With Playoff Hopes Decreasing, Here Are Draft Defensive Backs to Keep An Eye On

Week 14 of the NFL season is here and with it comes the disappointment of teams falling out of playoff contention. While only a fortunate two teams make the Super Bowl many others strive and focus on making the playoffs.

Compared to other major league sports NFL teams have a relatively tough chance of making the playoffs. In Major League Baseball (MLB) 10 of 30 teams make the playoffs or 33%. In the National Football League (NFL) 12 or 32 teams or 38% make the playoffs.  The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has 8 of 12 teams make the playoffs or 67%.  Major League Soccer (MLS)  is composed of 23 teams and 12 teams make the playoffs or  52%.  The National Basketball Association (NBA) is composed of 30 teams with 16 teams making the playoffs for 53%. Finally the National Hockey League (NHL) is composed of 31 teams and 16 teams make the playoffs for 52%.

Following Sunday’s games of week fourteen six teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. They are the Jets, Jaguars, Raiders, Bills, Cardinals and 49ers.

In anticipation of the growing disappointment among NFL fans hoping for a playoff spot and the conclusion of the college football regular season, I decided to take a look at the NFL draft. The consolation prize that helps soothes a lost season. I started out by looking at the defensive players available. For the most part I did not include underclassmen that have not declared. I started looking at the defensive backs and will move on to linebackers and defensive linemen in future posts.

I looked at performance data for the 2018 college season. The criteria used was “market share data”. This is the evaluation of a player’s performance compared to the rest of their team. If a defensive end had 10 sacks for the season on a team that achieved 40 sacks then that player had a 25% sacks market share.  Research has shown a correlation between college market share production and NFL Pro-Bowl production.

Shown for each player are their 2018 totals for solo tackles, interceptions and passes defensed as well as their corresponding team market share (ms). For all players that met the market share thresholds I took the mean and standard deviation for the group in each category and then summed their standard deviations across all three categories. The sum of this standard deviation is shown. A higher sum is better. Keep in mind that these sums are relative to a group that meets the threshold criteria. So even with a low negative sum the player is still statistically speaking a good player.

Defensive Backs

The Top 100

Cornerback Deandre Baker of Georgia

Height: 5’11” | Weight: 185 lbs
Solo Tackles: 31 (7.9% ms)
Interceptions: 2 (5% ms)
Passes Defended: 9 (47.4% ms)
Sum Std Deviation: +0.40

Winner of the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award; AP First Team All-SEC; A two and a half year starter, Baker has accumulated 82 solo tackles, 7 interceptions and 23 passes defended over three seasons. ESPN’s Todd McShay had this to say “This dude is one of the more instinctive corners I’ve evaluated in years, and he is so tough for his size”. Other evaluators have questioned his top-end speed. However he has played in most schemes, is a physical player that tackles hard, and shows good ball skills. He is considered a ballhawk in off-man and zone coverage. In 2017 Baker allowed a completion rate of just 30.5 percent.

Cornerback Andraez Williams of LSU

Height: 6’3” | Weight: 184 lbs
Solo Tackles: 23 (6% ms)
Interceptions: 2 (5.3% ms)
Passes Defended: 9 (22.5% ms)
Sum Std Deviation: -2.78

Two year starter, red-shirt sophomore at LSU; One of fourteen semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award; 2017 Third Team All-America (AP), 2017 First Team All-SEC (Media). Per Pro Football Focus in 2017 Williams fielded the SEC’s lowest passer rating when targeted (22.9).  Noted for ball skills when turned around to the ball, and athleticism. Questions arise on tackling, ball tracking on deep passes, and handling physical receivers.

Cornerback Amani Oruwariye of Penn State

Height: 6’1” | Weight: 203 lbs
Solo Tackles: 37 (7% ms)
Interceptions: 3 (6.4% ms)
Passes Defended: 11 (39.3% ms)
Sum Std Deviation: -0.38

Amani made the 2018 AP Big-Ten First Team. He was one of 14 semi-finalists for the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award which is presented to the best defensive back in NCAA division I football. Amani is a redshirt senior that got his first start in 2018 and started nine games. Amani is noted for his strong awareness, ability to anticipate, and consistently break up pass plays. His area for improvement is tackling – being capable but inconsistent and allowing yards after contact.

Safety Juan Thornhill of Virginia

Height: 6’0” | Weight: 210 lbs
Solo Tackles: 58 (14.9% ms)
Interceptions: 5 (15.2% ms)
Passes Defended: 6 (13.0% ms)
Sum Std Deviation: +3.64

2018 All-ACC First Team; Three year starter that led team in interceptions all three seasons. He has been in the top ten in the ACC in interceptions for all three seasons. Out of 130 NCAA Division I colleges Virginia’s defense ranked 16th in opponent passer rating and 20th in opponent passing completion percentage. Thornhill was named twice in 2018 to ACC defensive back of the week. At Virginia’s strength program Thornhill posted a 40.5″ vertical jump and a 6.59 second three cone drill. Those numbers would have been in the top ten among all participants at the 2018 scouting combine. Thornhill has played both corner and safety. UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall says “He covers like a corner, he tackles really well at safety,…He has great range and ball skills.”

Day 3 Gems

Safety Saquan Hampton of Rutgers

Height: 6’1” | Weight: 208 lbs
Solo Tackles: 44 (10.4% ms)
Interceptions: 3 (9.7% ms)
Passes Defended: 13 (39.4% ms)
Sum Std Deviation: +2.27

In the Big Ten Hampton’s career 20 passes defended is 25th since 2005 and fourth best in the Big Ten in 2018. In November 2018 Hampton was named unanimous All-Big Ten Honorable Mention by coaches and media. Hampton was a three year starter at Rutgers and a team captain as senior. Hampton has experience playing corner in high school.  He earned Reese Senior Bowl Defensive Player of the week honors in the Rutgers – Wisconsin game for his 10 tackle, two interception performance. The Reese scout in attendance liked Hampton’s ball skills and his deep field instincts. “He looked natural playing the ball” and he “…consistently put himself in the position to make plays”.

Undrafted Free Agent Steals

Cornerback Nate Brooks of North Texas

Height: 6’0” | Weight: 180 lbs
Solo Tackles: 43 (10% ms)
Interceptions: 5 (14.7% ms)
Passes Defended: 9 (31% ms)
Sum Std Deviation: +2.77

One of fourteen semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award. A four year starter at North Texas.  Nate was a Pro Football Focus 2018 Second Team All Conference USA. Also Nate was 2018 All Conference USA Second Team. Nate joined Juan Thornhill and Kemon  Hall in a six player tie for seventh place in the nation for interceptions in 2018.  Twice during North Texas career was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week including a two interception, six tackle and one pass breakup game in 2018.  Defensively North Texas is in the top 17% of teams nationwide for opponent pass completion and opponent passer rating.

Cornerback Kemon Hall of North Texas

Height: 5’11” | Weight: 190 lbs
Solo Tackles: 35 (8.2% ms)
Interceptions: 5 (14.7% ms)
Passes Defended: 12 (41.4% ms)
Sum Std Deviation: +2.86

Hall made Conference USA 2018 first Team, as well as Pro Football Focus All-Conference USA Team of the Year First Team.  Hall is tie for first nationally for interceptions returned for a touchdown with two in 2018. He is in a six way tie for seventh in the nation with five interceptions in 2018.

Cornerback Dakari Monroe of San Jose State

Height: 5’11” | Weight: 191 lbs
Solo Tackles: 32 (6.4% ms)
Interceptions: 4 (14.8% ms)
Passes Defended: 14 (41.2% ms)
Sum Std Deviation: +1.99

Monroe was selected Mountain West Player of the Week in their win over UNLV. In that game Monroe had two interceptions (one for a touchdown), two pass break ups and six tackles. He was selected by Pro Football Focus for the Mountain West Conference (MWC) team of the week in the loss to Colorado State. In that game Monroe had four pass break ups and three solo tackles. He was first in the MWC in interceptions with four in 2018. San Jose beat writer, Victor Aquino, had this to say about Monroe – “Then defensive back Dakari Monroe has always been a smooth operator to me with pro potential as well. He hits, covers big men and fast guys all with relative ease it seems.”

Cornerback Lee Moses of University of Massachusetts

Height: 5’11” | Weight: 193 lbs
Solo Tackles: 32 (7.4% ms)
Interceptions: 3 (12.5% ms)
Passes Defended: 7 (41.2% ms)
Sum Std Deviation: +1.80

A three year starter at UMass. Phil Steele’s 2016 Postseason All-Independent Second Team and his 2018 Pre-Season All-Independent Second Team. In the top ten of Independent Conference Passes Defended for all three years starting. Moses is number 5 on career passes defended Independent Conference since 2005 with 19 passes defended. Lee Moses has played both safety and corner at UMass.

Cornerback Anthoula Kelly of Fresno State

Height: 5’10” | Weight: 183 lbs
Solo Tackles: 45 (9.2% ms)
Interceptions: 3 (11.5% ms)
Passes Defended: 16 (29.6% ms)
Sum Std Deviation: +1.30

Two year starter at Fresno State. Number three in the nation in passes defended with 16 in 2018. In 2018 had an interception returned for a touchdown. At mid-point in 2018 Kelly was one of a trio of Fresno State defensive backs that form the  core of what is Pro Football Focus’s sixth-highest graded coverage team. Kelly was their ninth graded cornerback.

The Data

These are the standouts in a group that meet the market share thresholds. I have attached a spreadsheet of data that is composed of all defensive back players that meet the thresholds. The defensive backs sheet looked at solo tackles, interceptions and passes defended. The thresholds used are listed at the top on the line Min Target. Also shown in the first column is nfldraftscout.com’s position rank for the player in the 2019 NFL draft.

defense market share DBs

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