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 2009 NFL Draft Linebacker Projections 
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Post 2009 NFL Draft Linebacker Projections
Hey,

I posted this on my blog (formerly "Me vs. Mi1len" now "the Goodbye, Ladies Draft Report") and thought that it might be general interest. I projected the productivity of the linebacker prospects in the Draft based on their vertical leap scores:

Quote:
2009 NFL Draft Linebacker Projections

Besides, of course, wide receiver, perhaps no other position exemplifies the recent failures of the Detroit Lions in the NFL Draft than linebacker. Despite spending one first and three second round picks on linebackers in the last five years, the Detroit Lions have come away with only one sure-fire starter (outside linebacker Erine Sims) and one of the worst defensive performances in NFL history. With linebacker Aaron Curry widely regarded as the best prospect in the NFL Draft, and with as many as five linebackers projected to be drafted in the first round (not counting the 3-4 hybrids), there is understandably considerable interest among Lions fans and observers in the likelihood of success of each of the available prospects at the position.

After combing through the combine data and the college statistics of all of the linebackers drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft since 2002, I found only three factors that correlate to NFL success: a prospect's draft position, his vertical leap, and whether he is drafted to play inside linebacker or outside linebacker in the NFL (inside linebackers, by virtue of their position, average approximately two tackles per game more than outside linebackers). I measured the success of each linebacker by how many tackles he averaged per NFL game. Through these three factors, I was able to project each 2009 prospect's tackles per game numbers as pro's.

Of the three factors I measured, the least intuitive is the vertical leap (click here for my theory about why this is true). However, of the top five most productive inside and outside linebackers drafted in the first two rounds since 2002, all of them scored at least a 37" vertical leap (which is above average) at either the NFL Combine or their pro day (excluding Jon Beason, who did not participate in the drill at all during the pre-draft process). I am currently using the ProFootballWeekly top 100 list for the "projected draft position" factor because it is the most accurate measure of player value that is currently and freely available. When Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News releases his top 100 list, which is based on numerous interviews with NFL scouting departments, I will update my projections.

Aaron Curry, OLB/ILB, Wake Forest
37" Vertical Leap
Projection as ILB: 8.41 Tackles/Game
Similar Player: DeMeco Ryans
Projection as OLB: 6.39 Tackles/Game
Similar Players: D.J. Williams, Karlos Dansby

Aaron Curry is widely recognized as the "safest" pick in the NFL Draft, and this projection does nothing to disabuse that notion. Although not as eye-popping as the rest of his combine performance, 37" is a very solid vertical leap (tied for the number one score of all true linebackers at the combine this year), especially considering his size at 254 pounds. As an inside linebacker, Aaron Curry projects to be second only to all-world linebacker Patrick Willis in per game production for linebackers drafted since 2002. As an outside linebacker, Aaron Curry's projection places him between D.J. Williams and Karlos Dansby--both are pro bowlers.

Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC
34" Vertical Leap
Projection: 7.23 Tackles/Game
Similar Players: Paul Posluszny, David Harris

Maualuga's projection suggests that he will be a solid player in the mold of second rounders Paul Posluszny and David Harris. However, his production comes at a steep price for a linebacker--a pick in the first half of the first round (Maualuga is expected to come off the board around the number fourteen pick). Only three inside linebackers drafted since 2002 have been drafted as highly as Maualuga is expected to go: Patrick Willis, Jerod Mayo, and Jonathan Vilma--and Maualuga projects to have less production than all three. Other linebackers with a 34" vertical leap include Odell Thurman, Napoleon Harris, and Robert Thomas, which is not an especially inspiring list. (Note: Rey Mauluga's pro day vertical leap has not yet been reported [if it occurred at all] so I am projecting him based on his widely reported vertical leap score).

Brian Cushing, OLB, USC
35" Vertical Leap
Projection: 5.22 Tackles/Game
Similar Players: Boss Bailey, Pisa Tinoisoma

Brian Cushing's press clippings far outstrip his value as a pro prospect. Although his low Tackles/Game projection is largely a function of his position as an outside rather than an inside linebacker (his projection would be 7.24 Tackles/Game as an ILB), there is no escaping that his low vertical leap score suggests that he will underperform his draft position.

Clay Matthews, OLB, USC
35.5" Vertical Leap
Projection: 4.65 Tackles/Game
Similar Players: Victor Hobson / Rocky McIntosh

Clay Matthews, a college walk-on turned first-round prospect, has a long NFL pedigree. While the projection system does acknowledge that Matthews belongs in the NFL, his mediocre vertical leap suggests that Matthews will be little more than a marginal starter. When you use a first round pick on a linebacker, you want a linebacker who will perform better, not worse, than Boss Bailey.

James Laurinaitis, ILB, Ohio State
33" Vertical Leap
Projection: 6.50 Tackles/Game
Similar Players: Odell Thurman, Curtis Lofton

There is a lot of speculation that James Laurinaitis could slip to the Detroit Lions' second round pick at number 33. Laurinitis's projection is the lowest of the top five linebackers when his position at ILB is factored out. However, it does place him at the level of unspectacular but solid players such as Curtis Lofton and Odell Thurman (without the off-the-field problems). I am actually less bullish on Laurinaitis than the projection system currently is. ProFootballWeekly tabs his draft position at number 23, which I think is a little high, and his projection could be ratcheted down dramatically once Rick Gosselin releases his top 100 list. The knock on Laurinaitis is his lack of athelticism, and his low vertical leap only waives that red flag higher.

Conclusion:
If the Detroit Lions want to get good value on a linebacker in the 2009 NFL Draft, there is only one choice: Aaron Curry. Although this group has been praised as a strong crop of linebackers, this year's vertical leap scores actually suggest that they will slightly disappoint. If the Detroit Lions want to fill the vacant linebacker slot in the middle of their defense, they have two choices: draft Aaron Curry, hope to get lucky with a second day pick, or wait until next year.

Now, just for fun, I thought it would be interesting to run the numbers for some of the Lions' recent linebacker picks to see how they fared under the projection system:

Boss Bailey, OLB, #34 Overall
42" Vertical Leap
Projection: 5.30 Tackles/Game
Actual Performance: 4.841 Tackles/Game

Boss Bailey was a highly touted linebacker out of Georgia. Although he wowed scouts with an amazing pro day where he had a jaw dropping 42" vertical leap, he was drafted relatively low due largely to (correct) injury concerns. After an impressive rookie year, he suffered a serious knee injury that limited the same explosion that garnered 42" jump, and he has been a mediocre linebacker since. Despite his good vertical number, his projection was tempered by his relatively low draft position, even absent the injury.

Teddy Lehman, OLB, #37 Overall
34.5" Vertical Leap
Projection: 3.86 Tackles/Game
Actual Performance: 3.41 Tackles/Game

Like Boss Bailey, Teddy Lehman had a productive rookie season which was followed by a much less productive season, partially due to injury. However, the early buzz on Teddy Lehman was that his early tackle numbers far outshone his actual ability, and his career numbers have come to bear that out. Teddy Lehman performed at about the expected level of a high second round linebacker with a below average vertical leap.

Ernie Sims, OLB, #9 Overall
41" Vertical Leap
Projection: 6.56 Tackles/Game
Actual Performance: 7.75 Tackles/Game

Ernie Sims's high draft projection and impressive vertical leap resulted in a projection of 6.439 Tackles/Game--a monster projection for an outside linebacker. However, Ernie Sims's tackle production, despite concerns of his erratic play last season, has blown his projection out of the water and is nearly a Tackle/Game over the next most productive outside linebacker in the data set, Chad Greenway. Ernie Sims's tackles are inflated by the Detroit Lions' awful defense, which cannot get off the field, and the Tampa 2 scheme, which results in a lot of tackles for the weakside linebacker position. Nevertheless, Ernie Sims is a legit NFL linebacker.

Jordon Dizon, OLB, #45 Overall
30.5" and 34.5" Vertical Leaps
Projection: 1.17 Tackles/Game
Actual Performance: 0.92 Tackles/Game

I know that I am starting to sound like a broken record on Jordon Dizon, but his selection provides an important lesson about the importance of projected draft position in projecting NFL linebackers. Jordon Dizon was projected as the 75th best player on Rick Gosselin's Top 100 list, which would have placed him squarely in the third round. Drafting a third round linebacker prospect in the second round is a big no-no: there is a huge drop off in production from linebackers drafted in the second round to those drafted in the third. The combination of Jordon Dizon's low draft position projection and his below-average vertical leaps resulted in a prototypical Matt Millen draft bust.


http://thegoodbyeladiesdraftreport.blogspot.com/

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April 8th, 2009, 10:51 pm
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Nice post. I always appreciate reading your writing , even if I don't always agree. I would not have thought so much weight should be placed on vertical leap, but I can see your reasoning as this is one of the best measures for "Explosion". Im curious how Cone drills and short shuttle rate when compared the same way. If you're bored some time you should check it out to see if that gives similar results.

As it is I agree with almost everything on your list except I think maluega is worth it.. if he falls to 20, but since he won't and that is unrealizstic I understand daying its Curry, Late Round Prayer, or a Filler FA until next year. The Rest of the batch arent worth our #20 except Rey, and once you get to 33, none will be left that are worth a 2nd rd pick either.


April 9th, 2009, 8:32 pm
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Post Re: 2009 NFL Draft Linebacker Projections
Strawberries&Chocolat wrote:
Hey,

I posted this on my blog (formerly "Me vs. Mi1len" now "the Goodbye, Ladies Draft Report") and thought that it might be general interest. I projected the productivity of the linebacker prospects in the Draft based on their vertical leap scores:

Quote:
2009 NFL Draft Linebacker Projections

Besides, of course, wide receiver, perhaps no other position exemplifies the recent failures of the Detroit Lions in the NFL Draft than linebacker. Despite spending one first and three second round picks on linebackers in the last five years, the Detroit Lions have come away with only one sure-fire starter (outside linebacker Erine Sims) and one of the worst defensive performances in NFL history. With linebacker Aaron Curry widely regarded as the best prospect in the NFL Draft, and with as many as five linebackers projected to be drafted in the first round (not counting the 3-4 hybrids), there is understandably considerable interest among Lions fans and observers in the likelihood of success of each of the available prospects at the position.

After combing through the combine data and the college statistics of all of the linebackers drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft since 2002, I found only three factors that correlate to NFL success: a prospect's draft position, his vertical leap, and whether he is drafted to play inside linebacker or outside linebacker in the NFL (inside linebackers, by virtue of their position, average approximately two tackles per game more than outside linebackers). I measured the success of each linebacker by how many tackles he averaged per NFL game. Through these three factors, I was able to project each 2009 prospect's tackles per game numbers as pro's.

Of the three factors I measured, the least intuitive is the vertical leap (click here for my theory about why this is true). However, of the top five most productive inside and outside linebackers drafted in the first two rounds since 2002, all of them scored at least a 37" vertical leap (which is above average) at either the NFL Combine or their pro day (excluding Jon Beason, who did not participate in the drill at all during the pre-draft process). I am currently using the ProFootballWeekly top 100 list for the "projected draft position" factor because it is the most accurate measure of player value that is currently and freely available. When Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News releases his top 100 list, which is based on numerous interviews with NFL scouting departments, I will update my projections.

Aaron Curry, OLB/ILB, Wake Forest
37" Vertical Leap
Projection as ILB: 8.41 Tackles/Game
Similar Player: DeMeco Ryans
Projection as OLB: 6.39 Tackles/Game
Similar Players: D.J. Williams, Karlos Dansby

Aaron Curry is widely recognized as the "safest" pick in the NFL Draft, and this projection does nothing to disabuse that notion. Although not as eye-popping as the rest of his combine performance, 37" is a very solid vertical leap (tied for the number one score of all true linebackers at the combine this year), especially considering his size at 254 pounds. As an inside linebacker, Aaron Curry projects to be second only to all-world linebacker Patrick Willis in per game production for linebackers drafted since 2002. As an outside linebacker, Aaron Curry's projection places him between D.J. Williams and Karlos Dansby--both are pro bowlers.

Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC
34" Vertical Leap
Projection: 7.23 Tackles/Game
Similar Players: Paul Posluszny, David Harris

Maualuga's projection suggests that he will be a solid player in the mold of second rounders Paul Posluszny and David Harris. However, his production comes at a steep price for a linebacker--a pick in the first half of the first round (Maualuga is expected to come off the board around the number fourteen pick). Only three inside linebackers drafted since 2002 have been drafted as highly as Maualuga is expected to go: Patrick Willis, Jerod Mayo, and Jonathan Vilma--and Maualuga projects to have less production than all three. Other linebackers with a 34" vertical leap include Odell Thurman, Napoleon Harris, and Robert Thomas, which is not an especially inspiring list. (Note: Rey Mauluga's pro day vertical leap has not yet been reported [if it occurred at all] so I am projecting him based on his widely reported vertical leap score).

Brian Cushing, OLB, USC
35" Vertical Leap
Projection: 5.22 Tackles/Game
Similar Players: Boss Bailey, Pisa Tinoisoma

Brian Cushing's press clippings far outstrip his value as a pro prospect. Although his low Tackles/Game projection is largely a function of his position as an outside rather than an inside linebacker (his projection would be 7.24 Tackles/Game as an ILB), there is no escaping that his low vertical leap score suggests that he will underperform his draft position.

Clay Matthews, OLB, USC
35.5" Vertical Leap
Projection: 4.65 Tackles/Game
Similar Players: Victor Hobson / Rocky McIntosh

Clay Matthews, a college walk-on turned first-round prospect, has a long NFL pedigree. While the projection system does acknowledge that Matthews belongs in the NFL, his mediocre vertical leap suggests that Matthews will be little more than a marginal starter. When you use a first round pick on a linebacker, you want a linebacker who will perform better, not worse, than Boss Bailey.

James Laurinaitis, ILB, Ohio State
33" Vertical Leap
Projection: 6.50 Tackles/Game
Similar Players: Odell Thurman, Curtis Lofton

There is a lot of speculation that James Laurinaitis could slip to the Detroit Lions' second round pick at number 33. Laurinitis's projection is the lowest of the top five linebackers when his position at ILB is factored out. However, it does place him at the level of unspectacular but solid players such as Curtis Lofton and Odell Thurman (without the off-the-field problems). I am actually less bullish on Laurinaitis than the projection system currently is. ProFootballWeekly tabs his draft position at number 23, which I think is a little high, and his projection could be ratcheted down dramatically once Rick Gosselin releases his top 100 list. The knock on Laurinaitis is his lack of athelticism, and his low vertical leap only waives that red flag higher.

Conclusion:
If the Detroit Lions want to get good value on a linebacker in the 2009 NFL Draft, there is only one choice: Aaron Curry. Although this group has been praised as a strong crop of linebackers, this year's vertical leap scores actually suggest that they will slightly disappoint. If the Detroit Lions want to fill the vacant linebacker slot in the middle of their defense, they have two choices: draft Aaron Curry, hope to get lucky with a second day pick, or wait until next year.

Now, just for fun, I thought it would be interesting to run the numbers for some of the Lions' recent linebacker picks to see how they fared under the projection system:

Boss Bailey, OLB, #34 Overall
42" Vertical Leap
Projection: 5.30 Tackles/Game
Actual Performance: 4.841 Tackles/Game

Boss Bailey was a highly touted linebacker out of Georgia. Although he wowed scouts with an amazing pro day where he had a jaw dropping 42" vertical leap, he was drafted relatively low due largely to (correct) injury concerns. After an impressive rookie year, he suffered a serious knee injury that limited the same explosion that garnered 42" jump, and he has been a mediocre linebacker since. Despite his good vertical number, his projection was tempered by his relatively low draft position, even absent the injury.

Teddy Lehman, OLB, #37 Overall
34.5" Vertical Leap
Projection: 3.86 Tackles/Game
Actual Performance: 3.41 Tackles/Game

Like Boss Bailey, Teddy Lehman had a productive rookie season which was followed by a much less productive season, partially due to injury. However, the early buzz on Teddy Lehman was that his early tackle numbers far outshone his actual ability, and his career numbers have come to bear that out. Teddy Lehman performed at about the expected level of a high second round linebacker with a below average vertical leap.

Ernie Sims, OLB, #9 Overall
41" Vertical Leap
Projection: 6.56 Tackles/Game
Actual Performance: 7.75 Tackles/Game

Ernie Sims's high draft projection and impressive vertical leap resulted in a projection of 6.439 Tackles/Game--a monster projection for an outside linebacker. However, Ernie Sims's tackle production, despite concerns of his erratic play last season, has blown his projection out of the water and is nearly a Tackle/Game over the next most productive outside linebacker in the data set, Chad Greenway. Ernie Sims's tackles are inflated by the Detroit Lions' awful defense, which cannot get off the field, and the Tampa 2 scheme, which results in a lot of tackles for the weakside linebacker position. Nevertheless, Ernie Sims is a legit NFL linebacker.

Jordon Dizon, OLB, #45 Overall
30.5" and 34.5" Vertical Leaps
Projection: 1.17 Tackles/Game
Actual Performance: 0.92 Tackles/Game

I know that I am starting to sound like a broken record on Jordon Dizon, but his selection provides an important lesson about the importance of projected draft position in projecting NFL linebackers. Jordon Dizon was projected as the 75th best player on Rick Gosselin's Top 100 list, which would have placed him squarely in the third round. Drafting a third round linebacker prospect in the second round is a big no-no: there is a huge drop off in production from linebackers drafted in the second round to those drafted in the third. The combination of Jordon Dizon's low draft position projection and his below-average vertical leaps resulted in a prototypical Matt "Moron of the Millenium" draft bust.


http://thegoodbyeladiesdraftreport.blogspot.com/



laughing4.gif What a joke our draft classes have been. I believe in the SWARTZ!!!!!!

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April 9th, 2009, 11:39 pm
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Joined: April 12th, 2005, 12:35 am
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DJ-B wrote:
Nice post. I always appreciate reading your writing , even if I don't always agree. I would not have thought so much weight should be placed on vertical leap, but I can see your reasoning as this is one of the best measures for "Explosion". Im curious how Cone drills and short shuttle rate when compared the same way. If you're bored some time you should check it out to see if that gives similar results.

As it is I agree with almost everything on your list except I think maluega is worth it.. if he falls to 20, but since he won't and that is unrealizstic I understand daying its Curry, Late Round Prayer, or a Filler FA until next year. The Rest of the batch arent worth our #20 except Rey, and once you get to 33, none will be left that are worth a 2nd rd pick either.


Hey DJ-B, thanks for the good word. I'm glad that at least one other person thought that this was interesting. :lol:

I was surprised too that vertical leap has any sort of impact on something like tackles per game, but it makes sense if you think about it. I actually wanted to see initially if 40 time made any difference, and it turned out that it did not.

I actually did run the same test for the short shuttle and the 3 cone and there was absolutely no relationship between those dills and success. However, the short shuttle IS significant for DE/3-4 OLBs, which is to come later.

By the way, I'm too lazy to update the quote in this post, but I made some changes in the model based on changes in ProFootballWeekly player ratings and some new data I found on some linebackers who I was not able to include in the model before. Everyone's projection takes a bit of a hit, but Rey Maualuga's projection especially takes a big hit: it's 6.55 Tackles/Game.

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April 10th, 2009, 12:16 am
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