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2021 NFL SackSEER predictions: How good could this year’s pass rushers be?

Just how exciting are this year’s pass rushers?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 21 Oregon at UCLA Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We are closing in on the 2021 NFL Draft, which means that it’s time for all sorts of predictions.

In what has become an annual tradition, Football Outsiders and ESPN have released their “SackSEER” predictions for the 2021 draft class (inSider content). The SackSEER is an attempt to use a variety of metrics to predict the production of the drafts’ top edge rushers over their first five seasons.

New York Giants fans should be well aware of the SackSEER predictions, as it was first introduced with the 2010 draft class. That year it predicted that eventual Giants’ pick (and definitely not a gymnast) Jason Pierre-Paul would have just 3.8 sacks over the course of his first five seasons in the NFL. As it turns out, JPP wasn’t a colossal bust and has been one of the League’s premier EDGE players and the folks behind SackSEER quickly acknowledged their flaws and adjusted the formula.

Let’s see what they think of this year’s crop of pass rushers:

Jaelen Phillips (Miami): 30.5 sacks through five seasons
Jayson Oweh (Penn State): 24.5 sacks through five seasons
Kwitty Paye (Michigan): 21.7 sacks through five seasons
Gregory Rousseau (Miami): 21.3 sacks through five seasons
Carlos Basham Jr. (Wake Forest): 20.7 sacks through five seasons
Joseph Ossai (Texas): 19.7 sacks through five seasons
Azeez Ojulari (Georgia): 18.7 sacks through five seasons
Joe Tryon (Washington): 17.4 sacks through five seasons
Elerson Smith (Northern Iowa): 13.9 sacks through five seasons

Methodology

SackSEER is based on a statistical analysis of all edge rushers drafted between 1998 to 2019 and measures the following:

- The edge rusher’s projected draft position. Specifically, the rankings from Scouts, Inc.

- An “explosion index” that measures the prospect’s scores in the 40-yard dash, the vertical leap and the broad jump in pre-draft workouts.

- The prospect’s score on the 3-cone drill.

- A metric called “SRAM” which stands for “sack rate as modified.” SRAM measures the prospect’s per game sack productivity, but with adjustments for factors such as early entry in the NFL draft and position switches during college.

- The prospect’s college passes defensed divided by college games played.

Raptor’s Thoughts

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Phillips came out on top of these projections. He was the number one overall recruit in the country for a reason, and he is clearly the best pass rusher in this draft class based on the tape. It also helps that his workout backs up what we saw on tape, with good speed and explosiveness. To put Phillips’ “30.5” prediction in context, SackSEER predicted Myles Garrett would have 31.9 sacks through five years, and Chase Young would have 30.7. Essentially, they are predicting that Phillips is a potentially elite pass rusher at the NFL level.

Really, the only reason Phillips isn’t regarded as an easy top-10, if not top-5, pick is his injury history.

One thing to take note of with these rankings is that the SackSEER takes ESPN’s “Scouts Inc.” projected draft position into account and weights its predictions accordingly. So while Elerson Smith had a great workout with good speed and agility and phenomenal explosive numbers, he is only predicted to have 13 or 14 sacks through five seasons. ESPN admits that Smith would have their second-highest prediction (behind only Phillips) of 30.0 sacks if they disregard projected draft position. Smith could well be one of the true steals of the draft.

The prediction of Jayson Oweh as the second-best EDGE rusher in this draft class is driven entirely by his ridiculous Pro Day workout. He could be one of the biggest boom-bust prospects in the whole draft, as ESPN ranks him as their 35th overall player. But despite his freakish athleticism, he had very little production in college, with all of zero (0) sacks in 2020. There are, obviously, instances of unproductive yet athletic college players blossoming in the NFL, with Danielle Hunter and Montez Sweat being two of the most recent examples. However, there are also plenty of examples of players who never manage to play up to their athletic upside.

While they project Paye, Rousseau, and Basham to be solid producers and within a sack of each other after five years, I can’t help but be skeptical of them — at least for the Giants. I could see any of the next three defenders, Ossai, Ojulari, or Tryon, beating out the bigger and more highly-regarded defenders from 2-5 on the list. Not only are they more athletic, but they have greater versatility which will make it easier for modern defenses to fit them into their schemes.