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All Star Circuit

2016 NFL Combine Preview

by Josh Norris
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

“Honestly, I enjoy the event for the spectacle that it is. Entertainment that puts prospects on an even playing field.”

I wrote those words two years ago 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, 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 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.”

Simple Measurements

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. How can this impact their evaluation process? At the Senior Bowl, of the 12 or so prospects who might play corner on the roster, just three had arms 32-inches or longer. So, the Seahawks go from focusing on 12 prospects down to three, theoretically improving the evaluations of that trio with more time spent.

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.

Composite Scores

Combine results are often cited as individual figures. The forty yard dash times have 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 of 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. Whenever I discuss a player’s athleticism, I am referencing these scores rather than just their forty time.

Short-Area Quickness

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 13 of the top 18 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), 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)  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), Bears’ 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.

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. 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.

First, Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn shows why it might be worth questioning if a prospect 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 when changing direction, which aligns with "where he wins."

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.

Josh Norris
Josh Norris is an NFL Draft Analyst for Rotoworld and contributed to the Rams scouting department during training camp of 2010 and the 2011 NFL Draft. He can be found on Twitter .