2016 NFL Combine: Does it Matter for the Draft?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /
NFL Combine
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

Every year, it seems like the NFL finds more and more ways to keep fans interested during the offseason.  The NFL Combine is one of those ways, and boy do we tune in.  From quarterback hand size to cornerback bench press reps, we find ourselves paying attention to every little measurement we can to gauge any competitive advantage.  Some of the measurements matter, some do not, but it’s always interesting.  That’s before we even get into the drills that take place in Indy!  A big question rolls around every season, however, (No, not that question) and that is this:  How much do the NFL Combine measurements really matter?

How and What do we Measure?

At the NFL Ccombine, all 32 NFL teams will have scouts and leadership present and most will take their own measurements.  In terms of physical metrics, teams tend to stand on combine measurements of height, weight, hand size, and arm length. The drills consist of speed drills, the always popular 40 yard dash and it’s less popular (but sometimes more worthwhile) splits the 20 and 10 yard.  Then we have burst measurements like the vertical and broad jumps.  Finally there are the agility drills, the shuttle and 3 cone.  There’s also bench, but we’ll get to that.

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The timed drills are mechanically timed, leaving very little room for error.  It isn’t a perfect system, and the 2015 draft had numerous instances when the mechanical timing wasn’t correct.  It tends to be more accurate than hand timing, which is done simply with a stopwatch.  Some teams stand on the mechanical times, but many use their own hand times.  Teams will always use the same measurement across the board, however, no mix and matching.  Pro days exclusively use hand timed measurements, and tend to be anywhere from .03 to .2 (That’s a big range, I know) faster than combine times. They are thus looked on as less reliable.

The rest of the measurements are handled by a crew of people who check and double-check the measurements ensuring that they are handled the same across the board and are as accurate as possible.  The combine is for the players, which you’ll hear from the coaches there often, but accuracy is equally important.

Do The Measurements Matter?

It’s a bigger question than most realize, but an important one.  The short answer is yes, of course.  It isn’t as simple as Good Combine = Good Player.  We’ve seen plenty of players come in and destroy the combine only to fizzle out in the NFL.  We’ve also seen players come in and measure poorly only to blow up once they see a pro football field.  The real answer to if the measurements matter is that they do, but only as a means of either confirming the player you’ve already seen on tap or projecting what coaches think they can mold that player into.  Some measurements matter more than others, however, and that’s something we’re going to look into a bit further another time.  For now, let’s just take a peek at overall performance.

Overall NFL Combine Performance

You might have a few drills you do well on, and a few you don’t, but a good way of telling if a player is athletic enough to find success in the NFL is to look at their overall performance.  How do we do that?  There’s a bunch of math involved, but a metric I’ve developed is the Relative Ability Score, or RAS.  This puts each measurement on a 0-10 scale then statistically weights the average of those scores.  At its simplest, any player who ends up with a RAS of 5.00 or higher is above average, anyone below is, well, below.

Let’s take a quick look at players drafted in the 1st round from 2005 to 2015.  Shown here are the number of players who had a qualifying score (at least 6 combine measurements) and fell either above or below average by this metric.

[table id=30 /]

It’s pretty definitive looking at that table, isn’t it?  It isn’t that having a good combine makes you a first round raft choice, it’s that players worthy of selection in the first round tend to have a good showing at the NFL Combine.  It’s a shocker, I know, that teams would want to take the more athletic players in the draft.  What’s notable is that a poor combine doesn’t mean a player won’t be picked early.  Surely a good combine makes it more likely, though, which is why players train for months beforehand to do their very best to impress teams on a week like this one.

What are your thoughts, Lions fans?  Do you put much stock in the NFL Combine and the measurements taken therein?  Or do you think it’s tape and tape alone that puts a player’s name on that draft card day one?  Let us know in the comments or hit us up on Twitter @SideLionReport or let me know @MathBomb!

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