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Analyzing the relationship between athleticism and on-field performance

When it comes to the Panthers, the twitchier, the better.

Carolina Panthers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The breakout star of the 2021 NFL draft season, at least for me, wasn’t a player but a stat-head named Kent Lee Platte, the creator of the Relative Athletic Score (RAS). I hadn’t heard of RAS until just before the draft, and now I’m fascinated by it. Platte describes RAS as “a metric that can easily and intuitively gauge a player’s athletic abilities relative to the position they play and provide tools to contrast and compare based on known measurables.”

At a high level, RAS looks at combine measurables for each player and spits out a score between zero (least athletic) to 10 (most athletic) relative to other players at the same position. Now that I’ve discovered this metric, I’m hooked. Kent joined a recent Keep Sounding podcast if you’d like to hear more from the man himself.

The Panthers drafted a bunch of “high RAS” guys this year like Jaycee Horn (9.99), Brady Christensen (9.84), Terrace Marshall Jr (9.77), Tommy Tremble (8.91), Chuba Hubbard (8.44), and Daviyon Nixon (8.37). It looks like general manager Scott Fitterer and coach Matt Rhule prefer guys who are elite athletes.

But just how well do RAS scores correlate with on-field success? When it comes to the Panthers, they correlate very well.

In the chart below I’ve evaluated the 22 players Carolina drafted in Rounds 1-3 between 2011 and 2018. I’ve only included players drafted in the first three rounds because they should be able to make the roster and contribute on the field. Players drafted in Rounds 4-7 are too much of a crapshoot. I didn’t include players drafted in 2019 and 2020 because they are still so early in their careers. I’ve given every player my own subjective rating within nine tiers ranging from “Potential Hall of Famer” to “Bust” alongside their color-coded RAS. Here’s what the data shows:

Of the seven players with a RAS of 8.00 or greater, four have been Pro Bowlers (Newton, Kuechly, McCaffrey, Bradberry) and two are “above average starters” with Pro Bowl potential (Moore and Moton). Only Daeshon Hall didn’t pan out. Conversely, four players scored below a 4.00 RAS and none of them even reached the “average starter” threshold.

When the Panthers 2019 and 2020 draft picks are thrown in, it further validates the predictive power of RAS. Jeremy Chinn scored a perfect 10.00 and will likely become a Pro Bowl player. Brain Burns scored a 9.90 and he’s also dripping with Pro Bowl potential. Derrick Brown scored a decent 5.90 and had a solid rookie season. The one recent draft pick who didn’t score well on the RAS scale was Greg Little at 3.61, and he’s failed to secure a starting gig through two seasons on a makeshift offensive line. (Note, Will Grier scored a 7.22 and Yetur Gross-Matos doesn’t have an RAS on file.)

From a statistics standpoint, the correlation coefficient is 0.64 when using RAS to predict on-field performance. This indicates a moderate positive correlation, which means there is a tendency for high RAS scores to go with high on-field performance, and vice versa.

I know it’s not controversial to conclude better athletes make better football players, but it’s interesting to look at it through the lens of the Panthers recent draft history. I’m getting more confident in the future of this franchise knowing Carolina’s new general manager likes to trade down to acquire more picks, and with those picks he’s targeting elite athletes.

Many props to Kent Lee Platte for this solid metric. If there was a RAS equivalent to give to people applying analytics to the NFL, Kent would be somewhere near a 10.00.