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Cole World

Why Kaleb McGary looks like a great pick for the Atlanta Falcons

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Why Kaleb McGary looks like a great pick for the Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons invested heavily in their offensive line in the 2019 NFL draft. They selected Chris Lindstrom at 14th overall, then traded back into the end of the first round with the Los Angeles Rams to take Kaleb McGary, the offensive tackle out of Washington.

In looking at these two picks, it’s pretty clear that they were the result of both scouting and analytics working together to identify quality offensive linemen worthy of selection as starters. The Atlanta Falcons are one of the franchises at the leading edge of analytics in the NFL, as they have both a Vice President of Technology, Data and Analytics (Karl Pierburg) and a Football Analytics Coordinator (John Taormina). And the fingerprints of an objective look at what matters in offensive linemen is there, if you know where to look.

Kaleb McGary put up a 33.5-inch vertical jump, which was the second-highest for any drafted offensive tackle (behind Joshua Miles, a seventh-round pick of the Cardinals). He was better than average for a typical early-round tackle in all other combine categories except one: bench press. Meanwhile, Chris Lindstrom put up the second-longest broad jump among offensive lineman, behind only Andre Dillard, and was also quite above-average athletically in all the other categories except, you guessed it, the bench press. It’s not that these two wouldn’t put mere mortals to shame in lifting 225 pounds well over 20 times each, but compared to other top-line prospects, it is the one area where they did not stand out.

So let’s take a look at all offensive tackle prospects who were drafted in the first or second rounds from 2000 to 2014. Using data found at Pro Football Reference on combine results and filling in data from pro days where it could be found, I put together a list of athletic testing results for top linemen. Not every top prospect is included, but most from the last generation of football players are.

Here are the correlation coefficients between various athletic testing results and the approximate value (as listed and calculated at Pro Football Reference) for the first five years of each tackle’s career. For a refresher on correlation, a number near zero represents that there is basically no relationship between the two items, while a number near 1 would mean a strong, positive relationship. A number approaching -1 would mean a strong inverse relationship. For example, we would expect that there would be an inverse relationship between draft slot (where lower is better) and career games started.

  • 40-time: -0.36
  • Shuttle: -0.33
  • Broad jump: +0.30
  • Three-cone: -0.28
  • Vertical jump: +0.27
  • Hand size: -0.16
  • Weight: -0.09
  • Arm length: +0.03
  • Bench press: +0.03
  • Height: -0.01

Most of the athletic testing does matter to some extent when it comes to linemen and predicting who will succeed, showing what I would call modest correlations. The one that has had no relationship may be counter-intuitive: bench press. Sure, these guys are strong compared to the population at large, but being significantly stronger than your fellow top-line prospects does not seem to translate to more career success. Arm length, another obsession, also shows no relationship even though you will hear about it often during draft season.

For a comparison, the correlation between draft position and first-five-year approximate value for this same group was -0.31. That’s in the same range as these other athletic testing categories (besides bench press). You would have had just as much luck predicting a player's success based on looking at testing numbers as you would have just by going on draft position. Probably more if you combined both approaches.

Here are the offensive tackles taken in the first 20 picks of a draft who put up below-average test numbers in at least three of the five important categories:

  • Jason Smith
  • Greg Robinson
  • Eugene Monroe
  • Jake Long
  • Gosder Cherilus
  • Chris Williams
  • Branden Albert
  • Leonard Davis
  • Jeff Backus
  • Levi Brown
  • Andre Smith

If teams had red-flagged a lot of these players, they would have been better off. Jake Long is the only one who was selected to a Pro Bowl during his initial five years in the league. Several qualify as outright busts, and others required position changes to fulfill their potential.

Meanwhile, here are the opposite: Players drafted outside the top 20 who tested well in at least three of the five categories and at least one of the jumping categories:

  • Joe Staley
  • Daryn College
  • Anthony Castonzo
  • Rodger Saffold
  • Khalif Barnes
  • Duane Brown
  • Will Beatty
  • Jon Stinchcomb
  • Chad Clifton
  • Andrew Whitworth

These players outperform their earlier-drafted peers with questionable combine testing results, with five Pro Bowlers to three, and no outright busts.

McGary (as well as Andre Dillard, whom another analytically inclined franchise in the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to get) would be part of that group, and he was above-average in every category but bench press compared to early drafted tackles from 2000 to 2014. Jonah Williams, meanwhile, who went No. 11 overall and was the first offensive lineman taken, was below-average in four of the five categories, only being slightly above-average in 40-yard dash time.

If we look at vertical jump performance, the category in which McGary excelled the most compared to most linemen, here is how careers turned out among those drafted in 2000 to 2014, based on being assigned to six categories: DNP (did not participate), poor, below average, average, above average and excellent.

Games started in first five years | Pro Bowl seasons | approximate value:

DNP: 48.8 | 0.1 | 26

Poor: 45.6 | 0.0 | 22

Below average: 57.0 | 0.4 | 29

Average: 61.8 | 0.4 | 31

Above average: 60.9 | 0.9 | 35

Excellent: 60.0 | 0.7 | 32

None of the worst leapers made a pro bowl. Jeff Otah had the worst vertical of any player taken in the first round over that period, and Jason Smith, a notorious bust as a second overall pick, was also among them. It also looks like teams are rightly cautious to view linemen who don’t test in a category with skepticism and not take risks there. (Jawaan Taylor dropped to the second round over medical concerns, and he did not do most tests at the combine.)

The above-average and excellent vertical jumpers were about twice as likely to make a Pro Bowl as their peers who were closer to average. Lane Johnson, Russell Okung, Joe Staley, Jon Stinchcomb, Joe Thomas and Trent Williams are all guys who posted a vertical above 32 inches and went on to make a Pro Bowl.

When you look at the combine profiles of McGary coupled with Lindstrom, I don’t think it is any accident that these are players the franchise targeted. (I suspect they would have also been fine with Andre Dillard.) Lindstrom just put up one of the best broad jumps of any guard prospect, and his athletic profile looks like that of an elite tackle prospect. Atlanta targeted these players, and they fit the profile of guys who have worked out in the past.

 

 

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Stats can’t predict injuries and attitude though. Duane Brown was terrible his first 2-3 years,  worse than Sam Baker. I expect McGary to be good but he has the right attitude and competitive toughness DQ looks at in a player. He sounds more nasty than Lindstorm.

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27 minutes ago, Cole World said:

In looking at these two picks, it’s pretty clear that they were the result of both scouting and analytics working together to identify quality offensive linemen

Intriguing info. Well done, and thank you for the work. The two first round picks seem like future starters according to the trends in the analytics.

25 minutes ago, Cole World said:

Atlanta Falcons are one of the franchises at the leading edge of analytics in the NFL, as they have both a Vice President of Technology, Data and Analytics (Karl Pierburg) and a Football Analytics Coordinator (John Taormina). And the fingerprints of an objective look at what matters in offensive linemen is there, if you know where to look.

And vertical is a precursor for success. Just damm. I toast the Falcons' FO.

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34 minutes ago, Cole World said:

When you look at the combine profiles of McGary coupled with Lindstrom, I don’t think it is any accident that these are players the franchise targeted. (I suspect they would have also been fine with Andre Dillard.) Lindstrom just put up one of the best broad jumps of any guard prospect, and his athletic profile looks like that of an elite tackle prospect. Atlanta targeted these players, and they fit the profile of guys who have worked out in the past.

Love your work.

Thank you for this.

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My goodness Cole.....now this is a quality post.....Thank you.

Makes me feel much better about our 1st round draft picks.  

I just do now know how we can miss the playoffs this year.

Top 5 offense, and Quinn taking over the defense.....can not wait for the season to start.

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That’s good stuff Cole.

I’m sure our message board faction that didn’t like one or both of the picks also weighed this information in their post draft analysis  :rolleyes:

After the draft and some were freaking out about the scouting profiles on McGary, I knew dam well TD and his scouting department spent an intensive amount of time and resources scouting OL and to pay little attention to those draft profiles. 

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1 hour ago, duckhoa said:

My goodness Cole.....now this is a quality post.....Thank you.

Makes me feel much better about our 1st round draft picks.  

I just do now know how we can miss the playoffs this year.

Top 5 offense, and Quinn taking over the defense.....can not wait for the season to start.

I can second that.. 

If this was their plan I'd be very impressed. Wanted DT/DE, but I love good sound logic and am always willing to reconsider my position when presented with it. 

Great,  work Cole

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30 minutes ago, MD-FalconFan13 said:

If this was their plan I'd be very impressed. Wanted DT/DE, but I love good sound logic and am always willing to reconsider my position when presented with it. 

Thank you.

Another thinker in a world where ..............

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1 hour ago, Tim Mazetti said:

Mathematics is the new player evaluation tool? Who would have thought of the vertical as key?

Gotta love these researchers.

Not me, I marginalized vertical and placed more weight on the bench!

This is why I don’t experience thermonuclear meltdowns on draft day if my guys weren't picked or if some draft magazine had Keanu Neal going later in draft.

Well, I should say I don’t “personally” experience them, I do witness them each year!

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1 minute ago, gazoo said:

No me, I completely dismissed vertical and placed more weight on the bench!

This is why I don’t experience thermonuclear meltdowns on draft day if my guys were picked or if some draft magazine had Keanu Neal going later in draft.

Well, I should say I don’t “personally” experience them, I do witness them each year!

The FO is on it. This is a good time to be a Falcon fan, as were the last 11 years.

How long has this evaluation tool been in place? Seems like a few years.

 

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Thanks so much for posting the information!! :tiphat: Glad to see some positive info on our O-line picks. I am getting more excited to see how this new line plays. I am sure they will have some bumps along they way. It takes some time for the line to work well as a unit. 

I myself am a happy man that they are trying to make sure the O-line is no longer the Falcons biggest weakness!! :D

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1 hour ago, gazoo said:

That’s good stuff Cole.

I’m sure our message board faction that didn’t like one or both of the picks also weighed this information in their post draft analysis  :rolleyes:

After the draft and some were freaking out about the scouting profiles on McGary, I knew dam well TD and his scouting department spent an intensive amount of time and resources scouting OL and to pay little attention to those draft profiles. 

I think your argument is off base.  While there may have been questions of how “Mudd’ing” translates to our ZBS with regards to Kaleb, the issue was never the players.  Just the fact that defense was ignored until Round 4 and we sacrificed our 3rd to move up

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7 minutes ago, Falconsin2012 said:

I think your argument is off base.  While there may have been questions of how “Mudd’ing” translates to our ZBS with regards to Kaleb, the issue was never the players.  Just the fact that defense was ignored until Round 4 and we sacrificed our 3rd to move up

Matt Ryan having time to eat a sandwich while his WR's break free....Priceless

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1 hour ago, gazoo said:

That’s good stuff Cole.

I’m sure our message board faction that didn’t like one or both of the picks also weighed this information in their post draft analysis  :rolleyes:

After the draft and some were freaking out about the scouting profiles on McGary, I knew dam well TD and his scouting department spent an intensive amount of time and resources scouting OL and to pay little attention to those draft profiles. 

It was high time the Falcons showed some OL focus in first two round. All those high defensive draft picks over the years didn’t  have as much impact of protecting Ryan and running the ball. I don’t think there was any impact player left after 14 to make this D win games. This team goes as far as the offense goes.

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1 hour ago, Tim Mazetti said:

The FO is on it. This is a good time to be a Falcon fan, as were the last 11 years.

How long has this evaluation tool been in place? Seems like a few years.

 

It sure is Tim, awesome times for us long time falcons fans!

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1 hour ago, Osiruz said:

I read this before, I agree something about the vertical makes better NFL players as well as the broad jump. 

Shows how much power they can generate. It's the exact reason why I knew Jamaal Anderson was going to bust. His vert was pathetic. 

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