News & Analysis

PFF Critical Factors: The most important numbers for the 2021 NFL Draft class

Back in April, we looked at the numbers that are most important when projecting players from college to the NFL. The depth of the PFF database has allowed us to isolate the most important numbers for each position group, adding context to overall PFF grades. The PFF grade is a unique, production-based assessment of each player’s performance on every snap, and it is the foundation for our projection system. While the grade itself is valuable on its own, it’s the construction of that figure and the surrounding context that adds the most predictive power.

Each position has its own set of metrics that are more important when projecting college players to the next level, and each position has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to using data for projections.

Here’s a look at the key metrics and where the top players in the draft class stack up as we head into the 2020 season.

[Editor's Note: PFF's advanced statistics and player grades are powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]

QUARTERBACK

Stable Metrics:
    • Passing grade from a clean pocket
    • Passing grade on standard dropbacks (from within the pocket)
    • Passing grade on first/second down
    • Passing grade with no play action
    • Passing grade on passes at/beyond the sticks
    • Percentage of negatively graded throws
Unstable Metrics:
    • Passing grade under pressure
    • Passing grade from outside the pocket
    • Passing grade on third/fourth down
    • Passing grade with play action
    • Percentage of positively graded throws
Draft Class Notes
    • When compared to recent NFL prospects, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence ranks above average in every stable metric. His only below-average unstable metric is a 39th percentile passing grade when outside the pocket. 
    • Ohio State’s Justin Fields was outstanding in his first year as a starter, leading all draft-eligible quarterbacks in passing grade from a clean pocket, on standard dropbacks, and on throws at or beyond the sticks. The concern for Fields is ranking in the 45th percentile at avoiding negatively graded throws when compared to recent NFL prospects.
    • Over the past two years, Iowa State’s Brock Purdy ranks above average in all stable metrics outside of passing grade with no play action. Among FBS draft-eligible quarterbacks, Purdy has the fourth-lowest percentage of negatively graded throws.

RUNNING BACK

Stable Metrics:
    • Rushing grade
    • MT/ATT (missed tackles per attempt)
    • YCo/ATT (yards after contact per attempt)
    • Receiving grade
    • MT/Reception (missed tackles per reception)
    • Yards per route run
Unstable Metrics:
    • Yards before contact/Rush
    • Fumble%
    • Breakaway%
    • Team run-blocking grade (when player is the runner)
    • Drop%
Draft Class Notes:
    • Over the past two seasons, Clemson’s Travis Etienne leads all FBS draft-eligible running backs in both yards after contact per rush (4.7) and missed tackles forced per rush (0.35). He’s also in the 81st percentile in yards per route. At this point, he is the clear No. 1 running back in the class.
    • Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell ranks near the top in receiving grade, missed tackles forced per reception and yards per route run, making him one of the best pass-catching options in the draft.
    • Oklahoma’s Kenneth Brooks has a smooth running style that has him ranked above the 90th percentile in rushing grade, missed tackles, forced per attempt and yards after contact per attempt. However, he’s below the 10th percentile in receiving grade and yards per route run.
Dec 28, 2019; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Clemson Tigers running back Travis Etienne (9) runs with the ball against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl college football playoff semifinal game. Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

WIDE RECEIVER

Stable Metrics:
    • Receiving grade
    • Receiving grade vs. single coverage
    • Receiving grade vs. ZUT (zone, underneath, top)
    • Separation% (all targets)
    • Separation% vs. single coverage
    • Yards per route run
    • aDOT (average depth of target)
    • YAC/Rec
Unstable Metrics:
    • Drop rate
    • Contested catch%
    • Catchable targets
Draft Class Notes:
    • LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase is the favorite to be the first wide receiver off the board, as he’s coming off a historic 2019 season. When compared to recent NFL prospects, Chase’s 2019 campaign ranks in the 99th percentile in receiving grade, the 93rd percentile in yards per route and the 87th percentile in yards after the catch per reception — the last number being all the more impressive given his average depth of target of 14.5 yards, which ranked in the 71st percentile.
    • Ohio State’s Chris Olave was open on 81.6% of his single coverage targets last season, best among FBS wide receivers. 
    • A pair of Alabama first-round hopefuls led the way in yards after the catch per reception last season, as Jaylen Waddle averaged 12.8 YAC per reception and DeVonta Smith averaged 12.0 YAC per reception. 

TIGHT END

Stable Metrics:
    • Receiving grade
    • Receiving grade vs. single coverage:
    • Receiving grade vs. ZUT (zone, underneath, top)
    • Separation% (all targets):
    • Separation% vs. single coverage
    • Yards per route run
    • aDOT (average depth of target)
    • YAC/Rec
    • Run-blocking pos. grade %
Unstable Metrics:
    • Drop rate
    • Contested catch%
    • Catchable targets
    • Run-blocking neg. grade%
Draft Class Notes:
    • Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth ranks near the middle of the pack in almost every stable and unstable metric when compared to recent NFL prospects. However, he’s on the high end in separation percentage, as he has been open on 76.8% of targets over the past two years. Yet, he ranks in just the 10th percentile in percentage of positively graded run blocks.
    • Florida’s Kyle Pitts has a strong 1.82 yards per route run, good for the 71st percentile when compared to recent NFL prospects. On the concerning end is his percentage on positively graded run blocks, which ranks last among the same sample.
    • The sample size is small, but Boston College's Hunter Long has a 92nd percentile grade against single coverage, and he’s been open on 83.1% of his career targets, good for the 74th percentile in the class. 

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

Stable Metrics:
    • Pass-blocking grade
    • Pass-blocking grade on true pass sets
    • Pass-blocking grade with no play action
    •  Pass-blocking grade on 5-step, 7-step concepts
    • Run blocking on gap runs
    • Run blocking on zone runs
    • Run blocking negatively graded play percentage
Unstable Metrics:
    • Pass-blocking grade with play action
    • Pass-blocking grade on 3-step concepts
    • Pass-blocking grade vs. 3-man rush
    • Sack% allowed
    • Run-blocking positively graded play percentage
Draft Class Notes:
    • Oregon’s Penei Sewell grades well in almost every key area, including an 83.3 pass-blocking grade on true pass sets over the past two years. That mark ranks in the 86th percentile when compared to all college prospects who have played significant time in the NFL since 2014.
    • Stanford’s Walker Little ranks above average compared to recent NFL prospects on true pass sets. But he’s among the worst as a run blocker on both gap and zone runs, and he ranks last in percentage of positively graded run blocks.
    • Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood projects as a first-rounder, but there’s still plenty of room to grow, as his pass blocking grade ranks in the 36th percentile when compared to recent NFL prospects. He's also just in the 2nd percentile at avoiding negatively graded run blocks. On the bright side, Leatherwood does rank in the 65th percentile in pass-blocking on true pass sets.
Apr 20, 2019; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks offensive lineman Penei Sewell (58) points the scoreboard after the Oregon spring game at Autzen Stadium. Mighty Oregon beat Fighting Ducks 20-13. Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE

Stable Metrics:
    • Pass-blocking grade
    • Pass-blocking grade on true pass sets
    • Pass-blocking grade with no play action
    • Pass-blocking grade on 5-step, 7-step concepts
    • Run-blocking on gap runs
    • Run-blocking on zone runs
    • Run-blocking positively graded play percentage
Unstable Metrics:
    • Pass-blocking grade with play action
    • Pass-blocking grade on 3-step concepts
    • Pass-blocking grade vs. 3-man rush
    • Sack% allowed
    • Run-blocking negatively graded play percentage
Draft Class Notes:
    • USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker has the best pass-blocking profile among guards in the class, including a 95th percentile ranking on true pass sets when compared to recent NFL draft prospects. However, he ranks in just the 33rd percentile on positively graded run blocks among that same group of NFL-caliber players.
    • Tennessee’s Trey Smith lives up to his reputation as a mauling run blocker, as his rate of positively graded blocks in 2019 ranks in the 74th percentile among recent NFL prospects. However, he still ranks well below average in pass protection, including a 28th percentile 63.1 PFF grade on true pass sets.
    • In just his first year as a starter, Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis ranks in the 64th percentile in positively graded run blocks when compared to recent NFL prospects. On true pass sets, he was just below average with a 43rd percentile rank.

EDGE

Stable Metrics:
    • Pass-rushing grade
    • Pass-rushing grade on true pass rushes
    • Pass-rushing grade with no play action
    • Pass-rushing win%
    • Run-defense grade
    • Run stop%
Unstable Metrics:
    • Sack%
    • Clean-up/Pursuit pressure%
Draft Class Notes:
    • Miami’s Gregory Rousseau has the top sack rate among draft-eligible edge rushers, with 5.3% of his pressures being sacks, but that’s likely an unsustainable rate. More importantly, Rousseau ranks in just the 31st percentile in pass-rush grade when compared to recent NFL prospects, a concerning number for his first-round projection.
    • Duke’s Chris Rumph II excels in every significant pass-rush metric, including the top per-snap grade and pass-rush win rate in the draft class. Despite that production, Rumph is fighting an uphill battle, as only two sub-240-pound edge rushers have produced at a high level in the NFL over the past decade. Robert Mathis had an 88.6 pass-rush grade at a listed 235 pounds during the 2010s, while Chris Clemons produced an 83.7 pass-rush grade at a listed 234. Rumph is currently listed at 225 pounds.
    • Penn State’s Jayson Oweh has an impressive 19.7% pass-rush win rate, good for the 8th percentile when compared to recent NFL prospects, but his run defense grade is in the 4th percentile and his run-stop percentage is dead last.

DEFENSIVE INTERIOR

Stable Metrics:
    • Pass-rushing grade
    • Pass-rushing grade on true pass rushes
    • Pass-rushing grade with no play action
    • Pass-rushing win%
    • Run-defense grade
    • Run stop%
Unstable Metrics:
    • Sack%
    • Clean-up/Pursuit pressure%
Draft Class Notes:
    • Alabama’s Christian Barmore has the best pass-rush win rate in the class, at 20.8%, to go with an 88.1 pass-rush grade.
    • Florida State’s Marvin Wilson ranks second in pass-rush win rate (15.8%), and his 91.0 pass-rush grade is the best in the class over the past two seasons.
    • Wilson and Washington’s Levi Onwuzurike are the only two interior defenders in the draft class at the 90th percentile or better in both pass-rush grade and run-defense grade
Nov 23, 2019; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Christian Barmore (58) celebrates his sack on Western Carolina Catamounts quarterback Tyrie Adams (12) during the second quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

LINEBACKER

Stable Metrics:
    • Coverage grade
    • Coverage grade in the box
    • Coverage grade in the slot
    • Forced incompletion percentage
    • Run-defense grade
    • Run stop%
Unstable Metrics:
    • Coverage grade with pressure
    • Coverage grade on passes >3.0 seconds
    • Coverage grade in single coverage
    • Coverage grade in ZUT (zone, underneath, top)
    • Passer rating against
    • Pass-rushing grade
    • Missed tackle rate
Draft Class Notes:
    • Penn State’s Micah Parsons is one of the best run defenders we’ve seen in the PFF College era, and his 92.4 run defense grade ranks fourth among Power Five linebackers since 2014. The question for Parsons will be in coverage, where his grade ranks in the middle of the pack when compared to recent NFL prospects.
    • Nothing sums up North Carolina’s Chazz Surratt quite like his No. 5 ranking in the draft class in run-stop percentage and his 49.7 run-defense grade (5th percentile). It shows that Surratt makes plenty of highlight-reel plays in the run game, but when he doesn’t, he’s either getting blocked or missing the tackle. Surratt tied for the second-most missed tackles in the nation last season, with 27.
    • Alabama’s Dylan Moses is another prospect who has shown better in the run game than in coverage, as his run-defense grade ranks above average when compared to recent NFL prospects. However, his coverage grade is in just the 9th percentile, and he’s yet to break up a pass on 353 career coverage snaps.

CORNERBACK

Stable Metrics:
    • Coverage grade
    • Coverage grade with no pressure
    • Coverage grade on passes <=3.0 seconds
    • Coverage grade in single coverage
    • Coverage grade at outside CB
    • Coverage grade in the slot
    • Forced incompletion percentage
Unstable Metrics:
    • Coverage grade with pressure
    • Coverage grade on passes >3.0 seconds
    • Coverage grade in ZUT (zone, underneath, top)
    • Passer rating against
Draft Class Notes:
    • Over the past two seasons, Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr. has forced an incompletion on 24.6% of his targets, seventh-best when compared to recent NFL prospects.
    • Stanford’s Paulson Adebo has a 96.1 coverage grade when targeted in single coverage over the past two years, by far the best mark in the class.
    • Washington’s Elijah Molden has an 89.8 coverage grade when lined up in the slot over the past two years, good for the 85th percentile among recent NFL prospects. He projects well in an underrated, yet valuable, slot role.

SAFETY

Stable Metrics:
    • Coverage grade
    • Coverage grade with no pressure
    • Coverage grade on passes <=3.0 seconds
    • Coverage grade at safety
    • Coverage grade at free safety
    • Coverage grade in the slot
    • Coverage grade in the box
    • Forced incompletion percentage
    • Run-defense grade
    • Run stop%
Unstable Metrics:
    • Coverage grade with pressure
    • Coverage grade on passes >3.0 seconds
    • Coverage grade in single coverage
    • Coverage grade in ZUT (zone, underneath, top)
    • Passer rating against
    • Missed tackle rate
Draft Class Notes:
    • A PFF favorite from TCU, Ar’Darius Washington has excelled in nearly every critical area, albeit on a small sample size. When compared to recent NFL prospects, Washington ranks in the 95th or better percentile in coverage grade at free safety, in the box and in the slot. Plus, his run-stop percentage ranks in the 91st percentile.
    • Washington’s teammate, Trevon Moehrig, may be the first safety off the board. Over the past two seasons, his coverage grade ranks in the 99th percentile when compared to recent NFL prospects, and he leads the way with a forced incompletion percentage of 28.8%.
    • Oregon’s Jevon Holland is a safety by name, but he’s been exceptional when lining up over the slot. His 90.0 grade ranks in the 88th percentile when compared to recent NFL prospects, and he has graded at 92.7 on 58 targets in single coverage.
    • Syracuse’s Andre Cisco is a favorite of PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner for his playmaking ability on the back end. Cisco's 19.2% forced incompletion percentage ranks in the 93rd percentile when compared to recent NFL prospects. However, his 52.0 run-defense grade tells a different story, as it ranks dead last against that same sample of players.

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