The third day of this weekend’s combine is done and all defensive front seven players have done their work. Time to see who’s helped and who’s hurt themselves.
The offensive players are all through with their drills at the NFL Combine, and now the defensive front seven are completed. All that remains are the defensive secondary players who will take the field Monday. There were plenty of winners and losers on Sunday as the defensive lineman and linebackers measured out and did their drills. Both defensive end and defensive tackle are heavily athletic ability-dependent positions both in terms of draft status and in terms of NFL success. Linebacker isn’t as dependent as the others for NFL success but is very correlative to draft slotting. These players’ performances are heavily scrutinized by NFL front offices, so let’s take a look at who helped and hurt their cases the most.
Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
This blows my mind. Solomon Thomas rated out as more athletic than Khalil Mack. They win in completely different ways, but just wow! #RAS pic.twitter.com/Isi1XyggS6— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 5, 2017
If you, as a Detroit Lions fan, had any hope that Solomon Thomas would slip to the 21st overall pick and the team could snatch him up, the combine is going to put a kibosh on that pretty quick. As shown above, Solomon Thomas measured better at DE than Khalil Mack. But he’s a DT, you say! He also measured out better as a DT than Aaron Donald did. Solomon Thomas was rated in the 20s earlier in the year because people didn’t quite realize how good he is. Now they know and he could be off the board in the second or third picks. Why not first? Because Myles Garrett’s RAS currently sits at 9.98 for DE: The second best of all time. And he was already considered the top player in this draft class.
Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State
Jordan Willis finished 12th for all DE since 1999 for #RAS. His 20 split will likely put him top 10. pic.twitter.com/ChYrB8nn4B— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 5, 2017
Jordan Willis has gotten a bunch of attention this offseason from Pro Football Focus, who have him rated out as one their best players coming into the draft. His athletic potential was always there, but I don’t think many realized just how much. His 1.54 10-yard split (shown as 1.58 above since the prelim numbers use only the players’ first 10 split) was the best at the combine since Cliff Avril in 2008, and second best since 1999. Incredible explosion scores and agility drills wowed evaluators at the combine and his stock is set to rise.
T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin
T.J. Watt was compared to Clay Matthews earlier, but his numbers should actually exceed that if he has above average agility drills. #RAS pic.twitter.com/RxtXLkV9p3— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 5, 2017
The Wisconsin linebacker has been in and out of first round consideration for months now with some thinking his tape has put him in that general area in its own right and others claiming it’s birthright that seems to have clouded people’s evaluations. Whichever is true, putting up a top tier combine performance can do nothing but help your chances at getting drafted earlier. It’s pretty lofty to think that Watt can live up to big brother’s career expectations, but Watt is a good linebacker and, as we are now able to show, an elite athlete.
Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
The combine wasn't kind to Charles Harris. Very few pass rushers with this low of #RAS succeed in the NFL, but it's happened. pic.twitter.com/waVJUoOYCh— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 5, 2017
Pass rushers who made the Pro Bowl had an RAS over 5.00 more than three times as often than those who had a score of below average. If that wasn’t glaring enough, 22 of the 41 pro bowlers who qualified for RAS, more than half, had an RAS in the elite 8.00-10.00 range. That’s twice as many (nine) as had a score below 5.00. Only three Pro Bowl DE had a RAS lower than Charles Harris. Two of them were 3-4 DE (who often measure much better as DT) while the third was Michael Bennett, who went undrafted. Having a poor RAS isn’t going to torpedo a player’s chances of getting drafted highly or becoming great, but it’s going to make the former less likely and the latter more difficult.
Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
Caleb Brantley salvaged his score a bit with strong agi numbers, but not enough to pull his score back over average. #RAS pic.twitter.com/nJeSRiXXoF— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 5, 2017
Caleb Brantley is one of the most mocked players to the Lions in the first round this offseason. He has drawn comparisons to Nick Fairley and other interior pass rushers as a disruptive and explosive player off the line who sometimes has trouble remaining consistent. The combine didn’t show an explosive player, and while he posted slightly above average agility numbers, those aren’t really an area that he’s consistently won with. We’re left with more questions than answers, and defensive tackle has the same basic Pro Bowl rates for RAS as defensive end does. Only two DT have made a Pro Bowl with a lower RAS than Caleb Brantley. One is Kyle Williams, who was drafted over a decade ago, and the other is Jurrell Casey who was drafted in the third round.
Takkarist McKinley and Tim Williams, DEs
Two of the biggest disappointments for me today. I expected both Tim Williams and Takk McKinley to show off at the combine. #RAS pic.twitter.com/Sk3XgaMRsm— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 5, 2017
I know, I’m cheating by naming two. Fast and explosive, both Takk McKinley and Tim Williams only needed to post alright agility numbers to put their numbers well above average or even elite. Both came into the combine billed as some of the best athletes in the draft, but neither was able to impress much. They’ll both end up above average for their final grade once factoring in their final splits, but these are two guys I expected to be in the 8.50+ range. That both will likely finish below 6.00 RAS is disappointing to say the least. Both measured out with speed and explosion scores that are good, but neither exceeded expectations in any area. The value of each was late first round and while neither did anything to push themselves down at the combine, they are each facing other questions off the field that a stronger athletic showing could have mitigated.