With all the talk of the Falcons' several holes, the one still remaining is edge rusher. We obviously have improved the interior push with the additions of Soliai and now Hageman. This can lead to more opportunities for our linebacking corps, thankfully. Heading into day 3 of the 2014 NFL draft, we all believe that our chance at an impactful edge rusher is gone. However, Jackson Jeffcoat provides an interesting example of someone that may have been overlooked.
After recovering from a sprained ankle in 2010, you can see his performance jump his sophomore year before unfortunately tearing his left pectoral muscle. He played through his injury in the Holiday Bowl game, recording two sacks in the process. Jeffcoat had surgery in the offseason to repair the shoulder. Through the first six games in 2012, he started strong with four sacks. Unfortunately, that momentum came to an abrupt halt when he again tore his pectoral muscle - this time on the right side.
He came back with a vengeance his senior year and played a full season. He ended up with 13 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 4 passes deflected, and 2 forced fumbles. However, this doesn't seem to provide any comfort to any NFL teams. The knocks on his play are inconsistency and lack of strength or muscular definition.The latter most likely contributed to his pectoral injuries. However, I do believe with some rest and training, Jeffcoat can add strength and protect his body for the next stage. More importantly, he has the frame. It's hard to look past someone with his athleticism, as proven by his combine performance.
At 6'3", 247, he has the ideal size to perform in the NFL. He may not quite be as athletic as Von Miller, but he's right on par with the highest rated linebackers of this draft in Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr. He's fast, as shown by his 4.63 40 yard dash - ranked 5th for all OLBs in this draft class, behind Ryan Shazier, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Telvin Smith, and Jadeveon Clowney, with the first three being significantly smaller. His 123 inch Broad jump was tied for 5th, behind Shazier, Pierre-Louis, Clowney, and Khalil Mack. Jeffcoat's 3-Cone drill ranked 8th with the smaller guys ahead of him again, plus players like Anthony Barr, Trent Murphy, and Tyler Starr.
Given that the Broad Jump, 40-yard dash (well, really the 10-yard split), and 3-Cone drills are indicative of success with power rushing, it's no surprise that Jeffcoat ranks near the top of this year's draft class. Football Outsiders agrees, according to the 2014 SackSEER report. They rank Jeffcoat third behind Mack and Clowney (tied with Anthony Barr).
A less well-known metric for gauging Linebacker success in the NFL comes from my formula, as used in my draft evaluation post. For comparison, I generated two scores for each linebacker (or convert) entering the 2014 draft - one for power (weighted towards the broad jump) and one for speed (weighted toward the 3-Cone). Both metrics are indicative towards success, and those players with high scores in both have an even higher correlation. So where did Jackson Jeffcoat rank for this year? Third again, behind the same two players. Mack recorded a combined score of 218 (113 Power, 105 Speed), Clowney scored 215 (109, 106), while Jeffcoat recorded a score of 214 (105, 109). Other highly drafted edge rushers: Anthony Barr at 211 (103, 108) and Dee Ford at 209 (106, 103).
Event measurements obviously don't tell the whole story. However, mix together those with his college production, and I think the Falcons could steal an impactful edge rusher in the fourth round. With some Bryan Cox magic and a sprinkle of Nolan's schematic creativity, we may have hope for plugging that last major hole this off-season.