2014 Combine performance: Defensive front seven

Defensive linemen and linebackers were featured in Monday’s Combine drills. It is somewhat difficult to evaluate defensive ends because of differences in responsibilities. A defensive end in a 4-3 scheme tends to be smaller and more of a pass rusher. A defensive end playing in a 3-4 is bigger and is usually similar to a defensive tackle. The best way I could think to address this was to divide front seven players into three groups:

• Defensive tackles and large defensive ends, with larger defensive ends assumed to be more like tackles
-Defensive ends weighing 265 pounds or more were placed in this group
-This cut-off by weight may mischaracterize certain players such as Jadeveon Clowney and make their numbers look better, but it is probably the most objective methodology.

• Small defensive ends (weighing less than 265 pounds) and outside linebackers
• Inside linebackers

An additional problem I faced in this article is that, at the time this writing, the NFL has not yet posted 20-yard shuttle timings for defensive linemen. I have no choice but to omit that drill for those players.

As mentioned in my earlier articles, the data used as the basis for this article comes from nfl.com. The NFL does not, however, report the splits within the 40-yard dash. This is very meaningful information that I usually obtain from other sources. Complete 40-yard splits will be considered in a wrap-up article later in March.

This article reports each player’s measurement by percentile. That is, if a player’s measurement is in the top 10% of all performances since 1999 his measurement would be reported as 10% (raw scores are reported at any number of websites and would be redundant to report here). A low score is better than a high score (e.g., 10% is better than 20%). IF “DNP” is reported in a column, it means the player did not participate in that drill.

Defensive Tackles and Large Defensive Ends

This year’s group, even with the inclusion of Clowney, was not quite as athletic as in past years. Here’s the comparison:

In the individual player listings, the up or down arrow reflects the drills judged to be most and least predictive of future performance in my article “2014 COMBINE VIEWING GUIDE”. An up arrow indicates most predictive and a down area indicates least predictive. The “NA” indicates the NFL has not posted the information.

Before discussing other players, I wanted to look at Clowney’s “slash line” if he was classified as a small defensive end. His current line is 10%/90%/10%/10%/20%. This would change to 10%/60%/20%/20%/70% so he would not look quite as good with the change. Aside from Aaron Donald from Pitt, who is deservedly receiving kudos for his Combine performance, the other top performers tended to be on the smaller side and included Chris Smith, Kerry Wynn and Kareem Martin. Kaleb Ramsey scored well in the bench press but did not participate in any other drills.

Small Defensives End and Outside Linebackers

The ability to rush the passer is using a requisite for this position as defenses try to combat today’s offensive juggernauts. This is a key element for the defense so plenty of attention is paid to this group. As a reminder all outside linebackers and defensive ends who weigh less than 265 pounds are combined for this analysis.

Aside from the bench press this group’s performance was very close to the historical averages.

I will not repeat the comments regarding individual performance that were made in the previous section. Here is the individual information.

Though generally considered to be a late round choice, the performance of Kevin Pierre-Louis was the high point at this position, and maybe the entire Combine. Four of his drills ranked in the top 10% historically and the other two were in the top 20%. Howard Jones from tiny Shepherd University in West Virginia probably had the #2 performance at the position. Ryan Shazier decided to not run the 40 but that did not hurt his draft stock. Khalil Mack also maintained his draft position. Jordan Shipp received notice for his times in the 2-yard shuttle and 3-Cone drills but did not run or jump particularly well.

Inside Linebackers

This was a rather strange group. Other than the Vertical Jump, which I think is an important indicator, this group’s performance was reasonably comparable to historical averages. Other than the bench press, though, there were only two performances (Telvin Smith in the 40 and Avery Williamson in the 20-yard shuttle) that made the top 10%.

It is difficult to find a standout Combine performer in the group, with many drills being skipped (about 1/3) and lots of up and down performances across the drills. Khari Fortt probably had the best Combine of the group. Telvin Smith participated in only three drills and did well in two of them, but did not do well in the Vertical Jump,the principal indicator of success. Jordan Zumwalt was probably the most consistent performer as his measures were in the top half of each of the five drills in which he participated.

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