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Joey Bosa's Disappointing 40 Time Shouldn't Overshadow Great Combine Performance

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystFebruary 28, 2016

Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa stretches at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Joey Bosa’s 40-yard-dash time Sunday at the NFL Scouting Combine was disappointing. Or at least it was if you ask Joey Bosa.

“I thought I was going to run a low 4.7, high 4.6,” the Ohio State defensive end told NFL Network, according to Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot. “That was the goal coming into it, but I’m just disappointed.”

Those are the immediate reactionary words of an athlete who invested countless hours of training as he worked toward a goal and then fell short. Bosa whiffed while aiming for those marks and was a step or three slower. He posted an official time of 4.86 in the 40-yard dash, which prompted some brief concern.

It’s difficult to resist raising an eyebrow and speaking in a hushed, murmuring tone when a premier prospect falls even slightly below expectations at the combine, especially when the benchmark is one set by the prospect himself. Bosa graciously provided the headline and sound bite we were all looking for by declaring himself the “best player in the draft” (the full quote, courtesy of Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com, is a little more nuanced, of course, but that takes away from the eyeball-drawing sizzle).

So don’t feel guilty about giving in to that reaction after Bosa’s top-end speed didn’t quite measure up to his own high bar. After all, the combine can be a breeding ground for stretching an impulse too far and unnecessarily reading too deep into a single metric.

Just know that even though Bosa was disappointed in himself, others thought he did fine. Better than fine, in fact.

NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt watched Bosa run. He's better known as the former Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel and the grandfather of draft guru-ism. His projection didn't change:

Gil Brandt @Gil_Brandt

Had Joey Bosa at 4.86 in his first 40. Good run. Could be enough to get him to No. 1. #NFLCombine https://t.co/ESBm8OARK0

Like others, Brandt arrived at that conclusion after absorbing more information and processing Bosa’s entire combine performance.

Broadly, the combine measures each prospect's explosiveness and agility. In the end, it paints a picture of their overall athletic ability relative to every high-ranking prospect who was on the same field, participating in the same drills. Game tape still takes precedence in measuring football skill, but the performances on film come against varying levels of competition.

For outside linebackers and defensive ends, the focus is on a specific kind of speed. An edge-rusher like Bosa needs to demonstrate his acceleration after changing direction and reloading. The emphasis is often on bending, angles and short-area quickness, rather than straight-line speed.

Making the case Bosa should be selected by the Tennessee Titans first overall, or at worst be a top-five pick, essentially means you believe both his tape and scouting combine agility drills show he’s the most athletically gifted at his position in this class.

Let’s check in with Brandt again and see why your facial expression should change, trading in that raised eyebrow for widening eyes:

Gil Brandt @Gil_Brandt

Why Bosa only needed to be sufficient in 40: 4.21 20 shuffle (2nd among DL) 6.89 3-cone (2nd) 10-0 broad (5th) 32.0 vert

As Rotoworld’s Josh Norris noted, Bosa’s three-cone drill result puts him in the "top 11 of all defensive linemen since 2006."

Where exactly Bosa fits in the NFL depends on what system he lands in after the draft. At 6’6” and 275 pounds, the 20-year-old has the size to thrive as a powerful force in the trenches and the speed to turn the corner as an edge-rusher. In position drills, he also looked comfortable dropping back in coverage.

An ability to change direction without losing explosiveness more than compensates for anything he lacks in raw speed. Bosa showcased that trait throughout a college career at Ohio State in which he recorded 50.5 tackles for loss, 26 sacks and five forced fumbles over three years.

The same natural athleticism that's central to success as a pass-rusher didn’t disappear Sunday. As College Football 24/7 noted, Bosa finished tied for the best 20-yard-shuttle time among all defensive linemen:

CollegeFootball 24/7 @NFLDraft

Top 20-yard shuttles for DLs at #NFLCombine GOLD(tie): Joey Bosa & Shaq Lawson, 4.21 BRONZE (tie): Shilique Calhoun & Bronson Kaufusi, 4.25

It all added up to an agility score comparable to the New Orleans Saints’ Cameron Jordan, as Bleacher Report’s Justis Mosqueda observed.

Whether Bosa is crowned No. 1 overall in the 2016 draft and selected by the Titans is a question set to be answered over the next couple of months.

It will largely depend on what pressing need Tennessee prioritizes between pass-rushing help and a towering, immovable presence at tackle to protect quarterback Marcus Mariota. If the latter is the Titans' chosen direction, then left tackle Laremy Tunsil from Ole Miss could get the nod over Bosa.

But Bosa had interviews with 13 teams, per Cabot—including the Titans—throughout his combine adventure. He did nothing Sunday to stall building top-five momentum.

He’s still the same thrashing, bull-rushing pass-rusher who finished fourth in the nation with 13.5 sacks in 2014. And he’s still the same dominant quarterback punisher who recorded 70 total pressures in 2015, per Pro Football Focus (third in the nation among edge-defenders). PFF also ranked Bosa as the best edge run-defender in each of the past two years.

So he’s great based on both film and statistical metrics. And every measurable—except one—at the combine indicated he’ll continue to be great. Looking at that one exception for too long is how the seed for prospect-projection regret gets planted.

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