*This article, and rankings are a precursor to our 2012 NFL Draft class research. We cannot complete full 2012 prospect ratings until the players go through the NFL Combine. The 2012 ratings will be released on our new college prospect website launching in February 2012.
With the interest in our published work on a Moneyball/statistical modeling of college QBs, RBs, and WRs, the natural progression of reader interest led to folks inquiring about ratings/algorithms regarding all the other NFL positions.
Initially, our work concentrated offensive positions...as that always draws the most interest. The offensive position focus also fits well with the traditional Fantasy Football owner. As our fan-base has broadened, individual defensive players have been increasingly asked about...especially with the growing count of Dynasty League Fantasy Football owners following our work. We have been tinkering with the defensive possibilities for the past couple years, and ramped up efforts in the past year or so.
As a rewind, our work is based on the fact that we are not NFL/college scouts, In fact, when it comes to college CBs...I couldn't name you one of them in the 2012 NFL Draft class. I know there is supposed to be a good one from LSU, and that's it. Now, you may want to click the "x" in the upper right-hand side of this web page upon hearing that...but that "lack of awareness" is the genesis of our work here. A few years ago, I realized there is no way for me to see all of these college prospects. What attempts at scouting I did make, I brought my own "visual bias" into it.
I can easily tell the difference between my personal speed versus Deion Sanders on tape, but it's harder to delineate who is faster, more agile, stronger, etc. between a bunch of high-end college athletes. They all look good to me! With the visual inspections, comes a certain bias...I might favor players from a certain conference, or "hate" a certain team...and therefore being subconsciously biased against certain players. I might like brunettes, you may prefer blondes...and we could argue all day on which supermodel is the most attractive. The fact is most prospects look "good" to my eyes...but how do we determine which one is "the best", or even "better" than another"...or which ones might be a hidden "bust?"
When I read the book Moneyball, I always wondered (as did many) if the theory of Billy Beane's could be achieved for the NFL/college players...could you build a database, and utilize the data to concoct a formula/model to divine/project college prospects to pros...or sniff out trouble prospects? I love numbers, I love sports, I love business, I have a finance background, and I hate to be wrong...and for a long time, I was wrong as much I was right about projecting college football players heading to the pros.
A few years back, I asked myself...what exactly was I doing to figure out if I "liked" a prospect? I would read a snippet from a magazine or website. Hear something on the radio. I figured highly drafted players were better than not highly drafted ones. I liked Ryan Leaf, because I disliked Peyton Manning...for no good reason, besides the fact that I thought Peyton was "arrogant". That certainly turned out to be a great "scouting" effort by me. The fact was, I was an idiot...actually, I was ignorant. I really knew very little about these college players, just my own "gut" feelings...and my gut was right sometimes, and was wrong just as much.
The problem with my "gut" was, much of it was based on short-burst media sound-bytes. I didn't know it, but it wasn't my gut that was wrong...it was the media (...and ultimately that's still my fault). Not only the media, but several NFL teams were wrong over and over. There is a reason that the New England Patriots (or Giants for that matter) are perpetually in the Super Bowl, while many other franchises haven't been there in decades. There is a method to any madness, and I set out to develop my own method/madness...an easy way for me to profile college prospects, without all the tedious/unproductive tape watching.
I don't know anything about "loose-hips," or any other of the scouting buzz-word scouts assign to defensive backs. In the Moneyball story, one of the center pieces is taking away the visual bias and looking for something relevant that could be quantified. Most scouts hated the way/motion that Philip Rivers threw a football (but loved the way Blaine Gabbert threw it). I don't care what a prospect looks like, I have never laid eyes on 99% of them before we run the calculations. We have taken all the data we could find on prospects, and started running various calculations to see if any patterns emerged.
I didn't care what I thought might be important, it only matters what the data says is important. If all great CBs have blue hair in college, and all lesser NFL CBs don't have blue hair...then I'm taking blue haired CB prospects much more seriously. It's an over simplification of the work we did, but we look at several solo and combination pieces of data to determine what shows to be more predictive in college prospects.
I cannot look all the college prospects in the eye, and interview them. We try to look at clues through Wonderlic scores, TV interviews, rap sheets, etc...but that info is flawed and hard to judge. There is always the problem that an athlete can be physically great, a great college performer, and not willing to work at the NFL level...or falls in with the wrong crowd. It's very hard to quantify that...so we have some exposure there in attempting to put a number to it.
The number patterns that we were looking for begins with establishing a base-line. We already know that Darrelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomungha, Champ Bailey, etc are "really good/great/elite" at the NFL level...so we established a couple of control groups of (simplified) bad-mediocre-good-great NFL CBs (based on pro bowls, NFL statistical output, any data relating to classifying a CB, etc.) and tried to find patterns in the college dat of good-great-elite CBs. We looked for patterns that when compared with several college CBs over recent history...the patterns of data from their college years would separate, or predict, whether a certain CB would be elite/great/good in the NFL...or a more probable bust, and/or injury risk.
There are so many factors to consider, and there is no foolproof formula (or if there is, we don't possess it). We begin to get excited when we can develop a model that is predictive 70%+ of the time...which leaves 30% or less of the time wrong. We cannot control a bad measurement/timing at the NFL Combine by a machine, among any number of human errors that can take place...we try to take human error out, and just rely upon established data. Sometimes bad data just happens.
When it came to CBs, we looked at several ways to physically profile a prospect, and to analyze various performance data from their college career and strength of opponents played against. Ultimately, we developed several patterns that proved out to work well together...and when calculated against the last 5+ years of CBs prospects, it sifted and sorted the CBs accordingly. We will not release the details of the exact calculations, because if it continues to be predictive...we want to hold the cards on the "patent"...if you will. If we're ultimately wrong, then we can be thrown on the scrap heap of failed number geeks across the land. We will report it, you can decide on it going forward.
**If you want to see the full list of CBs and their individual ranking/scores, skip to the end of this article and come back to read some more!**
*Similar to our other formulas for offense, we reserve the right to improve/make changes as time goes on. If a new pattern emerges, we want to be on it for the next NFL Draft. The game in general, and the size/speed of players is changing rapidly...what worked in 1994 (example), is likely a joke now. We constantly mine the data each year looking for new improved connections. With all that, here are our results of 2011 and prior...before we begin work on the 2012 class.
Our formula results, and their similarities to NFL team War Rooms
On the offensive side of the ball, our computer models have a solid track record of finding the "value" in the NFL Draft. Often times our #1 rated QB, RB, WR is not in lock step with the NFL evaluators. However, in our CB studies...we seem to have more in common with what the NFL is selecting at the top of the NFL Draft. Our system, judged back in history now, does a decent a job of calling 1st-Round/high-pick busts...and has a mixed bag of finding late-round future stars.
Here is a year-by-year look at what our system would have predicted since 2003, compared to what actually occurred:
Our top rated CB was Patrick Peterson...with one of the highest scores in our history. Few would have debated that top of class grading. We have solid ratings on the Giants Prince Amukamara, but we would have preferred the Patriots #33 selection, the 4th CB taken overall, Ras-I Dowling.
Our sleeper of this 2011 group, is Cleveland Browns 5th-Round draft pick Buster Skrine out of UT-Chattanooga, which is one we are very interested in seeing if it develops...or if we have a non-Division I "head-fake" here.
A more highly touted CB that we think will not become an elite, is the Ravens 1st-Round pick Jimmy Smith...our system sees him more as a possibly a better/top Safety than CB. Time will tell.
Our top rated CB in 2010 was Devin McCourty, which made much more sense than the CB selected 7 spots ahead of him...Houston's Kareem Jackson. Jackson graded as more likely mediocre at best CB, and we would also call Jackson a likely high-pick bust candidate...and that looks on the money so far.
We would have predicted Joe Haden as a bust for the Browns as the top CB taken overall, and also that Haden would have been a better Safety prospect...and that looks like a horrible outcome from our computer scouting.
Our "sleeper" of the 2010 class is Bengals 3rd-Round draft pick Brandon Ghee...and Ghee has done little to date.
Vontae Davis was our top rated CB for 2009, and one of the highest we've rated...and that remains to be seen whether he will live up to those lofty grades. Davis is good, but debatable at this point on greatness. Davis was the 2nd overall CB taken in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Our system projects Malcolm Jenkins, the top CB taken in 2009, as a likely mediocre at best CB...and we would have advised against that selection that early in the NFL Draft of 2009.
Our system's 2009 top "sleeper" CB would have been the 88th overall draft pick, the Ravens Lardarius Webb.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was our #1 overall ranked CB, and he would wind up five picks behind the top selected CB Leodis McKelvin. McKelvin graded solidly for us overall, but DRC was the much better prospect to us based on our formula...a high-probable elite CB. McKelvin graded solid, but off-the-charts as a special team/return man...and has been a very good return man in the NFL. In retrospect, our system would be right to guide DRC over McKelvin.
Our system would have called Brandon Flowers mediocre at best, but he had a very good 2011 NFL season with KC. That Flowers call isn't looking as hot right now, nor would our "sleeper" Terrence Wheatley, who has been all but a bust to-date...but was our #2 ranked CB in the class.
To add further to the 2008 bad calls, our computer scouting did not like Aqib Talib as a 1st-Round CB either...Talib was more on the bust side of the ratings for us.
Darrelle Revis was our top rated CB of 2007, as he was the top CB taken in the NFL. We also had Leon Hall an eye-lash away from Revis's very lofty ratings, and Hall was selected 4 picks after Revis in 2007...and Hall had a sensational 2011 before he was lost for the season with injury.
Our system analysis would not have been as high on Eric Wright as Cleveland was taking 53rd overall, we would see him more as a 4th-Round selection...not a major beef, but the only big variation worth note in 2007.
We would have agreed with Chicago's gamble on 5th-Round selection of CB Corey Graham, who has turned out to be a solid DB/Special teamer in the NFL.
We would have been shaky on Jonathan Joseph and Antonio Cromartie as 1st-Round draft pick CBs, we would have projected them as solid at best, and not likely future elite...but NFL solid. Cromartie has been erratic, and Joseph more stable...and better than our ratings.
Our top rated CB of the class for us was undrafted Cortland Finnegan out of Samford. We did not have high probable elite ratings on Finnegan, but did show him as a very good prospect with some signs of upside of greatness...and definitely worth drafting in the 7th-Round, like the Titans were able too.
Our system would have screamed that the top CB taken, Tye Hill, by STL was a huge mistake...and that would have been on the money.
The good news -- we would have advised an NFL team to stay away from Pac-Man Jones until the 4-5th Round at best, and Tennessee would have loved to have not selected him #6 overall in 2005, in hindsight.
The bad news -- we would have made the case for Fabian Washington as the top CB in this class, with a projection of likely great...possibly elite. Washington was OK at best in the NFL, then suffered a terrible injury and bounced around the league with erratic results after that. Washington was a 1st-Round pick of the Raiders in 2005.
Our sleeper pick in this class would have been Ravens 3rd-Round pick Dominique Foxworth, who was our #2 rated CB of this class.
Our #1 CB prospect in this class was DeAngelo Hall, and there would have been little argument with that in 2004. Hall was the #1 CB taken in the 2004 NFL draft. Hall was also the 2nd highest rated CB in the history of our system analysis. Hall has definitely been a very good pro, he has been debatably great at times...as well as erratic. Hall for sure was not an NFL bust.
We also would've argued that Dunta Robinson, Ahmad Carroll, and Chris Gamble were not 1st-Round draft pick level CBs...but all 3 were selected in the 1st-Round. We would have seen them all as more 2nd-3rd round material.
Our sleeper in this class would have been Michael Waddell, and we would have been put to sleep for making that projection as Waddell barely made a sound in the NFL as a 4th-Round draft pick for the Titans.
Nnamdi Asomungha was our top rated CB in 2003, and he was a late 1st round draft pick. We had Nnamdi rated as good, possibly great, but a long shot to be elite... which looks debatable now.
We did not see what Bill Belichick saw in 4th-Round pick Asante Samuel, and we would have been wrong. Samuel had a very low rating in our system.
We could not help ourselves; we had to run Deion Sanders through our system. Once you start getting past 2006, the information that we want on NFL Draft prospects becomes harder to obtain. If we have enough data, we can try to patch-in estimated/neutral data for some of the missing objects...such is the case with Deion Sanders. We have about 60+% of what we need to analyze Sanders, so we don't take our ratings of him too seriously...however, after we estimated the missing data, Sanders did wind up as our highest all-time rated CB in our system scoring. Sanders rated just ahead of DeAngelo Hall...again, just for fun on Sanders.
Highest graded CBs, and the grading scale...
All of the data that we have analyzed for CB prospects was put into various formulas and ratings, and then designed toward grading the CB prospect on a simplified 1-10 overall scale....however, a prospect could grade over a 10.0+, and lower than zero. The more a CB prospect approaches an 8-9+ overall score, the more they have in common with the current-day top NFL CBs. From a NFL Draft war room perspective, we would use our overall list to find the CBs that scored over 6.5+...as the "line in the sand" of when to take a CB prospect more seriously or not. Very few future NFL top CBs scored below a 6.5-7.0 in our rating system.
Our top 10 rated CBs of the past decade (or more):
9.68 = Deion Sanders (1989)
9.65 = DeAngelo Hall (2004)
9.51 = Patrick Peterson (2011)
9.42 = Darrelle Revis (2007)
9.40 = Leon Hall (2007)
9.31 = Vontae Davis (2009)
8.92 = Devin McCourty (2010)
8.88 = Terrence Wheatley (2008)
8.81 = Fabian Washington (2005)
8.21 = Buster Skrine (2011)
8.20 = Champ Bailey (1999)
Our Top-10/11 list has landed on two busts -- Terrence Wheatley (a CB the Pats invested a 2nd-Round pick in) and Fabian Washington (an Oakland 1st-Round pick). Washington had some injury issues, but a bust none the less. Vontae Davis is good, but questionable to be rated with the all-time greats of the past decade (at this point). Devin McCourty appears promising to be a top NFL CB, but time will tell if he sustains it. Buster Skrine will be an interesting test of whether we found a diamond in the rough in Cleveland's 137th pick out of Tennessee-Chattanooga, or not.
DeAngelo Hall is the highest current era CB we have rated, and that may seem sketchy today...but keep in mind Hall was a Pro-Bowl CB in two of his first 3 seasons in the NFL, then flaked out for a few years, before returning to Pro-Bowl status in 2010.
The full CB list we have studied...
*There may be some semi-notable NFL CBs missing from our list, most likely due to lack of information we needed. However, most all drafted CBs of the past 6-7+ years are on the list. After 5-6 years back, the information we need is harder to come by.
Along with the overall score, we also show 4 individual ratings/characteristics on each CB prospect, to help show some of the skills that our computer's analysis sees/models in these players. Those 4 items are:
RAW SPEED -- Taking a look at the CB prospects measureables from a perspective of straight line speed, burst, etc. A scale of 1-10, but a prospect could score over a 10+.
AGILITY -- Expanding out into the measureables for lateral movements, quick cuts, body-type, speed, etc. Also considered are some of the performance metrics in college. A scale of 1-10, but a prospect could score over a 10+
POWER -- A look at physical size, tackling productivity in college, other physical measureables. One of the side benefits/intentions here, is to see which CBs may be more of a model for a conversion to playing safety successfully in the NFL. Also denotes CBs who are more physical/will have higher tackle totals...over pure speed/coverage CBs. Again, 10.0+ can (and is) achieved.
RETURNS -- A look at the prospects who have the college production and physical characteristics to be a difference-maker as return specialists. On a scale of 100% = highly likely for kick/punt return potential, but several prospects score much higher (some double+) of that grade. Scores going past 100%, show the higher potential for NFL superstar return-abilities.
OVERALL RATING -- Built on a 1-10 scale valuation. It is possible that a prospect can score over 10.0+, but hasn't happened yet. We merge the data from physical measureables, skill times/counts from the NFL Combine/Pro-Days, with college performance data available on pass coverage/tackles, etc. and grade it compared to the the college CBs that went on to be NFL good-great-elite. We found characteristics/data points that the successful NFL CBs had in common in college, that most other CB prospects could not match/achieve.
Scoring with a rating over a 6.5+, is where we start to take a CB prospect more seriously. Most of the future successful CBs scored 7+, and most of the more NFL superior CBs pushed scores more in the 8+ levels...and future NFL busts sneak in there from time-to-time.
You will see some obvious NFL Safeties on the list, if they were college CBs; then we included some in our studies...just to see how they rated, and why they may have moved to Safety.
|Rank||CB metrics score||Last||First||Draft Yr||College||Pick #||Draft Team||H||W||Raw Speed rating||Agility rating||Power/ Strength rating||Return man rating|
|32||6.87||Newman ||Terrence||2003||Kansas St||5||DAL||70.1||193||4.41||8.03||5.65||143.6%|
| || || || || || || || || || || || || || |
|68||5.57||Francies||Coye||2009||San Jose St||191||CLE||72.3||185||3.16||7.13||10.10||48.7%|
|70||5.54||Jones||Pac Man||2005||West Va||6||TEN||69.4||187||7.02||6.99||3.86||156.7%|
|124||2.36||Hunter||Darrell ||2006||Mia, OH||X||X||71.7||206||3.10||5.53||5.30||21.2%|
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