The NFL Scouting Combine offers an outstanding opportunity to quantify athleticism in an objective manner. Whereas much of NFL scouting is about opinions, the NFL Scouting Combine isn't; we can disagree on if a prospect has "fluid hips," but we can't disagree on his 40-yard dash time.
For that reason, what matters most at the NFL combine are the numbers, and only the numbers.
Scouts, coaches and general managers get so caught up in watching players perform drills on the field. Wow, wide receiver X beat cornerback Y a bunch of times, so he must be a better player, right? Silly.
Why place so much emphasis on a single day's performance in drills when you have an entire college career to study? The NFL combine is about acquiring objective measurables to make the scouting process more scientific, not using a very limited sample of play to change subjective opinions.
So what will the Dallas Cowboys be looking for at the NFL Scouting Combine this year? We really have no idea. Thus, the following slides detail what the team should be monitoring, the majority of which are completely objective measurements.
Quarterback Hand Size
NFL teams obsess over height in quarterbacks, but hand size is an even better predictor of success. Quarterbacks need to be able to control the football and throw it accurately, which large hands allow.
Tall quarterbacks perform better than short ones overall, but the reason seems to be because height and hand size are so strongly correlated.
When you start to look at the quarterbacks who have performed well in spite of substandard height, such as Brett Favre, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, you typically see they have much larger hands than other quarterbacks their size.
The Cowboys might or might not be in the market for a late-round quarterback. If they are, it would be ideal if his hands approach 10 inches.
Running Back 40-Yard Dash/Broad Jump
There's an extremely strong correlation between explosiveness and running back success in the NFL. The backs who've thrived despite a lack of elite straight-line speed, such as Arian Foster, are (1) usually very heavy and (2) outliers at the position.
Both the 40-yard dash and the broad jump effectively capture explosiveness such that they're the two most predictive measurements available for backs (subscription required).
Are the Cowboys in the market for a running back?
With DeMarco Murray entering a contract year and Joseph Randle possessing a horrible weight/speed combination, they should be looking at a player late in the draft.
Wide Receiver Height/Weight
For so long, NFL teams seemed to value speed in wide receivers, searching for a player who can "take the top off of a defense."
More speed is always better, of course, but teams are finally starting to realize that the best receivers are typically the largest. Tall, heavy receivers remain relevant in the red zone so they can do what teams need to do to win games: score touchdowns.
There are a number of big, physical receivers in this class, meaning a really good player will probably drop to the third round. With potential offensive devastation should they lose wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys shouldn't rule out a bulky receiver in the middle rounds.
Pass-Rushers' Arm Length
Whether it's a defensive end or defensive tackle, the Cowboys should seek a pass-rusher with great length. Defensive linemen need to be able to fend off blockers, and it appears arm length is even more important than quickness.
This is especially vital for the Cowboys since they need so much help along the defensive line. It will be imperative that they don't overreact to position drills and instead focus primarily on length, overall size and college production.
Cornerback Length/40-Yard Dash
The Cowboys have fast cornerbacks, but they're also very undersized. Even though the cornerbacks stand to benefit immensely from an improved pass rush, the Cowboys could still use some size outside.
Cornerback length and bulk could help the Cowboys improve their red-zone defense, much in the way that the same attributes for receivers improve red-zone offense.
All cornerbacks need speed to recover, but in today's NFL, size is nearly just as important. The Seattle Seahawks should be the Cowboys' template for cornerbacks.
Attitude in Interviews
This is the first slide that mentions something subjective. So why is a trait like "attitude" different from "quick hips"?
Well, NFL teams can test for things like "quick hips" or "straight-line speed." Even if drills like the three-cone drill and 40-yard dash don't do it completely, players who have positive attributes should presumably play better on the field, which would be reflected in their stats.
Surely a positive attitude when it comes to approaching the game should benefit players on the field, but it's difficult to quantify. We can't really look at a linebacker's tackles to see if he has a good attitude or not.
Normally, teams should disregard traits that can't be tested, but a player's attitude in a formal-interview setting seems indicative of how he might approach his job as an NFL player.
The Cowboys should be wary of players who approach interviews with a sense of entitlement or seem uninterested. Again, this isn't necessarily quantifiable, but it's still important.
Much like attitude, work ethic isn't quantifiable in the same way as speed or height. However, the Cowboys need to be concerned with finding players who are not only great right now, but those who will continue to be great in the future.
As much as on-field stats and off-field measurables can predict future NFL performance, they aren't perfect because you can't be sure how strong a player's work ethic will be a few years down the line.
Work ethic is kind of a vague term, but it's clearly important for future NFL success. Teams need to do what they can to determine which players will continue to work hard even after being handed millions of dollars.
Along with interviews, the way they compete and work at the NFL Scouting Combine should at least be considered in player assessments.
Monitoring how a player approaches specific drills is where the activities have value (as opposed to the actual performance in the drill, which will tell teams next to nothing that they shouldn't already know).