Kirwan’s Explosion Number, Pass Rushers in the 2016 NFL Draft
This past winter, I had read CBS Sports NFL Insider Pat Kirwan’s book called Take Your Eye Off the Ball 2.0. Released in 2015, it’s a follow up to his original from 2010. Inside, there is a portion where he discusses a method he likes to use to encompass a players measurables at the NFL Scouting Combine, called an explosion number.
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A little background on Kirwan. He got started in the NFL in 1972. He was a scout for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1983-86. Once again with the Phoenix Cardinals in 1989. He spent eight seasons from 1989-1997 with the New York Jets as a defensive assistant, moving up to Director of player administration, negotiating contracts, and managing the Jets salary cap. Today, Kirwan is a CBS Sports NFL Insider, and hosts the Movin’ the Chains podcast on Sirus NFL Radio. Easy to see why his books are an excellent source of what goes on behind the scenes. I highly recommend it.
Back to his explosion score. To get the score at the combine, you take a player’s bench press reps, plus their vertical jump in inches, plus their broad jump in feet. A total over 70 makes you an explosive player. If you’re a player not on the radar, it suggests teams should take a look at the tape and see why, given your physical attributes. If you are on the radar, but don’t score well in physicality, teams should also take a closer look as to why you appear to be dominant, while lacking in physicality.
In the book, Kirwan mostly associates this with players in the front seven. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on the edge rushing positions of defensive end and outside linebacker. Positions of need for the Baltimore Ravens.
Looking at the 2011 NFL draft, who would you venture to say posted the highest explosion score among edge rushers? Seriously, take a wild guess? Here’s a hint….scroll back to the top.
If you selected Justin James Watt, you are correct. His explosion score by Kirwan’s metric was an 81.0. Anything over 70 is excellent. Watt says I see your 70 and raise you 11 more. Looks like the explosion translated well to the pro game, as he would likely be the top pick in a 2011 draft re-do.
Justin Houston was the second best in explosion with a score of 76.92. Somehow, Kansas City nabbed the All-Pro in round three. There must be something to be said for this metric, right?
Well…Ross Homan was third in this metric, just behind Houston at 76.75. Homan fell to the sixth round, was a practice squad guy, and is out of football today. D’Aundre Reed (4th, 75.42) seventh round pick, practice squad, never an active player.
Ok. So it’s not perfect, and Pat Kirwan even warns so in his book. A high explosion score simply means you might want to check the guy out a little more. But what about a low one?
Sticking with 2011, Markus White had the lowest score of the edge rushers at 56.25. He was a seventh round pick, a practice squad journeyman, and now plays ball north of the border in the CFL.
But Pernell McPhee, former Ravens situational pass rusher, was just a few ticks better than White in the explosion score (57.42), and he was a heck of a role player from the fifth round. He earned a five-year contract from the Bears after his contract here in Baltimore was up, and led Chicago in QB hits in 2015.
I’d like to take Kirwan’s model one step further and measure agility as well. At the combine, the two drills that measure how agile one is are the three-cone drill, which anything under 7.0 seconds is agile as hell. Also the short shuttle, where anything under 4.0 seconds is agile as hell. I’d like to think if you combine the two, and do the pair in around 11.0-11.1 or less, that’s amazing. Both of these drills asses how quick one can change direction, sink their hips, and get back up to speed in a direction opposite their momentum.
Sticking with the 2011 draft, who would you guess was the most agile edge rusher in the group? Here’s a hint. He’s the latest Super Bowl MVP.
Von Miller ran the pair of drills in a freakish 10.76 seconds. His explosion score was 68.5. Just 2 reps on the bench shy of being in the elite of explosion group. Just one rep on the bench and a half inch on the vertical off of 70. I’d call 68.5 good enough, especially with that agility to match the explosion. It’s no wonder why Miller went number two overall in the draft.
Let’s take a look at the most recent draft class of edge rushers, 2015. The first column of numbers is the players explosion number from the combine. The second column is their combined three-cone and short shuttle times. The third column is their explosion score minus the agility times, where if 70 is elite is explosion, and 11.1 is elite for agility, the total package should be 58.9 or higher. Green is in the excellent range. Red is below whats expected from professionals.
A wide range of picks in there. A wide range of results. Here are the conclusions I draw from this:
- Tape trumps combine numbers. Or else Trey Flowers would not have fallen to the fourth round. I think we all knew this already.
- What you see on tape can be reinforced by strong explosion or agility numbers. Makes you more comfortable in choosing said player.
- Agility matters maybe just as much as explosion. Of the four players with agility times on the 3-cone and short shuttle under 11.1 combined, three of them look like future Pro Bowlers.
- Off the charts numbers shouldn’t be ignored. In the cases of J.J. Watt and Von Miller in 2011, and Vic Beasley (86.83 explosion number. What!?) in 2015.
- I really want to see how Dante Fowler checks out. For a guy whose tape was so impressive, he was the third overall pick in the draft, he has some awfully low explosion and agility numbers. He was a Jacksonville pick, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he is a complete bust.
- The Ravens do something that other teams don’t, but I don’t know what it is. Underwhelming physical traits by McPhee in 2011, and the same can be said for Za’Darius Smith as he’s in line to follow in McPhee’s footsteps, with a possible pay day down the road.
With that said, here are the combine participants and their results at this year’s competition. A lot of big names didn’t compete, or didn’t do all the drills in Indy. I may have to update the list if they run these drills at pro days or other workouts. Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Leonard Floyd, Myles Jack, DeForest Buckner, Jaylon Smith are the big names left off.
Conclusions on this draft class:
- Joey Bosa was the next J.J. Watt before the combine. That is for one, completely unfair expectations to place on anyone. Second, he’s not.
- Bosa’s explosion level isn’t near what Watt’s was. It’s still good, and the agility is definitely there and is best in class. Bosa was the number one overall pick before the combine, and now many drafts have him falling to number six, Baltimore. That fall might not happen had that explosion number of his cracked 70.
- No one with freakish level physical traits (Explosion over 80, Agility under 11.0).
- Seems like a “weak” class for OLBs. No one with an elite explosion number, or agility score. The best one in the group that competed in the drills is projected to go undrafted. Consider me one to take a flyer on Devante Bond in round six or seven. Never know.
- Carl Nassib and Sua Cravens have some terrible scores for guys that are slated to go in the second round. That will be interesting to see how it plays out.
- For the Ravens, check out that Matt Judon kid at the top. Grand Valley State attached to his name likely drives down the draft stock. But with physical power like that, does it matter where he’s from? See: Brandon Williams. Physical freak, small school, ends up being great value in round three. Judon could be worth a shot in the fourth, even if they land Bosa. Suggs and Dumervil are not getting younger and a D-II school player could be a project that flourishes in later years.
Here is how notable edge rushing Ravens players scored in explosion numbers and agility respectfully. (Not all are listed, not all had combine or workout numbers available, For example, I couldn’t find Terrell Suggs’ broad jump anywhere).
2010 – Sergio Kindle: 71.3 – 11.79
2009 – Paul Kruger: 65.5 – 11.99
2003 – Jarret Johnson: 58.5 – 12.3
2002 – Anthony Weaver: 65.5 – 11.68
What does all of this mean? It means the combine gives us a series of numbers that give you a minimal snapshot of what a player can do. It means there is more to the game than just being quick and explosive. Sergio Kindle was explosive, but the only thing he ever tackled was a staircase.
It also begs the question, do the Ravens give a damn about the combine? Jarret Johnson’s numbers were absolutely dreadful, yet he started 80 straight games, and appeared in 129 straight games for Baltimore as their unsung hero, reliable on defense, lost in the mix among Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and others. I mentioned Pernell McPhee and Za’Darius Smith and their awful numbers. Here’s a article about 15 stars who had awful combines. Suggs is on there and went number ten overall. Elvis Dumervil, Anquan Boldin, though not drafted by the Ravens, on the list as well.
If we go outside of pass rushers, Courtney Upshaw, Arthur Brown, C.J. Mosley, DeAngelo Tyson, are just some of the guys who didn’t participate at the combine or did minimal drills.
All in all, Kirwan’s explosion number is a nice way to encompass how athletic someone is. Which is only part of the game. There are also instincts, fundamentals, and football IQ which play a role too. But If you see J.J. Watt, Von Miller types as a first round talent on tape, then he blows away the competition at the combine, you can bet you have a potential All-Pro on your hands. You don’t lose sleep wondering if the guy is a bust.
As for this draft, No one blew the competition away like Watt, Miller, Vic Beasley have. But all things being equal, you can bet I’d take Shilique Calhoun over Carl Nassib if both are available round two or three based on this. You can bet I’ll now be checking out tape on the guys in the green. Matt Judon, Dean Lowery, Ronald Blair, and Maryland Terrpain, Yannick Ngakoue. Given the physical tools, whats the downside, or is there a steal to be had, like Justin Houston was?
Combine info gathered from NFLcombineResults.com
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]