It is now NFL combine week, which can mean whatever you want it to mean, to be honest. I think it is a perfectly reasonable position for a hardcore NFL fan to ignore it altogether or to watch every minute. I choose to watch quite a bit of it - although it does become repetitious each day after about 2 hours - because it helps me continue to gather information about this year's draft class.
But, for you, I am curious how much it should actually be followed given the fact that most likely 100 players in this combine will not be selected anywhere at all in the NFL Draft. This is casting an extremely broad net over a huge number of players. 5-7 of them might be part of your training camp roster, and a much bigger number will never be heard from again.
On the other hand, the sports choices are rather weak at the present, so knock yourself out. The NFL Network will have live coverage of the combine from Friday March 3 to Monday March 6 beginning at 8 a.m. each day. Enjoy.
Now, on to some reality. I am guilty of this as much as anyone, so I wanted to take you on a trip to reality-land for some thoughts about fixing the Cowboys defense by throwing another draft pick at the problem at #28 or #60 or both to get someone who can go get Aaron Rodgers when the need presents itself in January (in the event history repeats itself a third time).
We do this by talking about the idea of going out to find a "10-sack" guy. Sounds easy, right? We aren't talking about 20 sacks (a number DeMarcus Ware reached once and hit 19.5 another time) or even 16 sacks (1 a game shouldn't be a problem, right?) In an age where there are 40-50 passes a game per team, you can't get there once? The league had 16 "10-sack" guys in 2016, so the Cowboys just need one of those.
Well, the reality is that it is very difficult to find these guys. Especially if you want to find them in the draft.
I went back through the last seven drafts to look for players who get you 10 sacks a year. And, man, was that ever a short list.
PLAYERS WHO AVERAGE 10 SACKS A YEAR (From 2010-2016 drafts):
JJ Watt - 2011 - 6 seasons - 76 Sacks - 12.6 per
Von Miller - 2011 - 6 seasons - 73.5 Sacks - 12.3 per
And that is the entire list. You could argue that this group is rarer than a franchise QB.
Watt was the 11th pick in 2011. Miller was the second pick in that same draft. Mack was picked fifth in 2014. Bosa was picked third in 2016. Beasley was picked eighth in 2015 and Jones went 21st in the 2012 draft.
So, let's just be clear - if you want a huge sack guy by these parameters, you better pick really early and get the right dude.
But, let's be reasonable. Perhaps 10 sacks is too high of a threshold, right? So, let's back off a bit.
In the 2016 draft, there were 20 players taken in the top two rounds who were either defensive linemen and linebackers. Now, of course, not all of these are picked to be sack guys, but for the sake of the study, let's just look at guys who traditionally are defensive front seven players and how they produced in their rookie seasons.
So, 20 players were taken in 2016 for the purposes of fixing a defense (since they were all taken in Round 1 and Round 2). How many produced more than six sacks in their 2016 season?
Again, 2 of the 3 taken were top 10 picks. The other, Ngakoue was about the 25th player taken from this group. He was very impressive, but maybe the Dak Prescott of his office.
Guys taken in the first round - Kenny Clark (Green Bay) and Robert Nkemdiche (Arizona) both had zero sacks. Cowboys third-rounder Maliek Collins actually had a huge year with 5. That is tough to do for a rookie. Very tough.
Let's look at the 2015 draft. I set the search to this: Must have totaled 12 sacks in 2 seasons (6 per year). 21 players from DL and LB in the top 2 rounds.
5 hits. Vic Beasley, Danielle Hunter, Markus Golden, Frank Clark, and Preston Smith.
Several promising prospects have been good, but not enough production to get in that group for a myriad of reasons: Shane Ray, Leonard Williams, Bud Dupree, Grady Jarrett, Eli Harold, Dante Fowler, and, of course, Randy Gregory.
2014 draft: The search will require 16 sacks in 3 seasons. 18 players taken that fit the profile from Rounds 1 and 2 in this draft
Khalil Mack (pick 5) and Aaron Donald (pick 13).
There were many pass rushers from that draft that we studied who don't have 16 sacks from their first 3 seasons from that group (or in some cases are not even in pro football anymore): Jadeveon Clowney, Timmy Jernigan, Dee Ford, Trent Murphy, Kony Ealy, Anthony Barr, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dominique Easley, Rasheed Hageman, Ego Ferguson, Louis Nix, Michael Sam, Will Sutton.
The 2013 draft is even more of the same. 21 potential sack guys taken in Top 2 rounds. So, how many, in 4 seasons of football (potentially 64 games) have totaled 20 sacks?
Two. Ezekiel Ansah (fifth pick) and Kawaan Short (44th). And the threshold for making this list is just five sacks a season. Something that would not interest many fans to pay top dollar to get a guy who gets you a sack every three games.
Other pass rushers we looked at from the 2013 draft who are still chasing their 20th sack (or in some cases their fifth): Shariff Floyd, Star Lotulelei, Damontre Moore, John Simon, Datone Jones, Barkevious Mingo, Bjorn Werner, Jarvis Jones, Dion Jordan, Sylvester Williams, Margus Hunt. Again, some are already out of football.
I think this is a pretty important study here to realize that the guys who get sacks are part of ensembles of players who work together to put up big numbers. It also says that you can be a great pass rusher, but maybe not the raw sack totals by attracting attention and perhaps helping someone else get home. But, mostly, it just shows you how hard it is to get to the QB in the NFL. And it explains why Von Miller and JJ Watt can be paid starting QB money.
Finally, today, I wanted to group up the 15 pass rush guys that I have looked at. I will look at more, but since I likely will only evaluate 50-60 players, I simply have to move on to corners this week. But, of the 15 players we have looked at, let's put them in 3 categories: 1) guys who have no chance of getting to No. 28. 2) guys I would definitely be happy with at pick No. 28. 3) guys who look like a reach in Round 1.
GUYS WHO HAVE NO CHANCE OF GETTING TO 28 OR CLOSE:
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Jonathan Allen, Alabama
GUYS WHO I WOULD TAKE AT 28 (or perhaps jump up 10 spots to grab them):
Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Tak McKinley, UCLA
Carl Lawson, Auburn - I have some scheme fit questions
Charles Harris, Missouri
Tim Williams, Alabama - Cowboys won't take him with his red flags.
GUYS WHO LOOK LIKE A REACH AT 28 (second- or third-round talents)
In no particular order:
Haason Reddick, Temple - he will go in first round, scheme fit with Dallas
DeMarcus Walker, Florida State
Taco Charlton, Michigan
Duwaune Smoot, Illinois
Tarell Basham, Ohio - Combine could push him up
Malik McDowell, Michigan State - likely first round, but scheme fit with Dallas
Ryan Anderson, Alabama
That is where I am right now. Seeing heights, weights, and test results this week may help me get more clarity. All have profiles written already in the archives if you wish to see more.