TFE contributor Casan Scott gives us a last look at the physiology behind the NFL Combine, analyzing position by position to give us a better understanding of exactly what the numbers really mean coming out of INDY each and every year.
If you missed the introduction to this series, here’s a quick link that will catch you up to speed – Click Here.
- Offensive Linemen – Click Here to see the results.
- Running Backs, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends – Click Here to see the results.
- Defensive Linemen & Linebackers – Click Here to see the results
Besides quarterback, cornerback is commonly thought to be the most challenging position on the field. A corner must match the athleticism of the League’s top receivers…and react to it. Therefore, cornerbacks must be equal, or more likely, exceed the speed, quickness, and leaping ability of receivers. And that is precisely what I saw in this study: the Career Approximate Value of cornerbacks in the NFL was significantly predicted by 40 yard dash time, vertical leap, and the shuttle run. The analysis of cornerbacks was the most clear and convincing evidence that the NFL Combine can predict performance in the league.
Playing safety in the NFL appears to require many of the skills needed to play both cornerback and linebacker. A safety must be able to read offenses and adjust coverage accordingly, instinctually break on passes or running plays, cover receivers one-on-one, and explosively tackle ball-carriers. The best safeties of the last decade all had superb instincts as well as elite athleticism: Troy Polamalu, Sean Taylor and Ed Reed. It appears that playing in space, like safeties do, requires much more in terms of linear speed than short area quickness. What this quantile regression revealed was that 40 yard dash time was very indicative of a safety’s ability to play in the NFL. Vertical leap was convincingly but insignificantly correlated with Career AV, while the 3-cone and shuttle run had no discernible relationship.
Does the Combine matter? So often, people want to pick a side in this debate, but the answer really is: Sometimes. Football is an immensely complex team game, with an extreme amount of positional specialization. So naturally, different positions require different physical tool sets. Some positions like offensive guard, running back, or cornerback are clearly reliant on skills specifically measured in the combine: linear speed, lateral quickness, and lower body explosiveness. Other positions like quarterback, linebacker, and center are not as easily predicted based on these drills.
I believe we need a better understanding of what human physiology is required in talent evaluations. Academic research shows that 40 yard dash and vertical leap are metrics of a human’s posterior power and linear explosiveness. Through this quantile regression analysis of the NFL Combine, I try to show that these skills are indeed requisite for playing some positions in the NFL. But, not every job in the NFL requires an elite ability to change direction or cover 40 yards. You must first ask: What does the position require? How can we measure that? Where does this player rank in terms of the population? Therein lies the greatest utility of the NFL Combine.
How does Casan Scott’s analysis correlate with the study Joe Lander’s did a few years ago in seeking to find the relevance of the NFL Combine? Click here to read Joe’s findings and compare/contrast to those of Casan’s.