“Honestly, I enjoy the event for the spectacle that it is. Entertainment that puts prospects on an even playing field.”
I wrote those words last year when previewing the 2014 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 (i.e. the Seahawks) use athletic testing in a variety of ways, and many times with success. Now, there are definitely examples of “workout warriors” being selected early and failing (more on this below in “don’t count it twice”), but that can be said for any style of evaluation.
After the Combine, we will be highlighting content which focuses on athletic testing. Many resources do not receive enough attention. Like Mock Draftable’s visual representations, Field Gulls’ and Zach Whitman’s finding on SPARQ and Justis Mosqueda’s Force Players (formerly Math Rushers) 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. But, 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.”
Do Not Count It Twice
Let’s start with perspective.
When watching prospects’ game action, an evaluation takes athletic upside into account if it is a noticeable trait and an obvious area where the player relies on to win.
Sometimes these prospects who possess a “high ceiling,” thanks to (almost purely) their on-field athleticism, end up being Combine “winners” and see their evaluation raised.
Those movement skills, explosion and natural athleticism are already a major part of these prospects’ evaluations.
A solid example is Stanford Keglar, a third-round pick back in 2006. Dontay Moch, a third-rounder in 2011 is another. On the offensive side of the ball I would point to Stephen Hill and Yamon Figurs. Maybe even Dri Archer from last season.
Again, this is not applicable in every top performing case, but here are a few of this year’s attendees who will fit the label.
Auburn WR Sammie Coates is a specimen in multiple areas. Height, weight, speed and explosiveness. It is how he wins at the college level, rather than the technical aspects of the game. He wins vertically, but with improper timing and body control. He also has major drop rate questions. We know Coates is going to shine in Indianapolis. Be entertained.
Miami WR Phillip Dorsett will run one of the fastest 40s, if not the fastest. And that is evident when watching him play. He is a straight-line speedster and wins with that threat while coupling quickness to create separation when breaking off routes. Do not count Dorsett’s ridiculous 40 twice. It is already where he wins.
On defense, another name is Edge player Eli Harold of Virginia. Again, the theme is outstanding athleticism being the foundation of where these prospects win. Harold lacks consistent hand or length use to separate, and relies on natural abilities to beat his opponent. It might sound like I’m not a fan of Harold - which is not true. The combination of density (which will be interesting for Harold) and movement is most beneficial for defensive linemen and edge players. Harold could qualify, and perhaps the technical aspects come with time. A late round edge example is Obum Gwacham from Oregon State.
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. Instead of individual results, be sure to check out the last category which features a full body of athleticism in the form of webs.
First is the 20-yard shuttle for offensive linemen. Here are 12 of the top 18 performances since 2006:
Eagles C Jason Kelce (4.14), Colts C Samson Satele (4.29), Panthers C Ryan Kalil (4.34), Patriots OT Nate Solder (4.34), Jets C Nick Mangold (4.36), Colts OT Anthony Castonzo (4.40), Broncos C Will Montgomery (4.43), 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) and longtime T Eric Winston (4.44).
The other event that best projects success if among the top performers since 2006 is the 3-cone drill for edge pass rushers. Falcons' Tyler Starr (6.64), Cardinals’ Sam Acho (6.69), Seahawks’ Bruce Irvin (6.70), Broncos’ Von Miller (6.70), Redskins’ Trent Murphy (6.78), Chargers’ Melvin Ingram (6.83), Panthers’ Kony Ealy (6.83), Browns’ Barkevious Mingo (6.84), Eagles’ Connor Barwin (6.87), Texans’ J.J. Watt (6.88), Lions’ Devin Taylor (6.89) and Vikings’ Brian Robison (6.89) make up 12 of the top 14 times.
I should mention, “failed” prospects who qualify in this test include Thaddeus Gibson (6.84) and Chris Carter (6.88).
Cliff Avril and Clay Matthews just missed with a 6.90. Anthony Barr, who now plays off the ball, registered a 6.82 last year.
Web Of Truths
Thanks to Mock Draftable for packaging Combine results into a pretty picture.
First, Bucs DE Adrian Clayborn shows why it is important to not say an attendee had a great Combine after shining in just one event
If you have a few hours, go through the site’s database and try to pick out big name players and see if their Combine results match where they win. Take Patriots’ WR Julian Edelman for example.
When comparing his performance with other WRs ranging from 2000 to 2014, Edelman posted an average 40, vertical, etc. But look at the 3-cone and short shuttle. He thrives in change of direction.
The opposite can be said for Taylor Mays. Maybe his lack of change of direction is one reason why he has struggled as a safety? Just a hunch.
Finally, let us finish by looking at one of the best Combine performances of all time - J.J. Watt.
The 40 might be the most marketed event at the Combine, and since Watt did not shine there he likely missed the attention he deserved. Not to say long speed is not a piece, but look beyond the 40 and focus on the web. Watt is the definition of density, explosion and movement skills.