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Broncos opt for exceptional athleticism with seventh-round picks

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The Broncos had their choice of any potential UDFA with their 7th-round compensatory selections, so it came as a bit of a surprise when they took two players at a position where they already had depth.

Josh Furman (left) was one of the most athletic safeties in the 2015 draft class.
Josh Furman (left) was one of the most athletic safeties in the 2015 draft class.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When the Broncos used two of their three seventh-round picks on a couple relatively-unknown defensive backs, it most likely raised a number of questions. The team is already loaded with depth at the defensive back position, and they had already used a fifth-round pick on cornerback Lorenzo Doss, so it seemed somewhat confusing that they'd use two late-round picks on this position, rather than addressing another roster need.

Heading into the seventh round, the Broncos had not addressed needs for depth at inside linebacker, amongst other positions, and it may have seemed naive to some when they used the 251st and 252nd pick of the draft on Tulane's Taurean Nixon and Oklahoma State's Josh Furman.

With these two picks, the Broncos essentially could acquire the rights of any UDFA players, with the ability to snatch up any of the remaining talent that they wanted before the mayhem began, so why spend these picks on Tulane's Taurean Nixon and Oklahoma State's Josh Furman?

SPARQ.

For anyone who follows along with the pre-draft process on #DraftTwitter, you've likely at least come across the term. According to 3sigmaathlete.com, SPARQ was developed by Nike in order to come up with a single score to measure a player's athleticism.

"SPARQ is a formula developed by Nike which measures player athleticism by outputting a single composite score."

The staff writers over at FieldGulls.com became infatuated by the measurement, after it was learned that Pete Carroll played a part in its' development, and Seahawks GM John Schneider indirectly endorsed it.

Zach Whitman, owner of 3sigmaathlete, and staff writer over at Field Gulls, took this work and ran with it, and has used an approximation of the original formula (pSPARQ) to advance how we judge players' measurable characteristics. You can read a more in-depth description of how it came about over on the website;  but to put it simply, Zach has taken the formula public and provided a tool to further evaluate draft talent. The number turned out by the pSPARQ formula is not perfect, but it is meant to give a good approximation or snapshot of a player's athleticism.

So, how does this relate to the Broncos' late round picks, you ask? Well, Josh Furman and Taurean Nixon happen to both score in the upper tier of the SPARQ scale at their respective positions in the 2015 draft class.

Nixon, who was the Broncos' selection with the 251st overall pick, had a pSPARQ score of 124.1, which ranked him 14th of eligible cornerbacks in the 2015 draft. Nixon's athleticism score ranks him in the 75th percentile of all NFL players at the cornerback position. For comparison, Byron Jones and his ridiculous combine numbers are in the 99.9 percentile of the NFL's cornerbacks with a pSPARQ score of 150.8. Where Nixon stands out is his 32" arm length and 4.31 40-yard dash time.

Josh Furman, the Broncos' 252nd overall pick, ranked seventh in draft eligible safeties with a pSPARQ score of 125.8. Forman's score plants him in the 77th percentile of NFLers at his position. The top safety in this year's draft was Adrian Amos, a fifth-round pick of the Bears, whose 129.0 pSPARQ ranks him in the 88th percentile at the position in the NFL.

Some see Josh Furman playing in a linebacker/safety hybrid role in Denver; if he was counted as a linebacker, his pSPARQ score would have had him ranked 15th in the positional group. Bernardick McKinney, a rumored target of the Broncos, was the 13th-ranked linebacker.

Curiously, it does not seem that the Broncos were necessarily using this system for other draft selections. As a whole, the Broncos' draft picks were actually almost all below average in comparison to other NFLers at their position, with 12 of 16 players receiving negative z-scores; Trevor Siemian and Kalon Davis' results were unavailable.

Other numbers to note

Shane Ray, despite being credited with a quick first step and high athletic abilities on tape, has significantly underwhelming numbers. This may be due to the turf-toe injury that Ray was suffering from prior to the draft; however, it is something to keep an eye on.

Lorenzo Doss, Taurean Nixon's Tulane teammate, scored very low in relation to other players at his position. Doss' score would put him in the 4th percentile of all NFL corners.

Jeff Heuerman was ranked sixth in his position group, with average athleticism for NFL tight ends; something which is impressive in itself. As 3sigmaathlete.com notes:

"Note that the "NFL%" and "z-score" columns refer to the NFL positional averages and not to the draft positional averages. This means that a 0.0 z-score and 50.0 percentile would represent a player who rates as a league-average NFL athlete at the position. The average NFL player is pretty athletic, so this designation is not at all a poor result."

UDFA defensive lineman Josh Watson stands out in a group of relatively non-athletic UDFAs, with a z-score of 1.1, scoring in the 87th percentile of all NFLers at the defensive tackle position.

Player Name

Position

pSPARQ

Positional Rank

z-Score

NFL %

Shane Ray

EDGE

107.7

69

-0.9

18.2

Ty Sambrailo

OT (OL)

99.7

88

-0.3

36.5

Jeff Heuerman

TE

117.5

6

0.0

50.8

Max Garcia

C (OL)

97.8

99

-0.5

31.6

Lorenzo Doss

CB

99.5

119

-1.7

4.3

Darius Kilgo

NT (DL)

97.1

85

-1.0

15.9

Trevor Siemian

QB

-

-

-

-

Taurean Nixon

DB

124.1

18

0.7

74.7

Josh Furman

S

125.8

7

0.8

77.6

Dillon Day

OL

94.9

118

-0.7

23.5

Zaire Anderson

LB

110.3

94

-0.8

20.0

Matt Miller

WR

92.9

259

-2.0

2.4

Kyle Roberts

OL

93.7

123

-0.8

21.2

Jordan Taylor

WR

113.1

86

-0.2

41.2

Josh Watson

DT (DL)

126.7

7

1.1

86.7

Chuka Ndulue

NT (DL)

94.6

95

-1.2

11.9

Connor Rains

OT (OL)

91.9

136

-0.9

17.6

Kalon Davis

OL

-

-

-

-