The NFL Scouting Combine and Pro Days provide evaluators with numbers and they figure out how to put the data into context. When a 275-pound man runs a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash, how impressive is that? What about a cornerback who runs 7.20 in the 3-cone drill? Does hand size actually mean something for a quarterback? Let’s look at some of the key measurables, and put some of this year’s prospects in perspective with some of their peers in the last five draft classes.
From an athletic standpoint, the quarterback speed drills and jump tests don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things other than to get a sense of just how athletic a guy is. One look at the list of the top quarterbacks in the 40-yard dash can tell you how much that drill ultimately means in whether or not a signal-caller will be a productive pro or not. We can all agree that successful quarterback play starts and ends inside the confines of the pocket in the NFL, and no athletic test can measure how a player can work with bodies around him and deliver the football accurately with pressure bearing down. The two measurables that teams are concerned with, however, is a quarterback’s height and hand size.
Over the last five years, the average height of drafted quarterbacks is 6031, or 6-3 1/8. The bench mark you really want to hit, though, is 6-2. Only nine of the 55 quarterbacks selected in the last five drafts were listed under 6’2 (BJ Daniels, Russell Wilson, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Tajh Boyd, Tyrod Taylor, David Fales, Chandler Harnish and Greg McElroy). Taylor has found success starting this season, and Wilson is certainly the posterchild for smaller quarterbacks, but in this five-year sample size you can see most of these players have struggled to be effective at the quarterback position. Being shorter keeps quarterbacks from seeing over the line at times, sure, but it also typically affects the release point. If the ball comes out of the quarterback’s hand closer to the ground than it would for a passer that is 6’5, then defenders are more likely to be able to bat the pass down.
What about hand size? Last week, one of the running jokes in Indianapolis in media circles was the seemingly newfound importance being placed on the size of a quarterback’s throwing hand. Well, in the last five years only one quarterback has been drafted with a hand size of under nine inches, and that was Tyler Wilson in the fourth round of the 2013 Draft. Wilson failed to make the Oakland Raiders’ 53-man roster out of training camp in his first season. Decision makers value hand size in quarterbacks because it gives them better grip of the football, allowing them to throw with more velocity, accuracy, and control.
Who was in danger of missing that plateau this year? Well, Arkansas’ Brandon Allen missed it (8 ‘’), while both Jared Goff and Christian Hackenberg both made it by a hair at 9’’ flat. Will that cause them to fall in the draft? Almost certainly not. But if you’re a team that plays a good amount of games outside in the elements every year, that may give some people pause when putting the card in for either of those two players (Note: only three quarterbacks have been drafted in the last five years with 9’’ hands, Ryan Tannehill, Sean Renfree, and Sean Mannion).
Running back hand size will creep in from time to time, but really only if a player already has issues protecting the football. For instance, Derrick Henry’s hand size was reported at 868, while Devontae Booker’s was at 858. Both are low numbers (the average over the last five years is 928). I’ve studied 12 games of Henry over the last two years and have never seen him fumble. Conversely, I’ve watched eight games of Booker and have seen him put the ball on the ground five times. Henry protects the ball well despite his hand size, while Booker seems to have an issue with it. That could (potentially) be an issue for him moving forward.
What about the athletic testing for the running back group? Most evaluators would say it’s more about the quickness than the pure speed, so the short shuttle and 3-cone drill carry a bit more weight for that position than the 40-yard dash.
3-Cone Drill (91 players tested)
90th Percentile: 6.78
80th Percentile: 6.83
50th Percentile: 6.99
20th Percentile: 7.15
10th Percentile: 7.24
91 running backs drafted in the last five years have a recorded pre-draft 3-cone drill time, and the average score was 6.99. Anything above a 6.83 puts you in the 80th percentile or above in that drill, while anything worse than a 7.15 puts you in the 20th percentile or below.
How did this year’s runners do? Well, only 13 of 29 running backs at the Combine ran the 3-cone, presumably because it’s such an important drill and they want to run it at their Pro Day in a more controlled environment. The best time came from junior Wendell Smallwood, who ran a 6.83 on the nose, which puts him right on the 80th percentile for backs drafted in the last five years; a good, not great, time. Four backs ran below that 7.15, however, including Henry and Cal’s Daniel Lasco (who blew up the explosion drills including a 4.44 40-yard dash and a 135’’ broad jump). Henry’s time of 7.20 along with his 4.38 in the short shuttle puts him in dangerous territory. Only 11 running backs drafted in our five-year sample have run a worse 3-cone, which again tests a player’s lateral agility and stop-start quickness. As you can guess, most of them have been bigger backs. Andre Williams in 2014 (7.27), DeMarco Murray in 2011 (7.28), and Eddie Lacy in 2013 (7.33) all had bad times in the drill. All of those players have had different levels of success throughout their careers, but when it comes to lateral agility, that’s not their forte.
Offensively, no position asks for more overall athletic ability than the wide receiver spot. Wideouts need to be able to have at least a serviceable combination of speed, quickness, burst, change of direction, and leaping ability in order to be an effective NFL player. Some may only have a couple of those traits, and it will be up to teams to figure out how to best leverage those qualities, but ideally you want players that have a good athletic profile. What does that look like? Let’s take a look, again looking at the last five-year sample size.
40-yard dash (109 receivers tested)
90th Percentile: 4.34
80th Percentile: 4.40
50th Percentile: 4.45
20th Percentile: 4.53
10th Percentile: 4.57
3-cone drill (137 receivers tested)
90th Percentile: 6.66
80th Percentile: 6.70
50th Percentile: 6.91
20th Percentile: 7.07
10th Percentile: 7.11
Broad Jump (146 receivers tested)
90th Percentile: 130’’
80th Percentile: 126’’
50th Percentile: 122’’
20th Percentile: 118’’
10th Percentile: 116’’
Going off of those numbers above, here are the players that stood out most in either a negative or positive way.
TCU’s Josh Doctson missed the Senior Bowl due to a wrist injury, but made up for it with a very impressive workout on Saturday. At 6’2, 202 pounds, Doctson ran a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash, a 6.84 in the 3-cone, and jumped 131’’. When you take his size into account, that’s a very impressive performance.
Some of the most disappointing numbers came from some of my own personal favorite receivers. Tyler Boyd from Pitt ran a very slow 4.59 to go with a below average 6.90 3-cone and 119’’ broad jump. Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins’ 4.64 in the 40 was one of the most surprising times of the weekend, and he followed it up with a 116 on the broad jump. Aaron Burbridge’s times of 4.58 and 7.22 along with just 115’’ put the former Michigan State Spartan in a lonely spot in terms of athletic profile at the receiver spot. Even worse so, Mississippi State’s De’Runnya Wilson turned in an all-time poor athletic performance. Wilson tested ‘in the red’ in every major athletic test (he didn’t run the shuttles), running a 4.85 in the 40-yard dash to go with a 113’’ in the broad jump. How bad is the 4.85? The slowest time for a receiver drafted in the last five years was 4.67 (Vince Mayle), and only eight tight ends drafted in that span have run worse times.
Is all hope lost with those players? Absolutely not. Jarvis Landry turned in a historically bad workout at the 2014 Combine (4.65 in the 40-yard dash and 110 in the vertical), and he’s turned out okay. Randall Cobb didn’t set the world on fire either during his pre-draft process (4.55 in the 40, 7.08 in the 3-cone, and 115 in the broad). Still, those players should be considered outliers. The hope would be that all of those receivers can turn in better times at their Pro Day this month.
If you’re a team that values athleticism on the offensive line, then you are really intrigued by some of the results that came out of Friday’s workout. A number of players stood out in terms of athletic testing, but first let’s look at the numbers.
I always split the offensive linemen up by body types, players that I believe could potentially play tackle or guard, and others that I believe are likely only going to be effective as a guard or center. First, let’s look at the ‘exterior’ linemen selected over the last five drafts.
10-yard Split (140 players tested)
90th Percentile: 1.69
80th Percentile: 1.74
50th Percentile: 1.81
20th Percentile: 1.86
10th Percentile: 1.88
3-Cone Drill (135 players tested)
90th Percentile: 7.37
80th Percentile: 7.49
50th Percentile: 7.72
20th Percentile: 7.95
10th Percentile: 8.10
Broad Jump (137 players tested)
90th Percentile: 113’’
80th Percentile: 110’’
50th Percentile: 103’’
20th Percentile: 99’’
10th Percentile: 97’’
Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair made headlines in a negative way thanks to a poor showing on the bench press test (a number which I typically put very little stock into), but his athletic numbers were very, very good. A 1.73 10-yard split to go along with a 110’’ broad jump and a 7.32 3-cone drill put him in very, very good company. Jason Spriggs from Indiana had a 1.75 over 10 yards in the 40 while jumping 115’’ and running a very solid 7.70 in the 3-cone. Carson Wentz’s blindside protector, Joe Haeg, turned in an impressive workout with a 1.75 split, a 7.47 3-cone drill and a 111’’ broad jump.
With linemen, you understand that some players just aren’t going to test very well, so it’s not shocking when you see them fall below average in athletic drills (LSU’s Vadal Alexander, for instance). Still, there were some players that had disappointing times that I expected a bit more from when watching them. Alexander’s teammate, Jerald Hawkins, turned in a 1.88 in the 10-yard split to go with a 100’’ jump and 8.18 3-cone. Tyler Marz from Wisconsin was in a similar situation, though worse off, with a 1.94 10-yard split, 99’’ jump and 8.38 3-cone. Denver Kirkland, the heaviest lineman at the Combine, recorded an 8.72 in the 3-cone drill. The previous low over the past five years was Keith Williams back in 2011 (8.42), so that is a number that will certainly need to be improved upon for the junior guard.
Inside The Numbers:
• Arkansas running back Alex Collins turned in a vertical jump of 28.5. No running back drafted in the last five years jumped below 29 (Kenny Hilliard). Look for Collins to rectify that at his Pro Day.
• At 6024 (6’2 ½), 247 pounds, and with an even 33’’ arms, Derrick Henry is literally the largest running back when compared to every other runner in the last five draft classes, in all three categories.
• Northwestern fullback Dan Vitale turned in a great workout. His 4.58 40-yard dash, 4.12 short shuttle, 123’’ broad jump and 38’’ vertical were all tops amongst fullbacks drafted in the last five classes.
• No receiver drafted in the last five years has had shorter arms than Oregon’s Bralon Addison (29.5 inches) - tying the mark for the shortest with Aldrick Robinson (2011), Ace Sanders (2013) and Jeremy Gallon (2014).
• Cincinnati wideout Mekale McKay, a D-1 basketball recruit out of high school, ran the worst short shuttle in the receiver group at 4.63. No one has run that slow in the last five years. In fact, the worst time was 4.50 flat. Who ran that? DeAndre Hopkins.
• I mentioned De’Runnya Wilson’s tough athletic day, but Auburn’s Duke Williams didn’t fare much better. His 1.70 10-yard split along with his 4.73 40-yard dash, like Wilson, was worse than any receiver drafted in the last five years. His 3-cone (7.43) was just as bad, ranking as the worst of any receiver drafted since 2011. Jaelen Strong, the current Houston Texan, held the previous record for that, running a 7.34.
• Conversely, Stanford wideout Devon Cajuste (who ran just 4.63 in the 40-yard dash) posted an excellent 3-cone time of 6.49. That number is impressive when you consider some of the receivers he beat (Cecil Shorts has the best with a 6.50), but factor in that he measured in at just under 6’4 and 238 pounds and you can see how great of a time it really was.
• No interior offensive linemen drafted in the last five years has had shorter arms than Iowa center Austin Blythe. The former Hawkeye had a solid day in athletic drills, particularly in the short shuttle (4.53 puts him inside the 80th percentile), but his 30 ¼ ‘’ arms rank significantly behind the next lowest - New England’s Shaq Mason at 31 ?. For teams that value length at the offensive line spot, Blythe could get dinged significantly for that.