Because No One Wants Another Vernon Gholston, Football Outsiders Has Answers

The Jets drafted Vernon Gholston just two years ago at this time and gave him $21 million in guaranteed money on a contract that will be worth probably $32.5 million. That's a lot of money, particularly for a guy who still hasn't recorded a sack in the NFL. (Not recording a sack wouldn't be a problem if he were, say, a QB, but he's a defensive end, so we have a problem.) ↵

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↵Are there warning signs for these types of expensive flops at the top of the draft? The always-insightful Football Outsiders pored over the data and believe they've found something in a new stat called SackSEER, which you'll probably want to keep in mind if your team looks at an edge rusher like South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul in the draft this weekend. ↵

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↵⇥There are four main factors that correlate to sack success in the NFL: vertical leap, short shuttle time, sacks per game in college (with some playing time adjustments), and how many eligible games worth of NCAA football the player missed for any reason (except early entry into the NFL Draft). SackSEER projects each prospect's total sacks through five years, which is roughly the average length of the rookie contract received by a first- or second-round pick. Although the individual trends are small, when considered together, they project sack production approximately three times more accurately than a player's draft position within the first two rounds. Overall, SackSEER accounts for approximately 40 percent of the historical variation among these players' accumulated five-year sack totals. ↵
↵While I've always been somewhat skeptical of some Football Outsiders stats, given that I think it's difficult to account for a lot of team-related factors, it's tough to argue with the data.
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↵Here are their players with the top SackSEER projections since 1999: Aaron Schobel, Mario Williams, Andre Carter, Shawne Merriman, Bryan Thomas, Connor Barwin, DeMarcus Ware, Terrell Suggs, Courtney Brown, Jason Babin, Manny Lawson, Julius Peppers. ↵
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↵The worst projections: Paul Toviessi, Erik Flowers, David Veikune, Ikaika Alma-Francis, Erasmus James, Anton Palepoi, Robert Ayers, Tony Bryant, Dan Cody, Jarvis Moss, Jerome McDougle, Michael Boireau. ↵

↵F.O. admits SackSEER is better at identifying busts than it is at singling out stars, so while this stat might not find you the next Peppers, it will help you avoid the next Gholston. With that in mind, who do you worry about in this year's draft? ↵

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↵Sporting News lists four edge rushers rated by F.O. in its first round mock draft. Here's how they grade out according to F.O. ↵

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↵No. 9: Bills - Sergio Kindle. Sacks projected through five seasons: 18.8. What F.O. says: "Kindle had a standout performance with two sacks in the National Championship game against Alabama. Very few people have noticed that Kindle had only four sacks in the Longhorns' other 13 games." ↵

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↵No. 10: Jaguars - Derrick Morgan. Sacks projected through five seasons: 23.3. What F.O. says: "Conventional wisdom says that Morgan is the "safest" edge rusher in the draft, but SackSEER considers Morgan as a middle-of-the-road talent, basically a 50-50 shot." ↵

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↵No. 14: Seahawks - Brandon Graham. Sacks projected through five seasons: 22.1. What F.O. says: "Graham, on the other hand, demonstrates good quickness with his 4.25-second short shuttle time, but his 31.5-inch vertical leap raises a major red flag." ↵

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↵No. 16: Titans - Jason Pierre-Paul. Sacks projected through five seasons: 3.8. What F.O. says: "This projection is not a misprint. Although Pierre-Paul is widely regarded as one of the top edge rushers by draftniks, it is hard to conceive of a prospect that SackSEER would like less." *Note: F.O. takes off major points for Pierre-Paul's junior college past. Read their article for further justification of this move and judge for yourself. ↵

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↵F.O. gives a particularly high projection to TCU's Jerry Hughes (27.7 sacks through five years) and lists South Carolina's Eric Norwood and Washington's Daniel Te'O'Nesheim as sleepers for this year's draft. ↵

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↵(H/T to Who Dey Revolution) ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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