Front Seven: Explosion and Agility in the 2019 NFL Draft
With the NFL Draft looming, teams are starting to finalize their draft boards. It is a fluid situation and never really final, but as close to final as they can be. Teams will combine to have names of up to approximately 700 “draftable” players and only 254 will get the call before the end of the weekend.
Explosion scores are something that former NFL Scout and Executive, Pat Kirwan, devised. Adding up NFL Scouting Combine totals in bench press reps, vertical jump (inches) and broad jump (feet) he came up with a score. Over 70 makes you an explosive player.
I took this a step further when evaluating defensive players and added agility to the mix. Combining the three-cone drill time, and the short shuttle time. Two drills focused solely on who sinks their hips, turn corners, and changes direction the fastest. Under 7.0 seconds in the three-cone, and under 4.0 seconds in the short shuttle is elite. I figure anything under 11.1 seconds combined is really, really good. Von Miller was dominant in the agility drills coming into the 2011 draft with a combined time of 10.76 seconds in the two drills. He went second overall.
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Speaking of the 2011 draft, J.J. Watt was drafted 11th overall, and by Kirwan’s metric had an explosion score of 81.0.
Vic Beasley was the explosive superstar of the 2015 draft with an explosion score of 86.83. An agility score of 11.06. He was a first team All-Pro in 2016 and lead the league with 15.5 sacks. His play has inexplicably fallen off since though.
I try to denote “best overall” by listing the difference in explosion and agility. It favors really explosive players who maybe lack some agility. Or really agile players who lack some explosion. Or if you excel in both, you would top the charts easily. In the 2016 draft, “best overall” belonged to Matt Judon. His explosion score of 74.08 was the best at the combine. While his 12.19 agility score wasn’t great, it was good enough to still give him the largest difference. He was projected as a fourth-round pick, and the Ravens nabbed him in round five. To pick a guy in the fifth round out of a small school, and have him be the role player, and now starter that he’s become is exactly what you want from those mid-late round picks.
Joey Bosa was the agility king in that draft (11.1) coupled with an explosion score of 66, which isn’t bad at all. Fast forward to 2019, and now we ask, how about brother Nick? Nick Bosa is projected to go as high as brother Joey who went third overall. Shall we compare?
Joey Bosa (2016): Explosion – 66.0. Agility – 11.1. Overall – 54.9
Nick Bosa (2019): Explosion – 72.17. Agility – 11.24. Overall – 60.93
Is it possible that Nick could be better than Joey? 2016 Rookie of the year, 2017 Pro Bowler, 28.5 sacks in 35 games? The tape looks like it, and the numbers match too.
Let’s look at the numbers leading into the 2019 draft. This includes only the players who completed all the drills at the combine, or their pro day. Some guys will be left out, like Quinnen Williams for example, who did not complete the drills necessary to get an explosion score.
Defensive Line Explosion
Edge Rusher Explosion
Defensive Line Agility
Edge Rusher Agility
“Best Overall” (Top scorers in explosion and/or agility)
As you can see, there is no J.J. Watt, no Von Miller, no Vic Beasley like strength in this draft class. Or at least at the combine. But the guys mocked in the first round of the draft for the most part posted excellent agility and explosion numbers. Then again, so did some guys who might not hear their name called until Saturday, if at all during the draft. This is where you find your role players. This is where you really look at the film on a guy you might have otherwise glanced over.
Why is middle linebacker Drue Tranquill projected to go off in round four, with the best combination of explosion and agility? Well, the tape to me looks like it’s because that explosion doesn’t show up on game film. Some ball carriers he tries to tackle slip off him like they are covered in Teflon.
Why is Ben Banogu slated to fall to round three at the always valuable edge rushing position? Because he doesn’t play low enough in game, allowing blockers to engage his pads easily, and he gets completely taken out of the play at that point. However, when he beats his man, the closing speed on the QB is fierce.
Can things like this be coached up? Perhaps. If you have these abilities, a coach can teach technique. Which is why rolling the dice on these guys isn’t a bad idea. If Cody Barton is slated to fall into day three of the draft, and has better explosion and agility numbers than Nick Bosa, why wouldn’t you take a flier there?
Trysten Hill is comparable to Nick Bosa in explosion. Why the fourth and fifth round projections then? Well, because he only started one game in 2018, despite being a top performer while Scott Frost was the head coach. Once the coaching change happened at UCF, his playing time fell, he was upset about it, voiced that opinion, it landed him in the dog house. Is personality the only thing keeping a guy like Hill from getting a call much earlier in the draft? How does your team handle or manage big egos?
Why is Dakota Allen, Texas Tech linebacker and the most agile front seven defender in the draft, not likely to get a phone call until the undrafted free agent filler frenzy starts? Maybe this is why, and teams are afraid of that. Or maybe some team will look at his character now and say that kind of redemption story is what they want in a future team captain and mentor, and they could reap the benefits.
It isn’t a perfect system. Pat Kirwan will tell you that. Explosive players flame out. Non-explosive players will technique their way to All-Pro status. But it is a system that lets you know you need to take a longer, harder look a guy to see if the numbers match up with what’s on the tape.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]