My goal was to deviate from the traditional model of identifying talent for next year’s draft so I turned to STATS Sports Solutions Group GM, John Pollard to help with the data.
"We have the most comprehensive performance metric library for next years class, many of these players had significant playing time during the 2012 season", said Pollard. "We can help our team partners get a head start on their 2013 evaluations and performance benchmarks".
With this database of information, I was able to avoid just looking at oft cited names within the draft community. I combed through the statistics in the STATS ICE database and picked out players that had similar metrics to those who were drafted high this year. The result is some players that are already familiar names and others that are a bit unknown. It should be noted that not all of these players will succeed, but they have a higher likelihood to do so based on their past metrics.
- Teddy Bridgewater – Much has been and will be written about Teddy Bridgewater, but I have to note that his metrics from the past season are extremely impressive. Most QBs in this class averaged about 50-60% completion rate in the intermediate zone of 6-15 yards. Bridgewater threw 71% in this zone and had a better deep completion percentage than any QB in this past draft class. When you break down his incompletions, he threw into coverage less than any QB in the past draft class and flat out missed his receivers less as well. Nearly all of his metrics are impressive, at some point I’ll examine them in detail.
- Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma – Saunders is one of the more safe prospects statistically at this stage. Last season he only dropped 3.1% of the passes thrown to him, lower than nearly any top prospect in the past draft. He also gained 7.1 yards after the catch when Kenny Stills only averaged 3.1 yards after the catch in the same offense.
- Tevin Reese, Baylor–Reese is well recognized as a top prospect and his yards after the catch certainly reflect that status as he gained roughly 9 yards after each catch (higher than Tavon Austin). However, he dropped 13.1% of his targets, higher than Justin Hunter who was widely panned for his inconsistent hands.
- Brandin Cooks, Oregon State–While teammate Markus Wheaton had trouble gaining yards after the catch (3.9 yards), Cooks didn’t have the same dilemma averaging 8.1 yards after the catch. Cooks dropped only 4.2% of passes and had 12 plays over twenty yards.
- Anthony McClung–McClung is more of a projection than anything. He had 539 yards in his junior season at Cincinnati. Excellent yards after the catch and only dropped two passes. With Kenbrell Thompkins and Travis Kelce graduating, McClung has a chance to emerge as a number one in the Cincinnati offense.
- Tre Mason, Auburn–Graded out as the best running back at gaining extra yardage among 53 RBs for this past draft and next year's crop. He broke 13 tackles last year and 51% of his yardage was after contact. At 5’10” and 196. his size and statistics are really similar to Gio Bernard.
- Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona–Already a widely acknowledged back - Carey generated 2.92 yards after contact per carry, higher than Eddie Lacy. Carey averaged nearly 5.8 yards in 3rd and short situations, meaning he moved the chains for Arizona when the opponents knew they were going to run the ball.
- Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan–I’m not sure how Toussaint projects. On one hand his statistics indicate that he’s one of the most elusive backs in the draft. On the other hand, he seems like a boom or bust type player. Toussaint was stopped at the LOS on 29% of his runs (the average is about 12%). In 2011 he had 17 plays of more than 20 yards, but only 4 in 2012. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on him to see his progress in 2013.
- Will Sutton, Arizona State–As a defensive tackle Sutton had a snaps per pressure rate of 6.6 last year. That’s roughly equal to how often noted pass rushers Jarvis Jones and Alex Okafor got to the quarterback. That type of SPP would have made Sutton the best pass rusher of the entire draft, despite playing at defensive tackle.
- Morgan Breslin, USC–Similar to Sutton, Breslin would have had an SPP of 7.17 or roughly akin to Dion Jordan and Tank Carradine. He had 25 tackles near or behind the LOS (impact tackles), which is as high as any LB in this past draft.
- Anthony Barr, UCLA–Barr had a great amount of pressures last year, now I don't know how often he dropped into coverage so I won't post his SPP. However, he had 26 tackles near or behind the LOS and 40 pressures, the ultimate combination of a non-pass rushing LB and a pure pass rusher. He had some troubles missing tackles, so that’ll be something to keep an eye on.
- Jadaveon Clowney, South Carolina: Snaps Per Pressure of 7.2 as a sophomore. Not much more needs to be said.
- Eddie Lackey, Baylor–Small at 6'0", 220, so I’m not sure that he’ll ever be projected highly into the NFL. He still had a amazingly high amount of impact tackles (around 40). It’s hard to tell if that's because he flows to the ball fast or no one else on the Baylor D is tackling. It could be a bit of both, but still he’s one to watch.
- Chris Borland, Wisconsin–Again a superb amount of impact tackles. Ridiculously good in coverage. The average drop back linebacker gets beat around 55% of the time. The top tier CBs get beat around 42% of the time. Chris Borland was beat on only 32% of 25 targets and had 6 passes defensed.
- Chris Young, Arizona State–A transfer from JUCO and played at 6'0" 233 at a hybrid Safety/LB position they call the Spur at ASU. He had as many impact tackles as Alec Ogletree/ Kevin Minter with the coverage skills of an excellent safety (34.5% burn rate on 29 targets). It seems like he could bulk up and be a smaller LB like a Mychal Kendricks who flows to the ball really well, but has solid coverage skills. That type of player would be an asset to cover big TEs, but also stop the run.
- Antone Exum, Virginia Tech–Burn percentage of 36%, which would be better than any CB this year. Was targeted quite a bit, so his 20 passes defensed are nice but are a product of being targeted so much. In 2011, his burn percentage was 39%, so he's been consistent over the past two years. If he can keep his burn percentage consistent over three years, he’ll have to be recognized as a top prospect.
- Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State–Burn rate of 40.5%. He had 10 passes defensed and you would likely want to see some more ball skills, but Xavier Rhodes only had 10 as well.
- Victor Hampton–Only a junior in 2013 at South Carolina, but had a burn percentage of 39% and 7 passes defensed. A 43% burn rate is the cut off for an elite corner, so if he can stay under 43% this year and improve his ball skills (both passes defensed and interceptions), he could come out early and make an impact.
- Jordan Richards, Stanford–Richards is an interesting prospect to look at. When you watch him, you see a thick safety built like Matt Elam. However, his statistics indicate a player who couldn’t be different than Elam. Richards had a burn rate of 36.2% or around what Mark Barron had coming out of Alabama. However, Richards missed 15 tackles last year and only made 5 tackles at the LOS. If his run stopping ability catches up to his coverage, he could be a top pick.
- Erick Dargan, Oregon–A ballhawk in the true sense of the word, Dargan had 5 interceptions as just a Sophomore. On 18 targets, he defensed 7 passes which is a ratio of targets to passes defensed you rarely see. On top of that, his 18 targets on 300 pass snaps makes him one of the least targeted safeties in the NCAA.
- Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern–2As a player at Northwestern, Campbell won’t receive much general acclaim, but he certainly deserves it. As a true freshman he was beat on 53% of his passes, which would put him in the middle of this safety class. As a sophomore he was beat on only 27.9% of 43 targets, one of the lowest in the NCAA on a significant number of targets. If he can keep that around 40%, he'll be in Mark Barron/Harrison Smith territory. He's a big hitter and a solid tackler. In two seasons he’s had 4 interceptions. I’m not sure if he’d leave early- typically Northwestern players stay all 4 years, but his metrics could put him in 1st round territory if he keeps it up.