In a previous FanPost, I referenced an article by Field Gulls that explained the concepts behind a 4-3 Under, as utilized by Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. It is believed that the 4-3 Under front will be part of what Billy Davis will bring to the Eagles' defense this year, along with some 3-4 concepts, and the defense will be a hybrid overall. Using the explanation by Field Gulls of the 4-3 Under and the descriptions of players needed for it, I matched up players currently on the Eagles' roster to positions in the 4-3 Under to see how it might fill out and where holes may show up.
This exercise revealed, as we already knew, the Eagles' have plenty of holes to fill on that side of the ball. Some more dire than others, but significant changes are required. Safety, SAM, SDT/NT, CB, are some of the positions in need of an upgrade. While Free Agency options will undoubtedly be explored to upgrade some positions, it is well known that the NFL's best and most successful franchises build through the draft.
To that end, I wanted to explore what types of players were selected in the draft to be part of Billy Davis' defenses in the past. This will allow us to see if any patterns or recurring themes emerge in the selections. This information may shed some light on what players in this upcoming draft may be of particular interest to the Eagles. Please note, I am not advocating any particular players or positions be selected in this FanPost. Rather, this is an effort to see if there are any general characteristics that permeate through the selections of teams where Billy Davis was the DC.
What I have done is gone back to each of the drafts the teams had, through the draft history information at NFL.com, while Billy Davis was the DC, San Francisco 49ers 2005 and 2006 Drafts, and Arizona Cardinals 2009 and 2010 Drafts, found how many selections were made in total, how many defensive players were chosen, the round and selection number as well as the player selected, height, weight, and link to a scouting report source.
I realize that there are many factors that go into a draft selection. Team needs, BPA, trades, GM, HC (such as SF where Mike Nolan, with a defensive background, would have had influence on philosophy) and so on. Plus, I am aware that Billy Davis would not have been the be all, end all voice in the draft room. However, his input obviously would have been significant and while specific players may not have been available at certain times, certain skill sets and characteristics were most likely zeroed in on at all levels of the draft to fill out his defense.
So, this is not meant to be some definitive crystal ball; instead, it is to take a look at draft history and see if we can pull some patterns or trends out to guide us on what Billy Davis may be seeking for his defense.
That said, let's get started!
2005 Draft - San Francisco 49ers
3 defensive picks, 11 total
|5||137||Ronald Fields||DT||Mississippi State||6-2||313||CNN SI|
|6||205||Derrick Johnson||CB||Washington||5-10||197||USA Today|
|7||215||Daven Holly||DB||Cincinnati||5-10||186||USA Today|
2006 Draft - San Francisco 49ers
5 defensive picks, 9 total
|1||22||Manny Lawson||OLB||North Carolina State||6-6||241||CBS Sports|
|5||140||Parys Haralson||DE||Tennessee||6-1||253||CBS Sports|
|6||192||Marcus Hudson||DB||North Carolina State||6-1||194||CBS Sports|
|6||197||Melvin Oliver||DE||Louisiana State||6-3||276||CBS Sports|
|7||254||Vickiel Vaughn||DB||Arkansas||6-0||203||Niners Digest|
2009 Draft - Arizona Cardinals
4 defensive picks, 8 total
|2||63||Cody Brown||DE||Connecticut||6-2||244||CBS Sports|
|3||95||Rashad Johnson||DB||Alabama||5-11||203||CBS Sports|
|4||131||Greg Toler||DB||St. Paul's College (VA)||5-11||191||CBS Sports|
|6||204||Will Davis||LB||Illinois||6-2||261||CBS Sports|
2010 Draft - Arizona Cardinals
4 defensive picks, 7 total
|1||26||Dan Williams||DT||Tennessee||6-2||327||Revenge of the Birds|
|2||47||Daryl Washington||ILB||Texas Christian||6-3 (per TCU)||234 (per TCU)||Revenge of the Birds|
|4||140||O'Brien Schofield||LB||Wisconsin||6-2||225||Revenge of the Birds|
|6||201||Jorrick Calvin||DB||Troy||5-10||182||Revenge of the Birds|
Some things that show up are that most of the selections are from bigger schools, such as NC State, Washington, Tennessee, etc. But, there are also a few small school selections in there as well, such as Greg Toler from St. Paul's College and Jorrick Calvin from Troy. So, it would seem that it didn't matter what school they went to, if they had talent, they didn't have a problem selecting that player, which is a good thing.
Not too many household names in the list, but Daryl Washington and Manny Lawson were chosen during the time Davis was DC of Arizona and San Francisco, respectively. You may also recognize the name Jorrick Calvin, as he was traded to the Eagles in 2010 and was the kickoff returner for most of that season.
I think it's important to also note that of the 16 total defensive picks, only four were in Rounds 1 or 2, and Washington and Lawson were two of those four. The other two were defensive linemen. As you drop into the later rounds, especially 5-7, each pick continues to become more and more of a lottery ticket. You may strike big, you may get a solid player capable of starting, or being a solid backup/special teams player, or you may bust.
Of the 16 defensive picks, there were five defensive linemen, four linebackers, and seven defensive backs, which is a fairly even distribution. The average height and weight for these positions were:
DL - Height: 6-2, Weight: 282
LB - Height: 6-3, Weight: 240
DB - Height: 5-11, Weight: 193
Looking at these averages, it's noticeable that the average DL weight, even with two 300+ lb. players included, is only at 282 lbs. This could point to a propensity for lighter, quicker defensive linemen, which would make sense in a 4-3 Under/3-4 Hybrid front. You're going to want hybrid players if you're going to run a hybrid front.
This also points to what should be a bigger emphasis with the new defense: linebackers. With Billy Davis taking over and his LB coach background, we should be seeing a new emphasis on linebacker play. The fact the distribution of selections in the defense has nearly as many linebacker selections as defensive line selections, along with spending first and second round picks on the position shows that it will not be overlooked.
Finally, as a means of pulling out the most common skills and abilities in these player scouting reports, I have reached into my educational technology toolbox (I'm a school Technology Director) and employed the use of Wordle.
I'm sure many of you just said, "You used what?"
From their web site:
Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.
Teachers commonly use this web site to summarize text and help students identify main points in reading material they have assigned. As an example, one person submitted the entire text of the U.S. Constitution into the generator. The words that appeared the largest in the cloud included United, States, Congress, and President.
For this exercise, I have copied and pasted all of the positive analysis sections in the scouting reports from each player into the Word Cloud generator. In theory, the words that appear the largest in the Word Cloud should be the skills, traits and abilities that these players have in common. This should give us an idea as to what may have been the important factors these players exhibited, and played a part in them being selected.
*Note: You will need Java (free to download at java.com) to view it when you click on the thumbnail below.
Looking past the common words that would appear in most any scouting report, such as "good," "ball," "plays," etc., we notice several words that stand out, which include:
Speed, quick, quickness, burst, and explosive.
I would imagine that, as Chip Kelly, a man who runs an up-tempo offense, wants to play fast, constantly attack and wear down a defense, and believes in getting everything he can out of every single minute of the day, was interviewing Billy Davis, the conversation would eventually make its way to what he looks for in players. This could have been another factor, along with his open mind, experience and flexibility that was in favor of Billy Davis. They both utilize the same types of players.
But, it's more than that. If you have read through the scouting reports above, you saw that "quick" and "quickness" were referred to more than just in reference to running. They were also referred to in the context of diagnosing plays. Knowing where to be and what to do in every situation, and doing it quickly. They weren't looking just for athletes, they were looking for field generals and cerebral players.
Also, while strength is certainly an aspect that will be looked at, we see a larger emphasis on "burst" and "explosive" in the Word Cloud. These players could be ones that will not overwhelm with their strength, but their burst and explosion will allow them to jolt and shock the player across the line, so that, by the time they recover, it's too late.
From Billy Davis:
We’re going to try to keep the opposing offense on their heels instead of sitting back and letting everything be dictated to us," Davis said. "We will, as a staff, find a way to keep them off-balance. "We’re not going to sit back and let them dictate what personnel we’ll be in. We’ll aggressively keep them off a rhythm.
What Kelly is wedded to, and what he will take with him to the league, is the uptempo, no-huddle that stresses a defense.
Kelly built his playbook from the ground up. He took the principles of his high school and college coaches (run the ball) and added bits and pieces from all over to help him create an offense that could be fundamentally sound, simple, and explosive.
As we inch ever closer to the draft, this review of past drafts where Billy Davis was DC could give us insight on which way the Eagles may be leaning. As we sift through all of the combine results, scouting reports and mock drafts in the upcoming months, make note of those prospects that are spotlighted for their speed, quickness, burst, and explosion, as well as hybrid players who have the potential to be playmakers from multiple positions on the field. They may show quickness not only in the physical sense, but also in decision-making. Keep an eye on players that are field generals, directing others, and knowing not only their assignments, but also everyone else's assignment.
I'm not touting this as exact, highly scientific research. Rather, it is an examination of draft history to see if we can point to potential future draft selections or tendencies. It will be interesting to see if the selections that are made by the Eagles when those three days in late April roll around will match up with any of the items here.
If nothing else, it should be exciting to watch it unfold as we venture into this new era of Eagles football.