Heading into the 2015 Draft, Eagles VP of Player Personnel Ed Marynowitz reaffirmed the teams’ commitment to highly valuing physical traits in the scouting process.
"[Nick] Saban’s philosophy, he had been in the NFL for quite some time, and our philosophy there was a very similar philosophy to what we have here. It was a very height/weight/speed specific operation. This is a size/speed league. We believed the SEC was a size/speed league. There’s enough statistical data that will support that in terms of players that are playing at a high level. There’s a certain prototype.
So our goal there was that although there may be varying degrees of players in terms of an ability standpoint, when the starters come off the field and the backups come in, they all relatively look the same. So there’s a certain prototype at each position. We try to build the same thing here, whether it’s at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, corner, safety. There’s a prototype, and there’s a model that fits what we do. We did the same thing there."
Big picture wise, you want to play with the odds, not against the odds. And the odds are telling you that the majority of these guys that are under this certain prototype do not play at a starting level in the NFL. If you have seven draft picks, do you really want to waste one, especially in the top three rounds, on a guy that history is telling you... typically these guys with these types of measurables don’t produce at this level?"
He indicated that in particular this would be seen in the end of the draft.
"I think sometimes in the later rounds you may defer a little bit more to numbers in terms of testing numbers and what they have in their body. You want guys that have athleticism and traits that can translate. Guys that are wired the right way in terms of being willing to develop and improve as players. Byron Maxwell is a great example of that. He has a certain level of skill set and is wired the right way to improve and develop, and I think you're looking for those traits in late-round picks."
And that's exactly what the Eagles did, using a different kind of Oregon bias: Nike’s SPARQ. An acronym for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness, SPARQ is a rating system created by Nike used to grade a player’s athletic ability specific to their sport, using drills and measurements specific for each, weighing each measurement differently. Nike holds tests all over the country with high school athletes (for free), then sells it to colleges as a recruiting tool.
Their first big client was then-USC head coach Pete Carroll, who took it with him to Seattle in 2010. In 2013 their draft class had the highest combined SPARQ score, bringing new found attention to the system. The Seahawks then formed a formal alliance with Nike, which prompted Nike to remove the calculator it had available to the public. However, because we know the factors involved, we (well, other people) can use the Combine to determine a player’s SPARQ Score. 3 Sigma Athlete and Field Gulls have done the leg work on recreating the SPARQ score.
For football Nike's input is the 40 yard dash, 20 yard shuttle, vertical jump, a kneeling powerball toss, and the player’s weight. For the NFL, we can substitute the bench press for the toss. For lineman, the 10 yard split in the 40 is used, and Seahawks General Manager John Schneider has said the broad jump is of use for this as well, showing that teams with direct access can dig even deeper in their measurements.
In the 2015 draft, Chip Kelly and the Eagles drafted and signed UDFA players who scored high. From the 3 Sigma Athlete database:
A few things standout.
-Defensive line. The Eagles drafted the 2nd (Mihalik, 7th round) and signed the 4th highest scoring (McBryde, UDFA) defensive lineman.
-Offensive line. The Eagles didn't draft any offensive linemen, but they did stack up on high scoring UDFA linemen, signing three players in the 50s. There were 46 offensive linemen drafted, and not all of them were in the top 50 in SPARQ scores, so the Eagles got some of the better athletes on the line that were available in free agency.
-Wide reciever. While SPARQ scores were clearly a factor on both sides of the line, at wide receiver they were clearly not. Nelson Agholor did not score high considering his draft position, John Harris was just above average and Rasheed Bailey scored poorly.
Overall, they got players with good to great SPARQ scores. But does that matter? Having a high SPARQ score guarantees little, it is not a measurement of a player’s ability to play NFL football. In 2013 B.W. Webb had one of the highest scores among CBs and was drafted in the 4th round by the Cowboys, he was cut after one season. In 2014 Allen Hurns scored low, but was a productive rookie as Eagles fans know too well.
While SPARQ scores don't guarantee success, they give us reason to believe that a player with a high score has the necessary physical tools in place. No more Andy Reid undersized "fastballs" that never had a chance to pan out. Many of these UDFAs may never see another training camp again, but the physical base to succeed is there. If the coaches can improve their fundamentals and technique, they can be productive players. A few current Eagles who made the NFL as UDFAs fit this profile. Jason Peters, Cedric Thornton and Bryan Braman all entered the league as undrafted free agents and in Peters and Thornton's case, after a year of development became starters, while Braman became an impact special teams player. For 7th round draft picks and undrafted free agents making the NFL is tough, entering training camp with the physical tools and traits that are needed to succeed in the NFL already in place is as good of an advantage as you can reasonably ask.