NFL Combine: Is Measuring A Player's 40 A Predictor of NFL Success?

James Wright IIIContributor IFebruary 9, 2010

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 13:  Jason Avant #81 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium on December 13, 2009 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

It is always so funny when I talk about the NFL draft to friends, family, or strangers for that matter.  All the rumors and assumptions start to run wild and before you know it, your team is drafting 16 different people in the first round alone.

I think fans tend to forget that each team only gets one pick in the first round.  Of course, if they are fortunate enough to own an extra first rounder, then they can have as many as 32 different picks in the first round. 

Right, 16 plus 16 equals 32.  I was always bad at math so this is how that number comes about.

What many fans also tend to forget, is that before anything happens with the draft, all the NFL future hopefuls have to endure one last obstacle: the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN.  

The combine is one week of the most overrated spectacles in the sport, next to major news networks showing high school athletes declaring which college they will attend in the fall.

Naturally, the combine is a place where NFL scouts can measure speed.  Yup, one quick test to measure the speed of an athlete.

Oh wait. There is more than just speed? 


The way people talk about the combine, there is nothing else that goes on there except some running.

Alrighty, we all know the combine covers all the abilities of an athlete including strength, vertical jump, agility, and the ability to catch a pass just to name a few.  But the first thing that comes up every year when people are curious about a player at the combine is, "What was his 40 time?" 

It seems that is how most fans and analysts measure how good a player will be these days.

Teams look for speed when scouting players, specifically receivers, running backs, and corners; however, to say this is the only stat at the combine that really matters, is ridiculous. 

A co-worker once said that the 40-yard dash was all that he cared about and there was no reason to look at anything else.  His reasoning was that you can't teach speed, but everything else can either be taught or learned after a player is drafted.


You can't teach speed. 

That I agree with, but there are other intangibles that will account for whether a player can make it in the NFL, not to mention the fact that some very good receivers have been passed over in past combine workouts and dropped to later rounds because they did not run good 40 times.

Take for example the case of Jason Avant. 

He played for Michigan and did a wonderful job.  He was supposed to go in the low first to early second round of the draft but he broke his arm before the combine, and still showed up to perform drills that he could and run his 40.

His 40 time was 4.73, which is considered a failure. Many scouts dismissed him. Scouts are not rocket scientists I guess.  No one realizes that a cast could slow you down when running. 

So Avant falls all the way down to the fifth round where the Eagles snagged him and now analysts and coaches rave about his productivity and ability to catch anything thrown at him.

Oh and when his cast did come off he ran the same 40, but .33 seconds faster. 

Avant is by far one of the most underrated slot receivers in the game.

I don't know him, ok. How about Marques Coloston, Anquan Boldin, or Jabari Greer?

Colston ran a 40 time of 4.71, fell all the way to the seventh round, and then turned in one of the most productive years for a rookie receiver.  He is now the star wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints and started in the Saints' first Super Bowl. 

Anquan Boldin was drafted after teammate Bryant Johnson.  Johnson ran a 4.37 40 while Boldin ran a 4.71.  Bryant was taken in the first round; Boldin was selected 37 picks later.  Bryant was a flop but Boldin caught 101 passes for 1,377 yard on his way to the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Greer was supposed to be a top prospect, but ran a 4.53 40 time at the combine.  The scouts probably knew that he ran a 4.37 in track at college, but it did not matter.  He did not hear his name called on draft day and eventually signed a free agent deal with New Orleans. 

Oh yeah, he started in the Super Bowl this past weekend as the left corner.

It is crazy that one specific measurement of speed can make or break a future NFL star.  Well I think that I might go over to Indianapolis and have a go at the sprinting spectacle of the NFL world.

I'm pretty quick. 

Wonder how much I would be worth after a workout?

It is so overrated. 

Players will tell you that they have never run the 40-yard dash again once they get to the NFL.  Players have said that it would be considered an insult to be asked to do so.  Their production doesn't warrant another time trial.

So while you can't teach speed, you can't always teach a fast guy how to translate that speed to a football field.  

Troy Williamson and Darrius Heyward-Bey are two wide receivers that I think of all the time when people talk of the times in the 40.

Williamson ran a blazing 4.28 at the combine and was drafted in the Top 10 by the Minnesota Vikings.  He dropped more passes in two years than anyone could believe and was eventually released before signing with Jacksonville.  He has been, by all accounts, a bust.

Heyward-Bey was taken seventh overall in the 2009 draft and had blazing speed as well. 

No hands. 

No confidence from the staff. 

He caught 18 passes all year as a rookie.

Interesting side note on Heyward-Bey: his teammate Louis Murphy, who was selected in round four as the 124th selection overall, caught 34 passes for 521 yards and 4 TD's in his rookie campaign.  Not too bad.

Guess someone should have paid attention to more than just the speed that day, huh?  

So, who is going to be too slow this year?  Who will be the next Colston, Boldin, Avant, or Greer? 

It is why we watch and why we love this game. 

Surprise me!


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