When you see a 275-pound man run 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? Last week, I looked at the most interesting results from the NFL Scouting Combine with regard to offensive players, so now let's look at the defensive side of the ball.
It's always tough to gauge who stood out and who flunked in the defensive front seven at the Combine because players from all of the different positions are set into one of two groups - Defensive Line or Linebacker. What that means is some players who will likely play in space in the NFL tear up the "defensive Line" group, while some players in the "linebacker" group may actually end up as defensive ends. For my purposes, I created three categories - defensive line, edge rusher and off-the-ball linebacker.
It's always fascinating to see how the edge rusher group tests athletically. A lot of people hang on those numbers in regards to their final evaluations on prospects. Rotoworld contributor Justis Mosqueda does a great job of illustrating this with his "Force Players" equation, that helps project the success of pass rushers with the use of statistical analysis. That theorem is very focused on the explosiveness of a prospect, so the vertical and broad jumps are important. But many analysts are also very much in-tune with an edge defender's short shuttle times as well. Let's look at the numbers over the past five years.
Short Shuttle Time (125 players tested)
90th Percentile: 4.19
80th Percentile: 4.26
50th Percentile: 4.37
20th Percentile: 4.51
10th Percentile: 4.60
Vertical Jump (128 players tested)
90th Percentile: 38.5"
80th Percentile: 36.5"
50th Percentile: 34.5"
20th Percentile: 32"
10th Percentile: 30.5"
Broad Jump (127 players tested)
90th Percentile: 127"
80th Percentile: 124"
50th Percentile: 118"
20th Percentile: 113"
10th Percentile: 111"
No edge rusher really sealed a slam dunk with all three drills, but several players did well in two out of three. Joey Bosa's 4.21 in the short shuttle was tied for second best among this year's edge players (tied with Clemson's Shaq Lawson), and his 120" is certainly above average. Leonard Floyd didn't run the shuttles or the 40, but he boasted a freaky 127" broad jump (to go along with an equally impressive 39.5" vertical). Floyd's teammate, Jordan Jenkins, also performed well on the jumps, leaping 36.5" on the vert and a respectable 121" on the broad. Washington linebacker Travis Feeney, who has lined up all over the place for the Huskies but may profile as more of a SAM linebacker at the next level, tested very well overall when compared with the edge players. His 4.50 unofficial 40-yard dash time is bested by three players at the position - Von Miller, Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr. His broad jump of 130" ranks as the fourth best against all edge players drafted since 2011, ranking behind only Davis Tull, Bud Dupree and Jamie Collins (a trio of athletic freaks). His shuttles were below average, but keep an eye on Feeney moving forward.
One player who certainly surprised me in how bad the numbers were was Clemson's Ron Thompson. At 6-3, 253 pounds, Thompson had a 1.70 split to go with a 7.46 3-cone drill - disappointing numbers to say the least. Ronald Blair, a personal favorite, fared even worse. The Appalachian State star posted a 1.75 10-yard split, a 113" broad jump and a 7.95 3-cone, the worst recorded 3-cone of any edge rusher drafted since 2011. His short shuttle time of 4.53 fell below the bar as well. Other disappointing performances came from three Senior Bowl players - Penn State's Carl Nassib (28.5" vertical and 114" broad), BYU's Bronson Kaufusi (30" vertical and 111" broad - though he also tested well in the short shuttle with a 4.25) and Baylor's Shawn Oakman (32" and 123" with a poor 4.56 short shuttle).
Depending on what scheme you run defensively, you're going to be looking for different traits in your linemen. If you're a 2-gap team, like what the Eagles had been under Chip Kelly and Bill Davis, you may value measurables such as arm length, to allow you to lock out your arms and keep blockers at bay in the run game. If you're a 1-gap team, like what the Eagles will be under Jim Schwartz, you may look for more athletic traits up front that give you the ability to attack offenses and penetrate into the backfield, so drills such as the broad jump (explosion) and 3-cone (quickness and agility) become more important. Let's see who stood out most in those areas.
Arm Length (117 players recorded)
90th Percentile: 34.58"
80th Percentile: 34.00"
50th Percentile: 33.28"
20th Percentile: 32.48"
10th Percentile: 32.00"
Several of the talented defensive linemen in this class showed up to Indianapolis for their official measurements and did not disappoint. Oregon's DeForest Buckner, considered by most to be the best defensive lineman in the class, checked in with an arm length of 34.38", as did Oklahoma's Charles Tapper. Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson boasted arms of 34.28", while Louisiana Tech's Vernon Butler had the longest arms of all the defensive linemen, with a number of 35.18".
On the opposite end, junior Kenny Clark's 32.18" arms may ding him for 3-4 teams. Clark is a solid athlete and a natural bender at nose tackle. He's a good player, but if you're a team that values a player's ability to 2-gap you may worry about his ability to do that at the next level with less than ideal arm length. I also wonder if teams would be concerned with Andrew Billings' 33" arms. They're just below average, but for a subpar athlete to have below-average arm length, he'll have to find ways to make sure he stays clean at the next level. Billings, known for his brute strength, is a pure nose tackle, but he's just about on the borderline in terms of physical measurables.
How about in the athletic testing?
3-Cone Drill (113 players recorded)
90th Percentile: 7.17
80th Percentile: 7.31
50th Percentile: 7.51
20th Percentile: 7.83
10th Percentile: 7.92
Broad Jump (117 players recorded)
90th Percentile: 116"
80th Percentile: 113"
50th Percentile: 106"
20th Percentile: 102"
10th Percentile: 99"
Tapper had arguably the top workout of any defensive lineman. While he didn't run the 3-cone, he jumped 119" and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 (better than nearly a dozen wide receivers and the best 40-yard dash in the last five years for any defensive tackle). His 34" vertical jump also placed in the 90th percentile at his position over the last five years. Northwestern's Dean Lowery has inside-outside versatility, and his numbers were very good for the defensive line group, ranking above the 80th percentile in every athletic test (4.88 40-yard dash, 7.26 3-cone, 4.38 short shuttle, 114" broad jump and 32.5" vertical).
Penn State's Austin Johnson, one of the top nose tackles in the class, had a bit of a disappointing showing, clocking in with a 7.84 3-cone and a 99" broad jump. Adolphus Washington of Ohio State did not have a good day either, sporting a 99" broad and a 3-cone time of 8.04. Only four drafted defensive linemen have run worse than that in the 3-cone in the last five years (Ed Stinson, Brandon Williams, Jerrell Powe and Michael Jasper).
With today's NFL centering on matchups in the passing game, having athletic linebackers is a priority for defensive coaches. If players are seen as a liability in space, most offensive coordinators will make it a point to attack them in coverage. With athletic ability at a premium, who stood out most? First, here's the standard set by the last five draft classes at linebacker.
10-yard split (112 players tested)
90th Percentile: 1.56
80th Percentile: 1.57
50th Percentile: 1.61
20th Percentile: 1.66
10th Percentile: 1.69
3-cone drill (104 players tested)
90th Percentile: 6.87
80th Percentile: 6.93
50th Percentile: 7.10
20th Percentile: 7.27
10th Percentile: 7.33
Broad Jump (113 players tested)
90th Percentile: 124"
80th Percentile: 122"
50th Percentile: 118"
20th Percentile: 113"
10th Percentile: 111"
Ohio State's Darron Lee was certainly one of the standouts in the linebacker group, as his 1.56 10-yard split led the week, as did his freakish 133" broad jump.
Other linebackers were expected to not test well based on how they play on tape. Temple's Tyler Matakevich (1.66 10-yard split, 7.19 3-cone and 112" broad jump), Arizona's Scooby Wright (1.67 10-yard and 113" broad jump),and Missouri's Kentrell Brothers (1.69 10-yard, 6.99 3-cone and 110" broad jump) all fall into that category. But what about players who were supposed to test well, but didn't?
Oklahoma's Eric Striker certainly fits that bill. Undersized at 5-11, 227 pounds with just 31.28" arms (all in the 20th percentile or below), Striker posted a 1.69 10-yard split, a 7.30 3-cone, and a 116" broad jump. Those are bad numbers for a player whose game is predicated on movement. Striker's teammate, Dominique Alexander, didn't fare much better. At just 220 pounds, Alexander can fly around between the lines, but his jumps (104" and 26.5" on the broad and vertical, respectively) are very poor. Both numbers are the lowest at the linebacker spot among all players drafted since 2011 (the previous lows were 104" by D.J. Smith and 29" by Allen Bradford).
Perhaps with no other position is the 40-yard dash more important than at cornerback. Defensive backs are at a disadvantage from the jump in today's game, and makeup speed is a necessary part of the position. Overall athletic ability is also a must in order to play man coverage at a high level, so that 3-cone and broad jump are also very big indicators to a player's athleticism throughout the process.
40-yard Dash (103 players tested)
90th Percentile: 4.40
80th Percentile: 4.41
50th Percentile: 4.46
20th Percentile: 4.52
10th Percentile: 4.56
3-Cone Drill (145 players tested)
90th Percentile: 6.66
80th Percentile: 6.75
50th Percentile: 6.90
20th Percentile: 7.08
10th Percentile: 7.15
Broad Jump (147 players tested)
90th Percentile: 130"
80th Percentile: 128"
50th Percentile: 122"
20th Percentile: 118"
10th Percentile: 116"
Jalen Ramsey's athletic ability was put on display in Indianapolis, as his 4.42 in the 40-yard dash, 135" broad jump and 6.94 3-cone helped illustrate as the 6-1, 209-pound cover corner wowed NFL scouts. Almost as impressive was Sean Davis' performance of 4.41 (40), 6.64 (3-cone) and 126" (broad) at 6-1, 201 pounds. The former Maryland defensive back has some wondering if he's a corner or a safety at the next level, but with those Combine numbers many will be thinking the former moving forward. Vernon Hargreaves of Florida was expected to test well and didn't disappoint, clocking in at 4.41 with a 130" broad jump.
Other players who I expected to test well, but didn't include one of my personal favorites at the cornerback spot, Baylor's Xavien Howard. The junior has good size at 6-0, 201 pounds, but with a 4.55 40-yard dash, 7.18 3-cone (the bio on Baylor's site listed him at 6.69) and 122" broad jump left people wanting more. One of my favorite small-school players in the draft, Southeast Louisiana's Harlan Miller, also had a rough day. The Senior Bowl practice player of the week at the defensive back spot turned in a 4.66 40-yard time (worst of any corner drafted in last five years). His 7.44 3-cone drill and 118" broad jump weren't far behind.
Inside The Numbers
1. Virginia Tech defensive tackle Luther Maddy checked in at 6-0 even at the Combine, shorter than any defensive lineman drafted in the last five years (Ken Bishop came in at just over 6-0 in 2014).
2. Utah linebacker Gionni Paul certainly would've liked a better 40-yard dash time - his 5.05 mark was by far the worst of any player at his position drafted in the last five years (Yawin Smallwood ran a 5.00), and the worst after Smallwood was Andrew Jackson last year running a 4.90.
3. LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson boasted that he would run the best 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, but came through with just a 4.50 flat (still pretty impressive considering he's 6-1). The cause? His 10-yard split of 2.62. How bad is that? The worst on record for a corner in the last five years is 1.66. The worst on record for an offensive lineman is 1.96.
4. Purdue cornerback Anthony Brown, on the other side, ran a 4.30 in the 40-yard dash, the fastest of the corners in 2016 and the fastest of any corner drafted since 2011. The next fastest? Last year's duo of Trae Waynes and Ronald Darby (4.32).
5. Northern Iowa cornerback Deiondre Hall didn't wow with his overall test scores (though his 4.06 short shuttle is pretty good, especially for a bigger corner), but his length is outstanding. With 34.38" arms, Hall's wingspan is longer than any corner drafted in the last five years, breaking the mark set by Chykie Brown, Demetrius McCray and Johnthan Banks (33.78"). Teams that value length on the outside in their press corners (Seattle, Atlanta, Jacksonville, etc.) are likely licking their chops with Hall.
6. Iowa's Jordan Lomax ran a 4.77 in the 40-yard dash, the slowest of any safety drafted in the last five years (Zeke Motta ran a 4.76 in 2013).
7. Clemson safety Jayron Kearse has great size for the safety position at 6-4, but his arm length is extremely rare at 34.28", setting the mark for longest arms at the position in the last five years (first-round pick Eric Reid boasted 33.58" long arms). Could a team make use of that length and slide him down to linebacker? That remains to be seen.
8. Boston College safety Justin Simmons turned in a very surprising workout, running a 6.58 in the 3-cone and a 126" in the broad, but his short shuttle time of 3.85 is the most impressive number. That's the best time for any safety drafted in the last five years, and he's just one of three players at the position to break 4.0 seconds in the drill. It also would've tied former first-round pick Desmond Trufant for the third-best cornerback time in the drill over that span (behind Bobby McCain's 3.82 and B.W. Webb's 3.84).
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.