Before you look at all the data below, remember that the sample is looking at NFL seasons two through four. This isn’t analyzing entire NFL careers. This is just designed to find the best running backs for their rookie contracts. It’s up to you if you want to extrapolate the data to either rookie seasons or seasons after the rookie contract. I’m guessing the data would be pretty similar, but the exact correlations would be slightly different.
Defensive tackle is a tough position to analyze because it’s a diverse position with some in to rush the passer and others to stop the run. However, there’s enough evidence in the charts to narrow our focus to just a few things, both on-field and at the NFL Combine.
College tackles for loss was a better predictor of NFL sacks than college sacks for EDGE rushers, and the same can be said for defensive tackle. Tackles for loss also is the best single pre-draft metric that we have for overall early NFL success. If you want to create a minimum threshold, then I recommend using 0.75 tackles for loss per game.
Like you’ll see with linebackers, solo tackles are far more important than assisted tackles. In fact, there’s a moderate, positive correlation to early NFL success with solo tackles and a negative correlation with assisted tackles. If you want to look at production, don’t even bother looking at assisted tackles or total tackles. Just highlight the tackles for loss and solo tackles, then move on.
If you are looking for sacks, look no further than the broad jump. It’s my favorite measure of explosion, and that’s what’s needed to sack quarterbacks in the NFL, along with technique. As you can see, defensive tackle sack artists all had a broad jump of at least 100 inches. Guess where Aaron Donald is on this chart? You’ll probably get it right.
If you want to play linebacker in the NFL, you better be fast -- specifically straight-line speed -- and you better have a lot of tackles in college -- specifically solo tackles. Everything else is basically worthless. That includes the bench press, side-to-side combine drills, and assisted tackles.
Elite NFL linebackers have historically made a lot of solo tackles in college. In fact, all six linebackers who have averaged 0.75 AV/G in NFL seasons two through four made at least 4.0 solo tackles per game in their final college season. Linebackers that made the 6.0 solo tackles per game threshold have had a much better hit rate as well.
You rarely see a trend as strong as this in NFL Draft analytics, unless you’re building models -- you’ll see the results of mine in future columns. If a linebacker doesn’t run the 40-yard dash in under 4.79 seconds, it’s really bad news. Meanwhile, those linebackers that run under 4.6 seconds have had a pretty high hit rate for NFL Draft standards. Speed kills at this position, and it’s arguably only going to get more important with NFL offenses changing.