Do throwing linemen make better linemen? 

June, 10, 2009
College coaches are always trying to find little tips in the recruiting process about who might have potential to be a standout. One of the barometers that has become universal in the evaluation process is the 40-yard dash time. By now, we all know that most of these times are bogus, so we just try and take the results with a few grains of salt. But, at least it's something, right? Recently, Mark Branstad, a former high school teacher/track coach, crunched a lot of numbers and detailed some very fascinating trends regarding elite college linemen.

Full disclosure: Mark and I have had traded e-mails over the past few weeks, but what he pointed out Tuesday I think is really cool, insightful stuff as it relates to players who threw the shot or discus in high school:

"Of the 15 tackles listed on, 12 threw the shot put and or discus in high school, as well as all four offensive tackles named in the article by Mike Detillier. What about the three d-tackles that did not throw? Well, one was a state champion heavyweight wrestler in New York, the other two were individual standouts in baseball and basketball. As always here's the breakdown: (All listed heights and weights according to various recruiting site sources.)"

Four Senior Offensive Tackles: And yeah these guys were huge in high school …

Russell Okung / Oklahoma State -- (6-5, 250) Fort Bend George Bush HS -- 155-09 discus

Trent Williams / Oklahoma -- (6-5, 290) Longview HS -- 45-06 shot put

Ciron Black / Louisiana State -- (6-5, 315) Robert E. Lee HS -- 54-05 shot put

Adam Ulatoski / Texas -- (6-6, 270) Southlake Carroll HS -- 45-09 shot put

Ten Senior Defensive Tackles:

Ndamukong Suh / Nebraska -- (6-4, 278) Grant HS, OR. -- 61-09 shot put state champion

Terrence Cody / Alabama -- (6-5, 365) Riverdale HS, FL. -- 151-07 discus and 47-00 shot put

DeMarcus Granger / Oklahoma -- (6-3, 315) Kimball HS, TX. -- 173-10 discus state runner-up and 55-04 shot put

Arthur Jones / Syracuse -- (6-3, 280) Union-Endicott HS, NY. -- 275lb. wrestling state champion

Vince Oghobaase / Duke -- (6-6, 295) Alief Hastings HS, TX. -- 154-00 discus

Geno Atkins / Georgia -- (6-1, 270) St. Thomas Aquinas HS, FL. -- 59-01 shot put state runner-up and 158-07 discus

D'Anthony Smith / Louisiana Tech -- (6-3, 311) Pickering HS, LA. -- 52-03 shot put two-time state champion

Dan Williams / Tennessee -- (6-1, 310) Memphis East HS, TN. -- 53-00 shot put third place state meet

Jared Odrick / Penn State -- (6-5, 303) Lebanon HS, PA. -- 56-10 shot put fourth place state meet

Ekom Udofia / Stanford -- (6-1, 288) Chapparral HS, AZ. -- 50-03 shot put sixth place state meet

Five Junior Defensive Tackles:

Gerald McCoy / Oklahoma -- (6-4, 305) Southeast HS, OK. -- 55-04 shot put state runner-up

Marvin Austin / North Carolina -- (6-3, 291) Ballou & Coolidge HS, District of Columbia -- 41-10 shot put, 7.00 55 meter dash (faster than many high school skill position players), 12.50 100 meter dash impressive for D-lineman

Brian Price / UCLA -- (6-2, 285) Crenshaw HS, CA. -- Standout baseball player

Lawrence Marsh / Florida -- (6-5, 260) Josey HS, GA. -- Standout basketball player, read somewhere he threw shot and discus but no evidence …

Jarvis Jenkins / Clemson -- (6-5, 308) Daniel HS, SC. -- 46-06 shot put

Weeks earlier, Branstad also illustrated that the data translates quite well to some of the top pass rushers in the Pac-10. Another guy I thought of with that pedigree is Patriots star nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who once set the Florida state shot put record and held state titles in the shot put and discus in 2000.

In my time following Ed Orgeron and his staff around in the recruiting process, I'd heard him talk a lot about trying to get verified track times and results for prospects. The subject about what truly is fast became an on-going, often comical debate amongst their staff at Ole Miss. Orgeron, a D-line coach who had competed in track in high school, loved to see how recruits competed in other sports, especially track and basketball. In regards to the throwers, he talked about trying to get a better gauge on how explosive a guy is. The data that Branstad has compiled at FTA supports that.

Branstad, who coached former Ohio State CB Donald Washington in track, said he started compiling data on the track connection with football in 2004. "My hope was to convince football coaches at my high school that track and football complemented each other well," he said. "Unfortunately in today's high school athletic environment, multi-sport participation is largely discouraged and I wanted to counter that. Well I'm not sure how much impact I had on those football coaches but I learned a lot about the track/football connection for players at the highest levels of football. The data continued to flow and the file got bigger. Ultimately I was encouraged to take all this data to another level and start a Web site and perhaps break into consulting.

"Potentially, the valuable part of all this to football recruiters (while providing some real science to the process) is a database I'm constructing with the help of a database engineer/computer scientist from Houston. Basically, I'm taking all the specific track data on each player and placing each stat and data piece in a sortable Excel file along with apply specific football ranking metrics. When it is finished, we should have some reliable probability and correlation models regarding specific track events/stats and their relevance to football performance and NFL draft status."

To continue reading Bruce's blog -- with notes on FSU injury recovery times, whether Cal deserves a reputation as 'choke artists' and how uniforms could alter the Big East power landscape -- you must be an ESPN Insider. Insider