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. We first looked at Offensive Linemen – Click Here to see the results.
By Casan Scott
Running Backs, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends
Nothing garners as much buzz as when a receiver or back records a sub- 4.4 time in the 40 yard dash. Skill position players rely on speed, athleticism, agility, and elusiveness, and often are the most exciting performers at the NFL Combine.
- Chris Johnson ran the fastest modern 40-time in Combine history at 4.24 seconds.
- Calvin Johnson borrowed shoes to run a 4.35 at 239 pounds.
- Vernon Davis re-established what the tight end position was capable of with a 4.38 40 yard dash and 42 inch vertical leap while weighing 254 pounds.
Johnson, Johnson, and Davis have all gone on to produce all-time great numbers in the NFL, but are speed and leaping measurements indicative of NFL success for these positions so reliant on elite athleticism?
Only the maximum potential (95th quantile) of running backs were significantly correlated with their 40 time at the NFL combine, while tight end potential seemed to be significantly correlated at the 75th quantile but also convincingly correlated with both the 50th and 95th. There did appear to be a bi-modal distribution of Tight End 40 yard dash times vs Career Approximate Value. This is presumably because a tight ends’ role in the NFL is either as a blocker or receiver, and there are different physical skill sets required for each.
Interestingly, NFL Approximate Value of wide receivers was not significantly correlated with two measurements typically understood to be very important to their success: 40 yard dash time and vertical leap. Tight end was the only position that seemed to correlate with vertical leap.
Neither the 3-cone drill nor the shuttle run were significant predictors for any of the three skill positions. Initially, it was surprising to see the lack of correlation between the agility tests and skill position success in the NFL. However, most times recorded at the Combine are already elite, as this is a requisite to play at a high level in college. This suggests that there are other factors dictating what makes these athletes successful in the NFL. Deceptiveness, suddenness, and reaction times seem quite important for these positions, but are much harder to quantify.
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.