Analyzing the NFL Combine

Does being a champ at combine drills mean a top draft pick for NFL hopefuls? Let’s check the data.

Every February, as the dust settles from the previous NFL season, a select group of college players hoping to make it to the NFL are invited to Indianapolis to show the pro scouts how big and tall they are, how fast they can run, how high and far they can jump, and how strong they are. These measurables are then used to verify what the scouts have already seen while dissecting endless video tape.

As we head toward the NFL draft, many experts will be using the combine numbers to make a case for or against players. I figured it would be a good time to look at four of the combine drills. For each drill, I will tell what is being measured and show how the top five performers in each drill fared in the draft.

The combine data that I analyzed came from my favorite sports data site, Pro Football Reference. I loaded data from 2000 through the current combine into Qlik Sense to perform my analysis.

40-yd Dash

Of all the combine drills, the 40-yard dash holds the most weight. The concept of the 40-yard dash came from punt coverage. The average NFL punt is about 40 yards and the average time that a punt remains in the air or “hang time” is about 4.5 seconds. The drill morphed into an evaluation for skill positions such as running back, wide receiver, and defensive back. Now, as the speed of the game increases, it is expected that all players run the 40. Yes, that includes the offensive and defensive linemen.

So how does a player’s 40 time translate into draft position? Let’s look at the top 5 performers since 2000.

  1. John Ross – WR (4.22) - Projected 1st round
  2. Chris Johnson – RB (4.24) – 1st round (24th overall)
  3. Dri Archer – WR (4.26) – 3rd round (97th overall)
  4. Marquise Goodwin – WR – 3rd round (78th overall)
  5. Stanford Routt – CB – 2nd round (38th pick)

How does #NFLCombine translate to picks for #NFLdraft? We use #QlikSense to analyze the data:

Vertical Jump

On its surface, the vertical jump shows how high a player can get off the ground. When you look at different positions where that matters, the first place the mind goes is wide receivers and defensive backs but there is more to the drill than first meets the eye. The vertical jump indicates to scouts the raw explosiveness of a player. During the drill, players are flat footed, have their hands stretched out above their heads at which point they bend their knees and jump as high as they can. Explosiveness is a trait that pertains to many positions on the football field.

So how does a player’s vertical jump translate into draft position? Let’s look at the top 5 performers since 2000.

  1. Gerald Sensabaugh – FS (46.00) – 5th round (157th pick)
  2. Cameron Wake – OLB (45.50) - Undrafted
  3. Chris Chambers – WR (45.00) – 2nd round (52nd pick)
  4. Chris McKenzie – CB (45.00) – Undrafted
  5. Donald Washington – CB (45.00) – 4th round (102nd pick)

Broad Jump

The broad jump, like the vertical jump, shows a player’s explosiveness. Players start in a standing position, they bend their knees, swing their arms back and try to jump as far out as possible. Along with the jump itself, the landing is also critical as it shows the player’s ability to control his body.

So how does a player’s broad jump translate into draft position? Let’s look at the top 5 performers since 2000.

  1. Byron Jones – CB (147.00 in) – 1st round (27th pick)
  2. Obi Melifonwu – SS (140.00 in) – Projected 1st round
  3. Chris Conley – WR (139.00 in) – 3rd round (76th pick)
  4. Jamie Collins – OLB (139.00) – 2nd round (52nd pick)
  5. Alvin Dupree – DE (138.00) – 1st round (22nd pick)

Bench Press

The bench press drill shows a player’s pure power and upper body strength. It also shows the level of a player’s cardio. In the drill the weight bar is stacked with 225 lbs and the player lays with his back on the bench and presses the weight as many times as he can. Players are not allowed to arch their backs or bounce the weight off their chests. It’s obvious that offensive and defensive linemen usually perform the best at this drill.

So how does a player’s bench press translate into draft position? Let’s look at the top 5 performers since 2000.

  1. Stephen Paea – DT (49) – 2nd round (53rd pick)
  2. Leif Larsen – DT (45) – 6th round (194th pick)
  3. Mike Kudla – DE (45) - Undrafted
  4. Mitch Petrus – OG (45) – 5th round (147th pick)
  5. Brodrick Bunkley – DT (44) – 1st round (14th pick)

So, what does this all mean?

Well, each of the combine drills test specific characteristics that players will need to be successful in the NFL. These include speed, explosiveness, body control, and strength. Each position has its own set of “must-have” characteristics and the more of those characteristics that a player possesses, the more likely he will catch the eye of the scout. And while a player’s performance at the combine is a factor in him getting drafted, it is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. The app that I built can be found here. Look and see how your favorite players performed at the combine!


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