Injuries are an unfortunate fact of life in the NFL. Week 2 really drove that point home, with a slew of injuries to high-profile players. Every team is going to be affected by the injury bug at some point in the season, and must always have a “next man up” mentality. The Cleveland Browns are no exception. They’ve been dealing with injuries along their defensive line, and that ‘next man up’ is former undrafted free agent Porter Gustin. RAS (Relative Athletic Score) suggests his 6-pressure performance on Thursday night might be a sign of more things to come.
What is RAS?
It goes without saying that everyone who steps on an NFL field is a freakish athlete. The players you watch on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday are simply bigger, stronger, and faster than the “Average Joe.” But how does that athleticism compare to the players they’re taking the field with? How does it match up against NFL players who have come before them, and what might that say about their future success?
Those are questions NFL scouts are faced with every year during NFL Draft season, and it’s why Kent Lee Platte has developed a metric — Relative Athletic Score, or RAS — to address these persistent questions on athleticism. RAS is a composite metric that takes a player’s performance in the testing at the NFL Combine or their Pro Day and compares it on a 1-to-10 scale versus not only the other players in their own draft class at their position but also players at their position historically.
The RAS breakdown on Porter Gustin
When a player goes undrafted and winds up making an NFL roster, they typically fall into one of a few categories: super athletic, but questionable production; super productive, but questionable athleticism, or a good combination of both, but with injury concerns. The latter encompasses the Porter Gustin story.
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Gustin was the talk of Los Angeles in his first two seasons with the USC Trojans. However, injuries limited him to just 10 games his final two seasons. Between injuries to his biceps, toe, and knee, Gustin was a significant medical red flag. Despite the laundry list of injuries, Gustin was still able to score an “Elite” RAS grade at the NFL Combine.
Gustin came to the 2019 NFL Combine as a linebacker and was able to achieve a RAS grade squarely in the “Elite” category at 9.68. When you adjust Gustin’s RAS to the defensive end position — where he plays for the Browns — the score is even better. His 9.68 at linebacker jumps up to a 9.79 at defensive end, with his only “Poor” mark being a weight of 255 pounds.
Gustin’s “Elite” RAS grade was spearheaded by one of the all-time great bench press results for a prospect. Gustin was able to put up 31 reps of 225 pounds during his NFL Combine testing. That result was good for a 9.6 RAS grade and puts Gustin in the top 50 defensive ends of all-time dating back to 1987.
With “Great” scores in both explosion and speed, Gustin caps off his “Elite” RAS grade with “Elite” marks in the agility tests. Gustin was able to clock a 4.22 shuttle time and a sub-7 second 3-cone time. Those times both fall into the “Elite” category of 9.0 or higher, and each lands well within the top 100 defensive ends of all-time at 88th and 69th, respectively.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Gustin is one of the most elite athletes to ever play the defensive end position, at least from an athletic testing standpoint. But there’s more to success than simply testing. You have to be able to put it together on the field. It’s a small sample size for Gustin so far, but he showed last week that the talent is there. Will he get a chance to build on that performance?
What is Gustin’s outlook going forward?
The biggest hurdle Gustin faces in seeing the field for more than a handful of snaps is the depth Cleveland has at the position. Defensive end is arguably the most solid position on the Browns depth chart with Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon, and Adrian Clayborn in the fold. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity to shine.
Gustin saw just 11 snaps in the first game of the season. However, due to injuries to both Vernon and Clayborn, Gustin was on the field for the majority of snaps in their Week 2 tilt against cross-state rivals Cincinnati. With the extent of those injuries still in question, and with Vernon having an injury history of his own, Gustin’s number should be called just as much in Week 3 against the Washington Football Team.
What the future holds beyond Week 3 for Gustin is anyone’s guess. A lot will depend on the health of Vernon and Clayborn. But if Gustin can continue to develop, and continue to capitalize on his rare combination of strength, speed, agility, and explosion, the Browns could be looking at a real diamond in the rough.