With the 2016 NFL draft quickly approaching, it is time for Football Outsiders' annual SackSEER projections. The SackSEER projections are based on a statistical analysis of the factors that best predict the pass-rushing success of edge rushers: 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers.
SackSEER -- which is based on a statistical analysis of all of edge rushers drafted from 1998-2013 -- has predicted success for current stars Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Justin Houston, while also identifying several high-profile busts at the edge rusher position, including Dion Jordan, Marcus Smith and Jarvis Jones. SackSEER had its fair share of misses as well, but it nevertheless provides a good starting point for discussing the likelihood that an edge-rusher prospect will collect high numbers of sacks at the NFL level.
SackSEER projects the number of regular-season sacks the edge rusher will record over the course of his first five NFL seasons. This year's crop of pass rushers at the top of the draft project to be mostly mediocre, at least compared to their highly-drafted brethren in past drafts. However, this draft does include a smattering of underrated edge rushers who might still be available in the second, third and fourth rounds.
1. Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Projection: 26.8 sacks through Year 5 Scouts Inc.: No. 1 overall Similar historical prospects: Justin Smith, Melvin Ingram
SackSEER expects Bosa to have a strong NFL career, but the system feels he is somewhat overrated as a possible No. 1 overall selection. With 26 sacks in three years, Bosa had good production at Ohio State. Although Bosa's sack total dropped off in his junior season, it's not uncommon for a strong edge-rusher prospect to record fewer sacks after a successful year, due to increased double-teams. Bosa also had an impressive 6.89-second 3-cone time, which is second best among all of the edge rushers at this year's NFL combine.
2. Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Projection: 26.8 sacks through Year 5 Scouts Inc.: No. 19 overall Similar historical prospects: Brian Orakpo, Barkevious Mingo
3. Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
Projection: 22.9 sacks through Year 5 Scouts Inc.: No. 45 overall Similar historical prospects: Adalius Thomas, Justin Houston
Ogbah is a good all-around prospect, and he would be SackSEER's favorite player in this draft if it did not adjust for projected draft position. Ogbah had consistently good production, recording double-digit sacks as both a sophomore and a junior. He also added nine passes defensed in his three-year college career, giving him an above-average passes defensed rate.
4. Shaq Lawson, Clemson
Projection: 22.9 sacks through Year 5 Scouts Inc.: No. 16 overall Similar historical prospects: Whitney Mercilus, Jamaal Anderson
Lawson was one of the top defenders on the No. 2-ranked team in the country. However, SackSEER is only lukewarm on his prospects. Lawson is a bit of a one-hit wonder: He had 12.5 sacks in 15 games as a junior, but had only 7.5 sacks in his first two seasons. Lawson also had only one pass defensed over the course of his career, which is a major red flag. Lawson did have a solid combine workout, however, which included a nice 10-foot broad jump.
5. Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
Projection: 20.8 sacks through Year 5 Scouts Inc.: No. 29 overall Similar historical prospects: Derrick Morgan, Bjoern Werner
6. Kamalei Correa, Boise State
Projection: 17.5 sacks through Year 5 Scouts Inc.: No. 31 overall Similar historical prospects: Victor Butler, Nick Reed
SackSEER does not like Correa. First, Correa had a poor passes defensed rate, recording only two passes defensed in 39 games. Second, Correa's combine was uneven. Correa recorded a slightly above-average 4.69-second 40-yard dash, but a below-average 33-inch vertical jump and a fairly poor broad jump of just 9 feet.
This performance is concerning especially because Correa is small for the position at 243 pounds. Correa's projection might go up after his pro day -- he did not run the 3-cone drill at the combine -- but based on what SackSEER has seen so far, Correa does not offer good value at the price of a low first-round or high second-round selection.
7. Bronson Kaufusi, BYU
Projection: 14.9 sacks through Year 5 Scouts Inc.: No. 94 overall Similar historical prospects: Charles Grant, Devin Taylor
SackSEER projects Kaufusi to outproduce his draft position, but he might not be everyone's cup of tea as a prospect. The primary driver of Kaufusi's relatively high SackSEER projection is his passes defensed total. Kaufusi finished with two interceptions and 14 pass breakups, which translates into a pass defensed every three games -- an impressive rate for a 280-pound defensive lineman. Kaufusi is also quick, demonstrated by his combine 3-cone drill time of 7.03 seconds. LIKE US ON FACEBOOK
SackSEER does have one big knock on Kaufusi: He performed poorly on the explosion metrics. Kufusi's 40-yard dash, vertical leap and broad jump were all well below average. That said, a team could do a lot worse with a late third-round pick than picking up a big, productive defensive end with a talent for knocking down passes.
8. James Cowser, Southern Utah
Projection: 14.7 sacks through Year 5 Scouts Inc.: No. 135 overall Similar historical prospects: Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Andy Studebaker
One of SackSEER's lessons is that small-school players are often severely underrated. Players such as Jared Allen and Robert Mathis dropped to the second half of the draft despite dominant college careers, largely due to concerns regarding the strength of their competition. In the 2016 draft, the most likely edge rusher to enter the ranks of small-school prospect-turned-star is Cowser.
Cowser was dominant for Southern Utah. He made an immediate impact for the Thunderbirds, recording 7.5 sacks in 11 games as a freshman, and after that recorded double-digit sacks in three consecutive years. Cowser's explosion index is on the low side, but he had the quickest 3-cone time of any edge rusher invited to the combine. Projected draft position suggests that it is still unlikely that Cowser will have an impact in the NFL. However, he has considerably more upside than any other edge rusher who is likely to be available after the third round.
9. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
Projection: 13.7 sacks through Year 5 Scouts Inc.: No. 78 overall Similar historical prospects: Shea McClellin, Baraka Atkins
10. Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
Projection: 13.6 sacks through Year 5 Scouts Inc.: No. 65 overall Similar historical prospects: Chris Kelsay, Casey Tisdale
Jenkins is essentially the same mixed bag as his college teammate Leonard Floyd, except he's inferior in every one of SackSEER's metrics. Jenkins' combine was good, but it was not as good as Floyd's. Jenkins scored lower numbers on the 40-yard dash, the vertical leap, broad jump and the 3-cone drill.