Ranking Fastest, Strongest College Football Leagues Based on Combine

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Ranking Fastest, Strongest College Football Leagues Based on Combine
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Every year, stars are born from the NFL combine.

This year, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney created much of the buzz with his freakish athleticism.

Today, we take a different look at the NFL combine results, trying to evaluate conferences’ relative speed and strength based on the performances of players.

There are a few problems with strictly using NFL combine results to determine the fastest and strongest conferences, of course.

The primary issue is that the sample size is extremely small.

Furthermore, not everyone participates—or fully participates, anyway—in Indianapolis.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Boston College linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis was one of the standout players at the NFL combine.

On a positive note, examining the combine focuses on the best of the best departing players who have the greatest chance to advance to the NFL.

To determine the fastest and strongest conferences based on combine results, we will exclusively examine the 40-yard dash and the bench press.

Conferences have been evaluated in two ways.

First, leagues have been judged by how many top-five finishers they placed in the two events.

Secondly, the conferences were viewed by the percentage of players who placed at the median or better of their respective positions.

Players who chose not to participate in the drills were not factored into the percentages.

The Big 12 placed the greatest percentage of players above the median at their positions in the 40-yard dash with 11 of 18 players who ran accomplishing the feat.

That number included five of six running backs and receivers. All three Big 12 tailbacks performed at the median speed or better.

The SEC finished with the second-best percentage in straight-ahead speed with nearly three times as many participants.

Of the 53 players from SEC teams who ran, 30 placed in the top half at their positions.

The SEC also placed 12 players in the top five of the 40-yard dash at their positions—three more than any other league.

The ACC, which put 22 of 41 players in the top half of their positions, sported the third-best percentage in the 40-yard dash. It also finished second with nine top-five finishes.

Neither the American Athletic Conference nor the Big Ten performed well in the 40-yard dash drills.

The AAC saw just three of 10 post times better than positional medians.

Big Ten players struggled to the tune of 10 of 29 outproducing median positional competition.

NFL Combine 40-Yard Dash Results By Conference
Conference Participants Median Times or Better Top-5 Finishes
AAC 10 3 1
ACC 41 22 9
Big Ten 29 10 3
Big 12 18 11 5
Pac-12 36 18 4
SEC 53 30 12


As far as strength is concerned, nobody placed a greater percentage of players above the median than the Big Ten.

Amazingly, 20 of the 28 players from the Big Ten who attempted to bench press placed in the top half of their positions.

The ACC (18 of 30) and Pac-12 (17 of 31) also fared well in the bench press.

Three leagues, the AAC, Big 12 and SEC, had less than half their players rank in the top half of their positions.

However, the SEC also landed 10 players in the top five of their respective positions, leading all leagues. 

By sheer numbers, though, the Big Ten dominated the SEC in strength. The Big Ten placed eight of 28 in the top five of positions. The SEC, meanwhile, posted 10 with nearly twice as many participants (53).

The Big 12 presented worst with just three of 15 players ranking top half.

No quarterback competed in the bench press. 

NFL Combine Bench Press Results By Conference
Conference Participants Median Reps or Better Top-5 Finishes
AAC 10 3 2
ACC 30 18 6
Big Ten 28 20 8
Big 12 15 3 3
Pac-12 31 17 4
SEC 54 26 10


Ten players ranked in the top five of their positions in both categories.

Eight came from college football’s six power conferences—two each from the ACC, Big 12 and SEC, and one each from the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

The other two—Georgia Southern tailback Jerick McKinnon and Saginaw Valley State receiver Jeff Janis—came from outside Division I.

Players Ranking Top 5 in 40, Bench
Player School Position
Jace Amaro Texas Tech TE
Jerick McKinnon Georgia Southern RB
LaDarius Perkins Mississippi State RB
Jeff Janis Saginaw Valley State WR
Aaron Donald Pittsburgh DT
Kevin Pierre-Louis Boston College LB
Brock Vereen Minnesota S
Deone Bucannon Washington State S
Jaylen Watkins Florida CB
Justin Gilbert Oklahoma State CB


Few would be surprised to find so many SEC players toward the tops of lists at the combine.

The Big Ten’s results also fell squarely into the league’s slow-but-strong stereotype—one that teams like Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin have made tremendous strides in erasing.

What might be more eye-opening is the strong showing from the ACC, which fared very well against the other power conferences.

The Big 12 performing as well as it did in the 40-yard dash drills probably caught some off-guard, though the lack of volume in total participants somewhat dilutes the achievement.

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