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Von Miller Tops Football Outsiders' SackSEER Projections

Let the Von Miller love-fest continue. His name has peppered the front page for weeks now, as he's seemingly jumped to the top of the Buffalo Bills' potential list of candidates for the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Barring a surprise, Miller is likely to be the top pass rusher off the board, and potentially the first defensive player selected, thanks to top production and excellent pre-draft workouts. The team that selects Miller will be getting an elite pass rush prospect - one that Football Outsiders (FO) projects as one of the best to come out in years.

FO uses a metric called SackSEER, which they developed to project the sack totals of highly drafted 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers in their first five years in the NFL. This regression model is comprised of four separate metrics they believe to be the most important factors that correlate to NFL sack success: the prospect's vertical leap, short shuttle time, per-game sack productivity in college (with some playing time adjustments), and games missed, including due to injury, suspension or leaving school early.

To develop the model, they analyzed all the edge rushers selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft from 1999-2008. SackSEER projects the sack totals for prospects for their first five years in the NFL, as that's roughly the average rookie contract for those drafted in the first two rounds. It should be noted that the model does a better job predicting potential busts than it does projecting potential stars, although they have a pretty high success rate with both. Von Miller tops their projection for the 2011 draftees, and it's really not close.

After applying the four metrics, the SackSEER model projects Miller to accumulate 36.4 sacks over the first five NFL seasons. His blend of speed, explosiveness, experience and production produced the metric's seventh-best projection over the past 12 years.

For the most part, the SackSEER projection puts Miller is very good company, as the model has correctly predicted the success of Aaron Schobel (holder of the highest SackSEER grade ever), Mario Williams, Shawne Merriman, DeMarcus Ware and Terrell Suggs. Some of the best pass rushers of the past decade had a similar projection, showing the potential this model has in its predictive qualities. His fellow draft prospects didn't fare as well in the projection, including a handful linked to the Bills: Robert Quinn, Brooks Reed and Jabaal Sheard.

SackSEER Projections, 2011
Name College SackSEER
Von Miller Texas A&M 36.4
Justin Houston Georgia 26.0
Da'Quan Bowers Clemson 22.0
Robert Quinn UNC 15.5
Brooks Reed Arizona 15.1
Jabaal Sheard Pittsburgh 10.6

Obviously, any of these players could turn into great NFL players, and any of them could be out of the league in three years. However, before any of you Quinn, Reed or Sheard fans blow off this model as useless, consider the players who have produced the lowest SackSEER projections of the past 12 years.

Lowest SackSEER Projections, 1999-2009
Name College Year Team Pick SackSEER Sacks 1-5
Paul Toviessi Marshall 2001 DEN 51 12.5 0.0
Erik Flowers Arizona State 2000 BUF 26 10.9 5.0
David Veikune Hawaii 2009 CLE 52 10.9 0.0*
Ikaika Alama-Francis Hawaii 2007 DET 58 10.9 1.0*
Erasmus James Wisconsin 2005 MIN 18 10.7 5.0
Anton Palepoi Nevada 2002 SEA 60 10.5 4.0
Robert Ayers Tennessee 2009 DEN 18 9.4 1.5*
Tony Bryant Florida State 1999 OAK 40 8.2 17.5
Dan Cody Oklahoma 2005 BAL 53 7.9 0.0
Jarvis Moss Florida 2007 DEN 17 7.6 4.5*
Jerome McDougle Miami 2003 PHI 15 6.8 3.0
Jason Pierre-Paul South Florida 2010 NYG 15 3.8 5.0*
Michael Boireau Miami 2000 MIN 56 2.3 0.0

Those aren't the names you want your early-round pass rush draft pick to be associated with. Any team looking to draft one of the players with the low SackSEER numbers must really consider the four metrics FO uses. It's not the be-all, end-all way to predict potential pass rushing busts, but it's certainly a tool to make many observers take a different approach to their predictions.

If the Bills believe Miller is the next great pass rushing outside linebacker in the NFL, they certainly have history on their side according to the fine folks at FO. Miller possesses a rare blend of speed and athleticism, which suggest he should be an effective pass rusher in the NFL. The question marks will remain regarding his ability to help against the run and whether he can perform at a high level under 250 lbs., but there should be no doubt that he is an elite pass rushing prospect. Time will tell whether or not the SackSEER model lives up to its past success in projecting Miller's, and his fellow draftees', statistical output.