TFE contributor Casan Scott looks 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 ongoing 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.
By Casan Scott
Defensive Line and Linebackers
Some argue that the defensive line is the area on the field most reliant on innate athleticism. A combination of size, speed, power, and freaky athleticism is vital for playing on the defensive side of the line. Although these players do need to utilize leverage, play with their hands, and anticipate, a prospect’s size, speed, and lower body explosiveness are all very important to an evaluation. When thinking of the elite defensive lineman in the league, athletic freaks come to mind.
Geno Atkins ran a sub 4.8 40 yard dash and broad jumped nearly 10 feet at 293 pounds. Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy both lit up the 2010 NFL Combine and have since performed at All-Pro levels. J.J. Watt and Mario Williams were perhaps the freakiest athletes ever while jumping 37 and 40.5 inches respectively in the vertical at over 290 pounds. It is possible that these members of the 2013 NFL All-Pro team are simply outliers, but there does appear to be an overarching trend in the defensive line.
Linebackers are often referred to as the quarterbacks of the defense. They must possess exceptional lateral quickness, anticipation, and recognition skills, but also be able to audible or shift alignment. Linebacker is a position that appears to require much more intangible skill than that of the defensive line. However, the League’s best at the position are also athletic freaks of nature: Patrick Willis (4.37 at Ole Miss pro day) and Luke Kuechly (a top performer in nearly every NFL Combine drill).
In terms of linear speed, defensive tackle and linebacker showed significant correlations between 40 time and Career AV, in the 50th quantile. Likewise, tackles and linebacker value was also predictable based on vertical leap, while ends showed convincing but insignificant statistical evidence. The 3-cone drill, a movement thought to representiative of an edge rusher’s ability to “turn-the-corner”, significantly correlated with both defensive end and linebacker career value in the NFL. One would think that a fast shuttle run time would be crucial to success of a linebacker, and it may be, but the shuttle run does not help in predicting which linebackers succeed and which do not.
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.