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NFL Draft 2015: A quick note on Davis Tull, the outlier

In which I try to make sense of a very different kind of prospect. One of these [players] is not like the others.

This is one of just two Davis Tull pictures in the Getty database.
This is one of just two Davis Tull pictures in the Getty database.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Before I begin: I'll refer to pSPARQ, simScore, and other things that may be unfamiliar. Please refer to the FAQ posted at my blog if you have any questions. I've also posted extensively on the subject of SPARQ here at FieldGulls. If you're interested, all SPARQ rankings for the 2015 class can be found here.


Davis Tull and Vic Beasley both performed very, very well at the NFL Combine in February. While Beasley's freak show fueled top-5 talk, we still aren't entirely sure what to make of Tull. A defensive end with a 1.52 10-split, 42.5" vertical, and 11' broad jump just sounds like a high draft pick. But those numbers from a player who competed in the Southern Conference and whose arms measured in at 31-1/4"? There's a lot more to unpack there.

Tull recently described himself as a late-bloomer, which meant that he wasn't recruited by elite college programs out of high school. A broken leg during his senior year led him to end up a Chattanooga Moc, where he three-peated as the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year. Even with the production at UTC, he wasn't well-known before he blew up Indianapolis. Well, a few people had an inkling, but he was largely anonymous.

(I am shameless. Sorry, gang.)

I don't have a clear answer for what to make of Davis Tull, mainly because we haven't seen a Davis Tull before. His arm length of 31-1/4" is extremely short for the position, existing in a range for which we have almost no data. Is it possible for an EDGE player to succeed with an arm length more typical of a running back than a pass rushers?

The arm length concern isn't completely unheard of in the NFL, with both Matt Roth (30-7/8" arm length) and Rob Ninkovich (31-1/2") representing successful pass rushers with limited wingspan. Still, only six EDGE players have even been drafted since 1999 with an arm length less than 31-3/4", as shown in the following table.


We can see pretty clearly that there's no Davis Tull on that list, with the top player maxing out at a 0.9 z-score. This is really the problem; it's tough to make smart predictions about players who fall so far outside of the typical distribution. Data analysis relies upon identifying trends and exploiting them to find value, but there's no trend with Tull. He's the rarest of prospects, the kind that's unique in my 17-year prospect database.

Davis Tull has the second-highest pSPARQ of any EDGE player from 1999 to present. This isn't just another good athlete from a small school; Tull is Combine Godzilla, ready to wreck buildings and offensive linemen with equal aplomb and impossibly short arms.

In Ninkovich and Roth, we have at least enough data to suggest that the "can't have short arms" hypothesis might be flawed. Tull is a great, very-great, super-great athlete, the kind of rare athlete for whom we bend the rules. And even in the case that he ends up unable to make an impact as a pass rusher, he has the athleticism to play SAM linebacker in a base defense, a la Bruce Irvin for the Seahawks.

There's trepidation about the arm length, small school pedigree, and bum shoulder, all of which are pretty terrifying. Tull is projected as a third-round prospect and would probably be projected in the first round without the questions about his health, pedigree, and frame. While all three of those issues have been overcome before, but this is a case where three negative indicators are stacked on top of each other. He's in the discount bin for a reason, and it's not entirely unreasonable.

Even knowing all of that, I find myself hoping that Tull ends up playing for my Seattle Seahawks. Damn the torpedoes; bring me Combine Godzilla.