May 8 2014, 7:32pm CDT | by Forbes
ing If you could have any person, living or dead, run your NFL Draft Day War Room, who would you pick?
Vince Lombardi? Kate Upton? Or would you ask WWJD? (Who Would Jesus Draft?)
How about Isaac Newton? He’s a classic out-of-the-box thinker. And he can shed special light on the Jadeveon Clowney Question. i.e just how good is the South Carolina Defensive End, and is he worthy of the first pick overall? (The following adapts concepts found in my recent book: Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game , written with Ainissa Ramirez and published by Ballantine Books.)
In answering that question, Newton’s secret weapon is momentum. Not the “fourth quarter comeback kind.” The momentum equals mass times velocity kind. (p=m*v ) ? Newton himself called momentum the “quality of motion.” A high school physics teacher might call it “mass on the move.” Total momentum depends on two things: the amount of stuff and how fast it’s moving. Or in football terms: speed and size.
Speed and size are the yin and yang of the NFL. Both are highly desirable, but they tend to be found in inverse proportion to each other. The player with speed is generally lacking in size and vice versa. Except in a few standouts like Clowney every year.
Teams have access to dozens of data points on draft day for each player, from his Wonderlic score to interviews with his high school buddies. Newton wants only two: a player’s weight and his 40 yard dash time from the NFL Combine.
With his impressive size (266 pounds) and his blazing fast 4.53 second 40 time, you’d think that Clowney would be Mr. Momentum in this year’s draft. You’d be wrong.
That title goes to Greg Robinson, a 332-pound offensive tackle from Auburn who ran a 4.92 40 in the combine (Daniel McCullers a 352-pound Defensive Tackle from Tennessee would have won that title but his 5.18 time came in an on-campus Pro Day, rather than at the NFL Combine so the time must be considered unofficial.) Those are the only two players in this year’s class to break 8,000 lb/ft/sec in total momentum.
Clowney, for his part, just broke 7,000. That ranks him 50th overall, but he’s in rankings he’s in the neighborhood of 300-pound centers and defensive tackles. Indeed the only player significantly under 300 pounds who ranks higher than Clowney in pure momentum is Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald who ran a 4.68 at 285 pounds
That’s because size is actually a more important variable than speed in the NFL. The smallest player in the Combine, 163-pound Tevin Reese is less than half the size of the biggest, McCullers. But there’s just over a second between the fastest player, Dri Archer (4.26) and the slowest, Cyrus Kouandijo, (5.59.) And in a league where the salary cap reigns supreme, NFL teams act on this knowledge; more of the league’s highest paid non QBs are big guys rather than speed guys.
McCullers, Donald, and especially Robinson are expected to go early in the draft.
But there’s another way to look at this that shows how special Clowney is: ranking a player compared to others at his position. To determine that we measured the gap between the player with the highest Momentum figure, and the second-ranked player. We’ll call it Freak Factor.
McCullers put up a crazy, but unofficial, Freak Factor of 453. Robinson tops the official list with a 216.6 Freak Factor. Next came Utah State linebacker-turned-safety Maurice Alexander at 175.8. Clowney was an impressive third overall with a Freak Factor of 131. The only other players to pull a Freak Factor of over 100 this year were 240-pound Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (124) and 313-pound Utah State Center Tyler Larsen (127).
Sure, most of these players come with open questions—from what position they’ll play in the NFL to personal problems that might prevent them from playing at all. During his brief college career, Clowney was sometimes dominant and sometimes strangely ineffectual during a junior year that provided more questions than answers. But when it comes to sheer momentum, the ability to move the body of a large football player down the field with surprising speed, Clowney and his Fellow Freak Factors are the best in an impressive draft class. Just ask Isaac Newton.
Would you draft Clowney first overall? What’s more important in the NFL, size or speed? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Allen St. John is the author of Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game, published by Ballantine Books
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