2012 NFL Draft

Why stamina is crucial for nose tackles

It’s not easy to move around when you weigh 330 pounds. The mere fact that some NFL nose tackles are able to take the field every Sunday is a testament to their incredible conditioning.

But even among these elite athletes, there is a tipping point where production diminishes.

In 2012, there were seven defensive linemen listed at 330 pounds or more who started at least 10 games. In an effort to determine just how valuable stamina was to their performance, I attempted to find their collective tipping point.

Using the snap count information from ProFootballFocus.com and their game-by-game grades, I was able to determine that somewhere around 30 snaps (roughly half of a game), these behemoths tend to see a decline in their production.

Cody is effective, but only when the Ravens limit his snaps.

During games in which these linemen played 30 or fewer snaps, they earned a cumulative grade of +7.6 (in 870 total snaps). In games in which they played more than 30 snaps (3,498 total snaps) they earned a cumulative grade of just 5.6.

If you break those numbers down, the players had a +.0016 grade per snap when playing more than 30 per game, and a +.0087 grade per snap when playing 30 or less. Those numbers may seem small, but that’s 445% increase in production, just by limiting their snaps.

The best example of this is Terrence Cody who, at 360 pounds, has struggled with stamina throughout his career.

When playing over 30 snaps, Cody earned a cumulative grade of +0.8 (253 total snaps). When playing 30 or fewer snaps, his grade was -7.8 (291 total snaps).

So how can we use this information?

I believe there are two valuable takeaways from this study.

First, always have a quality backup on hand. Due to their hybird defense, and the prescence of Haloti Ngata, the Ravens were able to limit Cody’s snaps in 10 of the 18 games (including postseason) in which he played in 2011. This made him an effective weapon on defense, even if he wasn’t capable of being a three-down lineman. On the flip side, the Packers used B.J. Raji an average of 55 snaps per game, which led to him having the lowest overall grade of any of the 330+ linemen.

The second takeaway, however, is that not all nose tackles are created equal. Mount Cody clearly struggled when asked to take on a larger role. However, Sione Pouha – PFF’s highest rated defensive tackle in 2012 – still performed at a high level when playing 30+ snaps. Pouha did see a dramatic decline in production (.089 per snap, down to .042 per snap), however, his 30+ snap grade was still well above average and resulted in a cumulative grade of +23.1 in such games.

In terms of the NFL Draft, teams need to look beyond pure talent at this position, and pay close attention to how stamina effects each player’s performance late in games.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Packers, Ravens, Research 2 Comments

Which positions hold the most value in the 1st round?

Over the next few weeks you’re bound to hear draft experts across the country claim that certain positions have more “value” than others. Some will claim that if a potential franchise quarterback is on the board you must take him if its a need. Other will say you should always wait until the 2nd round for a wide receiver. Everyone has their own theories.

Well, we set out to set the record straight and determine which positions really do have the most value in the 1st round.

In order to accomplish this task we needed to assign a value to each player selected. Fortunately, the folks at Pro-Football-Reference.com have already done this. PFR has developed a statistic which they call “approximate value.”  It assigns a number to each player based on his value in a given season. Add it all up and you get his “career approximate value.” The formula is complicated so I won’t bother to get into the details, but if you’re curious you can read about it here.

With the hard work out of the way, all we had to do was determine the average value for each position based on draft round. To do this we analyzed every 1st through 3rd round draft pick between 2003 and 2007. This was chosen as the data set for two reasons:

  1. We wanted to use a contemporary set of players. However we also wanted each player to have established himself in the league. Since three years is commonly referred to as the time needed to grade a draft class, we selected 2007 as the most recent year for the data.
  2. The first three years used to be referred to as “first day” draft picks, when all three rounds occurred on Saturday. Teams expect these “first day” picks to eventually develop into starters. Any “second day” draft pick doesn’t come with the same expectations and can’t fairly be compared players selected in the 1st round.

The 490 players in the data set were then broken down by position and the round in which they were selected – 1st, 2nd or 3rd. We then found the average career value for each position in each round.

Based on the data, there appears to be two different ways to analyze the data:

  1. Comparing the average value of the 1st-round picks to the average value of the 2nd round picks
  2. Comparing the average value of each round to the average value of all picks in rounds 1 through 3

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We’ll start with comparison No. 1 and count down the most valuable positions 10 through 1

.

10. Defensive Backs
1st Round Avg. Value: 24.9
2nd Round Avg. Value: 20.8
There is essentially no difference between 1st and 2nd round defensive backs. Their 24.9 1st-round value is among the lowest of all positions, yet their 2nd-round value is among the highest. If there’s another option on the board, it would appear to be a wise choice to wait until the 2nd round to upgrade your secondary.
Highest rated 1st-round pick: Troy Polamalu (’03 Steelers)
Lowest rated 1st-round pick: Andre Woolfolk (’03 Titans)
Highest rated 2nd-round pick: Rashean Mathis (’03 Jaguars)
Lowest rated 2nd-round pick: Ricardo Colclough (’04 Jaguars)

9. Defensive End
1st Round Avg. Value: 22.3
2nd Round Avg. Value: 17.9
Like defensive backs, defensive ends only suffer a slight decrease in value in the 2nd round. But not only is their a small difference, their 22.3 1st-round value is easily the lowest of all positions.
Highest rated 1st-round pick: Ty Warren (’03 Patriots)
Lowest rated 1st-round pick: Jarvis Moss (’07 Broncos)
Highest rated 2nd-round pick: Osi Umenyiora (’03 Giants)
Lowest rated 2nd-round pick: Dan Bazuin (’07 Bears)

8. Offensive Tackle
1st Round Avg. Value: 29.1
2nd Round Avg. Value: 23.8
Offensive tackles are actually a very safe pick in each round, but their low rating is a result of their incredible 2nd-round value. They’re easily the most valuable 2nd-round pick, which makes it unnecessary to reach for tackles in the 1st round.
Highest rated 1st-round pick: Jordan Gross (’03 Panthers)
Lowest rated 1st-round pick: Joe Staley (’07 49ers)
Highest rated 2nd-round pick: Michael Roos (’05 Titans)
Lowest rated 2nd-round pick: Jacob Rogers (’04 Cowboys)

7. Wide Receiver
1st Round Avg. Value: 24.7
2nd Round Avg. Value: 15.6
Here’s where we start to see some separation. There is obviously more value in the 1st round at the receiver position, but their 24.7 1st-round value is the 3rd lowest. These numbers indicate that the receiver position is the most volatile. While 2nd-round picks rarely pan out, 1st-round picks are hit-or-miss as well.
Highest rated 1st-round pick: Andre Johnson (’03 Texans)
Lowest rated 1st-round pick: Rashaun Woods (’04 49ers)
Highest rated 2nd-round pick: Anquan Boldin (’03 Cardinals)
Lowest rated 2nd-round pick: Terrence Murphy (’05 Packers)

6. Offensive Guard
1st Round Avg. Value: 27.8
2nd Round Avg. Value: 18.2
Guards are a safe bet in either round, but their 27.8 1st-round value indicates that they’re borderline can’t-miss prospects early in the draft. However, their 2nd-round grade is also impressive, meaning there’s no need to reach for one in the 1st-round.
Highest rated 1st-round pick: Logan Mankins (’05 Patriots)
Lowest rated 1st-round pick: Ben Grubbs (’07 Ravens)
Highest rated 2nd-round pick: Chris Snee (’04 Giants)
Lowest rated 2nd-round pick: Bruce Nelson (’03 Panthers)

5. Linebacker
1st Round Avg. Value: 31.1
2nd Round Avg. Value: 20.0
Linebackers hold the highest 1st-round value among the defensive positions and come in second to defensive backs in the 2nd round. Starter-quality players can certainly be found in the 2nd round, but the 1st round frequently produces stars.
Highest rated 1st-round pick: Terrell Suggs (’03 Ravens)
Lowest rated 1st-round pick: David Pollack (’05 Bengals)
Highest rated 2nd-round pick: Lofa Tatupu (’05 Seahawks)
Lowest rated 2nd-round pick: Terry Pierce (’03 Broncos)

4. Defensive Tackle
1st Round Avg. Value: 26.7
2nd Round Avg. Value: 12.1
While defensive tackles don’t hold as much 1st-round value as linebackers, their low 2nd-round grade indicates that the draft pool dries up quickly once the top players are off the board. If you want a starter at defensive tackle, you better get one early.
Highest rated 1st-round pick: Kevin Williams (’03 Vikings)
Lowest rated 1st-round pick: Justin Harrell (’07 Packers)
Highest rated 2nd-round pick: Anthony Adams (’03 49ers)
Lowest rated 2nd-round pick: Alan Branch (’07 Cardinals)

3. Tight End
1st Round Avg. Value: 31.0
2nd Round Avg. Value: 13.9
1st-round tight ends are can’t miss prospects. Even the least productive tight ends in this group (Greg Olsen Marcedes Lewis) have been starters since early in their careers. However, there is almost always a precipitous drop-off in talent once the top one or two tight ends are off the board.
Highest rated 1st-round pick: Dallas Clark (’03 Colts)
Lowest rated 1st-round pick: Greg Olsen (’07 Bears)
Highest rated 2nd-round pick: L.J. Smith (’03 Eagles)
Lowest rated 2nd-round pick: Bennie Joppru (’03 Texans)

2. Running Back
1st Round Avg. Value: 32.4
2nd Round Avg. Value: 13.9
It should be noted that 1st-round running backs are almost always thrown into the fire from day one. Meaning even the ones that end up being busts are at least given the opportunity to play, which can’t be said for all positions. However, its clear that the top talent is almost always found in the 1st round.
Highest rated 1st-round pick: Larry Johnson (’03 Chiefs)
Lowest rated 1st-round pick: Chris Perry (’04 Bengals)
Highest rated 2nd-round pick: Maurice Jones-Drew (’06 Jaguars)
Lowest rated 2nd-round pick: Kenny Irons (’07 Bengals)

1. Quarterback
1st Round Avg. Value: 31.0
2nd Round Avg. Value: 3.8
There’s really no surprise here. 1st-round quarterbacks aren’t can’t miss prospects, but the percentage of non-1st-round picks that develop into starters is astronomically low. Essentially there’s no difference between a 2nd-rounder and a 7th-rounder. In our data set, 14 of the 16 1st-round quarterbacks are rated higher than the highest-rated 2nd-round pick. If you want to find a future star at the position you better find him in the 1st round or just run into some dumb luck later in the draft.
Highest rated 1st-round pick: Ben Roethlisberger (’04 Steelers)
Lowest rated 1st-round pick: Brady Quinn (’07 Browns)
Highest rated 2nd-round pick: Tarvaris Jackson (’06 Vikings)
Lowest rated 2nd-round pick: Drew Stanton (’07 Lions)

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While that list does a nice job of comparing the first two rounds of the draft, quality players can still be found in the 3rd round. When you add them to the equation the list changes slightly. Rather than run through each position again, take a look at the chart below:

The numbers below each position corresponded to that round’s average value above or below the combined value for all three rounds at that position (which is listed on the bottom line).

From this chart, we can see where the breaking point is for each position. Quarterback, for example, is clearly the most top-heavy position as their value falls over 20 points from the 1st to the 2nd and 3rd round. Defensive backs, however, still have a positive value in the 2nd round which coincides with our first list’s claim that they are the least-valuable 1st-round choice.

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The question now is: how can we apply this study to the draft?

The list certainly shouldn’t be taken as gospel, as the value within each draft changes from year to year based on available talent. But lets see how it could be used in a specific example:

Let’s say the Browns are on the clock at No. 7. Based on how the first six picks played out the top remaining players on their draft board are Joe Haden and Rolando McClain. Who do they pick?

Even if Haden is rated higher on their board, the smart choice would be McClain. History tells us that the Browns can still find an above average cornerback in the 2nd round (perhaps a guy like Patrick Robinson). However, there is going to be a significant drop-off in talent at inside linebacker once McClain is gone.

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If you have any questions related to this study, feel free to shoot us an email (webmaster[at]draftace.com) or send us a message on twitter (@draftace).

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Research 2 Comments

Traveling to College, Common Side Effect: NFL Maturity

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” -Henry Bergson, French Philosopher & 1927 Nobel Prize in Literature

Clearly, Bergson had much grander thoughts in mind than to provide NFL teams with insight on whom they ought to select each year in the annual NFL Draft. But it would probably make a lot of sense for today’s NFL owners, general managers, and player personnel directors to delve a little more deeply into the point Bergson was trying to make over 80 years ago.

It’s actually pretty simple. To be successful in the NFL, even the most talented players must be humble, be willing to work hard and be eager to learn. But it appears they also need a high level of maturity-See 1999 draft toss up, Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.

To find those special players, scouts must watch as much film as possible in order to evaluate a player’s true value. What better way to start than to watch the high school prospects of the U.S. Army All-American Game?

During the game, defensive end Ronald Powell from California committed to the University of Florida. He’s a 5-star recruit from Moreno Valley who recently referred to his family as his “backbone.” So I got to thinking, what would make a 5-star recruit who has some of the best football programs in his own backyard leave his friends, his family and admirers and travel more than 2000 miles away to play college football?

Powell could have many reasons for making this long journey. Maybe he liked the coaching staff; maybe he always wanted to play in The Swamp. But whatever his reasons were, he may not realize that he may have dramatically increased his chance of success in the NFL.

Huh?

Here are the facts: Of the 128 players selected in the first round since 2006, only 24 traveled at least two states away from their hometown to attend college as follows:

2009 - Matthew Stafford (Texas to Georgia), Knowshon Moreno (New Jersey to Georgia), Brian Cushing (New Jersey to Southern Cal), Percy Harvin (Virginia to Florida), Vontae Davis (Washington DC to Illinois)

2008 - Chris Long (California to Virginia), Derrick Harvey (Maryland to Florida), Keith Rivers (Florida to Southern Cal), Jerod Mayo (Virginia to Tennessee), Ryan Clady (Southern California to Boise State), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Florida to Tennessee State), Chris Johnson (Florida to East Carolina)

2007 - Lawrence Timmons (South Carolina to Florida State), Jarvis Moss (Texas to Florida), Leon Hall (California to Michigan), Dwayne Bowe (South Florida to Louisiana State), Greg Olsen (New Jersey to Miami)

2006 - D’Brickashaw Ferguson (New York to Virginia), Jay Cutler (Indiana to Vanderbilt), Haloti Ngata (Utah to Oregon), Kamerion Wimbley (Kansas to Florida State), Davin Joseph (Florida to Oklahoma), Santonio Holmes (Florida to Ohio State), Mathias Kiwanuka (Indiana to Boston College)

Here’s the interesting part. Only 2 of those 24 players have yet to live up to their pre-draft expectations in the NFL: Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss. That’s an astounding success rate of 92%!

In fact, in 2009, the five players listed have already cemented themselves as starting caliber players, despite having only one year of experience. Percy Harvin won the award for Offensive Rookie of the Year and Brian Cushing won the Defensive Award. Matt Stafford showed he can compete as a starting quarterback in the league and Knowshon Moreno ran for almost 1,000 yards as a rookie. Don’t disregard Vontae Davis, a starting cornerback for the Miami Dolphins.

And that was no fluke. In 2008, Jerod Mayo was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Ryan Clady started every game at left tackle for two straight seasons and was elected to the 2010 Pro Bowl. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is also a Pro Bowl selection this season. Oh and I forgot to mention Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, who rushed for over 2,000 yards and set NFL records in only his second season.

The list goes on.

This is not to say that a player who stayed within their home state will not succeed at the pro level, but it is true that the percentages of success will be much lower. Of the 32 first round picks in each draft, generally half will end up being “busts” in the NFL. That translates into a mere 50% average success rate.

There are many factors that could affect the success rate of these athletes and there are many other considerations that an NFL team has to evaluate in making their selection. But if you can choose a player who played away from home in college versus one who stayed home, all other things being equal, you should go with the player who left his mama’s home cooking behind.

Bergson had it right. Being “on your own” and making your way in a new environment leads to maturity. And based on the stats above, maturity appears to lead to increasing the odds of NFL success, especially if you are can already bench press 400 lbs, run a 4.4 40-yard dash or can throw a football 60 yards.

Practical application of this pattern you ask?  Well, it seems to me that if you’re a NFL team and your picking in the first round, you’re now on the clock and it’s a toss-up between two players that you think can both help your team immediately, you might be best served to keep in mind that the player who left the comforts of ‘home’ to try and make a name for himself at the college level, is probably better prepared to do the same when he gets to the NFL.

Maybe there’s something to it; maybe not. But stats don’t lie.

Here is a list of the 2010 first round worthy players according to Scouts Inc. who left their comforts of home to play college football:

Will they follow this pattern? Only time will tell.

Download a PDF of this article

By Mike Band

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Research 1 Comment