A Metrics Study of Undervalued Draft Prospects

By Greg Peshek
April 19, 2013

Our Greg Peshek is pouring through the STATS Ice data at a feverish rate and has unearthed some undervalued draft prospects.

See the most overrated prospects »

The majority of my writings on draft statistics have been on players who will be picked in the first three rounds, but late round prospects merit discussion as well. I’ve gone through and picked out players who had positive metrics in college, but just aren’t being discussed much in the draft process for one reason or another.

“One of the key purposes we developed the ICE system and created our specialized College X-Info statistical services was to help support our team clients’ efforts with identifying and evaluating mid-later round draft talent as well as experienced college free agents,” John Pollard, General Manager of Sports Solutions at STATS, said. “Most of us in the industry are aware of the top position players coming out of college, the 1st and 2nd round talent. The ICE application and X-info statistics services help our team clients build and validate their assessments of these players”

I’m going to explore some of the positive metrics for some mid to late round talent show why they could or should go higher than they are being projected. All statistics are from the STATS ICE program which has every BCS game charted from the entire 2012 season.

Montel Harris, RB – Temple

Montel Harris is one of the most elusive backs in the entire draft. He had the 4th most broken tackles (12) per carry despite being only 5’8” and 208lbs. His yards after contact per carry, 2.91, is the highest among the top tier of running backs, beating out statistical leaders like Jonathan Franklin and Montee Ball. All in all, his total ability to generate extra yardage ranks third in the class behind Franklin, Eddie Lacy, and Giovani Bernard.

Stedman Bailey, WR – West Virginia

Expected to go in the third round, Bailey isn’t the perfect definition of a draft sleeper. However, it seems like he often gets ignored for his explosive teammate, Tavon Austin. Bailey, despite his diminutive size at 5’10”, 193lbs, generates superb yards after the catch. Averaging 6.2 yards after the catch, he is almost as good after the catch as the highly ranked Cordarrelle Patterson (6.4 yards/ catch). His drop rate of 5% ranks his hands near the top of this class.

Ryan Griffin, TE - Connecticut

Some critics of Griffin have noted his lack of ability after the catch, the statistics couldn’t disagree more. At 7.2 yards after the catch, the big TE has the second highest YAC in the entire class only behind Travis Kelce (10 yards/ catch) and ahead of consensus number one TE, Tyler Eifert. Per STATS ICE, Griffin didn’t drop a single ball this year showing excellent hands. His strong hands and YAC allowed him to convert 72.4% of his receptions into first downs or touchdowns for the Huskies.

Brennan Williams, OT – North Carolina

While everyone focuses on the big three OTs and athletic specimens like Menelik Watson, Brennan Williams had a very quiet 2012 season (in a good way). Williams only allowed 5 combined pressures the entire season at UNC, less than all of the big three OTs. He may be underrated or underappreciated in the media, but expect teams to take note of his quality pass blocking.

Meshak Williams, DE/OLB – Kansas State

Williams is probably the least discussed prospect out of this entire group. He had really solid production at Kansas State, racking up 10 sacks in 2012, but turning out extremely poor numbers at his pro-day at only at 245lbs. However, his production in college wasn’t just limited to sacks – Williams had 30 combined pressures in college to complement those sacks. When you divide by the number of pass rushing snaps – his Snaps Per Pressure (SPP) is around 8.6 or very similar to Bjoern Werner’s. While college production isn’t guaranteed to translate to NFL production, his pass rush efficiency shouldn’t be ignored for a potential late round pick or UDFA.

Jordan Hill, DT – Penn State

While big names like Sharif Floyd and Star Lotulelei dominate the discussion about defensive tackles, Jordan Hill deserves to be discussed based on his stats alone. As a pass rushing DT, Hill grades out with a Snaps Per Pressure (SPP) of 13.3, which makes him the most efficient pass rusher of the DTs (slightly ahead of Sheldon Richardson) and more efficient than some pass rushing DEs like Datone Jones. Hill also had the most combined tackles in the backfield and 1-2 yards from the LOS (25 tackles), more than any defensive tackle. Based on these metrics alone, Hill should be considered solid all-around DT to be picked earlier than the 4th-5th round he’s projected in.

Josh Johnson , CB – Purdue

Defensive backs in general are a bit tricky to apply statistics too, but there are some things we can look at to evaluate their play quality in college. Two of my favorite stats are pass defensed per target and how often a player was beaten on their targets. With 19 passes defensed on 86 targets in 2012, Johnson had the best ability to knock down balls on a per target basis amongst late round CBs. He also was burned on only 44% of his targets, which is to say 37 passes thrown in his area were completed. That burn rate is lower than every CB expected to be picked after round 3 and equivalent to some CBs like Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. To see Johnson’s penchant for knocking down passes (and generating pass interference penalties) see his play against Notre Dame's star TE Eifert.

Josh Evans, S – Florida

While teammate Matt Elam drew most of the attention at Florida, Josh Evans did an excellent job in coverage for the Gators. Evans’ burn rate was 35%, one of the lowest in the entire NCAA last year. Often times playing deep safety, Evans was only targeted 20 times the entire season. On those 20, he defensed 6 passes – the same amount as Kenny Vaccaro on far more targets. While he didn’t make many impact tackles, he did a solid job at tackling with 11 missed tackles in total, about average for this safety class. Evans may not be the complete package as a safety right now, but certainly has potential as a starting FS with his coverage skills.

See the most overrated prospects »