Inducting (Another) New 3-Sigma Athlete

I wrote the last induction post in April 2015, welcoming Connecticut corner Byron Jones into the club. This is what i said at the time.

The name of this blog is 3 Sigma Athlete, which refers to the rare NFL player who stands three standard deviations above the NFL standard pSPARQ at a given position. I’ve written before about the 3 sigma athletes who are currently in the NFL: J.J. Watt, Calvin Johnson, Evan Mathis, and Lane Johnson.

On the day that this site was launched, Mathis was the one to think of the 3sigma club.

What is a 3 Sigma Athlete?

3 sigma athletes don’t show up very often. 3 standard deviations from the mean corresponds to the 99.87th percentile. It isn’t 1 in 1000, but it isn’t far off, either. In 2014, no players were added to the 3sig club, though Seattle’s 6th-round pick, Garrett Scott, did just miss, falling short by an impossibly small margin.

In the last two years, Calvin and Mathis retired. Kristjan Sokoli was tentatively in the club (if he stuck at offensive line), but he’s playing DL in Indy. That left us with three members of the club: J.J. Watt, Lane Johnson, and Byron Jones.

We now have a new member to induct; Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu. I’ve waited to announce as we didn’t have his Combine 10-split and his pro day short shuttle time was difficult to pin down. Values between 4.09 and 4.30 have been reported, and I wasn’t comfortable finalizing Obi until i knew he’d stick. With the full data back now, he’d be a 3sig even with the short shuttle lower bound of 4.30. With the more widely reported 4.09, he lands at 3.3 sigma, clearly the best safety athlete of at least the last 19 draft classes.

Obi is yet another case study in how teams value elite athleticism. Jones wasn’t a notable prospect until he set a world record in Indy, and he went in the first round. Melifonwu might end up going just as early as Jones, and there wasn’t any buzz suggesting that before the Combine. It’s not hard to see a team like Dallas or Seattle, each with a history of targeting uber-athletes, targeting him at the end of the first round.

As I said two years ago, the 3 sigma club is just trivia, but it’s fun trivia. Congrats to Obi. We really do need to get him a t-shirt.


2017 Combine Prep

Hey all,

I posted the 2017 SPARQ rankings page. Each sheet is populated by the 2017 Combine roster. I’ll be adding data to the pages as it comes along over the next week. Currently, measurements are taken from all-star games already attended, like the Shrine Game or Senior Bowl. Those measurements will be replaced by Combine measurements as they become available.

Let me know on twitter if there’s anyone that should be in a different positional category. I do my best to get players assigned to roughly the correct position group, but there’s probably a few misses in there. (but yes, listing Jabrill Peppers as a safety is intentional).

Non-combine invites and pro day measurements will be added as they come along later. Happy Combine week (feat. Solomon Thomas Day).

Combine Results: All positions posted

SPARQ rankings for Combine results at all positions are now available on the rankings page.

Please note:

–I decided not to calculate approximate SPARQ results for a few high-profile prospects who didn’t completely all Combine drills. This is particularly relevant for Robert Nkemdiche and Charles Tapper. I project each to among the top at their position.

–Rankings will be updated to reflect pro day data. I haven’t included any yet. It’s just easier to update with a big chunk of data after we accumulate a week or two of results.

–Some players are probably not at the ideal position, particularly with DL/EDGE/LB, where lines are a little blurrier than elsewhere. Let me know on twitter @zjwhitman if you feel someone listed at the wrong position.

–There will inevitably be a few birthdays where I fat-fingered the year. Let me know if something looks off (but not with Andrew Billings. Yes, he was born in 1995. Stop tweeting me about 1996, please and thank you).


Combine Results: Running Backs, Defensive Backs

We waited all Combine weekend for freaks, and they were all in the defensive back group. The best 6 projected SPARQ scores all came from the secondary.

The full rankings are now posted at the RB, CB, and Safety pages. Please note that many of the results are estimates as players did not complete all necessary drills — particularly in the case of missing agility drills, the results are approximate.

Combine Results: Defensive Line

The defensive line group tested at the Combine today. There was some good and bad.

The full rankings are now posted at the Defensive Line Rankings Page. Please note that many of the results are estimates as players did not complete all necessary drills — particularly in the case of missing agility drills, the results are approximate.

Someone, please let my favorite football team draft Jonathan Bullard. Thank you.


Combine Results: Wide Receiver:

The wide receiver group tested at the Combine today, and it was a far more promising group than we saw with the running backs yesterday.

The full rankings are now posted at the Wide Receiver Rankings Page. Please note that many of the results are estimates as players did not complete all necessary drills — particularly in the case of missing agility drills, the results are approximate.

Excluding approximate results, the top 5 Combine WR SPARQ results belonged to Josh Doctson, Devon Cajuste, Chris Moore, Marquez North, and Trevor Davis.

–Josh Doctson had an incredible day. He tested out in the 94th percentile of NFL WRs and showed excellent explosion, speed, and agility at 6’2″/200. It’s hard to imagine him not being selected in the top 20 picks in April.

–Stanford WR Devon Cajuste had an insane 3-cone for his size, one of the best ever recorded at the Combine. When considered as a tight end, he ranks in the 88th SPARQ percentile.

–Sterling Shepard is awesome and tested out much better than many expected. With a good pro day performance in the agility drills (possible considering his apparent agility on the field), he could join the elite athletic class.

–It was a no good, very bad day for Tyler Boyd, Hollywood Higgins, and Duke Williams. Higgins and Boyd will foster quite a bit of discussion over the next two months.

Corey Coleman day will have to wait until the Baylor pro day. I have not lost the faith.

Seahawks Draft Analysis: Ryan Murphy and Tye Smith

Ryan Murphy, DB, Oregon State

Selected: 7th round, 248 overall

After the hubbub of the Kristjan Sokoli selection a round prior, I didn’t need anything else out of the 2015 draft. I was settled. And then the Seahawks selected Ryan Murphy, someone I loved watching at Oregon State. This was a fun pick to see come across the NFL Network ticker, and also cool to see a player I profiled get the nod.

Murphy was a good player in Corvallis, but it’s likely the phenomenal pro day that helped him rise from undrafted projections to the 7th round. He’s just a little over 6 foot and weighs 214 lbs. The 4.45 40 and 1.54 10-split are probably his most impressive athletic results, though the 39″ vertical is also indicative of an elite athlete. When this is combined with pretty good agility drills and 32″ arms, the vision of a Seahawk corner begins to take shape.


Murphy fits at either corner or safety in athletic profile. The best comp is easily Deone Bucannon, the former Washington State and current Arizona safety.  Using uniqueness index, we can determine at which position Murphy’s profile best fits. He has a 66 UQI at cornerback and a 57 UQI at safety. This means that he is more athletically similar to the safety group than the corner group, and this probably matches intuition.

I wrote pre-draft about how Murphy fit the Seattle profile, and John Schneider admitted as much in his post-draft presser yesterday, saying that he tested at a cornerback level.

Though Murphy tested like a corner, the roster spot at safety is much easier to come by, and this is where Seattle will attempt to place him on the roster. Note the following roster competition at each position:

Corner (carry 5): Richard Sherman, Cary Williams, Tharold Simon, Tye Smith, Will Blackmon/Marcus Burley (Jeremy Lane, PUP/IR)

Safety (carry 4): Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, DeShawn Shead, Dion Bailey

With the departure of Jeron Johnson, there’s room on the Seattle depth chart and special teams unit for an athletic safety in the mold of Murphy. Even if his main contributions for 2015 and 2016 are similar to what Shead provided last year, it’s great value for the 7th round. It would be a success for the 248th pick to perform like Jeron Johnson for 4 cheap, club-controlled years.

Murphy was also a kick returner at Oregon State, and even with Tyler Lockett available on both kicks and punts, depth is important. We all remember Robert Turbin’s 2013 return against Arizona.

Seattle has tinkered with Shead at corner in training camp and preseason. I think they’ve been looking for a corner/safety hybrid for a  while, and Murphy might be able to fill that role down the road. In the meantime, there’s a path to a roster spot and plenty of other ways for him to contribute.

Tye Smith, CB, Towson
Selected: 5th round, 170th overall

Fifth-round Seattle corner? Fifth-round Seattle corner.

Seattle’s drafted 9 times under Carroll and Schneider in the 5th round. They came away with Kam Chancellor in 2010 and Richard Sherman in 2011, two selections which rank among the best made by any team in recent memory. Beyond them, Luke WIllson is a pretty nice role player. He has his flaws, but there’s a specific role he provides and he’s clearly worthy of an NFL roster spot.  With Tharold Simon still an incomplete, Seattle’s hit on 3 of 7 fifth-round picks, including two star players.

So, it’s hard to hit on fifth-round picks. Even Seattle misses more than they hit, with Korey Toomer, Mark LeGree, Jesse Williams, and Jimmy Staten all being drafted there in previous years. And with all of that said to limit expectations, I am really excited about Tye Smith, though I somehow forgot to include him in my corner article.

Tye Smith is a very cool prospect. and he’s only just turned 22. He represents the very typical case of a player who underperforms in the 40 at the NFL Combine and then falls even further below the radar. It’s tough for us to erase the memories of the 4.6 we saw in February. I actually noted this at the time, hoping for a better pro day time.

He weighed a little less at his pro day and managed to run a 4.51; and there another Seahawk is born.

Smith is just a shade over 6-foot and weighs in at 195 lbs. His 78″ wingspan meets the 77-1/2″ mark that all Seahawk corner picks have met since Carroll and Schneider arrived in 2010. Past comments from Schneider lead me to believe that wingspan for WR and CB may be more important to the Seahawks than arm length. The one that sticks in my mind most closely is the reference to Doug Baldwin’s wingspan back in 2011. 77-1/2″ wingspan is actually a more restrictive requirement than a 32″ arm length, the value that’s been spoken about in the past for Seahawk corners.

Athletically, he’s solid. The short shuttle result stands out as the most outstanding. His comps:


I’ve strategically excluded two of the next entries on the list, but more on that shortly. Peters and Carter were both much earlier selections, and Smith slots in right alongside them. The idea here isn’t that Smith is some great athlete, but to show that his late availability is likely influenced most by pedigree. Playing at Towson is different than playing in the Pac-12. While Peters and Carter were in every top 100, Smith was far more obscure.

Schneider also mentioned in his presser that there is a star comp for Smith that he won’t make for fear of expectations. Notable in physical comparison to Smith:  Quentin Jammer, Chris McAlister, Chris Gamble, and Joe Haden. Jared Stanger noted the Haden comparison on twitter as well, and that seems as likely as any. McAlister and Jammer are a little heavier than Smith, though closer on an athletic level. If Joe Haden or anyone on that list is the comp… whew.

Seattle’s biggest competitive advantage since 2012 has been Russell Wilson’s contract, but that’s ending soon. Their ability to develop late-round corners is unparalleled and that will need to continue as a number of players sign extensions and leave their charitably low rookie cap numbers behind.

To that end, Tye Smith is one of my favorite cornerbacks in the draft, and I’m thrilled that he’s a Seahawk. He’s not perfect, because no fifth-round pick is, but the ability of Carroll, Kris Richard, and Rocky Seto to mold defensive backs has me feeling pretty confident about the future.

You can also find me on twitter at @zjwhitman and

UDFA Analysis: Austin Hill, WR, Arizona

Austin Hill was a very good player for the Arizona Wildcats in 2012, ranking 2nd in receiving yards in the prolific Pac-12 conference. He finished the year as a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the best receiver in college football. Rather than declare early as a possible Day 2 selection in the 2013 draft, Hill returned to Arizona for his junior season. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in April 2013.

He missed the subsequent season and returned in 2014, struggling to make his mark and not approaching the numbers achieved as a redshirt sophomore two years prior. After placing as the 2nd-most prolific conference receiver in 2012, Hill ended his last college season 3rd on his own team.

Who is Austin Hill? He’s a big receiver with athleticism, ranking in the 64th SPARQ percentile at 6’2″, 214 and a near-Seahawk corner wingspan. Let’s look at his athletic comparisons.


The Alshon Jeffery comp should be made with several caveats, the main issue being the significant difference in 40 time. A tenth is an eon in an NFL receiver’s 40 time, and Austin Hill’s 4.58 does not look like appetizing. My belief is that he was faster than the 4.58 before the injury, but we don’t know if he’ll ever recover that. He may just be a 4.58 guy. That’s why he wasn’t drafted. The rest of the comparison is quite close, and Hill actually had a slightly faster 10-split than Alshon. I’m also not claiming that Hill will be anywhere near Alshon Jeffery. This is merely intended to point out the athletic profile that he possesses.

Like every other undrafted free agent, the odds stacked against Austin Hill are massive. But consider the following, per

Austin Hill’s stats from 2012, his best season:

13 games played, 81 receptions for 1364 yards (16.8 ypc) and 11 touchdowns

Kevin Norwood’s career stats at Alabama:

49 games played, 81 receptions for 1275 yards (15.7 ypc) and 12 touchdowns.

Those are real numbers. Austin Hill had as many catches in one season as Kevin Norwood had in his entire career at Alabama. He also gained more receiving yardage and scored only 1 fewer touchdown considering the same time frame, playing 36 fewer games.

It should be noted that Norwood played at Alabama and Hill in the Pac-12, and that distinction is significant. I’m not sure it’s significant enough to account for one player doing in 3 or 4 seasons what another did in 13. Even without Norwood’s sparse freshman statistics included out, he only accumulated 78/1200/11 in 36 games.

Austin Hill is two years younger than Kevin Norwood and both are effectively rookies heading in the 2015 season. My point isn’t that stats are some all-encompassing way to evaluate prospects heading into the NFL, but the glaring disparity here should be at least considered.

Both of these prospects are big wide receivers, but one of them is two years younger, more athletic, and possesses a far greater track record of production. The “Round 4” tag worn by Norwood is still meaningful to many, but he’s already had a long Seattle career relative to  that of 2013 pick Chris Harper.

I enjoyed watching Austin Hill for the parts of 2012 where he wasn’t torching my alma mater for a 53-yard touchdown and 52-17 final score. This was one of the best receivers in a passing conference, and his fortune only fell to the “8th” round because of injury. His pro day results indicate that he may have finally regained his athletic ability, and I wouldn’t bet against him beating out Kevin Norwood (or possibly another Seattle WR, in fairness) if Austin Hill is Austin Hill again.