Every year during the underwear olympics, also known as the NFL Combine, there are observers who point out that in the NFL offensive linemen are rarely tasked with running forty yards down the field, so why is it important for teams to know their time in the 40? It’s a valid question, as the idea of Justin Britt or Ethan Pocic sprinting down the field does not seem like it carries with it potentially game altering significance.
However, the 40 yard dash is about more than just speed, particularly for tackles. For the sake of brevity, I’m simply going to share one of my tweets on the subjects, since Twitter is smart enough to limit me to just a couple hundred characters.
It's less about top speed and more about the quickness of the initial steps. Those can be translated from the 40 time.— John Gilbert (@SeahawksMachine) March 2, 2018
Go find a Pro Bowl LT with a 40 time of 5.2 or higher. You can't, because they don't exist. In contrast, a RT with a 5.2 40 time is not a problem. https://t.co/1PCuekYuKs
Now, for illustrative purposes, what I’m going to share next is a list of every single tackle prospect since 2000 who has run the 40 at 4.96 or faster at the combine. This list includes 24 players, and seven of those players have made the Pro Bowl. That’s far from perfect, but a decent probability when it comes to looking at the uncertainty of the NFL draft. And that is just a single metric.
When the results of the 40 time are combined with the results of other events, the predictive ability is even more solid. Taking a look back at a Tweet Kenny shared in his article on Orlando Brown’s horrible combine about the predictive power of different combine events for different positions, the second and third most predictive events for offensive tackles are their weigh in and the broad jump.
Orlando Brown's low bench reps is trending. But bench reps are probably the least important indicator for OTs. (Although it is a significant predictor for guards, so there likely some importance to it we don't see in the stats.) pic.twitter.com/gmZtIvPsvD— Brian Burke (@bburkeESPN) March 2, 2018
So, then let’s go ahead and continue to use the same 4.96 as an upper limit on the 40, and then combining that with a lower limit of 108 on the broad jump, let’s see what happens. For transparency sake, 108 is not a number I have simply chosen at random, it’s the number Tom Cable publicly stated is the number he looks for in evaluating offensive line prospects. What we get using just those two metrics is the following list.
On that list we see four out of the fourteen (28.5%) players have made the Pro Bowl at some point in their career, with Joe Staley, Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil having dropped off the list for having not performed the broad jump at the combine. However, both Staley and Smith did complete the broad jump at their pro day, with Staley coming in at 112 and Smith recording a 109. Kalil, meanwhile, did not participate in USC’s pro day in 2012. (For complete transparency, Andrew Gardener was the fourth player on the original list of 24 players without a combine broad jump score, and he recorded a 107 at his pro day.)
Adding Smith and Staley to the list makes six of the sixteen (37.5%) of the players to meet those two thresholds Pro Bowlers. In addition, other notable names on the list include
- Eric Winston, who once started 119 straight games for the Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals over a period of eight seasons,
- Nate Solder, who has started 95 of the last 112 regular season games for the New England Patriots, and whose absence in 2015 as a result of a torn bicep played a not insignificant role in the Patriots only failure to make the Super Bowl since 2014,
- Terron Armstead, franchise left tackle for the New Orleans Saints,
- Joe Thuney, who has started every single game at left guard and played 99.6% of offensive snaps for the Patriots in each of the last two seasons since being drafted in 2016 and
- Garett Bolles, who started all 16 games for the Denver Broncos in 2017 after being selected in the first round.
Putting that all together, that’s 11 of 16 (68.75%) players who meet nothing more than these two physical requirements and all 11 appear to be at least replacement level starters in the NFL, if not significantly better. That 68.75% success rate is phenomenal at any point in the draft, even the top of the first. And that’s based on nothing more than two metrics, the 40 and the broad jump.
But what does any of that have to do with the Seattle Seahawks?
The Hawks certainly seem to love Duane Brown at left tackle when Pete Carroll and John Schneider speak about him, but it is important to keep in mind he will turn 33 before the season starts. So, they may not need his replacement immediately, but odds are they will need to find his replacement within the next two to three seasons. Will one be available in this season’s draft who meets the criteria noted above? Of the four offensive linemen who ran the 40 in 4.96 or faster this year, only Kolton Miller came in above 108” on the broad jump, setting a combine record of 121” for offensive linemen. Another of the four, Desmond Harrison, ran the 40 in 4.90, but did not participate in the broad jump. It may be worth keeping an eye on this matter when his pro day rolls around. In addition, he has a checkered past that could potentially push his draft stock down low enough to where he would be an attractive risk in the mid to late rounds.
Back to Miller, however, some draft projections have him available when the Hawks are scheduled to pick at 1.18, so it will obviously depend on how Seattle has him graded. It certainly will be interesting to watch, however, he may not meet the team’s requirements for a first round grade. Miller started five games as a freshman and five games as a sophomore before starting every single game his junior year at UCLA. As I looked at back in January, The Hawks under Carroll and Schneider have yet to spend a first round pick on a player who did not have at least two full seasons of starting experience in college. Admittedly, the five players they have drafted in the first round the past seven years certainly represents a small sample size, but it is something to consider.
Of course, something else to consider is that Seattle already has a highly athletic tackle prospect on the roster, one who easily met these athleticism thresholds coming out of college, so I guess we’ll simply have to wait and see how things turn out on the field.