In this four-part series, I'm using my context-based data models to evaluate some of the top draft prospects at four key positions -- edge rusher, quarterback, cornerback and wide receiver -- while providing a pro comparison and ideal team fit for each.
- The goal for the comps: showing some of the strengths, weaknesses and unknown résumé aspects for each prospect, while offering a perspective to approximate how team analytics departments might view the player's potential NFL impact.
- The goal for the team fits: maximizing the draftee's 2023 win share, factoring in what we know about each team's personnel, coaches and strategy right now. And of course, as much as possible, I'm aiming to present realistic matches, ones that could actually come to fruition on draft day.
Let's kick off the series with the quarterback hunters ...
PRO COMPARISON: Khalil Mack
Pro Football Focus charts Anderson's 206 pressures since 2020 as the most in FBS in that span, a whopping 54 more than the next-closest pass rusher. He piled up 82 pressures in 2021 alone, the second-highest single-season total since PFF started tracking this data in 2014. (Utah's Hunter Dimick produced 83 in 2016.) In 2022, he generated 12 tackles for loss or no gain against the run, which was tied (with Tyree Wilson) for the most in the Power Five. And according to computer vision, Anderson has demonstrated the best run-stopping ability among edge defenders in this class. I know Mack is a lofty comp as a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but Anderson has the highest floor in this class and the best odds of providing a Mack-like impact on the game.
TEAM FIT: Arizona Cardinals
Arizona finished last season with 36 sacks (tied for 23rd), while giving up an average of 21.4 first downs per game (29th) and having the fourth-most generous red zone defense (65.2 percent) -- and that is with J.J. Watt, who has since retired. Anderson would immediately step in and not just change the math for the Cardinals -- he also has an extremely high chance of being the foundational piece of Jonathan Gannon’s pass rush and run-stopping strategies.
PRO COMPARISON: Carlos Dunlap
According to PFF stats from last season, Wilson ranked top two among Big 12 edge rushers in pass-rush win percentage, QB pressure percentage, pass-rush productivity, sacks per game and total QB pressures. His three-season improvement as measured by computer vision is pretty astounding; this includes his game-measured burst (speed and time it takes to travel the first 3 yards), which increased an average of 0.5 seconds. (Most increases are around 0.25 seconds.) Dunlap’s a sure tackler (zero percent missed tackle rate in 2022, per computer vision) who, by PFF's count, has averaged 52 pressures per season over his 13-year career. The Falcons could really use that kind of reliability.
TEAM FIT: Atlanta Falcons
Wilson’s three seasons of Texas Tech data suggest that we could have an above-average upside pick here. Many draft prospects grow and evolve in the NFL, but Wilson could really pop. The Falcons started addressing their pass rush in free agency by signing David Onyemata and Calais Campbell. Also adding Wilson would create the most upside for the team as well as the player in a division in transition.
PRO COMPARISON: Trey Hendrickson
Van Ness generated 46 QB pressures in 2022, per PFF, ranking third in the Big Ten and tied for 17th in the Power Five. PFF also credited him with nine sacks, which was tied for second in the Big Ten and tied for 10th in the Power Five. Van Ness led the Big Ten in PFF’s run-stopping grade (80.9), as well. All of this is quite impressive considering he didn't start and had to share snaps with more experienced teammates, given how Kirk Ferentz likes to run his Iowa program.
TEAM FIT: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles had the least-fatigued defensive front in 2022 as measured by computer vision (change in burst speed in fourth quarter vs. the first quarter). Their subbing strategy was impeccable and likely will be emulated across the league going forward. With some offseason attrition and aging on Philadelphia's defense, Van Ness could help ensure continued success for the unit. Drafting Van Ness could spawn a “greater than the sum of the parts” type of impact for the Eagles, which is why I like the Hendrickson comp here. We knew Hendrickson was talented in New Orleans, but he turned into a Pro Bowler in Cincinnati, playing on a defense that was set up in a way that magnified his strengths. I think Van Ness and Philly would similarly benefit from joining forces.
PRO COMPARISON: Haason Reddick
Prior to suffering a season-ending pec injury in late October, Smith generated a 17.7 percent pressure rate in 2022, ranking fourth in the SEC by PFF's count. He also posted the highest pass-rush win percentage (23.5 percent). Oh, and did I mention that his 2021 production was even better? The Eagles really unlocked Reddick this past season, allowing the former No. 13 overall pick of the Cardinals to record a career-high 16 sacks and make his first Pro Bowl. I envision Smith's future NFL team following the same kind of blueprint when it comes to deploying a smaller -- but highly explosive -- edge rusher.
TEAM FIT: Tennessee Titans
The Titans are in the middle of a pretty major overhaul this offseason, which has created space for rookies to contribute on Day 1 -- especially in the role vacated by Bud Dupree's release. I think Smith can execute the fronts and concepts head coach Mike Vrabel likes to dial up.
Myles Murphy earned a 90.9 PFF run defense grade from 2020-2022, ranking first among ACC edge defenders and tied for third in the Power Five over that span. Murphy generated 39 run stops (tied for fourth among ACC edges) and 21 tackles for loss or no gain (second).
TEAM FIT: Detroit Lions
My models strongly suggest Detroit could trade down from No. 6 and still pick up a talent like Murphy to pair with Aidan Hutchinson. Shoot, maybe he's still there for the Lions' second first-round pick at No. 18 overall. Since they already addressed the secondary in free agency, they have the flexibility to craft the best route to improving the defense as a whole.