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2022 NFL Draft: Using text analytics to evaluate the 2022 interior defensive linemen class

Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jordan Davis (99) tackles Missouri Tigers running back Tyler Badie (1) during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We are back with another positional writeup of draft prospects, this time focusing on the interior defensive line. We previously dove into the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen

Thanks to math and feature engineering, we can use natural language processing to compare prospects to their contemporaries and those from the past before tying in advanced descriptive stats that we have built previously to gauge how well a prospect fits within a certain mold performed in the NFL. 

For this analysis, we took prospect write-ups from The Athletic's Dane Brugler, who is one of the best football film analysts out there, over the past eight seasons (including 2022) and used latent semantic analysis (LSA) to derive similarity scores between the text in prospects’ scouting reports.

After building our dataset to span eight seasons, we can create a prospect's score in a number of ways. We decided to use a weighted average of similar players’ WAR (wins above replacement), using the similarity score derived above as the weights. For example, if a player has a 0.60 similarity score with a player who has earned 7.0 WAR since being drafted and a -0.3 similarity score with someone who has earned 4.0 WAR, his overall score would be +3.

Using the analyses above, we can look at 2022 prospects in a couple of ways. First, we can examine player comparisons for notable prospects. Second, we can rank the players in each position group by the score derived above. These scores have correlated well with draft position and future WAR generated at the NFL level, although a more robust analysis using more seasons and data sources is beyond the scope of this article.

Let’s start by looking at the most successful NFL interior defensive linemen's text comparisons so that we can then see what that means for prospects in the 2022 class.

SUCCESSFUL TEXT ANALYTIC TRAITS

BAD TEXT ANALYTIC TRAITS

PLAYERS EXCEEDING THEIR DRAFT PEDIGREE

DEVONTE WYATT, GEORGIA

As a high-caliber player on a once-in-a-generation type of defense, Wyatt looks like the overlooked interior defender from the Georgia Bulldogs defense. Jordan Davis seems to get a lot of the press, but Wyatt is actually ranked higher on PFF’s latest big board

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