The Truth Behind the Combine

By Ben Pearl ’18

Football is the sport that never stops. The 16 game regular season is merely a small portion of what the National Football League (NFL) truly is. Between training camp, preseason, playoffs, and the draft, the season never ceases. The never-ending cycle of the league was heightened even more with the addition of the National Invitational Camp (NIC) in 1982. This camp, held in Tampa, gave NFL draft prospects an opportunity to showcase their talents. Three years after its creation, the NIC was officially renamed the NFL Scouting Combine, and continues to go by this title today.

 

In the combine’s 35 year existence, some of history’s greatest athletes have performed at the venue, as around 330 players are invited annually. However, experts constantly debate if a correlation exists between a player’s 40-time, bench press reps, and vertical jump and how well they will perform at the professional level. In fact, some of the greatest players in NFL history had less than impressive statistics at the combine. Most notable is Tom Brady, who ran a 5.28 40-yard dash and had a 24.5 inch vertical jump among other testings. While these statistics contributed to his sixth round selection in the draft, no one can explain how someone who, on paper, has no athleticism could also win five Super Bowls. Another current NFL superstar who had an underwhelming combine performance is Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. As a receiver, NFL teams were not impressed with his 4.57 40 time and his 6.98 three cone drill. Brown has overcome these measurables as he has posted three straight 1000 yard and 100 catch seasons. In addition to Brady and Brown, hundreds of other NFL players have proven that the combine does not show how well they can play.

 

In 2017, 17 running backs had faster 40 times than Le’veon Bell, 7 linebackers bench pressed more times than Von Miller, and 6 defensive backs recorded higher vertical leaps than Richard Sherman. However, these numbers will have no influence on whether these athletes become an all-pro or super bowl champion in five years. All that these testing times can do is give teams an idea of how athletic they are. In certain cases, a player’s combine can severely raise or lower their draft stock, but more often than not the combine is used to confirm what a team thinks about a prospect.

 

One of the biggest stories of this year’s combine was that John Ross, a wide receiver from the University of Washington, broke Chris Johnson’s eight-year 40-yard dash record with a time of 4.22 seconds. Four days after the combine concluded, CBS Sports released a post-combine mock draft in which Ross jumped nine spots solely based on his 40 time. According to NFL.com, 53 wide receivers have run the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds or faster since 2003. Only six of those 53 receivers have recorded at least one 1,000-yard receiving season. In that same span, 149 wide receivers have run a 40-yard dash slower than 4.60 seconds, and of those 149, eight have recorded a 1,000 yard receiving season.
After redshirting his junior year, Ross had a breakout season this past year with 1,150 receiving yards on 81 catches and 17 touchdowns. However, with the uncertainty of NFL success it is unclear whether Ross will be productive in his career. The main goal of the combine is for scouts to determine who has enough potential to be worth spending a draft pick, since each team usually has only around seven. Players must leave a lasting impression during their combine tests, as Ross did, if they want to be remembered on draft day.

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