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SPARQ rankings? Advanced analytics love Bud Dupree, but not Dante Fowler

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You see them mentioned, but what do SPARQ scores have to do with the draft?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

As time goes on, more and more very smart people are trying to quantify performance, moving scouting from an art to a science.

Baseball has long since moved from watching tape to crunching numbers and wading through an alphabet soup of statistics. In fact, that's why I mostly stick to watching baseball and not so much talking about it.

Moneyball and sabermetrics have been so successful in baseball that people in football looking for an advantage, or better understanding -- same difference -- are looking to advance analytics.

Services like Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders are always looking for new ways to analyze play and look beyond the box score. But when it came to the draft, there is a mountain of data just sitting around. So, the nice people at Nike created the SPARQ score, factoring in weight, 40-yard dash, short shuttle, and vertical jump to come up with a single number to give a singe number that can be used to compare prospects' athleticism.

Of course, the nice people at Nike decided, in a not-so-nice move to take the SPARQ calculator down. However, Zach Whitman of Field Gulls and RotoWorld decided to try to figure out how Nike came to their conclusion. The result is what he is calling the rSPARQ.

The rSPARQ takes into account 40 time, vertical & broad jump, short shuttle, 3-cone drill, and bench press to come up with a single picture of a prospect's athleticism.

This is Whitman's list of pSPARQ ratings for the 2015 class of EDGE and LB prospects.

(via Rotoworld - LINK)

The pSPARQ score is pretty self explanatory. "NFL Perc" score relates to how they stack up against the average athlete in the NFL. An "NFL Perc" score of 50 means the player is an "average" athlete by NFL standards.

A couple things stand out here.

First, Vic Beasley is an elite athlete, but as far as the Giants are concerned, Bud Dupree is an ELITE athlete. His Short Shuttle and 3-cone times keep him from blowing past Beasley, but in terms of pure, down-hill explosiveness -- which as a 270-pound 4-3 defensive end, is what the Giants would want out of him -- Dupree is in a league of his own.

On the other end of things, two players seem remarkably out of place. First is Dante Fowler, a player who is gaining a lot of consideration as the top edge rusher in the draft. His versatility, hustle, and athleticism on tape have drawn rave reviews. To see him as a below average NFL athlete is odd.

Next, and most obvious is Missouri DE/OLB Shane Ray. Ray's 3-cone drill, short shuttle, and jumps heavily penalized him, to the point where he is he is viewed as 50 percent below average athleticism for an NFL player. For a player who's calling card on the field was explosive, dynamic athleticism, this isn't just odd, it is shocking.

And it could enough to scare many people far away from taking Ray.

It should be noted, however, that Ray didn't participate in the Scouting Combine due to a foot injury. His Pro Day performance was different enough from what he showed on tape to raise the question that perhaps his injury wasn't fully healed yet and impacted his performance.

Final Thoughts

But what does it all mean Basil? Well, for my money this is another way to look at the data created by the Combine, and compare across players. But it is also just a tool to confirm what you saw on tape, or go back and take another look. For Bud Dupree, the combine and pSPARQ score confirms what we already knew. He is a rare athlete and when he is allowed to  just pin his ears back and rush, Dupree is legitimately explosive. For Ray, the Pro Day results and SPARQ score force us to go back and take another look at his tape. Does that lack of athleticism show up on tape? Or is the problem with the workout?

For me, tape is still King, but tools such as these can help you make sense of it.