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Explosion Numbers: DEs and LBs in the 2017 NFL Draft

Last year I analyzed something that Pat Kirwan developed a while back called an “explosion number”. Kirwan is a former NFL scout, assistant coach, salary cap manager, and now author, podcast host, and NFL Insider. Check out last years write up for a detailed explanation of explosion numbers pertaining to pass rushers in the NFL.

The short version is that you combine bench press, vertical, and broad jump (in feet) to get a number. The bigger the number, the more explosive you are. Explosive lower body power, explosive upper body power.

I take his study one step further for the pass rushers positions, including inside linebackers, and add in the 3-cone drill and the 20-yard short shuttle drill. Both drills measure agility and the fastest times are accomplished by being able to get low to the ground (where opposing lineman can’t gain leverage) while showing showing quick stop and start speed (quick moves to elude opposing linemen). Bottom line being speed around the edge in the direction of the quarterback.

Last year (see link above) through this analysis we found that Matt Judon was the most explosive player in the 2016 draft. I even commented prior to draft day…

“For the Ravens, check out that Matt Judon kid at the top. Grand Valley State attached to his name likely drives down the draft stock. But with physical power like that, does it matter where he’s from? See: Brandon Williams. Physical freak, small school, ends up being great value in round three. Judon could be worth a shot in the fourth, even if they land Bosa. Suggs and Dumervil are not getting younger and a D-II school player could be a project that flourishes in later years.”

Judon was projected as a 4th round talent by CBSSports experts. The Ravens drafted him in the 5th round and in limited playing time he notched four sacks in his rookie season. He played a lot of special teams and committed some bad penalties there which will land you in Coach John Harbaugh’s dog house real fast. Given that his rookie year is behind him and a clean slate, he looks like a guy that could be poised for a breakout type season with double digit sacks on the horizon given at least semi-regular playing time.

Dean Lowry was the second most explosive player, projected as a 7th round, or undrafted player. The Packers saw something there and reached to draft him in the 4th round. He appeared as a role playing in 15 games, picked up two sacks.

Ronald Blair was third, same thing. Drafted in the 5th round, role played for 16 games, three sacks.

Maryland Terp, Yannick Ngokoue. Projected as a 6th round pick. Taken much earlier in the 3rd round by the Jaguars, and picked up eight sacks as rookie, to go with four forced fumbles.

Noah Spence was fifth in explosion and the highest rated of the five players here. He was drafted from a small school, Eastern Kentucky, in the 2nd round by Tampa Bay. 5.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and was November’s defensive rookie of the month.

Fair to say there is something to be said for “explosion numbers” and combine performance as a whole. Kind of odd to see that eight Alabama players in 2017 refused to take to the bench press at the combine or their pro day. If they bench on par with their peers, it can only increase their stock.

Factor in the speed element of the 3-cone and short shuttles, and Joey Bosa was the most agile from the 2016 group, completing both drills in a phenomenal combined 11.1 seconds. Also a physical beast, though nine other DEs had better “explosion scores”, it’s not surprising to see Bosa look like an All-Pro in the making, notching 10.5 sacks in just 12 games on his way to NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

But enough about last year. Here are the scores from those who participated in at least the three “explosion” drills, most did all five drills mentioned, either at the combine or pro days.

Discuss your thoughts on this topic on our message board.

Explosion – 70+ is fantastic. 65+ is good.

3-Cone/Shuttle – Under 11.1 is fantastic. Under 11.3 is good.

Explosion minus 3C/SH = 58.9+ is an elite strength and speed combo.

Defensive Ends

Screen Shot 2017-04-22 at 1.01.13 PM Thoughts on the DEs:

  • The Browns are going to be 100% absolutely foolish if they do not draft Myles Garrett number one overall. They can’t move back a few spots in trade and still land an elite edge rusher with Garrett’s tools. The biggest explosion numbers have been J.J. Watt at 81.0 (All-Pro), and Vic Beasley at 86.8 (All-Pro, 2016 sacks league leader). Garrett’s 84.67 warrants that #1 pick. I just wish he did the speed and agility drills as well.
  • I don’t see any real sleepers among the DE class. Jeramiah Ledbetter has an explosion score in the green, but not the agility to go with being a solid pass disruptor. Maybe in between positions which is what knocks the Razorback down to projected 6th round talent. Worth a flier that late for sure though.
  • After Garrett, Carl Lawson, Derek Rivers, Solomon Thomas, and Jordan Willis all seem to fit the same mold. Lawson and Thomas have first round grades, while Rivers and Willis have second round projections. If you’re a team with other needs and think you can nab one of these four in round two, address your other needs first.
  • Pretty poor numbers from some highly though of prospects. Jonathan Allen, Derek Barnett, Malik McDowell are a few names to avoid this coming draft day.

Linebackers

Screen Shot 2017-04-22 at 1.00.51 PM Thoughts on the LBs:

  • Are the Watt brothers poised to be the most feared brothers in the NFL? T.J. Watt posts an excellent sub-11.0 agility drill time (10.92) to go along with so close to an elite explosion figure. Von Miller is the agility king, running the 3-Cone/Shuttle in a combined 10.76 seconds. In 2015, Jordon Hicks and Alani Fua broke the 11.0 second mark. Hicks plays middle linebacker and uses his speed to break on thrown balls positing seven interceptions across 21 starts in two seasons. Fua needed to bulk up for Arizona at 6’5” but a stringy 234 lbs. Saw action in three games last year. In 2016, nobody broke the sub-11 second mark.
  • Tyus Bowser and Haason Reddick look like they have the strength and speed to succeed as projected first round talents.
  • Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham looks like the only linebacker without the numbers to match a first round billing. CBSSports ranked him their 2nd best LB on the board.
  • Brooks Ellis projected to go undrafted would be the first UDFA I get on the phone with post draft with that 11.05 agility score. Worth a tryout for sure.
  • The biggest sleeper in here is Ben Gedeon out of Michigan. Explosion number in the green. Agility score right there, close enough to be in the green. But projected in the fourth round, possibly fifth. The know on him is the ability to finish tackles, though he led the Wolverines in tackles this past year at inside linebacker. Also knocked for a lack of short area quickness, which he displayed well at the combine. This might be one the scouts are just plain wrong on and could be a huge steal in the mid-rounds. 

How this looks for the Ravens:

We know pass rusher is a need on this team. But since they aren’t getting Myles Garrett, they can wait around until the second round and nab someone who falls from the first round, or a guy like Duke Riley (LSU), Jordan Willis (Kansas State) or Derek Rivers (Youngstonwn State) who on physical attributes, measures up to some of the first round talents. 

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Written by Mike Randall
5 months ago
Baltimore Ravens, NFL Draft, ,

Mike Randall

Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he be reached at [email protected]

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