Analysis or Confirmation Bias? Draft Khalil Mack over Clowney

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

I looked at the 35 defensive ends and linebackers drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2009. Ranked based on their NFL performance, the list looks like this:

Rank Draft Year Draft Pick Name
1 2011 11 JJ Watt
2 2013 30 Alec Ogletree
3 2011 16 Ryan Kerrigan
4 2012 9 Luke Kuechly
5 2011 2 Von Miller
6 2009 15 Brian Cushing
7 2009 26 Clay Matthews
7 2012 21 Chandler Jones
9 2011 14 Robert Quinn
10 2011 7 Aldon Smith
11 2011 24 Cameron Jordan
11 2011 20 Adrian Clayborn
13 2009 13 Brian Orakpo
14 2010 19 Sean Weatherspoon
15 2012 25 Don't'a Hightower
16 2010 8 Rolando McClain
17 2012 26 Whitney Mercilus
18 2013 6 Barkevious Mingo
18 2012 16 Quinton Coples
20 2009 4 Aaron Curry
20 2013 5 Ezekiel Ansah
22 2012 15 Bruce irvin
22 2012 28 Nick Perry
24 2013 17 Jarvis Jones
25 2009 18 Robert Ayers
26 2011 31 Cameron Heyward
27 2010 31 Jerry Hughes
27 2009 3 Tyson Jackson
29 2012 18 Melvin Ingram
30 2012 19 Shea McClellin
31 2013 3 Dion Jordan
31 2013 26 Datone Jones
33 2013 24 Bjorn Werner
34 2009 16 Larry English
35 2009 11 Aaron Maybin

Analyzing the list, I looked for the stats that correlated with the best players to see which first-round LB/DE talent I would take in the 2014 draft. I then compared the data with the top DE/LB talent this year: Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Ryan Shazier, Jadeveon Clowney, Kony Ealy, Dee Ford, and Trent Murphy.

The most significant stats were solo tackles/game (.462 correlation), stuffs (TFL/sacks)/game (.429), and tackles/game (.419).

Ryan Shazier was the best of the group in college in solo tackles/game and tackles/game. Mack was #2 in each. Mack was #1 in stuffs/game, and Shazier was #2.

Combine activities that proved somewhat significant were the three-cone drill (.372), broad jump ( .272), and the 20-yard shuttle (.229). Trent Murphy and Anthony Barr were the best in the three-cone, while Mack was 1st in the 20-yard shuttle and 2nd in the broad jump. Shazier was 1st in broad jump and 2nd in the shuttle.

Three-cone

# Year draft name Rank 3 cone
1 2011 2 Von Miller 5 6.7000
2 2012 15 Bruce irvin 22 6.7000
3 2014 Trent Murphy 6.780
4 2014 Anthony Barr 6.820
5 2012 18 Melvin Ingram 29 6.8300
6 2014 Kony Ealy 6.830
7 2009 15 Brian Cushing 6 6.8400
8 2013 6 Barkevious Mingo 18 6.8400
9 2011 11 JJ Watt 1 6.8800
10 2009 26 Clay Matthews 7 6.9000
11 2014 Ryan Shazier 6.910
12 2012 9 Luke Kuechly 4 6.9200
13 2011 14 Robert Quinn 9 6.9900
14 2010 19 Sean Weatherspoon 14 6.9900
15 2010 31 Jerry Hughes 27 6.9900
16 2013 3 Dion Jordan 31 7.0200
17 2012 21 Chandler Jones 7 7.0700
18 2011 24 Cameron Jordan 11 7.0700
19 2009 18 Robert Ayers 25 7.0700
20 2012 19 Shea McClellin 30 7.0700
21 2014 Dee Ford 7.070
22 2011 20 Adrian Clayborn 11 7.0800
23 2014 Khalil Mack 7.080
24 2013 5 Ezekiel Ansah 20 7.1100
25 2009 4 Aaron Curry 20 7.1500
26 2013 30 Alec Ogletree 2 7.1600
27 2010 8 Rolando McClain 16 7.1600
28 2012 26 Whitney Mercilus 17 7.1700
29 2011 16 Ryan Kerrigan 3 7.1800
30 2011 7 Aldon Smith 10 7.1900
31 2012 28 Nick Perry 22 7.2500
32 2009 13 Brian Orakpo 13 7.2600
33 2009 16 Larry English 34 7.2600
34 2014 Jadeveon Clowney 7.270

Broad jump

# Year draft name Rank broad
1 2014 Ryan Shazier 130
2 2009 13 Brian Orakpo 13 130
3 2009 11 Aaron Maybin 35 130
4 2012 19 Shea McClellin 30 129
5 2013 6 Barkevious Mingo 18 128
6 2014 Khalil Mack 128
7 2011 2 Von Miller 5 126
8 2011 14 Robert Quinn 9 125
9 2014 Dee Ford 124
10 2009 4 Aaron Curry 20 124
11 2012 28 Nick Perry 22 124
12 2014 Jadeveon Clowney 124
13 2012 15 Bruce irvin 22 123
14 2012 9 Luke Kuechly 4 123
15 2010 19 Sean Weatherspoon 14 123
16 2013 3 Dion Jordan 31 122
17 2013 30 Alec Ogletree 2 122
18 2011 16 Ryan Kerrigan 3 122
19 2009 26 Clay Matthews 7 121
20 2009 15 Brian Cushing 6 120
21 2011 11 JJ Watt 1 120
22 2014 Anthony Barr 119
23 2014 Trent Murphy 118

20-yard shuttle

# Year draft name Rank 20-Yd Shuttle
1 2012 15 Bruce irvin 22 4.03
2 2011 2 Von Miller 5 4.06
3 2012 9 Luke Kuechly 4 4.12
4 2011 20 Adrian Clayborn 11 4.13
5 2010 31 Jerry Hughes 27 4.15
6 2014 Khalil Mack 4.18
7 2009 26 Clay Matthews 7 4.18
8 2012 18 Melvin Ingram 29 4.18
9 2014 Anthony Barr 4.19
10 2014 Trent Murphy 4.20
11 2014 Ryan Shazier 4.21
12 2011 11 JJ Watt 1 4.21
13 2009 15 Brian Cushing 6 4.22
14 2013 5 Ezekiel Ansah 20 4.26
15 2011 14 Robert Quinn 9 4.31
16 2013 26 Datone Jones 31 4.32
17 2012 19 Shea McClellin 30 4.33
18 2013 3 Dion Jordan 31 4.35
19 2011 24 Cameron Jordan 11 4.37
20 2009 11 Aaron Maybin 35 4.38
21 2010 19 Sean Weatherspoon 14 4.38
22 2009 16 Larry English 34 4.38
23 2010 8 Rolando McClain 16 4.38
24 2012 21 Chandler Jones 7 4.38
25 2013 6 Barkevious Mingo 18 4.39
26 2013 30 Alec Ogletree 2 4.39
27 2011 16 Ryan Kerrigan 3 4.39
28 2013 24 Bjorn Werner 33 4.40
29 2014 Jadeveon Clowney 4.43
30 2009 13 Brian Orakpo 13 4.45

Sacks had the most significant negative relationship. The higher the sack numbers in college, the lower the success rate in the NFL. I could rationalize that as young effective pass rushers don't necessarily need good technique to be successful at the college level, but then struggle against NFL linemen. My 10 lowest-ranked athletes combined for 201 sacks in 465 college games (0.4 sacks/game), but have only managed 65 sacks in 371 NFL games (.18 sacks/game).

# Year draft name Rank College Sacks
1 2011 16 Ryan Kerrigan 3 33.5
2 2011 2 Von Miller 5 33.0
3 2014 Trent Murphy 32.5
4 2009 16 Larry English 34 31.5
5 2010 31 Jerry Hughes 27 28.5
6 2014 Khalil Mack 28.5
7 2013 17 Jarvis Jones 24 28.0
8 2012 16 Quinton Coples 18 24.0
9 2014 Jadeveon Clowney 24
10 2013 24 Bjorn Werner 33 23.5
11 2014 Anthony Barr 23.5
12 2009 13 Brian Orakpo 13 23.0
13 2012 15 Bruce irvin 22 22.5
14 2012 28 Nick Perry 22 21.5
15 2012 18 Melvin Ingram 29 21.5

X-factors

Jadeveon Clowney's X-factor is his athleticism.

Khalil Mack's X-factor is his turnovers forced. Out of 42 players in the sample, only 6 players managed to force more than 10 turnovers in their college careers: Von Miller, Whitney Mercilus, Jerry Hughes and Aaron Curry all forced 11. Ryan Kerrigan forced 15 turnovers. Khalil Mack, with 4 Interceptions and 16 forced fumbles, forced 20.

Ryan Shazier is my top LB pick; however his size is a negative X-factor. He is the 4th-shortest LB/DE pound for pound in the sample, and he is the lightest, at his combine weight of 237 pounds. At Ohio State he played at 230, creeping into NFL strong safety size. He is tied for the shortest LB/DE at 6'1, and he only has one career interception and 16 career passes defended.

Conclusion

If I had to select a player, Khalil Mack has shown me enough to be on top of my board at DE/LB.  Clowney's numbers worry me, but in the right situation, he will be a monster in the NFL. A little bigger Shazier would be the top pick on defense for me. Shazier reminds me of London Fletcher, and I think he has the ability to be a tackling machine.

I predict Mack comes off the board first, #3 at Jacksonville. Clowney goes #4 to Cleveland, and Shazier goes #16 to Dallas, where his speed and agility will be put to use chasing down Desean Jackson, RG3, Shady McCoy, and the rest of the high-speed NFC East.

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