Adding data and analytical tools to the NFL draft process is a story as old as time — Gil Brandt and programmer A. Salam Qureishi developed a computerized process to help identify future Dallas Cowboys back in 1960, and new tools have been continuously added in the decades following.
The priority will always remain with traditional scouting; traits-based analysis that relies on personal observation and subjective judgment produces excellent results, but it can always be made better.
We’re going to try our hand at using data to improve our predictions by allowing three essential types of data to modify the rankings of the Consensus Big Board, though never by too much.
Players will be evaluated through their age, athletic profile and production. Every dimension of these testing profiles have been tested against history to see what kind of production or athleticism historically produces strong NFL results, though some positions are more difficult to evaluate using the statistical tools we have today.
For example, running backs and quarterbacks don’t currently lend themselves well to statistical profiles modeled off of college production or athleticism, though those tools still can help. Wide receivers, on the other hand, can be fairly well-modeled using both athleticism and production metrics.
We’ll craft an “Analytic Big Board” that modifies the rankings of the Consensus Big Board with the data we have, which you can find with the other big boards here.
Below, we’ve detailed the prospects in the draft with the 20 best analytical profiles, broken into those three categories. Each category is calibrated so that 100 is average, with higher scores being better. Roughly, every 15 points in a category indicates one tier up the ladder.
Which prospects are most helped with a second look at the data?
The prospects below are ordered by their rank on the Consensus Big Board.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 115.8 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 118.3 | AGE SCORE: 121.8
FINAL SCORE: 127.6
For a prospect expected to go in the top three of the draft, having a friendly analytical profile isn’t more meaningful than simply to confirm what evaluators have already seen. For running backs, college production and athleticism have historically been difficult to track to NFL success. However, the folks at Rotoviz have found that running back models that take into account per-game rushing, receiving and return yards do give us a look into total NFL production.
Not only that, athleticism models that split running backs into two types — bellcows and change-of-pace backs — are more successful than looking at it from only one perspective. For big backs like Barkley, the broad jump and 10-yard split matter — one reason that Dalvin Cook’s workouts actually predicted a good back, not a bad one.
For Barkley, a combined 179 all-purpose yards bodes extraordinarily well for his NFL performance. Athletically, his 1.54-second 10-yard split at 233 pounds is extremely impressive. Though he didn’t perform a broad jump at the combine, his unbelievable 41-inch vertical jump points to a likely broad jump of over 10 feet, which makes him a tantalizing prospect.
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 118.7 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: N/A| AGE SCORE: 129.3
FINAL SCORE: 123
For players like Smith, who did not complete the full gamut of tests at the Combine or their pro day, we use a default score of 100 to calculate the final score. In all likelihood, Smith’s athleticism is well-above the average NFL draft prospect and should speak well to his eventual success.
For linebackers, they should perform well in the 20-yard split, short shuttle and broad jump. Roquan’s 20-yard split of 2.63 seconds is excellent; only two linebackers at the NFL Combine beat it — Shaquem Griffin and Leon Jacobs. Even Matthew Thomas, who had the best combine of any linebacker, only tied Smith in the 20-yard split.
His broad jump isn’t quite as good, but still well above-average for a linebacker of his size, and speaks to an excellent athletic profile.
As for production, we’ve found that linebacker performance in the NFL historically correlates with solo tackle market share — percentage of solo tackles on the team that the player accounts for — and tackle-for-loss market share.
In addition to that, he performed well in Pro Football Focus metrics, like yards allowed in coverage as well as a low rate of missed tackles with a high rate of run stuffs at the line of scrimmage.
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 106.1 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 110.7 | AGE SCORE: 131.7
FINAL SCORE: 123.3
Ward is merely above average in productivity and a bit better for athleticism, but shines insofar as he did all of this as an extremely young prospect — which bodes well for his ability to translate in the NFL.
It may seem odd that a cornerback who ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash is only a little better than average athletically, but that’s only one part of an athletic profile. Heavier cornerbacks do better — which Ward is not — as do cornerbacks with length and agility. Ward’s arms are below 31.5 inches, so he receives no bonuses. Ward didn’t do agility drills at the NFL Combine, so they’ve been roughly estimated based on his other measureables, but those are inherently conservative estimates.
As for his productivity, those are based off his yardage allowed in coverage, per PFF, as well as his ability to get his hands on the ball in the form of pass deflections and interceptions. Allowing 0.91 yards allowed per snap in coverage is good but not great, though his two interceptions and 15 passes defensed speak well for him.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 106.6 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: N/A | AGE SCORE: 149.5
FINAL SCORE: 127.7
With a presumed athleticism score of 100, Edmunds’ overall final score is incredibly impressive, and it’s largely built off his age. Edmunds will be 19 years old when drafted and halfway through his 20th year at the end of his rookie season.
His production is fine; he accounts for 17 percent of both his team’s solo tackles as well as tackles for loss. It’s a little above average and doesn’t hit the stellar production profiles of players like Josey Jewell — 21 and 23 percent of his team’s solo tackles and tackles-for-loss — a player who won’t make an appearance on this list because of his subpar athleticism and age scores.
Though his run-stop percentage is elite — eighth of 260 linebackers — his coverage score was almost as mediocre, balancing it out.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 143.5 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: N/A | AGE SCORE: 102.3
FINAL SCORE: 121.7
For the most part, the data we currently have doesn’t mean much with regard to quarterbacks, and traditional scouting tends to matter more. Still, there’s some evidence that the ability to win in the red zone, convert third-and-long, avoid negative rushing yardage (a product of sacks, because the NCAA groups sacks and rush attempts), complete passes beyond 15 yards and generally produce a good adjusted net yards per passing attempt — after accounting for strength of opposition — correlates with NFL success.
Mayfield blows all of those metrics out of the water. As a multiple-college walk-on, his age isn’t fantastic for a prospect but that seemingly has worked out for Carson Wentz.
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 132.7 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 118.2 | AGE SCORE: 127.5
FINAL SCORE: 140.8
Alexander has the single best analytical profile of any college prospect likely to be drafted.
No cornerback prospect had better coverage numbers — he’s the only one to allow a negative adjusted yards per snap in coverage, and allowed a 17.7 passer rating when thrown to — and his athletic profile is phenomenal. He has the size, length, speed and agility to compete, and did it all at a very young age.
Because Alexander’s statistical profile was built off a reasonable, but small sample due to an injury-shortened year, there are lots of reasons to hold back on what this means, but the data altogether paints a pretty picture.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 124.9 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: N/A | AGE SCORE: 127.5
FINAL SCORE: 131.5
The production profiles for quarterbacks do not take into account rushing for most of its metrics — not in adjusted yardage counts, third-down conversions or red zone conversion rate — so it should be pretty meaningful that Jackson ended up with one of the best analytical profiles in the draft.
He, of course, avoided net negative rushing yards, but he doesn’t get bonus points for his 1,601 rushing yards beyond that.
Jackson’s third-down rate and ability to complete passes beyond 15 yards — third-best behind Logan Woodside and Mayfield — speak to his passing capability, as does his ability to convert red-zone appearances into touchdowns, and not just with his legs. His best quality might be his consistent ability to convert third-and-long, where his passing rates right next to Mayfield atop of the field of the draftable quarterbacks, with a good distance between the two of them and the other candidates.
This won’t necessarily assuage concerns that some people might have about his abilities as a passer, but the statistical evidence is certainly favorable. The fact that he did all of this while relatively young as a passer is a big boon.
Connor Williams, OT, Texas
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 122.4 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 124.1 | AGE SCORE: 114.1
FINAL SCORE: 130.3
Like Alexander, Williams’ numbers don’t represent a full 2017 season. Because Pro Football Focus provides us with his 2016 numbers, we used that instead. A change in his college offensive system, one that used significantly less play-action in 2017, should significantly impact his final-year production.
For the purposes of evaluating offensive line production, we evaluated run block success rate — as determined by PFF — and pass blocking efficiency, modified by team sack rate. That way, an offense that gets rid of the ball quickly or one that relies on seven-step drops won’t adversely impact the numbers.
Williams has the second-best team-adjusted pressure rate in the draft, and a high-level run-block success rate. Not only that, he excelled in tests that correlate to offensive tackle success; namely in the short shuttle (4.63 seconds) and broad jump (9’4″) — both among the best in the class.
D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 133.6 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 110.9 | AGE SCORE: 133
FINAL SCORE: 140.3
Though Alexander has the highest score of any player on the list, Moore stands out among every player that played a full 2017 season as having the best statistical profile.
He accounted for a whopping 50 percent of his team’s receiving yards, a nearly unheard of number for a player in a non-triple option offense. Only five players in the past 10 years have been selected in the first two rounds of the draft with more of their college receiving production in a standard college offense: Dez Bryant, Vincent Jackson, Hakeem Nicks, A.J. Jenkins and Rashaun Woods. Immediately below him, in order, are Braylon Edwards, Greg Jennings, DeVante Parker and Calvin Johnson.
Not only that, Moore is younger than most of those players were coming out of the draft.
For receivers of his height, an effective vertical leap and a quick 20-yard split matter quite a lot, while a good three-cone helps. Moore’s 39.5-inch vertical is pretty astounding and his 2.59-second 20-yard split is among the fastest in the class. He also gets bonus points for performing these drills at 210 pounds, instead of something like 180.
Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 122.8 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: N/A | AGE SCORE: 131.9
FINAL SCORE: 126.9
It’s usually difficult to create production profiles for Alabama prospects because of how many talented players end up on its defense. However, once one accounts for the expected draft position of teammates, one can create more accurate production profiles.
His performance in coverage has been stellar. He joins Alexander as one of only two defensive backs to post negative adjusted yards allowed per snap in coverage — and is the only safety to do so.
In addition to that, he had the second-best run defense scores among safeties, with very few missed tackles, a high percentage of his team’s solo tackle share and a high number of run tackles close to the line of scrimmage.
Harrison is the second-youngest safety in the draft — by three days — and thus benefits from a great age score. Without an athleticism score, which would require agility scores from him, his overall analytical profile is excellent. The tests he did perform indicate better-than-average athleticism for the position.
Frank Ragnow, OC, Arkansas
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 126.4 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 130.1 | AGE SCORE: 106.4
FINAL SCORE: 131.7
Minnesota native Frank Ragnow shows up well on film and on the stat sheet. No center comes close to his level of production from a combined pass-blocking and run-blocking perspective.
His run-block success rate is a tier above any other center, and he ranks first in pass-blocking efficiency rate among draftable centers by a good margin. There are almost no other centers who are good at both and he beats out the competition in both categories by a stellar amount.
What’s astounding is that his athletic profile is even better.
While other workouts do matter to some extent, the key workout for centers is the short shuttle, a test he ran better than any center in last year’s draft and ranks third over the past four drafts at an astonishing 4.45 seconds, this year second only to James Daniels. He ends up with a better overall score than Daniels, however, because he blazed by other centers in the 10-yard and 20-yard splits, which have historically correlated with center performance in the NFL — a test Daniels didn’t run.
Justin Reid, S, Stanford
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 102.3 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 117.5 | AGE SCORE: 128.5
FINAL SCORE: 123.2
Many might know Justin Reid as the brother of former 49ers safety Eric Reid, but Justin has performed well as a safety in his own right.
Though his pass coverage scores look relatively mediocre compared to other safeties, one should account for the fact that they look worse because of how often he played nickel corner instead of single-high like a lot of safeties with great coverage numbers. Nevertheless, he makes his hay with excellent run defense scores and above-average athleticism as the next-youngest safety behind Ronnie Harrison.
Josh Sweat, EDGE, Florida
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 94.9 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 132.7 | AGE SCORE: 125.3
FINAL SCORE: 125.8
No other edge defender in the draft has a better analytical profile than Josh Sweat. Though Bradley Chubb and Harold Landry generally do test and perform well, Sweat stands alone as an analytical gem far outpacing his competition.
This all despite his relatively poor production profile, built off of decent, but not great, statistics as a producer of tackles-for-loss and sacks. Despite average numbers behind the line of scrimmage, he did produce a lot of tackles one or two yards just beyond it, marking him as an overall excellent run defender.
More importantly, Sweat shines as an elite athlete at an extremely young age, which should remind Vikings fans of Danielle Hunter. He had a faster 10-yard split than any other edge defender in the class (1.51 seconds), an eye-popping vertical of 39.5 inches that seems to speak to a receiver instead of a defensive lineman, and a sub-seven-second three cone (6.95 seconds) that beats out nearly every defensive back in the class.
Harrison Phillips, DL, Stanford
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 143.7 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 119.2 | AGE SCORE: 108.2
FINAL SCORE: 125.8
Phillips makes this list largely because of his incredible production, though his athletic measurables are better for his projected NFL role than his detractors would like to admit. It’s incredibly rare for a defensive tackle to lead his team in tackles. His run-stopping prowess vaults him to the top of all defensive linemen in terms of his total statistical profile and is one of three players in the entire draft to post a score over 140 in that category.
As a nose tackle, the primary workouts to worry about are broad jump and vertical leap — explosion metrics that matter more for run-stuffers than pass-rushers. He did much better than his nose tackle counterparts in those categories, earning him a fantastic statistical grade.
D.J. Chark, WR, LSU
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 108.1 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 130.4 | AGE SCORE: 122.8
FINAL SCORE: 130.8
Chark represents more athletic potential than on-field production, though his production isn’t bad. Accounting for 33 percent of his team’s receiving yards is actually fairly good for a player of his age, but he gets most of his positive marks here for his fantastic athletic profile.
Taller receivers like Chark historically perform well in the NFL when they win at the vertical and broad jump tests. Though Chark is largely known for his deep threat capabilities and deserves credit for running a 4.34-second 40-yard dash — for which he receives some analytical boost — it’s his 40-inch vertical and 10-foot-9 broad jump that carries most of the weight statistically in this profile.
Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 150.5 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 95.2 | AGE SCORE: 103.7
FINAL SCORE: 123.8
When it comes to receiving market share among tight ends, there’s Andrews, and no one else. Below Andrews is a barren wasteland with no statistical comparison, then Dallas Goedert as a distant second.
After accounting for teammate effects — where players receive a small portion of credit for teammates who will be highly drafted –Andrews was effectively responsible for half of his team’s receiving yards, an unbelievable amount for a tight end and better than all but two receivers in the class.
Andrews has the highest production score of any player at any position in the FBS, with only FCS performer P.J. Hall eking him out. What’s more interesting is that there is some credit given to tight ends who block well, and Andrews is not known for blocking. His blocking was about average for the class, per Pro Football Focus‘ run-blocking grade, and that allows him to pull a score high enough to carry average athleticism and age grades across.
Tight ends typically do well in the passing game with good athletic scores in the 40-yard dash, vertical leap, broad jump and three-cone. Andrews’ 40-yard dash was excellent, but the other three scores were poor.
Given that run-blocking typically correlates with a good 10-yard split, short shuttle and vertical leap, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that he scored about mediocre in that athletic element as well.
Still, that production is worth noting.
Rasheem Green, DL, USC
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 124.1 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 116.0 | AGE SCORE: 130.7
FINAL SCORE: 136.4
Compared to edge defenders, Green’s analytical profile is merely above-average. But as an interior defensive lineman, it looks excellent. At 275 pounds, Green would have to bulk up to play three-technique in the NFL, but his astonishing 4.39-second short shuttle — a score that flies 0.2 seconds below the bar for effective pass-rushing tackles — and his 1.65-second 10-yard split is the best in the class.
Finishing his rookie year at 21.6 years old, he’s also one of the youngest defensive linemen in the draft.
Though he played his fair share of snaps on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle, most of his snaps were inside the offensive line, so it’s appropriate to compare his 12.5 tackles-for-loss and 10 sacks to his peers, where he outpaces even the best defensive tackles in the class.
Green is a curious ‘tweener’ who will have to fight the dreaded “undersized” label even more than the successful defensive tackles who fit that mold, like Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald, who weighed 15-20 pounds more than he did entering the NFL.
Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 117.6 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 118.2 | AGE SCORE: 118.2
FINAL SCORE: 126.5
A popular receiving back option for those looking for change-of-pace players, Hines’ analytical profile fits the bill. Typically, backs of his size need to perform well in the three-cone drill and 10-yard split, and Hines’ pro day score of 6.90-seconds in the three-cone drill beats all but two backs at the combine, while his 10-yard split was second out of all Combine running backs.
Not only that, Hines comes to the draft as a young athlete while also putting up fantastic production in college, with the best all-purpose production in the class. When adding rushing yardage, receiving yardage and return yardage, it’s most effective to multiply punt return yardage by five to see what best translates to NFL success. Once one does that, Hines’ catapults ahead of everybody but Rashaad Penny — even Barkley.
Overall, Hines presents an appealing analytical case for NFL decision-makers.
P.J. Hall, DL, Sam Houston State[wpvideo yNFtaZw6]
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 157.4 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 111.6 | AGE SCORE: 94.4
FINAL SCORE: 132.1
The next two analytic wonders come from small schools. While it seems intuitive to adjust production profiles for small-school prospects in some way, they actually do not produce production scores as high as prospects from Power-5 conferences very often, if at all — of the top 20 this year, only two came from the FCS and only one more came from a Group of 5 school.
Hall’s production, therefore, deserves all the respect that comes with its raw numbers. With 24.5 tackles-for-loss and 13 sacks in his best single-season performances, he doubles the performance of his next-best contemporaries. Potential first-round picks Taven Bryan and Maurice Hurst combined for 19.5 tackles-for-loss and 9.5 sacks — not even close.
A big reason for his production is his solid athletic profile with excellent explosion scores that bode well for a player of his size.
Justin Watson, WR, Pennsylvania
PRODUCTIVITY SCORE: 129.6 | ATHLETICISM SCORE: 131.1 | AGE SCORE: 114.1
FINAL SCORE: 138.8
Watson is the other small-school prospect in the Consensus Top 300 with an intriguing statistical profile. Like Moore, he was one of two receivers in a traditional college offense to claim more than half of his team’s receiving yards — and one of three to even hit 40 percent — and ranks third among all prospects in the Top 300.
A receiver his size should be hitting high marks in the vertical leap and he did just that with his 40-inch vertical. He added to his athletic profile with a very quick 2.60-second 20-yard split. With excellent scores in nearly every athletic category, Watson puts together one of the best workouts in the class.
Prospects Outside of the Top 300 Worth Noting
There are only four prospects ranked between 300 and 500 that put together a strong statistical profile. One of them did so without needing to perform an athletic test because he’s a quarterback — Nick Stevens from Colorado State.
Stevens’ statistical profile is almost as good as Mayfield’s, with a very low sack rate, great completion rate on passes over 15 yards and the best third-and-long conversion rate in the class by a good margin.
The next three prospects have better overall profiles than Stevens, in part because quarterbacks will always have their profile limited by the fact that athletic scores don’t count. The next-most impressive score comes from Frank Ginda, a linebacker from San Jose State. Though his athletic profile is a little below average in the class, he’s one of the youngest players in the class, finishing his rookie year this year at 21.6 years of age. Not only that, he accounted for a good portion of his team’s tackle share without giving up too much in coverage.
Another linebacker with a good age profile but no meaningful production score is Foyesade Oluokun from Yale. Oluokun, like former Vikings linebacker Edmond Robinson did at Newberry, played a lot of snaps at defensive back despite weighing in at 229 pounds. That means gathering his college statistics won’t be that helpful.
That said, his athletic profile is quite possibly better than any other linebacker in the class and this might be the most athletic linebacker class we’ve seen in years, including the wild 2014 class with Anthony Barr, Ryan Shazier, Khalil Mack, Telvin Smith, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Brandon Watts.
Running a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at that weight is extremely impressive but what stands out are his absolutely bonkers vertical (37″) and agility scores (class-best 4.12 seconds in the short shuttle and a class-best 6.94 seconds in the three-cone). He did all of that despite being younger than most of the linebackers in the class.
Finally, the most impressive statistical profile any player put together in the Top 500 — including potential first-round picks — was done by Zach Sieler at Ferris State. An edge rusher in college, he will likely transition to the inside in the NFL. Still, even when measured against edge rushers, his numbers are out-of-control.
His production is better than any other edge rusher in the draft, with 29.5 tackles-for-loss and 19.5 sacks in his peak years. At 290 pounds, he could play inside or outside — like J.J. Watt, who weighed 290 pounds at the combine — and his numbers, compared to his peers, are wild. Despite weighing more than his peers on the edge, he put together a 9-foot-11 broad jump that exceeds almost everybody and ran a 7.01-second three-cone. Compared to interior defenders, he blows them out of the water. He should be interesting to track in the late rounds.