NFL Draft: SURGE – A Revolution in the Evaluation of the EDGE Rusher Position

Sep 19, 2015; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) during the game against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 19, 2015; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) during the game against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

Introducing SURGE, a new way to evaluate the EDGE Rusher position in the NFL, particularly for draft prospects.

I recently started a project to better predict the future success of NFL pass rushers. I was inspired by Justis Mosqueda of Bleacher Report and, along with an anonymous forum user named Waldo of I was intrigued and impressed with Waldo’s formula, but never thought I would do anything like this myself.

Some years later, Justis developed a concept that is known as Force Players. His method took the draftnik community by storm, as he was able to predict the future outcomes of pass rushers with a degree of success far higher than anyone else at the time.

Like many in the NFL Draft community, I was incredibly intrigued with Force Players, but once again, I never thought to attempt anything like that myself. Then in a fit of procrastination that every college student endures, I decided to go for it. I wanted to see if I could come up with my own formula to predict the success of EDGE rushers in the NFL Draft.

The reason that I chose the EDGE position was largely due to the lack of variability and reliance on other members of the defensive unit.

For example, defensive line success can vary based on how the offense tries to hinder them. Off-Ball LBs can be asked to do vastly different things based on any given scheme, and the success of offensive skill positions is largely based on factors such as OL play, offensive trends, schemes and more.

That is not to say that EDGE rushers don’t have to deal with variability — they most certainly do. They are asked to do a lot of different things based on scheme, for example. They can also face double teams and chip blocks, and there are other factors to consider. But ultimately, it comes down to an EDGE rusher in space, and given a large enough sample size, it is not difficult to identify a talented EDGE rusher from one that isn’t up to snuff.

I originally called my project the Systematic EDGE Rusher Grading Experiment — or SERGE, for short. But for styling purposes, I’ve decided re-brand and call it SURGE instead.

Simply put, SURGE is a system of tests developed to better predict the relative success of an EDGE rusher. I can’t dish out the secret sauce, but the metrics are all derived from raw data obtained from either the combine or a pro day. Combine data is preferable when available.

The metrics used are weighted separately and are not dichotomously equivalent, meaning that passing one test will not necessarily help an athlete as much as it would hurt him to fail. Because of this, there are a number of metrics that if an athlete does not pass, they are essentially automatic failures in the formula. Athletes that fail these metrics will not become a SURGE rusher.

While the scores are variably weighted and dichotomously inequivalent, they are all the same for each athlete. No athlete is exempt from any metric.

Let’s take a look at the results of current NFL players, based on either their NFL Combine or Pro Day testing.

To better separate the results, players are sorted into four brackets — Elite SURGE, Surge, Non-SURGE and Critically Low.

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As you can see based on the results, SURGE rushers have a much higher rate of success than non-SURGE rushers.

If an NFL team were to be drafting pass rushers using the SURGE metric, they would have predicted the downfalls of Jamaal Anderson, Vernon Gholston, Aaron Maybin and Dion Jordan, amongst several other highly touted first-round picks.

SURGE also predicted the success of sixth-round Pick Greg Hardy, UDFA Michael Bennett and fourth-round pick and future Hall of Famer Jared Allen.

Of course, the SURGE system is not perfect. These are the SURGE players that would qualify as “misses” — Barkevious Mingo, Gaines Adams, and Manny Lawson. Of those misses, Mingo still has some time to rejuvenate his career and Gaines Adams passed away at a young age, although he 12.5 sacks his first two seasons. Manny Lawson was a big whiff by SURGE, but Lawson had all the makings of a superstar based on his testing.

Of the non-Surge players, these players can be considered “misses” — Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Carlos Dunlap, Jason Pierre-Paul, Aldon Smith, Dee Ford and Tamba Hali. Of that group, Aldon was nursing a leg injury during his testing, and tested poorly as a result. Dee Ford barely missed the threshold and the others simply did not test well.

But for every miss SURGE had, there were countless more correct evaluations. While the system is not perfect, it did have over a 90% success rate in identifying quality pass rushers. The high and low tiers (Elite-SURGE and Critically Low) are particularly accurate — although only select players are able to reach those thresholds.

Of those in the critically low tier, none had high-level success. Some will rightfully argue for Clemons, and while he did have a decent career, it was nothing exceptional. Of the Elite-SURGE rushers, the only miss was Lawson. It may be too early to determine if some of the younger edge rushers — such as Bosa or Ingram — deserve to be in the Elite-SURGE tier, but they have been phenomenal so far.

As it pertains to the Raiders in particular, they have done a great job of finding SURGE rushers via bookends Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack, and they will likely will be looking to add at least one more in the 2017 draft.

Speaking of the draft, let’s go over some of the SURGE results of the upcoming NFL Draft class. We’ll start with prospects who are largely considered first or second round picks.

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In comparison to previous years, this draft class has a higher percentage of SURGE players than most others.

Solomon Thomas and Myles Garrett, as expected, scored very well in SURGE. Haason Reddick and Taco Charlton are likely first-round picks, but there are a couple of caveats here. The first of which is that Reddick is not a true EDGE and will likely play ILB, which SURGE is not optimized for. The second caveat is that Charlton came dangerously close to failing an auto-fail metric. However, Taco didn’t fail, so he officially remains a SURGE rusher, but he is worth keeping an eye on.

T.J. Watt and Carl Lawson are the next two SURGE rushers that made the cut. Lawson passed by a slim margin and Watt tied for the best score of anyone in the draft class.

Jordan Willis was relatively unknown coming into the combine, and through the lenses of SURGE, he is a low-risk prospect. Tyus Bowser is missing a couple of scores from his formula, but barring something unexpecte, he is a SURGE rusher and likely will remain one by a very good margin.

Based on the SURGE results, the three EDGE rushers who will be the best in this class are Garrett, Thomas and Watt. Of the non-Surge players, Charles Harris is the most highly-regarded player that did not make the cut.

Tim Williams is another well-regarded player who did not make the cut. Derek Rivers had some impressive numbers, but he failed a crucial Surge metric that considers him an auto-fail. Takk McKinley simply lacked the athleticism to pass.

Tanoh Kpassagnon is a player that has been linked to the Raiders who many analysts tout as a fantastic athlete, at least in relation to his size, but SURGE paints a different picture. incredible athlete but SURGE paints a very different picture.

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Going forward, look for future SURGE articles that go deeper into the NFL Draft, as I truly believe that this can become a powerful tool in evaluation draft prospects. The formula can (and surely will) be tweaked as time goes on, but with version one of the system, we’re already seeing incredible results.