"Honestly, I enjoy the event for the spectacle that it is. Entertainment that puts prospects on an even playing field."
I wrote those words three years ago when previewing the 2013 NFL Combine. It could have been worse. I could have called the on-field workouts meaningless or termed it "the underwear Olympics."
Now, more than ever, I think Combine results matter. In fact, I know they do. Teams use athletic testing in a variety of ways, and many times with success. There are definitely examples of "workout warriors" being selected early and failing, but that can be said for any style of evaluation.
We will be highlighting content which focuses on athletic testing after the Combine. Many resources do not receive enough attention. Like Mock Draftable’s visual representations, Field Gulls' and Zach Whitman’s findings on SPARQ and Justis Mosqueda’s Force Players among others.
Yes, for teams the medicals and interviews matter to a great degree. But we do not receive that information, therefore my focus will be on the numbers generated from this week. Above all, context and perspective are important.
As Zach Whitman put it - "Metrics don't need to be perfect if we do a good job of understanding what they're saying and what they miss."
During this week in Indianapolis, NFL teams acquire a gross amount of information. Emulating NFL scouts is difficult, but the closest we have in the media is Dane Brugler. This column is chock full of information on prospects, in terms of important medicals and important interviews.
Most importantly, in my mind, is Dalvin Cook. Dane notes Cook underwent three shoulder surgeries dating back to high school. We've seen talented runners drop dramatically in the draft due to a history of shoulder issues, namely Chris Polk and Lamar Miller.
Also, we know John Ross will be fast. Here is his medical history: a meniscus injury in both knees, a torn ACL, microfracture surgery and surgery to repair a torn labrum after the Combine. And he remains extremely explosive.
If you are curious what positional averages are for each position at the NFL Combine, this Rotoviz link is a good resource.
If you are into Combine prop bets, I’m shocked Jabrill Peppers' O/U is 4.37 seconds in the forty, especially since he will workout with linebackers. And Christian McCaffrey's 4.52 O/U seems a touch slow.
Finally, here is my favorite tweet of the week. It applies to this event and the draft process in so many ways.
On Combine Eve, a reminder: the NFL draft, and the scouting process, almost always reveals more about the evaluators than the prospects.— Seth Wickersham (@SethWickersham) February 27, 2017
Thresholds and Minimums
Some of the most important measurements have already been recorded prior to prospects touching the field in Lucas Oil Stadium. Heights, weights, hand size, arm length and wingspans can all be important for this reason: thresholds.
My perception of minimums and thresholds changed after reading this piece. If it needed to be funneled into a single line, one stands out: "Big picture wise, you want to play with the odds, not against the odds." In this case, the odds mean siding with prospects who possess the measurements that are successful in a specific scheme deployed by the team.
An example is the Seattle Seahawks at cornerback. The last five corners Seattle drafted all possess arms 32-inches or longer. Both of the Panthers outside rookie corners had arms over 32-inches as well. How can this impact their evaluation process? At the Senior Bowl, of the 11 or so prospects on the roster who were listed at corner, just two had arms 32-inches or longer. So, the Seahawks and Panthers (among other teams) go from focusing on 11 outside CB prospects down to two, theoretically improving the evaluations of that duo with more time spent. Now, the others who project to the slot will be evaluated separately, but you get my point.
Other teams don’t take it as far as to eliminate prospects completely, but link certain tests with specific positions. Like the 3-cone drill for Patriots’ corners.
Will this mean some teams miss on quality players who do not fit within the parameters? Absolutely, but these decision makers are banking on good process to win in the end.
Combine results are often cited as individual figures. The forty yard dash has been considered the “universal measurement” for decades.
What if there was a better way? What if we recognized that the forty is just one of seven or eight or nine meaningful results, and a potentially better way of interpreting athleticism is through a composite score which factors in outcomes along with weight.
SPARQ is the best example, and Zach Whitman has years and years, thousands and thousands of scores built up in his database so prospects each year can be compared to their predecessors. Great scores obviously stand out, but it is important to note that an average NFL athlete is not a negative. In fact, acknowledging non-NFL caliber athleticism might be most important. Whenever I discuss a player’s athleticism, I am referencing these scores rather than just their forty time.
These next two sections are singular testing results that best project future success for certain positions. I am far less attached to these than in previous years, but it has been a tradition in highlighting them… so I will continue.
First is the 20-yard shuttle for offensive linemen. Here are 14 of the top 20 performances since 2006:
Eagles C Jason Kelce (4.14), Colts C Samson Satele (4.29), Bengals T Jake Fisher (4.33), Panthers C Ryan Kalil(4.34), Patriots OT Nate Solder(4.34), Ex-Jets C Nick Mangold (4.36), Colts OT Anthony Castonzo (4.40), Bears OT Charles Leno (4.40), Vikings G Brandon Fusco (4.43), Chiefs T Eric Fisher (4.44), Browns G Joel Bitonio (4.44), Texans G Xavier Su’a-Filo (4.44), Packers OL Jason Spriggs (4.44) and longtime T Eric Winston (4.44).
I’ve heard rumblings of Garett Bolles possibly breaking the 3-cone and short shuttle records for offensive linemen, both owned by Jason Kelce (7.22 3-cone, 4.14 short shuttle).
The other event that best projects success among the top performers since 2006 is the 3-cone drill for edge pass rushers. Bears’ Sam Acho (6.69), Raiders’ Bruce Irvin (6.70), Broncos’ Von Miller (6.70), Redskins’ Trent Murphy(6.78), Chargers’ Melvin Ingram (6.83), Panthers’ Kony Ealy (6.83), Patriots’ Barkevious Mingo (6.84), Eagles’Connor Barwin (6.87), Texans’ J.J. Watt (6.88), Chargers’ Joey Bosa (6.89), Lions’ Devin Taylor (6.89) and Vikings’ Brian Robison (6.89) make up 12 of the top 16 times.
Cliff Avril and Clay Matthews just missed with a 6.90. Anthony Barr, who now plays off the ball, registered a 6.82 a few years ago. Again, both of these are only including NFL Combine participants. Obviously, all are not “hits,” but the rate of success (of varying degrees based on expectations) in comparison to other positions is high.
Web Of Truths
Thanks to Mock Draftable for packaging Combine results into a pretty picture.
If you have a few hours, go through the site’s database and try to pick out big name players and see if their workout results match where they win. Take Patriots' WR Julian Edelman for example.