NFL Draft 2014 SPARQ Profiling, Part 5 - Defensive Line

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Because there's no better way to start off a Wednesday than reading 2000 words on obscure defensive line prospects.

If you missed earlier entries in the series, it'd 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

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.

Reality Check

This is the fifth post in a pretty short period of time, and it can be easy to lose track of what we're doing. Our first goal in all of these posts is to see if there's a player type which Seattle tends to select for the position. So far, every position studied has had the same primary result: Seattle players are much more athletic than the average draft prospect. We don't have the data to see how Seattle players compare to the rest of the league, but that's not really the point here. We want to isolate the Seahawk-y prospects.

At the same time, not all players will be SPARQ-freaks. This isn't intended as an absolute rule to follow when evaluating prospects, particularly at a position like defensive line.

Existing Roster

Out of all position groups, defensive line is probably the most challenging to write about. It's not like running back, where Seattle almost always selects a player who's right around 5'10" and 220 lb; to maximize value, Seattle uses many different player types in specialized roles along the defensive line.

With this being a more difficult sample to analyze, there are two ways to approach it: (1) break everything down to micro-scale, or (2) include all defensive linemen in the same post and use common sense to make sure we stay on the right track. The problem with the first option is that many of our linemen are unique and don't really fit in with the rest. Brandon Mebane is really the only Brandon Mebane on the roster; similarly, we don't have two Red Bryants hanging around.

I thus decided to cover all defensive linemen except LEOs in this post, using a larger data set than before to help draw our conclusions. We'll define the lower end of our defensive line scale as Michael Bennett, with Cliff Avril considered as a LEO. What this means is that Mebane and Bennett are covered in the same post. Not ideal, but we'll have to make it work.

Because of this heterogeneity, I used the same normalization for the whole group. There's too many shades of gray to discretize positionally, as players like Red or Ra'Shede Hageman defy easy definition.

Note on the following table: the averages (of all 2014 draft prospects) for defensive linemen are lower than that of running backs or receivers. In general, defensive ends average 95, defensive tackles 90, and nose tackles 85.

Existingdl_medium

This table excludes the "camp body" type players that I also used in my analysis (in the interest of full disclosure, the full table is available here). The camp body players do tend to be above-average in SPARQ, but they skew the average lower. I've omitted them because we're not trying to predict what veterans we'll sign to compete in training camp. I want to know what players we tend to acquire through the draft, priority free agency, and trade. All such players are represented in the above table; Kenneth Boatright was drafted at 254 lb, but was included as it's been said that he's bulking up to function as an interior pass-rusher.The following table shows Seattle defensive linemen relative to the 2014 draft.

Dl_stats_medium

It's fairly easy to draw conclusions at this point. First, to dispel the notion that I'm comparing apples to oranges, I'm comparing all Seattle defensive linemen to all draft-eligible defensive linemen (excluding LEOs, as before). While this isn't perfect, the average weight of the Seattle group is actually 5 pounds heavier than that of the draft class, so the results aren't arising because we're comparing Clinton McDonald and Michael Bennett to Louis Nix. Both consider fairly similar average player types.

Arm length wasn't considered here even though it's anecdotally an important parameter for Seattle. It's hard to find results for players beyond the last draft class or two. We'll still keep an eye on it as we look at prospects.

As with the receivers group, the results of our study are intuitive.. Seattle obviously values speed, lower-body explosiveness, and agility in their defensive linemen. Again, there is no correlation with bench press.

Historical Context

Because it's fun and gives us a wider context in which to place our metrics, the following table presents some current player SPARQ results. There's no intentional selection bias. I tried to include players representative of full spectrum from nose tackle to 4-3 end.

Historicaldl_medium

Obviously, SPARQ doesn't work as well for players like Calais Campbell, who's a phenomenal player. His length is a large part of what makes him special, and SPARQ is blind to length. This is just a reminder that, in processing results for some players (*cough*, Ra'Shede Hageman, *cough*), you have to consider SPARQ's blind spots.

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 numbers for ends are 100, tackles 95, and nose tackles 85.

Defensive line is a very gray area, so the positional definitions presented here are not intended to be absolute. Tony Wiltshire provided the data for this exercise and has players grouped by position, so I figured it'd be easiest to stick with what he's defined. Most 3-4 defensive end prospects are included in the defensive end table, with some listed among the defensive tackles. Again, the formula is the same, so the tables are only separated to provide better context; we simply separate them so that it's easier to compare apples to apples. If you feel that I've miscategorized a player's position, feel free to drop a line in the comments. I can make adjustments later.

Nose Tackles

2014draft_nt_medium

Defensive Tackles

2014draft_dt_medium

Defensive Ends

2014draft_de_medium

Pretty interesting to see that two of the consensus top prospects in the draft, Aaron Donald and Jadeveon Clowney, rank first in their respective categories. Athleticism does not come cheap on the defensive line.

OL Candidates

For two years running, the Seahawks have grabbed a SPARQ freak DL in the seventh round and converted that player into an offensive guard. Why is this? Well, on average, defensive linemen are more athletic (by SPARQ, at least) than their offensive counterparts.

Oltodlcomp_medium

I hope that the table above is as striking to all of you as it was to me. Included in the table are two prospects, Gustave Benthin (name!) and Beau Allen. The other four are late-round or UDFA Seahawk acquisitions from the past three seasons. You may notice that they all happen to play guard and are the four highest-ranking Seahawks OL by SPARQ.

We can pretty clearly state the following: Seattle tends to acquire high SPARQ offensive guards in late rounds or as priority free agents. In light of this, Beau Allen and Gustave Benthin are quite interesting.

With Schneider's comments last Tuesday, I retooled the pSPARQ formula to include broad jump, as discussed in Part 2 of this series.. As this was after the initial publishing of the offensive line article, the metric in that article did not consider the broad jump. I've updated the OL pSPARQ and the following numbers are all based on this new formulation.

Gustave Benthin, DT, Western Oregon, 123 rSPARQ, 130 pSPARQ (as OL)

Gustave! Since it doesn't make much sense to target players who are highly rated as defensive linemen, lower-profile types will tend to be the ones who make the switch to o-line. I know nothing about Gustave and haven't been able to find any video online. Regardless, by a purely numerical basis, he's a shorter J.R. Sweezy, with the caveat that we have no reported arm length for Benthin. Beyond the few inches in height, there's almost nothing different. They're the same weight and same athlete. He's the only defensive lineman who scores over a 125 in the offensive line pSPARQ metric.

On the other hand, he apparently did not attend the VMAC regional combine in March and there have been no ties (of which I'm aware, at least) to Seattle at this point. I'll be watching Gustave's status closely and would not be surprised to see him come in as an undrafted free agent.

UPDATE: a reader sent in a Gustave Benthin highlight reel from 2012. Watch here.

Beau Allen, NT, Wisconsin, 122 rSPARQ, 120 pSPARQ (as OL)

Now here's an interesting name. I asked Field Gulls' Jared Stanger about Allen, and the feeling is that Beau is "Just A Guy" at nose tackle. He doesn't quite fit the 300 lb athletic right guard mold of Sweezy and Smith, but his body type is remarkably similar to that of Seahawk left guards James Carpenter and Michael Bowie. The one negative for Allen? Relatively short arms at 32-1/4".

To sum: he played at Wisconsin, the school that has produced more Seahawks than any other since Schneider took over as GM. He's pretty average at his current position, with low draft stock and likely availability in the seventh round or free agency. His 120 pSPARQ at 333 lb is incredible, far above two of the lower-SPARQ Seahawks Carpenter and Bowie.

Schneider also attended a Wisconsin game this season, which may signal some interest. There's a lot of circumstantial evidence that points to Allen as being a great candidate for Seattle's offensive line.

There are other names that might work as well, but I only chose to spotlight these two. You might also look out for Kona Schwenke (would need to add 10 lbs), Francis Bah, and Austin Brown. Here's a table showing all of the top candidates.

DL Highlights

Some organization also select defensive linemen with the intent to play them at defensive line. Here's a few standouts.

Ra'Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota, 127 rSPARQ, 120 pSPARQ

Ra'Shede Hageman is the first guy that walks off of the team bus.

This is my pick at 1.32. I'm not sure that he'll be available, but the draft could fall that way and leave him sitting there. In the Field Gulls podcast posted on Monday, Derek Stephens compared Hageman to Quinton Coples, a hyper-athletic 3-4 end, which means he'd play a hybrid 5T/3T role in Seattle. He has phenomenal length (34-1/4" arms), fluidity, and athleticism for a 311-lb human being; he's special as he could function both as a run-stopper and pass-rusher at 5-tech in Seattle's base defense. As noted in the podcast, he could move inside in nickel situations.

You have to put his SPARQ in context; not only is he the second-highest ranked defensive tackle in the draft, but he also fits into the player type that tends to be most overlooked by SPARQ, as noted earlier with Campbell. Now, there are effort concerns with Hageman that aren't ideal, particularly in a first-rounder. I noted in the comments of Monday's WR post that I'd prefer not take risks with athletic wide receivers at high draft slots, mainly because there are smany athletic receivers that play at smaller schools and come with a more affordable price tag. Defensive line is a whole different ballgame. Upper-echelon athleticism is only available at a high cost, and I'm much more willing to take a risk.

For me, the fact that he's in the SPARQ blind spot and still manages to stand out is incredible. Hageman, please.

Terrence Fede, DE, Marist, 123 rSPARQ, 132 pSPARQ

Fede is a Clint McDonald clone. Though he's a little less explosive than Clint in the vertical and broad jump tests, he makes up for it with slightly better times in the 3-cone and shuttle. At 277 lbs and 33-7/8" arms, he would slot into the late-down interior pass-rusher role once filled by McDonald and Jason Jones, among others. I isolated Fede as a potential pick, and then just happened to do some googling around...

Buffalo Bulls Pro Day Recap

Oh, Terrence Fede attended. And the Seattle Seahawks attended. Hmmm.

Watch this space.

Zach Moore, DE, Concordia St. Paul, 114 rSPARQ, 123 pSPARQ

Let's see: explosive broad jump, good speed, and an elite shuttle time. 33-3/4" arms aren't elite, but aren't a hindrance either. Check, check, check. Moore would also work as an interior pass-rusher and would probably be available as a priority free agent. Let's check to see what pro day he attended...

University of Minnesota Pro Day

Nineteen NFL teams represented, including Seattle. Hmmm.

This isn't intended to be a full list of potential prospects; I'm also intrigued by Zach Kerr, Rakim Cox, and Gannon Conway, among others. I haven't watched tape on these players, so I'm not providing any judgment of their ability to actually play football; the numbers simply suggest that they have the physical aptitude for football and fit the Seattle mold.

This was one of my favorite pieces to do as I feel pretty good about the guys we've isolated as potential targets. We'll probably be taking a look at the LEO position on Friday.

As always, if you have any questions about methodology or ideas on how to improve the process, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

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