he’s widely given a 1st round grade, I have him as one of the most overrated players in this year’s draft.

    • Dylan.C says:

      Kareem Martin is a better comparison to Nink in terms of setting the edge

  3. MaineMan says:

    The thing for me about edge-rushers in this draft is that the real issue is not that the Pats are desperate for a *better* one, they just need who (unlike Buchanan) is solid enough at maintaining edge contain that they can risk using him in place of Nink or Chandler to give them some rest.

    A guy like Trent Murphy (mid/late 2nd) would be more appropriate – or Jeffcoat (late-3rd), who could also address the LB depth issue.

  4. Bill Vermont says:

    Very interesting analysis, thank you.

    Don’t fall asleep on Chris Smith. He’s only 6-1 but if he had a neck he’d be 6-4. Long arms , good stats, all SEC by coaches. And he might actually be available late round 3-4.

    I agree Attaochu has a chance to be a real beast

  5. Kevin says:

    Drafting a dt next year and expecting them to have an impact is asking for trouble. Yes trade down if that option is there other then that take the best player available I just hope not Louis nix. So my draft
    1 . Rasheed hageman book or bust but with veterans to help push him could be a great price in that front seven for years next to jones
    2 Troy niklas solid blocker could be the next gronk and with gronks injury you have to plan for him not being there. Also those two on the feild together great one two punch
    3 Marcus Martin if he is still there some think he is the best center in the draft and he has the size to be a play guard or center
    4 Cody latimer if he lasts this long has great body size and could be a legit go to option
    4/2 Taylor hart good size for the position not a great athlete but a solid football player could be a solid rotational pass rusher at first then turn into a starter at left end
    6 Tyler Starr could start of on that rotation of pass rushers could be a spot starter at Sam of mike
    6/2 boseko lokombo great athlete decent football player has little experience at the college level but great size and quick twitch athleticism to be a nickel, and dime backer and could be a special teams ace for years to come
    7 colt lyerla huge character concerns but for a small investment you have a top teir athlete again at the te position something this offense needed last year

    • Kevan says:

      Pats had 2 players at dt that went un drafted that made an impact. Every team that makes a 1 st round selection expects an impact. I like Aaron Donald and Easley from Florida because they are athletic enough to play end as well. But if pats are staying put at 29 I like shazier, zach Martin, cj mosely , maybe the tight end they like or de. That’s why I say trade down cuz those players will probably be gone. I don’t kno this extra wait time is killin me tho

  6. Jack says:

    Interior OL is the biggest need. Brady was sacked more times last year than ever. The defense is loaded with defensive backs, we have 3 starting LBs, and the DL is underrated with the Siliga and hopefully Armstead butressing Wilfork and Kelley.

    I agree with the trade-down. Right now, the Pats need depth for the inevitable injuries, but I really hope they target a center / guard type who they can plug in and play for the next 10 years.

    After that, they can draft depth for TE, DL, and LB, and maybe SS.

    • Kevan says:

      Interior oline would not be a bad pick. But pats have 5 guys that can start and also cannon and supposedly the team is high on josh Kline. The patriots secondary is pretty set, if they add another de that can get to the QB it would be dynamite. Instant top 5 defense if they get another good de.

      • Jack says:

        Initially, I thought DE was the biggest need. I admit still would be stoked if they grabbed one in the first, also if they drafted an OLB like Shazier. I just have concerns about the OL. Vollmer is frail and sure to be out, moving Canon to a starter there. Wendell and Connolly are both journeymen, imo. Mankins is 32 already, and Solder had concussions last year. I know they have guys on the practice squad they like, but there’s a reason they’re on the practice squad. If they drafted that guard like Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA: 6-4, 307, I’d be good. OLs are usually pretty reliable picks. Now you can keep Canon at RT, and have Connelly for depth at guard. And hope Wendell has a better year. Otherwise, get a center, move Canon to guard and have Connelly as depth.

    • steve earle says:

      OL is a need but not the biggest imo. Still I’d like to see us take a good OC, Richfield or Swanson in 2nd or 3rd then maybe later an OT/OG type. Also I like Long OG/ Neb to fall because of injury, would be a good pickup. TB needs to be protected no doubt but good linemen are a strength of this draft so we need not reach for them.

  7. Dan Sullivan says:

    Patriot Predictions

    Draft
    1 C.J. Mosley ILB Alabama
    2 Trade for 2nd and 3rd round picks.
    3 Antonio Richardson OT Tennessee
    3 C.J. Fiedorowicz TE Iowa
    4 Arthur Lynch TE Georgia
    4 Brent Urban DL Virginia
    4 DeAndre Coleman DL California
    6 Michael Sam DE Missouri
    6 Wesley Johnson C Vanderbilt
    7 Brian Jackson SS Oregon

    UDFA
    James Sims RB Kansas
    Allen Hurns WR Miami
    Connor Shaw South Carolina

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Correction
      2nd pick trade for 3 and 4th round selections.

    • steve earle says:

      Mosley is a good ILB prospect but hardly a priority for us. We can and would be better off thinking about LB’s sometime after the 2nd rd.

  8. Kevan says:

    Pats should trade down and trade mallet. The meat of this draft is rounds 2 and 3. Unless that one player falls to 29, I don’t like a trade up either. A lot of talk has been made about drafting a wr or dt but I don’t like the idea. At both positions there is enough depth,veteranship, youth and room for growth and upside, and stability. In fact I think it’s counter productive, it would only stunt the growth of the player drafted or an up an comer already on the team. I think the top tier of needs are de,lb,te. 2nd tier being g/c and ss. And the third being QB, Rb. Pats need another de, ninko and jones will only be better if they can get a breather. They need another lb to play behind mayo Hightower and Collins. And absolutely a te who can cover for gronk when he’s gone.

    • Matt says:

      Do if Wilfolk retires or gets cut next year and if Kelly retires in 2015 then what? They need a DT they need a safety and a TE to start with.

      • Kevan says:

        Then draft a 1st round dt next year and that will go good with a more developed armstead, Chris jones, salinga, vellano. I just think that I would draft other positions. I’m usually wrong tho

        • Matt says:

          This draft is very ” deep ” why wait until next year to draft a good DT. And the DT’s that you listed the only one that is good is Chris Jones.

        • Kevan says:

          I think Chris jones is good, salinga is good too and vellano is scrappy. Armstead is the wildcard and was rated as a 2 rd pick last year. I mean if a player falls that’s to good to pass up by all means take the dude. I just don’t think it’s necessary that’s all. With all that being said, I can’t remember the last time I was right, I’ve been terrible predicting pats moves as of late. Still I would draft different positions early.

        • steve earle says:

          My thinking is it depends on who might be available as a DT. If Hageman or DeQuan Jones is available for our 2nd rd (61/62 whatever) then the value may be to good to pass up and we shouldn’t. (I’d prefer Jones.) just me. Still Kevan, I understand your perspective too. Drafts tend to be as much a balancing act/ art as much as a science. If your interested check out my mock on the 7 rd mock draft page. I think I put up a pretty balanced mock.

    • Matt says:

      Pats need a DE to. Do you think the Pats could draft a good LB in the 3rd or would that be to late?

  9. acm says:

    Another good one, Mr. Sluis.

    Maybe you could add Jerry Attaochu to that list too. Here are his pro-day numbers:
    http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2014/3/28/5557934/nfl-pro-day-results-march-28-georgia-tech-jeremiah-attaochu-georgia-state-smu






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