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What to Know About the NFL Combine

What should you be watching during the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine? @tristancook_ has you covered!

We did it! The wait is finally over! We’ve survived! It’s combine time, nerds! If you’re like me, you’ve been anxiously awaiting this moment since the end of the regular season.

Over the next few days, dozens of prospects will partake in numerous drills. Some players will make themselves millions, while others could cost themselves just as much. The combine hype-machine will drive prospects up and down draft boards. The combine has taken on an entire life of its own. However, what many people fail to realize, is that the combine is just one tool in the evaluation process of a player. 

This article aims to give you some context for the NFL Scouting Combine. I will go over what I will be focusing on during the week in Indy. Let’s get to it.

Measurements

Some will argue that the combine holds too much weight in a player’s evaluation. And, while I believe there is some truth to that statement, one of the most useful things that the combine provides us as dynasty enthusiasts is accurate measurements on prospects. It isn’t quite as big of an issue as it used to be, but official height/weight on players can vary rather dramatically from their listed metrics. 

Additionally, arm length and hand size can be a useful number to have. Specifically, a WR may not be the tallest, but if they have long arms, it can be good to know. Likewise, if a prospect has small hands, you will likely hear concerns about drops. Arm length and hand size are useful metrics, but by no means are they data points that should be overvalued. 

What the combine now provides is accurate height and weight measurements, as well as a variety of other data points. These can be incredibly useful when trying to project prospects to the NFL. 

The 40-Yard Dash

Credit: Michael Conroy / AP

Without question, the most highly anticipated and exciting part of the combine is the 40-yard dash. For years we looked for the prospect to beat Chris Johnson’s 4.24 second time. And, in 2017, we finally saw that number bested. John Ross ran a blazing 4.22 and vaulted himself into the top-10 in the NFL draft. 

There are so many things that can be said about the 40-yard dash. But, to put it as concisely as possible, a fast 40 time doesn’t guarantee success, and a slow 40 time doesn’t mean bust. Furthermore, the 40-yard dash means more at some positions than others. For RBs, there is a much lower correlation between fast 40s and success compared to WRs. 

Without getting too deep into the weeds on this, the moral of the story is that you’d like to see a 40 time sub 4.60. Any time under 4.50 is very good, and sub 4.40 is elite. Obviously, size also comes into play when comparing players. Last year we saw several WRs dip into the low 4.3s, none with more public awe than DK Metcalf’s 4.33 at 6’3” and 228 lbs. This year, the odds on favorite to break John Ross’ 4.22 time is Henry Ruggs III. The other two names I’ll be walking very closely are Jalen Reagor and Devin Duvernay. 

3-Cone Drill

Next, we have the 3-Cone Drill. This drill is a good measurement of agility. While this test does give us some gauge of a player’s speed, it is more designed to test quickness, change of direction, and flexibility. 

Many of you may remember last year’s combine when the aforementioned DK Metcalf blew up the internet with an incredible 40-time and then subsequently sent more shockwaves through the twitter-sphere when he posted a 7.38 second 3-cone time. For reference, sub 7.0 seconds is the goal for WRs, so running 7.38 had dynasty enthusiasts concerned about the ramifications of such a bad time. Metcalf “rebounded” from the concerns and had a strong rookie season. 

So, while this drill is designed to show off a player’s quickness and change of direction skills, it is important to remember that some prospects (like large WRs) may not need to rely as heavily on quickness as others. 

Bench Press

Credit: AJ Mast / AP

Of all of the exercises at the combine, the bench press is probably the one I give the least amount of weight. This is primarily because of the different types of players at all of the skill positions. Upper body strength doesn’t dramatically correlate with NFL success at the “skill” positions. 

For example, Christian McCaffrey, who is considered one of the top dynasty assets, only benched 225lbs 10 times. It raised some “concerns” with his power and ability to be an “in-between the tackles runner”, but he’s proven any of those doubters wrong. 

It is nice when a prospect is able to show off that upper-body strength and put up a lot of reps. But, you shouldn’t change your opinion on a player very much if they have 12 reps instead of 20. 

Broad Jump

Conversely, the broad jump is a drill that I weigh more heavily. This drill does a great job of demonstrating a prospect’s explosiveness and athleticism. I focus a bit more on RB numbers in this drill, as it exemplifies the lower-body strength that is necessary to play RB in the NFL. The number we are looking for here is about 115.0 ”. Numbers beyond that are exceptional but can be overvalued. For example, David Njoku jumped 133.0 ”. While that number is exceptional, it shows a person’s athleticism more than football ability.

Vertical Jump

Credit: Brian Spurlock / USA Today Sports

Similar to the broad jump, the vertical jump is a measurement of explosiveness. This metric is one that I will monitor more for WRs than TEs and RBs. There are obviously exceptions to this, as TEs are becoming more and more of a red zone, jump ball type target. This drill comes with the same warnings as the broad jump. The vertical can do a great job of showing off athleticism rather than football ability. The target number for WRs/RBs should be in the mid-30s or higher, with TEs slightly below that. Anything in the 40s is amazing.

Short Shuttle

Finally, we have the short shuttle. It is a drill like the 3-cone drill that is aimed to accentuate a prospect’s quickness, agility, and change of direction. This drill falls in line very closely with the 3-cone drill for me. It is one that will highlight people who utilize quickness in their skillset. A “slow” number here isn’t necessarily an indicator of a red flag. What we should be looking for here is a time a few tenths of a second quicker than the prospects’ 40 times. 

Overview

So, what have we learned? The combine is an event that will likely be overvalued by many scouts and dynasty owners. But, it shouldn’t be entirely ignored. It is more a measurement of athleticism than football skill. It’s not to say you don’t want a prospect that is an “athletic freak” but, if you see a player who tests out better or worse than you expect, it should be seen as a sign to rewatch the tape and see where the discrepancy lies. Don’t use the combine numbers as an end-all, be-all determination of a player’s value. Good testing numbers don’t make a good player, and bad numbers don’t mean bust. Use this as an opportunity to either affirm what you see on tape or give you a reason to rewatch the film to see what you might have missed.

Names to Remember 

Finally, here are a few names that, for a variety of reasons, I will be watching extra closely this week.

Isaiah Hodgins – (WR – Oregon State)

Brandon Aiyuk – (WR – ASU)

Denzel Mims – (WR – Baylor)

Eno Benjamin – (RB – ASU)

Hunter Bryant – (TE – Washington)

Antonio Gandy-Golden – (WR – Liberty)

Tyler Johnson (WR – Minnesota)

Adam Trautman – (TE – Dayton)

AJ Dillon – (RB – Boston College)

Zack Moss – (RB – Utah)

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