Happy Fourth of July! Celebrating with fireworks, hot dogs, and beer is traditional Independence Day stuff, and nothing is more American than celebrating by blowing stuff up.
But I cover the Vikings, and the first thing I think of when I hear “explosiveness” is explosion off the line of scrimmage. With that in mind, can we quantify who the most explosive players on the roster are?
It’s always inexact, but we can at least look at the best measures of explosiveness we have at our disposal and apply them to the 90-man (or rather, 88-man) roster the Vikings are currently slated to carry into camp.
I took every NFL player’s vertical leap and broad jump scores, and created an “expected score” for all players for each of those combine metrics based on their height and weight.
We know that jumping 37 inches high in the vert is more impressive at 280 pounds than it is at 185 pounds, but we needed a way to compare a 36-inch jump at 225 pounds to a 37-inch jump at 210 pounds.
After finding “expected” scores for all the heights and weights, I subtracted the actual score a player put up against his expected score and standardized those to all the other combine scores (one inch over expectation is different in the vertical leap than it is in the broad jump). The players with the highest standardized score in both the broad jump and vertical are the most explosive players.
But we had to account for age, too. Danielle Hunter performed his combine at 20 years old, when he wouldn’t produce his best possible scores. Terence Newman killed the combine when he performed, but he’s 37 years old now—not nearly the athlete he once was.
So, I used a model from a study that looked at how sprinters age over the course of their life, and made it more aggressive to account for the fact that football skills atrophy quicker and explosiveness in particular declines faster than long speed.
It’s a rough model, but it should give us what we want.
With all that in mind, let’s look at the ten most explosive players on the roster, as well as some near-misses.
Honorable Mention: Terence Newman, CB
When looking at explosion scores from the combine alone, without accounting for any aging, Newman was the third-most explosive athlete. Though most players on this list showed up to the combine with some heft to their frame, Newman was able to post top scores with the handicap of performing at 189 pounds. His 41-inch vertical and 11’4″ broad jump were extremely impressive, and his broad jump is the best on the team’s.
Honorable Mention: Brian Robison, DE
Robison would have ranked fourth, right behind Newman, and it’s easy to forget for some people how athletic he was at the combine. You’ll find a good representation in his athleticism chart over at Mockdraftable. His vertical jump was better than any other defensive end at that year’s combine, and topped most other years, too. Robison’s vertical leap of 40.5″ is the highest on the team, tied for first with two players who made the list.
Honorable Mention: Adrian Peterson, RB
You were going to see Peterson here or on the actual top ten, and he’s not too far off of it as it is—two years ago, at age 29, he would have cracked the top ten. At age 22, when he performed at the combine, he would have ranked ninth among all Vikings players. It’s easy to see how one of history’s best running backs made his way into record books.
10. MyCole Pruitt
Tight ends tend to be physical specimens and the Vikings more than most. With a very-nearly strict profile of grabbing tight ends who ran under a 4.70-second 40-yard dash while still putting up 250 pounds on the scale, it’s a limited selection the Vikings generally look for. Pruitt fits that mold, and his 38-inch vertical leap at 251 pounds is impressive and it may be a reason why the Vikings are comfortable with him learning a variety of roles. As a shorter tight end, he’ll need to generate as many advantages as possible to be the matchup nightmare the Vikings drafted him to be.
9. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR
No one should be surprised to see Patterson on this list, given all the attention his athleticism has garnered him. The question for him isn’t how he can corral his explosiveness—which, at age 25, should be at its peak—but whether or not he can live up to the praise he’s received this past offseason and at least partially justify his draft pick.
8. Anthony Barr, LB
We know that Barr is an explosive player, but he actually creates more explosion from his much-improved technique than he does from his natural gifts. A broad jump of 10’6″ is good for a 230-pound player, but at 255 pounds, Barr has power.
7. T.J. Clemmings, OT
The only offensive lineman on this list, Clemmings’ tremendous upside was supposed to be appealing, but his scant two years of offensive line play prior to suiting up for Minnesota showed up when forced to play. Clemmings has a lot more to do before that explosiveness translates into on-field talent.
6. Moritz Böhringer, WR
At 227 pounds, the German phenom leaped 39 inches high and jumped 10’11” far—an extremely impressive feat. Also impressive is the fact that he is just one of two players on this list to make it below the age of 24. Because athletes will peak around age 26, making the list as a 22-year old is uncommon.
5. Eric Kendricks, LB
It seems easy to forget Eric Kendricks’ athleticism. His current and former teammate, Anthony Barr, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds at 255 pounds, and Kendricks’ 4.61-second 40 at 232 pounds seems like a distant consolation. But in terms of pure explosiveness per pound, Kendricks has him beat. His 38-inch vertical leap never seems to get mentioned when people talk about his athleticism, and his broad jump is only an inch behind Barr’s.
That vertical leap is impressive for a receiver, much less a linebacker.
4. Charles Johnson, WR
The former Grand Valley State product has definitely outperformed his seventh-round draft projection, and is a dark horse to start for the Vikings this year. One of the ways that he captured the eye of Norv Turner was his excellent explosiveness, demonstrated by his 39.5-inch vertical leap and team-best 10’1″ broad jump. While Johnson has to do more to turn that leaping ability into red-zone effectiveness, the tools are definitely there for him. He needs to be careful, though; at 27 years of age, his explosiveness is ready to drop off just around the corner.
3. Xavier Rhodes, CB
One of the triplets taken by the Vikings in the first round of the 2013 draft, Rhodes’ resume was built on length, speed and explosion. While his agility scores were never impressive, his explosive ability has always been on display—with his 40.5″ vertical leap topping the team (along with Brian Robison and the number one player on our list).
2. Danielle Hunter, DE
At only 21 years old, his place on the list is incredible, and he’ll overtake the top Viking in two years. At 26, he’ll be beyond almost anyone in the league. The highlight for Hunter in this study has to be his 130-inch broad jump; only five other players on the team have jumped further than 10’10” and they’re all 215 pounds or lighter. Hunter jumped it at 252 pounds.
1. Jerick McKinnon, RB
I don’t think it’s any surprise that the most athletic player in the 2014 draft, and the most athletic player on the roster, ended up on the top of a list designed to reward a subset of combine scores.
Everyone who has followed McKinnon coverage over the past two years knows he’s an athletic wunderkind. Zach Whitman, the internet’s current most well-known curator of the Nike all-around athleticism Sparq metric had this to say:
No other running back has an athletic profile similar to that of Jerick McKinnon. Backs with McKinnon’s speed, lower-body explosiveness and upper-body strength just don’t exist. He’s truly unique.
He’s also a freak. An average NFL skill position player will ring in at around a 110 pSPARQ, a good athlete at 120, and very good at 130. Elite is about 140, and the 150+ range is reserved for Calvin Johnson, Vernon Davis, and a select few others. McKinnon’s 147.5 is one of the top scores among all running backs over the last 16 years.
Hopefully, McKinnon will make good on that athleticism sooner rather than later. So far, the returns have been good.