NFL Draft 2014 SPARQ Profiling, Part 6 - LEO

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Let's take a look at what pass-rushers the 2014 draft has to offer.

If you missed earlier entries in the series, it may be helpful for you to catch up before reading this one.

Introducing rSPARQ

SPARQ Profiling, Part 1: Offensive Line

SPARQ Profiling, Part 2: Tight End

SPARQ Profiling, Part 3: Running Back

SPARQ Profiling, Part 4: Wide Receiver

SPARQ Profiling, Part 5: Defensive Line

Recap

As a reminder of the basic terminology, here's a little summary of our two metrics.

rSPARQ - a "regression SPARQ" metric, defined by back-calculating NIKE's SPARQ formula and applying regression techniques to get pretty close to the original formulation.

pSPARQ - a "position-adjusted" or "profiled" SPARQ which takes into account a few more parameters, weighting them according to public comments from Seahawks brass and analysis of the existing roster. The main change is using broad jump more than bench press with vertical jump to determine the player's power/explosiveness SPARQ contribution.

Existing Roster

While the defensive line post required a lot of data interpretation and contextualization, LEO is a much easier and more fun post to write. Before we start, it's probably important that we define what a LEO is -- oh hey, our own Danny Kelly wrote a great article about that last year.

NFL Combine 2013: Identifying the LEO prototypes

You should read the entire post to get a real idea of what the LEO is, but the key Pete Carroll quote for our purposes is the following: "[the LEO] has to be one of your best football players. Size does not matter as much. We want an athletic player who can move around."

Keep in mind that the blending of lines from 4-3 end (Michael Bennett) to LEO (Bruce Irvin 2012) to SAM LB (Bruce Irvin 2013) makes it difficult to split these posts up by position. Some of the smaller 4-3 types would work as LEOs, some LEOs may work at LB, and other permutations are similarly true. This is simply how I decided to split things up.

As you'd expect from this description of the position, LEO-type athleticism is well captured by SPARQ. A quick analysis of the existing roster yields the following results. Existingleo_medium

Our initial impression of the position proves to be correct, as there are a number of SPARQ monsters on the Seattle LEO list. Also, Cliff Avril's 10-yard split is insane. The number is truly absurd, but actually seems reasonable having seen him explode off the line of scrimmage.

Let's take a look at the Seattle average relative to that of the rest of the 2014 draft.

Leostats_medium

Now, we have a small sample of Seattle LEOs relative to the other positions we've looked at in the past, so it's important to take these numbers with a grain of salt. That being said, speed kills. LEOs are very fast for their position, averaging a 4.62s 40 with an even better 1.59s 10-yard split.

We can also limit the sample to Seahawk draft picks from the last two years. This group includes Benson Mayowa, Ty Powell, and Bruce Irvin. I won't present actual data for the sample as it's not entirely accurate to leave the other four out. Still, these most recent draft acquisitions fit into a very specific mold of 6020-6030, 240-250 lb, and possessing elite athleticism in several categories.

Chris Clemons, SPARQ Mortal

If this exercise is about validating the use of SPARQ for draft analysis, how do we get around the relatively poor measureables of Chris Clemons? Well, SPARQ is not a whole and absolute measure of anyone's ability to play football. There are a lot of things we can't capture from a series of unscientific tests. What made Clemons special would probably be captured by metrics based upon video tracking, similar to analytics currently being developed and used in the NBA. His initial acceleration and reaction to the snap are elite, and a 10-yard split doesn't tell us everything about reaction time and snap anticipation.

That doesn't mean the metric is useless. Still, it's just as wrong to say that SPARQ means nothing as it is to say that SPARQ means everything. SPARQ is an aggregator of different variables that we care about, but not every variable that we should consider. We're going to look at a number of players at the top of the SPARQ lists, and recent history tells us that Seattle is likely to be more interested in those than players further down the rankings. That doesn't mean a player with a poor broad jump or 40 has no chance of being a Seahawk.

It should be noted that, if Clemons maintained his athleticism at his listed weight of 255, he'd be slightly above-average by SPARQ for a LEO. He's not unathletic by any stretch of the imagination.

Historical Context

Historicalleo_medium

To assemble this list, I cross-checked player height/weight with sack numbers to find elite rush linebackers who would play LEO in Seattle. There's no intentional selection bias. You can definitely argue for players like Justin Houston or Aldon Smith to be included, but they have a different build than you typically you see in a Seattle LEO. Of course, if they were Seahawks, we'd adjust the mold to fit them.

Elite pass-rushers are just an insane group of athletes. This is a position where most dominant players tend to be uber-elite in SPARQ.

2014 Draft

The same note applies as before: values that are bolded, italicized, and underlined are assumed. If most of the necessary variables were present, I assumed that the player's 40 would be in the same percentile as his 10-split, 3-cone to shuttle, etc. This means that if a player doesn't have a 10-yard split, his speed index is only influenced by his 40, and things function similarly for other categories.

Again, disclaimer: rSPARQ and pSPARQ average out to be the same. The average LEO is at a 110 rSPARQ and pSPARQ.

Remember that the definitions between 4-3 end, LEO, and SAM backer are hazy. If your guy isn't included in this table, he's probably accounted for elsewhere.

2014draft_leo_medium

Highlights

As LEO is in the SPARQ sweet spot, there are a number prospects who fit the mold. We'll only discuss a few of them here.

Brandon Denmark, OLB, Florida A&M, 142 rSPARQ, 151 pSPARQ

Brandon Denmark is one of the most gifted athletes in the draft, and probably the league. He's tall, has long limbs, and explodes into tackles. His broad jump is 11'4", which is stupid, and it's not just that he can test well; the way he plays seems to support the test result. I'm going to go on a brief physics tangent to help articulate my thoughts on just why that's true. Feel free to just skip ahead while I geek out for a minute.

*** SIDEBAR ***

Physics! The great thing about physics is that most concepts can very easily be understood just by referring back to everyday phenomena with which we're all familiar. Now, when talking about football, we very commonly see people refer to the large force exerted during a particularly violent collision. This is true, but misses the larger point of what makes a collision eye-catching and painful: impulse.

Impulse isn't force, though it takes into account the mass of both objects. Impulse is defined as "the change in linear momentum of a body." This doesn't mean a lot to people who aren't physics-types, so let's break it down to language that's a little easier to parse. We all know, at least intuitively, that momentum is the product of mass and velocity. Impulse is thus related to the rate at which a player's momentum is changed.

What does this mean physically? If a collision occurs between hard objects, then the impulse is large (relative to a collision between "softer" objects) because momentum changes over a (relatively) short period of time. This is why an egg cracks when dropped on hardwood flooring, but may remain intact if it instead landed on carpet. The duration of the collision is important. To maximize the potential impulse of a blow, you want to quickly reduce the opposing object's linear momentum to zero (or, if you're Kam Chancellor, to flip the momentum in the opposite direction). This is why running into a wall is different than jumping on a mattress. It's intuitive.

Of course, the mass and velocity (read: momentum) of the player delivering the blow is also an important factor here. Brandon Denmark is very big. He's also very fast. Check. Check.

*** END SIDEBAR ***

Why do we care (well, I care) about impulse? Because Brandon Denmark delivers impulse. Take a quick look at the highlight reel his agent put together for him. I'm particularly interested in the last minute or two.

He uses his ridiculously long legs to "ground" himself into the turf and launch into a tackle. By doing this, he's both increasing the velocity with which he impacts the ballcarrier and decreasing the inelasticity of the collision (i.e., more like dropping an egg on concrete than carpet). Does this remind you of anyone?

Hint: it's Brandon Browner.

Broad jump is a great way to measure how a player can drive laterally, as both a tackle and the broad jump require similar musculature in one's core and lower body. Chancellor and Browner are both big hitters because they use their base to drive into the tackle. Marshawn Lynch is a great running back (in part) because he hits people when they're off-balance. The effect of this is that he always seems to fall forward.

I love that Denmark is so proficient at this kind of tackle. He doesn't allow his height to take away from his ability to deliver a compact hit.

Now, there are negatives. It's rumored that he transferred to FAMU from Illinois because he saw himself as a linebacker and not a defensive end. Even though he has great agility in drills, I'm a little dubious that he's an effective player in coverage. While a player like Richard Sherman moves his feet with complete assuredness and confidence, Denmark is inefficient in his lateral movement. He takes three erratic steps where two might be more effective.

But, all that being said... he's a freak. It seems like he'd at least be effective for around 20 snaps a game where he has the sole purpose of running as fast as he can at the quarterback. It's just really hard to know if off-field stuff makes him a stay-away.

And yes, Seattle was at his pro day. Check that box.

Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA, 133 rSPARQ, 142 pSPARQ

Barr's an interesting one. A few months ago, he was projected as a possible top-5 selection, and now there's a general sense that he's dropping down boards. Will he be available at 32? Probably not. If he is, though. it's a very tempting move. He has ideal height and length for the position. To go with the frame, he's elite in essentially every category except the vertical, where his result is still better than the 33" vertical of Bruce Irvin. In the last post, I made the point that I'm willing to take a little risk in picking a defensive lineman because elite athleticism at that position is more rare and expensive; this is true for LEOs as well. We know that dominant LEOs will also often be dominant athletes.

I can sense everyone yelling at me now: but Barr had a 4.66s 40 at the combine! How can we trust a 4.41? Well, it goes back to what we've said all along: individual tests are completely unreliable. We don't entirely throw out the old 40, but that big of a jump in the 40 is not entirely atypical. It happens. Just like we don't trust the 4.41 with absolute certainty, we don't dismiss the 4.66. Is his true speed more likely around a 4.5? Probably, yes. We should keep this in our minds as we evaluate his numbers.

Ex-NFL lineman Stephen White did a better job breaking Barr down than I can, so I'd just recommend reading that here if you're interested in hearing more.

I'm not sure if he'll be available at 1.32, but he definitely feels a little Seahawk-y. Bigger, faster, stronger. Yep, he fits.

Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville, 120 rSPARQ, 124 pSPARQ

In terms of players who hit the average Seattle values of build and athleticism, there may not be a closer player than Smith. He's not as dominant athletically as either Denmark or Barr, but he's still right in the range that we tend toward. His SPARQ is lower mainly because of the speed component, but, as discussed earlier, this can be mitigated by a player's ability to explode at the snap. From all reports, Smith is considered elite in this area.

This is an interesting one as Seattle was present at his pro day and Smith's been a favorite of Field Gulls for a long time. Jared Stanger was writing articles about Smith far before the Seahawks pasted Denver in the Super Bowl. Here's one from October. I'm really not sure Smith would make it past pick 2.32; this feels like a live one.

There are more players who fit the prototype, including the very interesting Marcus Thompson. I don't have a ton of time to devote to watching film on every guy, so I'm sure there are a few more names hidden in the list who make a lot of sense.

We're almost through the series now -- we'll return early next week with a look at the linebacking crew.

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