Sack projections for the top edge rushers in the 2018 NFL draft
Nathan Forster
ESPN INSIDER



Last year, the Cleveland Browns used the first overall pick on Myles Garrett, a highly regarded pass-rusher out of Texas A&M. Both the advanced stats and the scouts agreed: Garrett was a bona fide elite talent with abilities commensurate with a No. 1 overall pick. Although Garrett struggled with injuries in his rookie year, overall the early returns have been positive: Garrett recorded 7.0 sacks in only 11 games played.Bradley Chubb, another highly rated edge rusher prospect, likely sits near the top of many teams' draft boards this year. However, according to Football Outsiders' model for projecting edge rushers, SackSEER, the case for drafting Chubb high is not quite as clean as the case for taking Garrett No. 1 overall last year.SackSEER's projections are based on a statistical analysis of the factors that have historically correlated to success as an NFL edge rusher. SackSEER has predicted success for current stars Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Justin Houston. SackSEER also has identified several high-profile busts at the edge rusher position, including Dion Jordan, Marcus Smith and Jarvis Jones. SackSEER had its fair share of misses as well, but it nevertheless provides a good starting point for discussing the likelihood that an edge rusher prospect will collect high sack numbers at the NFL level.For more detail on how SackSEER works, click here to check out the full detail at the bottom of the article.What follows is a ranking of the top edge rusher prospects for 2018, according to our model, and the list does not begin with Chubb:
1. Marcus Davenport, UT San Antonio Roadrunners

SackSEER projection: 25.9 sacks through fifth NFL season
Scouts Inc.: No. 16 overall
Similar historic prospects: Osi Umenyiora, Barkevious Mingo
SackSEER's numbers give Davenport just the slightest edge over the more highly touted Chubb. As Clay Matthews and his 4.5 career college sacks can tell you, success at the edge rusher position can often be more about potential than production. Davenport shows statistical signs that he could be ready to similarly blossom in the NFL.For one, Davenport had a strong combine workout, running the 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.58 seconds with a strong broad jump. Davenport also had a slightly above-average passes defensed rate. For a player slated to go in the teens (instead of the top five), Davenport sure looks impressive.
2. Bradley Chubb, NC State Wolfpack

SackSEER projection: 24.6 sacks through fifth NFL season
Scouts Inc.: No. 4 overall
Similar historic prospects: Grant Wistrom, Nick Perry
There is no question that Chubb is a good edge rusher prospect, but SackSEER is ambivalent regarding Chubb's prospects as a top-five selection. Chubb's prospects are quite a bit weaker than many of the recently drafted edge rushers selected high in the first round. Below is a chart of the SackSEER projections for every edge rusher taken in the top five picks since 1998.
Player Year Pick Projection
Julius Peppers 2002 2 37.6
Mario Williams 2006 1 36.9
Khalil Mack 2014 5 34.4
Von Miller 2011 2 32.9
Myles Garrett 2017 1 32.5
Courtney Brown 2000 1 31.4
Gaines Adams 2007 4 31.0
Chris Long 2008 2 29.6
Jadeveon Clowney 2014 1 29.0
Ezekiel Ansah 2013 5 26.8
Joey Bosa 2016 3 25.4
Justin Smith 2001 4 25.0
Andre Wadsworth 1998 3 25.0
Bradley Chubb 2018 ? 24.6
Dante Fowler Jr. 2015 3 20.0
Dion Jordan 2013 3 19.6
SackSEER has graded almost every top-five edge rusher as a good prospect, but some have been clearly better than others. As the table above shows, SackSEER is cooler on Chubb's prospects than the typical top-five selection.Chubb's production was good, but he never dominated like Von Miller or Julius Peppers. Miller and Peppers each had seasons where they averaged more than a sack per game. Chubb had only 0.83 sacks per game in his best season. Chubb's 4.65 40-yard dash and his jumps were excellent, but his workouts do not quite match the show that Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney put on in 2013. Chubb's passes defensed rate was a little below average. Mario Williams and Peppers had passes defensed rates that would make Dikembe Mutombo jealous.So should the Browns or some other team in the top five select Chubb? The choice is not quite as easy as the choice that the Browns made to select Garrett just one year ago. It all depends on the weight that potential suitors place on positional value (i.e., edge rushers are extremely valuable) and their tolerance for risk.
3. Harold Landry, Boston College Eagles

SackSEER projection: 22.6 sacks through fifth NFL season
Scouts Inc.: No. 33 overall
Similar historic prospects: Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Anthony Barr
Landry has a solid all-around SackSEER projection with no major weaknesses. Landry had slightly better sack production than Davenport and Chubb, and also had an above-average passes defensed rate. Landry's workouts were not quite as good as Davenport and Chubb, but they were well above average. SackSEER sees little difference between this year's top three prospects, so whichever team ends up with Landry could end up getting the best value of the bunch.
Sam Hubbard, Ohio State Buckeyes

SackSEER projection: 18.1 sacks through fifth NFL season
Scouts Inc.: No. 51 overall
Similar historic prospects: Charles Grant, Antwan Odom
SackSEER generally agrees with Scouts Inc.'s second-round grade on Sam Hubbard. Hubbard's best metric is his three-cone drill time -- he led all prospects in this year's draft by running the drill in just 6.84 seconds. Hubbard's other metrics range from just average to slightly below average.
Josh Sweat, Florida State Seminoles

SackSEER projection: 17.5 sacks through fifth NFL season
Scouts Inc.: No. 91 overall
Similar historic prospects: Brian Orakpo, Michael Johnson
Rated as a third-round pick by Scouts Inc., Sweat is the closest thing to a SackSEER sleeper in this year's draft. Sweat's blazing-fast 4.53-second 40, as well as his excellent vertical leap and broad jump scores, make him the second-most explosive edge rusher in this draft in terms of workout numbers. Sweat had only 14.5 sacks in his three-year career, but his sack production on a per-game basis is not much less than the more highly rated Hubbard, who had much less impressive scores on the explosion drills. Moreover, Sweat had a strong 0.20 passes defensed per game rate, which suggests that he may have been more disruptive than his sack numbers alone suggest.In a draft that lacks true top-end edge rusher prospects by our projections, Sweat is actually SackSEER's favorite prospect if you remove the adjustment for projected draft position.
Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State Buckeyes

SackSEER projection: 16.0 sacks through fifth NFL season
Scouts Inc.: No. 72 overall
Similar historic prospects: Jerry Hughes, Jamal Reynolds
Although more highly rated by Scouts Inc., Lewis is a weaker prospect than Sweat according to SackSEER. Lewis' sack production was essentially the same as Sweat's, but Sweat had a much better combine and a better passes defensed rate.
Lorenzo Carter, Georgia Bulldogs

SackSEER projection: 15.9 sacks through fifth NFL season
Scouts Inc.: No. 42 overall
Similar historic prospects: Mark Anderson, Koa Misi
There is no question that Carter is a great athlete. His 4.50-second 40-yard dash, 36-inch vertical leap, and 10-foot-10 broad jump make him the most explosive edge rusher in this draft. However, Carter's big combine advantage is wiped out by his poor production on the field.Carter played a full four years and ended his career with only 14.5 sacks. Edge rushers with poor sack production have been successful in the past, but typically they have poor production in a small sample size (for example, Ezekiel Ansah had only 4.5 career sacks, but played only one season as an edge rusher). Carter also had only one pass defensed in four seasons.
Uchenna Nwosu, USC Trojans

SackSEER projection: 14.7 sacks through fifth NFL season
Scouts Inc.: No. 94 overall
Similar historic prospects: Joe Kruger, Kyle Van Noy
Nwosu is an interesting prospect because he had only 12.5 career sacks in four years at USC, but somehow managed to record a staggering 19 passes defensed. Nwosu's plus-6.5 difference between his college career passes defensed and college career sacks is larger than the difference for all but two of the more than 400 edge rushers drafted since 1998 (Dean Lowry and Ezekiel Ansah).
Arden Key, LSU Tigers

SackSEER projection: 14.5 sacks through fifth NFL season
Scouts Inc.: No. 50 overall
Similar historic prospects: Sam Montgomery, Jonathan Massaquoi
Key is a highly regarded prospect and had relatively good sack production at LSU. However, that sack production was not good enough to overcome his poor-to-mediocre scores on all of the other SackSEER metrics. Key weighed in at only 238 pounds. Typically, small players make up for their lack of size by recording strong workout numbers, but Key's workouts were well below average: He recorded only a 31-inch vertical leap and a 9-foot-9 broad jump. Key has not yet run the 40-yard dash, but typically a player who has poor jumps also has a poor 40-yard dash. Scouts Inc. rates Key as a second-round prospect, but SackSEER thinks he is closer to a fifth- or sixth-rounder.

Methodology

SackSEER is based on a statistical analysis of all edge rushers drafted in the years 1998-2016, and measures the following:

  • The edge rusher's projected draft position. These projections use the rankings from Scouts Inc.
  • An explosion index that measures the prospect's scores in the 40-yard dash, the vertical leap and the broad jump in pre-draft workouts
  • The prospect's score on the three-cone drill
  • A metric called SRAM (sack rate as modified), which measures the prospect's per-game sack productivity, but with adjustments for factors such as early entry in the NFL draft and position switches during college
  • The prospect's college passes defensed divided by college games played
  • The number of medical redshirts the player either received or was eligible for