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Skins Stats: Ryan Anderson & the Athleticism Elephant in the Room

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Hogs Haven examines just how poor of an athlete Ryan Anderson is and if it spells doom for his chances of NFL success

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There have been a number of articles that have lauded Ryan Anderson for his toughness, motor, attitude and production at Alabama.

There's a good chance you've read some of them, but if you have not and you want a reason to get excited about Anderson then you should start by checking out these pieces from ESPN's Alex Scarborough, CBS' Jason La Canfora and Hogs Haven's own Alex Rowsey.

These writers and numerous others in the scouting and analyst communities have heaped praise on the Alabama product and essentially proclaimed that he was one of the more underrated early-round prospects in the 2017 draft. They have done that all while acknowledging and downplaying the very reason that he was not more highly regarded in the first place, the same reason he was not selected higher in the draft.

That reason is that Ryan Anderson is a poor athlete. But that doesn't seem to be that important to those people, and apparently it's not that important to Anderson himself.

"I train hard, I work hard, but I ain't no workout warrior," Anderson explained. "I don't care about broad jumps and long jumps. I ran at the combine and I'm fast enough to set the edge -- nobody beat me on the edge. I can run with tight ends. I can cover running backs. Football is football. I'm a football player. All that other stuff, you can break it down however you want to break it down. It has nothing to do with football."

- Ryan Anderson

Actually it has a great deal to do with football. There have been many studies which have proven that athleticism is highly correlated to NFL success (e.g. how SPARQ correlates with approximate value), and especially so for NFL pass rushers (see here and here), which is the role that the Redskins drafted Anderson to play.

All the data shows us that the majority of successful pass rushers are great athletes and that very few subpar athletes are highly productive in this role at the NFL level. Like it or not, those are the facts; and therein lies the problem for Anderson.

But does this mean that Ryan Anderson is doomed to mediocrity or worse. To find out I looked at how Anderson compares athletically to all of the top linebackers and edge rushers in the NFL, how his top athletic comps have fared in the league and at some of his stats as a member of Nick Saban's Alabama defense.


Methodology

For each athleticism category that we'll look at, I have ranked Ryan Anderson against over 100 of the top edge rushers and off-ball linebackers in the NFL. I've also included every linebacker on the Redskins' roster. Between the two positions Anderson is compared to 219 players in one way or another.

You may not see every key player at these positions included, but I am confident that the vast majority of them are represented here. If a player's data was unavailable for a particular category they were not included in the rankings for that reason.

Both combine and pro day numbers were used in this study. If a player participated in the same drill in both settings then the better number was used.


SIZE

All of the weights below are based off of combine and pro day measurements and not the player's current listed weight.

Ryan Anderson Size Values & Rankings vs. All LB and EDGE
Category Height Weight Arm Hand Wingspan
Ryan Anderson Value 74 253 31.5 9.375 75.75
EDGE Average 75.5 262.8 33.48 9.93 80.02
OFF-BALL LB Average 73.4 236.9 32.58 9.66 77.83
# of EDGE Players 115 115 99 99 46
Ryan Anderson Ranking 100th 82nd 94th 82nd 44th
13th Worst 31st Worst 4th Worst 12th Worst 3rd Worst
# of OFF-BALL LBs 106 106 79 79 31
Ryan Anderson Ranking 30th 4th 67th 53rd 25th
10th Worst 18th Worst 7th Worst

Right off the bat, we see that Ryan Anderson is one of the smallest edge rushers in the NFL. He ranks in the bottom 13 in height, arm length, hand size and wingspan in this group.

He's also at the bottom of the barrel in terms of length among the off-ball linebackers. However, the script is flipped in terms of size, where he finds himself in the top 30 in both height and weight. Perhaps it would make more sense to utilize him as an oversized inside backer in Greg Manusky's scheme instead of as an extremely undersized edge rusher.

For this section, as with every other athletic measure that we will look at, I've included a sortable table for you to look at all of the data for every player that Anderson has been ranked against. Edge rushers and off-ball linebackers are included together in these charts.

It was also interesting to see that Nico Marley is the smallest player and that Josh Harvey-Clemons possesses more length than almost anyone in this set of 220 athletes.


SPEED

Starting in this section, we will look at both the raw testing numbers for Anderson and his peers and the size-adjusted metrics for those same workout numbers. Rankings are not included for expected results because they are only a hypothetical number that we are using to help us find the player's size-adjusted results.

Most of these measures were created by Football Perspective's Chase Stuart.

Ryan Anderson Speed Values & Rankings vs. All LB and EDGE
Category Weight 40 Time Expected 40 Adjusted 40 Speed Score
Ryan Anderson Value 253 4.78 4.82 0.04 96.9
EDGE Average 262.8 4.72 4.88 0.16 106.9
OFF-BALL LB Average 236.5 4.64 4.72 0.07 102.4
# of EDGE Players 115 111 111 111 111
Ryan Anderson Ranking 77th 98th 94th
32nd Worst 14th Worst 18th Worst
# of OFF-BALL LBs 106 101 101 101 101
Ryan Anderson Ranking 92nd 68th 79th
9th Worst 34th Worst 23rd Worst

Anderson was still well below average in terms of speed, but his rankings are also certainly an improvement over what we saw in the size category.

His raw numbers compare better to edge players, but when you adjust for size, we see that his results stack up more favorably against the top traditional linebackers in the league.

If Anderson lost some weight in an effort to move to inside linebacker there's a chance his non-adjusted speed would improve even more compared to these other off-ball backers.

Check out Zach Brown's rankings in the table below if you want to see a real Redskins speed demon. His numbers put him in the top ten in every one of these speed metrics. On the other end of the spectrum, you'll find five Skins' benchwarmers in the bottom ten.


EXPLOSIVENESS

Unfortunately, Ryan Anderson did not participate in the broad jump, so those numbers have not been included for the other players that we're looking at.

The 10-yard dash also sheds some light into how explosive a player is, and, as such, that metric is listed in this section.

Ryan Anderson Explosiveness Values & Rankings vs. All LB and EDGE
Category Weight Vertical Exp Vert Adj Vert 10 Time
Ryan Anderson Value 253 28.5 31.28 -2.78 1.71
EDGE Average 262.8 34.2 30.68 3.56 1.64
OFF-BALL LB Average 236.5 34.9 32.23 2.69 1.62
# of EDGE Players 115 109 109 109 107
Ryan Anderson Ranking 104th 108th 93rd
t-2nd Worst 2nd Worst t-10th Worst
# of OFF-BALL LBs 106 101 101 101 98
Ryan Anderson Ranking 100th 98th 92nd
t-Worst 4th Worst 6th Worst

This is where things really start to take a turn for the worse for Ryan Anderson. He had one of the worst times in the 10-yard dash and only fellow Redskins OLB Houston Bates put up a lower number in the vertical jump than Anderson's 28.5 inches.

Bates was also the only edge rusher with a lower adjusted vertical. Wesley Woodyard and fellow Redskins Nico Marley and Pete Robertson were the only off-ball LBs that fared worse in this department.

This is clearly not a good look for Anderson for a couple of reasons.

First, four of the five players below him in these rankings are on Washington's roster, and they probably won't make the final 53.

Secondly, and more importantly, explosiveness is easily the most essential athletic trait for edge rushers to have. That could be a major issue for Ryan Anderson, who looks to be one of the least explosive players in football.


AGILITY

It should be noted that the only site that listed Anderson's short shuttle result was Relative Athletic Scores. With that being said, you may want to take that number with a grain of salt. However, on the other hand, I've found their data to be pretty reliable and the shuttle time certainly jives with what we saw in the 3-cone drill from Anderson.

Ryan Anderson Agility Values & Rankings vs. LB and EDGE
Category 20 Yd Shuttle Exp Shuttle Adj Shuttle 3 Cone Exp Cone Adj Cone Agility Score Adj Agility
Ryan Anderson Value 4.77 4.38 -0.39 7.73 7.30 -0.43 12.50 -0.83
EDGE Average 4.39 4.41 0.02 7.16 7.34 0.18 11.54 0.20
OFF-BALL LB Average 4.30 4.31 0.01 7.10 7.17 0.08 11.39 0.09
# of EDGE Players 106 106 106 106 106 106 105 105
Ryan Anderson Ranking 106th 106th 105th 106th 104th 105th
Worst Worst 2nd Worst Worst 2nd Worst Worst
# of OFF-BALL LBs 98 98 98 96 96 96 95 95
Ryan Anderson Ranking 98th 97th 96th 9th 95th 95th
Worst 2nd Worst Worst Worst Worst Worst

If you were disturbed by Anderson's explosiveness you may not want to hear about his agility, or lack thereof. These results are not for the faint of heart.

He ranks either second to last or dead last in all six measures of agility that we looked at here. The only players ranked below him in any of these categories are rookies Demarcus Walker and Josh-Harvey Clemons.

Many athletes with poor change of direction skills have a tough time sticking in the NFL. Consider this, yet, another bad omen for the Alabama product.

I don't know if it's any consolation for Anderson fans, but Junior Galette, Trent Murphy, Will Compton and Chris Carter earned some decent agility rankings.


OVERALL ATHLETICISM

Ryan Anderson Athleticism Values & Rankings vs. All LB and EDGE
Category SPARQ SPARQ % RAS
Ryan Anderson Value 88.2 0.9% 1.11
EDGE Average 124.3 60.6% 6.62
OFF-BALL LB Average 121.1 55.1% 6.18
# of EDGE Players 57 46 110
Ryan Anderson Ranking 57th 46th 106th
Worst Worst 5th Worst
# of OFF-BALL LBs 47 34 97
Ryan Anderson Ranking 45th 32nd 94th
3rd Worst 3rd Worst 4th Worst

Unless you skipped ahead, you shouldn't be surprised to find out that Ryan Anderson is one of the least athletic players in the league at either position. This makes sense for a guy with tweener size that ranks at the bottom of the NFL among edge rushers and off-ball linebackers in both explosiveness and agility.

Between both positions there are 206 players displayed here with a RAS score; the Redskins' new Alabama alum ranks below all but seven of them in this measure of overall athleticism. His RAS of 1.11 means that he sits roughly in the 11th percentile among linebackers (the position that Relative Athletic Scores has him at).

Comparing Anderson to linebackers is probably only helping his cause, as I've found edge rushers to typically be better size-adjusted athletes than off-ball backers. The RAS does have a number of other pass rushers as LBs, but many of them are listed under defensive end.

Zach Whitman's SPARQ site, 3 Sigma Athlete, lumps all of the true edge rushers into one position. The only players at either position with a lower SPARQ score are roster longshots Pete Robertson and Nico Marley. This also should not shock anyone considering that Ryan Anderson ranks below the 1st percentile in SPARQ among edge rushers.

Let me repeat that again: Ryan Anderson ranks below the 1st percentile in SPARQ among edge rushers. That fact should be truly disturbing and sobering for any fan of either Ryan Anderson or the Redskins. I believe that is yet more evidence which shows that the Redskins should seriously consider moving him into a role as an early-down thumper at the inside linebacker position.

The real edge rusher that Washington fans should be pinning their hopes to is Preston Smith. Smith is still just 24 years old, and he ranks in the top 30 in every one of these overall measures of athleticism.


WORST IN CLASS

To this point we've really only focused on players that have either already produced at the NFL level or that are projected to do so. Let's take it another step forward and see how Anderson's athleticism compares to the other 252 prospects in the 2017 draft class.

Worst Athletes in the 2017 Draft
Player Position Team Round Pick SPARQ RAS
Ryan Anderson OLB WAS 2 49 88.2 1.11
Pat Elfein C MIN 3 70 80.0 1.14
David Sharpe OT OAK 4 129 81.1 1.86
Zach Banner OT IND 4 137 80.5 0.88
Corn Elder CB CAR 5 152 107 0.62
Treston Decoud CB HOU 5 169 98.1 0.8
Justin Senior OT SEA 6 210 80.9 0.26
Stevie Tu'ikolovatu DT TB 7 223 92.4 0.52
Matt Dayes RB CLE 7 252 90.6 0.81

There were only eight other players in the entire class with either a lower SPARQ score, SPARQ positional percentile or RAS score.

After running the size-adjusted numbers for these players and looking at them side-by-side next to Anderson's, I can only confidently say that he is a better athlete than offensive tackle Justin Senior and running back Matthew Dayes. Senior and Dayes were selected with the 210th and 252nd picks in the draft.

Ryan Anderson, on the other hand, was drafted over 150 picks before either player and was the first in this group to hear his name called on draft night.


COMBING FOR GOOD COMPS

Comparing the athleticism of RA to players of the present and the future hasn't gone so well for him, but maybe, just maybe, we can find some hope by looking to the past.

In order to do so, I looked at all of his top comparable players. Using MockDraftable, Player Profiler and five of my own comps, I compiled a list of 30 similarly athletic players that have already played or are still playing in the NFL to see if their production can act as a beacon of hope for Anderson's prospects in the pros.

The two stats that I used to do this were sacks and Pro Football Reference's approximate value. I looked at both metrics from a total career and a per year standpoint.

Ryan Anderson Comparable Players & Their NFL Production
Category Sim % Years AV Sacks AV/Yr Sacks/Yr
High 98.0% 11 63 28 8.2 8.3
Median 85.9% 4.0 8.0 4.0 2.3 0.8
Average 87.0% 3.9 13.4 6.0 2.9 1.7

The average player in this grouping had a similarity score of 87% to Anderson as an athlete, which statistically speaking, makes their profiles very similar to Anderson's. However, that unfortunately, is not a good thing for him in this case.

Anderson's average comp only posted six sacks and an AV of 13 in their careers. The per year numbers are even worse (1.7 sacks and 2.9 AV per year averages). To put this into perspective, consider that there were over 50 players with an AV and sack total over five last season alone. I didn't even include years in which these players did not play in an NFL game either; Anderson's prospects would have looked even more dire had that been the case.

What's even more troubling here is that most of his poor testing numbers came from his pro day, and MockDraftable didn't even incorporate those results into their comps, which constitutes 24 of the 30 players that we're looking at. It should also be noted that my personally selected comps came from a pool of projected starters and key role players instead of the larger pool of all of the athletes to have ever participated at the combine.

The only saving grace for Anderson here is that about half of these comps are still playing; and, as such, they will increase their career totals and maybe even their per year averages.


OVERRATED PRODUCTION

The narrative for many that are still Ryan Anderson truthers and athleticism deniers will probably revolve around the fact that Anderson produced at a high level in college. After all, production, especially at a high level, often times trumps athleticism (although, I believe that is less of the case for edge rushers). To be impartial as possible let me start by sharing some of Anderson's best statistics.

Those are indeed some very encouraging stats. However, most people prefer to only focus on the positives and avoid looking at things from the other end of the spectrum. So with that in mind, let's take a look at ten sets of much less flattering numbers and facts.

  1. Anderson never had more than 8.5 sacks in a season (RS senior year), and his next highest total was just 6 sacks (RS junior year).
  2. He never averaged more than 0.57 sacks per game in a season (RS senior year), and his next best average was 0.4 sacks per contest (RS junior year).
  3. Across his 57 career games at Alabama, Ryan Anderson only registered more than 1 full sack just once (2 sacks against Mississippi State in 2015). Even if you count games where he recorded more than 1 half sack as multi-sack games, that number only jumps to 3 (2 half sacks against LSU and Kent State in 2016).
  4. On only one occasion did he make more than 2 tackles for a loss in a game (3 TFL versus Texas A&M in 2016).
  5. Ryan Anderson only recorded more than 5 total tackles in seven games (5 of which came in 2016).
  6. He also never posted more than 6 total, 4 solo and 3 assisted tackles until the sixth game in his final season with the Tide.
  7. Based on all of the numbers that I have seen, Anderson only had 9 great games statistically, 6 of which came in his last 11 college contests. I understand that this is subjective and that I have not gone game-by-game with you here, but I would be more than happy to elaborate on this in the comments section. Personally, I think that number (9) was actually generous to Anderson.
  8. Anderson didn't really have a breakout season until he was a 21-year-old red shirt junior.
  9. His 2016 season was by far his most productive campaign at Alabama. He was a 22-year-old redshirt senior that year. If you're not going to produce as a senior and in your fifth year in college then your odds of ever doing so in the NFL are minuscule.
  10. Ryan Anderson was by no means a one-man wrecking crew at Alabama. If anything, he was likely propped up by the tremendous talent that he played with on the defensive side of the ball. Just take a look at the table below to see some of the guys that he played alongside, and take note of how long they played with him and when they did so (years in in parenthesis). You'll notice that 9 of these 15 current and future NFL players were with Anderson during his two most productive years (they are italicized below).
Years Top Alabama Defenders Played with Ryan Anderson
4 Years 3 Years 2 Years
Jonathan Allen (13-16) Da'Shawn Hand (14-16) Landon Collins (13-14)
Reuben Foster (13-16) Cyrus Jones (13-15) Minkah Fitzpatrick (15-16)
Eddie Jackson (13-16) Reggie Ragland (13-15) Ronnie Harrison (15-16)
Dalvin Tomlinson (13-16) A'Shawn Robinson (13-15) Marlon Humphrey (15-16)
Tim Williams (13-16) Da'Ron Payne (15-16)
Jarran Reed (14-15)

That information should, of course, not lead us to totally discount all of the good things that Anderson did at Alabama. However, they should give us some pause and make us really ask ourselves if he was truly as good at the college level as we had originally perceived him to be.


CONCLUSION

I want to make one thing perfectly clear before I wrap things up: I sincerely want to see Ryan Anderson have a highly successful career in the NFL. For the sake of the Redskins' pass rush, their defense and for the team as a whole, I can honestly say that I would much rather be wrong about Anderson than I would like to be right about him. I truly hope that I am wrong.

And there is good reason to believe that he may have a productive career. He was dominant in high school and was one of the highest ranked recruits at his position going into college. He enjoyed terrific junior and senior seasons at one of the very best college football programs in the history of the sport. And as others have discussed at great length, he plays with a mean streak and an intensity that you simply do not find in most players. But for all of the virtual ink that has been spilled to sing his praises, somebody needed to address his shortcomings, as well.

His production at Alabama has been both exaggerated and overrated to at least some degree.

He was one of the worst athletes in the 2017 draft; and in my opinion, there are probably at least 15 guys that the Redskins should have selected instead of him with their second-round pick.

Few players that fit his athletic profile have found success in the pros. That matters, because we've seen athletes that look a lot like him before and most of them have not lived up to expectations.

Ryan Anderson is also not only one of the least agile and explosive edge rushers or linebackers in the league, he is probably, at the very least on a pound-per-pound basis, one of the worst overall athletes in the entire NFL. I think most people knew that he was a poor athlete, but I truly do not believe that the vast majority of the general football watching public knew that it was quite to this extent.

However, we can no longer claim ignorance, and I have to wonder how we can rationally assume that he will be a long-term starter or a pro bowler? Knowing what we know now, how can we reasonably expect him to be the outlier and accomplish something that few others like him have done before. I feel like to brazenly do so would be misguided at best and akin to spitting in the face of all of the history and math that we have at our disposal at worst.

All of this does not mean that Ryan Anderson cannot be an average player for the Washington Redskins. What it does mean is that the odds of him being a bust are much higher than the odds that he becomes a star. We can choose to ignore the facts and hope that our wishful thinking will magically somehow coax productivity into existence, or we can accept reality and temper our expectations.

The choice is yours. Just know that if you choose the former, you are hoping for a longshot, because the odds are stacked against Ryan Anderson having a truly great career in the NFL.


*All statistics are courtesy of 3 Sigma Athlete, 247 Sports, AL.com, CBS Sports, College Football Reference, ESPN, Football Perspective, MockDraftable, NFL Draft Scout, Player Profiler, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Relative Athletic Scores and Roll Tide*