Tuesday, February 26, 2013

NFL Combine: The 40-yard Dash is Overrated

The 2013 NFL Combine in Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium is in the books (thank goodness).

The annual four-day event brings together the top college prospects for the NFL draft––which is set to begin on Thursday April 25 this year––and gives scouts, head coaches and general managers their first live look at what they are in for come draft day.

It's always a huge event in the media, and usually dictates what a respective player's "draft stock" will look like heading into their college's Pro Day in March.

I wont get too in-depth right now because, frankly, I don't care. The NFL combine is just an excuse for analysts to rip a player apart or, occasionally, praise a player when in reality, his performance at the combine means nothing.
First off, players arrive Wednesday for orientation, tests, weigh-ins, physicals, meetings, measurements, interviews etc. etc. etc. The actual skills drills (QBs throw, receivers catch passes), timed events (e.g. 40-yard dash) and other events such as bench press don't begin until Saturday––they are televised on NFL Network from Saturday-Tuesday.

The most looked-at events are, perhaps, the 40-yard dash and the bench press.

This is where I have a problem: the 40-yard dash does not take in effect padding (they are simply dressed in shorts and a t-shirt), game speed and instincts of a player. And the bench press doesn't fully cover a player's strength and explosiveness. Now these are not the only drills that players take part in, but I chose to discuss them because they seem to attract the most attention.

Sure, speed kills and receivers, running backs and defensive backs need to be fast on their feet (doesn't hurt to have a quick linebacker, or defensive end either). But football is not a track race. Should the 40-yard dash really have this much of an effect on how these players are evaluated? No of course not.

You wanna know the fastest 40 times in combine history?

4.24: Chris Johnson (2008), Rondel Martinez (1999)
4.25: Darrius Heyward-Bey (2009)
4.28: Champ Bailey (1999), Jerome Mathis (2005), Jacoby Ford (2010)

Yeah, sure, Chris Johnson did run for 2,000 yards in 2009 and has nearly 7,000 career rushing yards in just five seasons with the Titans. But what did Rondel Martinez and Jerome Mathis do in the NFL? Nothing. Martinez was drafted in the 7th round by Atlanta and never saw a single snap, and Mathis was nothing more than a Houston return man and hasn't seen the field since 2007. Bailey is a future Hall of Fame corner and Ford still has a small window of opportunity to prove himself in Oakland, but this list of six players is proof that the 40-yard dash means nothing.
Lets stick to game film, and not put so much pressure on a solid combine performance deciding whether a player should go first round, fourth round, or seventh round.

So, Manti Te'o (poor combine performance as he ran just a 4.8 40-yard dash and struggled to dazzle the crowd), you may slip out of the first round, but your chance to shine will come once you lace up the pads for the first time in August.

Note to scouts: Calling a player "undersized" or "too slow" usually doesn't always guarantee a poor NFL career. Look up the names "Drew Brees," "Emmitt Smith" and "Ray Lewis" if you would like a few examples. Their careers have panned out just fine despite critics on draft day.

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