clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Stats Corner: Improving the NFL Combine Drills

Getting rid of the pointless drills and suggesting better ones.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL combine has passed and individual schools are putting on their pro-days. At both events players can be measured, interviewed, and preform drills to try and improve their draft stock. Each year, players who attend refuse to participate in one or more activities. For example, Kyler Murray and Sam Darnold did not throw at their respective combines, yet their draft stock was not affected, which leads one to the conclusion that the combine is not as important as some are lead to believe. So the question arises “what changes can be made to make the drills at the combine a more accurate assessment of players?” Here are some suggestions and I totally expect all these changes to be made by next year (sarcasm now turned off).

Change quarterback height to eye height. Last year number one overall selection, Baker Mayfield, measured 6 feet 5/8th inches, incidentally that is 1/4th of an inch taller than he was at the Senior Bowl (apparently some males hit a growth spurt in their early twenties). One major concern was, given that most quarterbacks, who are successful, are over 6’2’’ is he tall enough to see over the offensive line? This year Kyler Murray is projected to be the number one pick and he measured 5 foot 10 and 1/8th inches (also taller than expected, see previous growth spurt comment), so one would assume the concern is still there or did the offensive lines in the NFL get shorter this season? However, if the concern is if a quarterback can see over the offensive line why is his height to the top of his head being measured? Wouldn’t a better measurement be where what is the height of his eyes, you know, the part of the body which actually does the seeing? Two quarterbacks could have the same height, but if one has a longer forehead and more elliptical shape skull their eye height would be different, giving one an advantage seeing over the offensive line.

Run the 40 yard dash in pads. One of the most overrated drills at the combine is the 40 yard dash, and this is coming from a former collegiate sprinter who loves watching athletes move as fast as humanly possible. John Ross holds the combine record at 4.22 seconds at the 2017 combine and Cincinnati took him with the 9th overall pick. Ross has played in 16 games in two seasons, starting 13, has 21 receptions for 210 yards and 7 touchdowns, all in 2018. In 2017 he played in 3 games with 2 targets and no receptions, not what you would expect from the fastest 40 time a guy who supposedly could run by everyone in the league. Usain Bolt ran a 4.22 in sneakers and sweats while slowing down around 25 yards so as to not run into a wall and after Ross’s run Christian Coleman went to the Tennessee Volunteers football facilities and clock a 4.12 40 yard dash, so it seems the 40 yard dash time is more relevant to sprinters than football players. One way to make it more significant would be to have the players run in pads. Football pads weigh about 20 pounds and it is what the players are going to be in when they play football. It would be more interesting to see how players move and react when the pads are on, not how they run in their underwear. It was repeatedly said about Jerry Rice that he ran faster with his pads on. Rice ran a 4.71 according to google, 4.59 according to Bill Walsh, and the his first 40 time was 4.9 because “I didn’t know how to run it.” Jarvis Landry ran a 4.8 and is a pretty good receiver. And since we are changing the 40 yard dash, how about shortening it to 10-15 yards, since that is all players usually run in a straight line. And don’t make the offensive lineman run.

Have running backs run with a football. Once again going back to game day situations, isn’t the running back’s job to run fast while holding a ball? So why not have them run the 40 yard dash, if we keep it, while carrying a football. Running backs are rarely going to run 40 yards in a straight line during their career, but they do need to run fast while not dropping the football.

Have defensive players chase offensive players during the 40 yard dash. While this would be a valuable assessment of player speed, with or without pads, it would also make great TV viewing. Offensive player, either receiver or running back, could line up with the defensive player a couple yards behind him. Defensive backs would be made to start their run backwards like in a game situation, another thing that needs to be changed, then turn around and try and run down the offensive players. Quarterbacks would start from a throwing position, the linebacker given a running start, and then the quarterback takes off. College rivals could be lined up against each other, or rematches from bowl games and conference championships. The question to answer would be how do players preform under stress, not in a controlled environment where every things in planned and they know what is going to happen. On that note…

Place shuttles and 3 cone drills at random places. The shuttle run and 3 cone drills are simply about muscle memory and repetition. Practice it enough prior to the combine and the drill is really about how much you have practice this running pattern. Football plays rarely go exactly as called. Players need to adjust to coverage, mismatches, and blitzes. So why not do the same at the combine? Vary the distances of the shuttle to force the player to do something different. Place the cones in a different location and see which players can adjust to what they see not what they practiced for. These are more important attributes of successful players.

What are good suggestions, which are ridiculous, and if you have other suggestions leave them in the comment section, even the obvious ones like “watch the player’s game film”.