NFL Draft 2014 SPARQ Profiling, Part 9 - Safety

Michael Chang

In the final positional piece of the SPARQ profiling series, we'll look at the Seattle safety prototype and what players in the 2014 draft may fit the mold.

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

SPARQ Profiling, Part 6: LEO

SPARQ Profiling, Part 7: Linebacker

SPARQ Profiling, Part 8: Cornerback

Note: This article's a little later than I had anticipated for a few reasons: real life was busy this week, and SBN ate my homework. I re-wrote most of the article, which is why it's a little abbreviated.

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

As we've done for all previous position groups, it's important to first contextualize the results which our model will produce. Just taking the numbers out of the far-right column takes away all the nuance of the data, so let's set some expectations and guidelines to which we can later refer.

This post will be a bit more difficult to parse as there's really two types of players we're covering at once, with both free and strong safeties represented in this analysis. Ultimately, I don't think there's much value in stretching it out to two posts, so we'll cover both here and keep an eye out for any difference in athletic profile between the two.

The following table represents most (all?) safeties acquired in the PCJS era. Included are a few camp body types to give the data full breadth.

Existingds_medium

First, we return rSPARQ to the fold. For the previous eight position groups, the Seahawks rated much better in pSPARQ than rSPARQ. This is because Seahawks generally don't have great bench press results, but are excellent broad jumpers.

Well, revise to that "Seahawks who don't play the safety position." The results for Seattle safeties are markedly different than they are for all other position groups.

Dsstats_medium

This is where we leave behind the last two weeks of articles and start valuing the bench press. It's pretty incredible that the parameters change so dramatically, but it's so different from the other position groups that it's hard to see as coincidence. The typical Seattle safety is a good bench presser and a poor performer in the vertical leap and broad jump, relative the average of all 2014 draft-eligible safeties in the Tony Wiltshire database.

This isn't just a case of our sample being biased by the inclusion of too many strong safeties, either. While you'd expect a player like Kam Chancellor to have a better bench press and worse shuttle time or broad jump than a smaller free safety-type, even players like Earl Thomas have better relative bench press than broad jump.

For this reason, I'll be sorting the safety tables by rSPARQ and not pSPARQ. I don't believe that either metric is more correct. Numerical modeling is about understanding what you're doing and doing everything possible to objectively evaluate results with the aim of learning about behavior.  We're not using rSPARQ because it's convenient, we're using it because it seems to do a better job of projecting future Seahawks, and that's what we're trying to do here.

Prototype Refinement

Because at surface level the only correlation among Seattle safeties is above-average athleticism, it's worthwhile to inspect physical parameters in an attempt to discern a pattern. It's true that both strong safeties drafted by Seattle (Chancellor and Winston Guy) had 33" arms, far outside the normal arm length for a safety. Beyond that, there's not much of a trend with Seattle safeties and size. What we can say is that, in general, Seahawks won't have below-average arm length (probably >31") and they will almost certainly be 200 lbs. While 200 lbs sounds like a pretty easy bar to clear, it's actually the average weight for all safeties in the draft class. By definition, then, half of the prospects are under the typical Seattle lower bound.

As far as athletic parameters, it's fairly striking that the team values speed and agility over explosiveness, which is typically defined by the vertical and broad jump.  With Chancellor as an obvious outlier, Seattle safeties are very fast and agile. It's worth noting that Chancellor's ability to move seems to have markedly improved from his time at the combine, possibly due to similar training to that of Byron Maxwell, who improved his agility through hot yoga. He's not Earl Thomas, but his pass break-up against Wes Welker in the Super Bowl showed a fairly impressive level of lateral fluidity.

Historical Context

To give an idea of what a safety score looks like, below is a table which lists a group of (mostly) current players. There's no intentional selection bias, and there's varying levels of performance among the sample group, i.e. some players are certainly better than others.

Historicalds_medium

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 (roughly) the same. The average safety is at a 104 rSPARQ and 102 pSPARQ.

All data provided for the SPARQ study is courtesy of Tony Wiltshire.

2014draft_ds_medium

Highlights

We'll briefly look at a few players in the 2014 class who may fit the Seattle mold.

Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State, 124 rSPARQ, 124 pSPARQ

Bucannon visited the VMAC this week, and it's pretty easy to see why. His numbers fit right into the average at bench press, 40, shuttle, and 3-cone. 6'1", 216 lbs, and 32-3/8" arms make for a pretty intriguing prospect, and it's not just that he's a physical specimen. As we discussed in the LEO post about Brandon Denmark, some players know how to deliver impulse and make the opposing ballcarrier stop dead in the their tracks. As a Husky fan, I've seen Bucannon play phenomenally against my teams for years, and I'd much rather he be on my side.

His draft stock is currently sitting at second day, and Seattle has not typically spent a lot draft capital on mortal safeties. Because of this, I'm somewhat dubious that the VMAC visit is pointing toward Bucannon becoming a Seahawk.

Camren Hudson, FS, Troy, 129 rSPARQ, 118 pSPARQ

I haven't seen any film on Hudson, but from a purely physical perspective, he's special. He's shorter, like Earl, but makes up for it with length (32-1/2" arms) and quickness. His explosiveness numbers are good but not off the charts, and he's a surprisingly great bench presser for a player who weighed in at 199 lbs. With Chris Maragos gone, we are likely looking for a backup safety available as a UDFA, and Hudson seems as likely as any.

Also: thanks to Field Gulls writer and pro day sleuth Jared Stanger, we know that Seattle was present at Troy's pro day.

L.J. McCray, SS, Catawba, 132 rSPARQ, 127 pSPARQ

I have no idea what a Catawba is. Let's turn to Wikipedia.

Catawba College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college in Salisbury, North Carolina, USA. Founded in 1851 by the North Carolina Classis of the Reformed Church in Newton, the college adopted its name from its county of origin, Catawba County, before moving to its current home of Salisbury in 1925.

Source: Wikipedia

So, that's what a Catawba is. Not only did our favorite Catawba-ian L.J. McCray have the privelige of attending U.S. News and World Report's 17th-best university in the south, but he also happens to be a phenomenal athlete. 32-1/2" arms, elite shuttle time (4.07s), a 4.52s 40, and 24 reps on the bench press. He looks like a priority free agent type.

McCray's interesting in that he attended the Wake Forest pro day. With the buzz surrounding Wake fullback Nikita Whitlock, we know that Seattle was present. If the Whitlock talk is smoke, I wonder if McCray or fellow SPARQ all-star OLB Carlos Fields are where the actual interest lies.

Lonnie Ballentine, SS, Memphis, 120 rSPARQ, 122 pSPARQ

Ballentine is probably the closest thing we have to a Kam Chancellor in the draft. 6'3", 219 lbs, and 33" arms make for a pretty intriguing physical specimen.  He has slow shuttle and 3-cone times, like Chancellor, but possesses freakish straight-line speed, with 4.39s ranking among the top times among all safeties. Ballentine embodies everything about the stated goal of bigger, faster, and stronger.

With that, the positional series is over. Because I started writing before a lot of the data was in, some of the earlier positions are incomplete. I hope to at some point put together an updated post with SPARQ tables that reflect all pro day data, but that will probably have to wait until next week.

As always, let me know if there's any questions or comments you have regarding the analysis. I'll probably be back around in May when we have a draft to evaluate. May 8th can't get here fast enough.

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