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What to keep in mind while watching the NFL combine

Seattle Seahawks v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

It’s been a newsworthy week for the Seattle Seahawks, and it’s still early in the offseason. Things started off with the Arizona Cardinals getting the ball rolling in the tackle market, which could impact how much both George Fant and Germain Ifedi get as free agents next month. Tuesday reports emerged that the Hawks had come to agreement on a one-year deal with free agent tight end Greg Olsen, who has spent the past several years with the Carolina Panthers. At some point later Friday, the league should announce which teams are the recipients of the comp picks for the 2020 NFL Draft, along with the official order for the draft.

Which brings things to next week, when news surrounding the Seahawks may be quiet, but there will be plenty to pay attention to with the NFL Combine taking place in Indianapolis. Many fans laugh at the “Underwear Olympics” that take place each spring, as young men come in to be measured, timed, evaluated medically, interviewed and walk into meetings with team management shirtless.

In any case, the testing at the combine is far from perfect. Simply because a player runs the fastest 40 yard dash or records the slowest 3-cone is far from a perfect indicator of success or failure in the NFL. However, the combine is certainly used as a tool to weed through the physical traits and athletic measurables of players, and there are limits beyond which success becomes harder to achieve.

For example, I could have perfect technique and the highest football IQ in the world, but at 185 pounds, the only way I’d ever be able to successful block someone playing offensive line is if the defensive player fell down and didn’t try to get back up after I jumped on top of them. So, with that idea in mind, there are minimum thresholds that scouts often look for in terms of a player’s performance.

Pro Football Hall of Fame member Gil Brandt, who for decades oversaw the scouting department for the Dallas Cowboys during the Tom Landry era, recently tweeted the chart he uses in evaluating players.

Obviously, a player failing to meet the criteria for a single event or just a couple of events does not mean certain failure in the NFL. For example, Seahawks running back Chris Carson just missed many of the speed thresholds, clocking in at 4.58 seconds in the 40 yard dash, with a 20-yard split of 2.66 seconds. However, in spite of coming up short in both of those categories, his 10-yard split of 1.60 seconds did meet the requirements as laid out here. I think it would be hard to find a Seattle fan who has watched Carson the past three years who would disagree that while he lacks breakaway speed, he has a deceptively quick first burst that allows him to often slip past would be tacklers.

Beyond those events, his bench press (23 reps), vertical jump (37”) and broad jump (10’10”) were all better the minimums on this chart. On the flip side, his short shuttle (4.28) and three cone (7.53) weren’t really all that close, and that’s in part how a ridiculous physical specimen such as Carson can fall to the seventh round of the draft.

Then there’s the poster child for 3-cone times don’t matter DK Metcalf, who simply destroyed most of the categories for wide receivers, but came up short in the agility drills.

  • 40 time - Chart 4.50; Metcalf 4.33
  • 20-yard split - Chart: 2.65; Metcalf: 2.53
  • 10-yard split - Chart: 1.50; Metcalf: 1.48
  • Bench Press - Chart: 12; Metcalf: 27
  • Vertical Jump - Chart: 36; Metcalf: 40.5
  • Broad Jump - Chart: 10-0; Metcalf: 11-2
  • Short Shuttle - Chart: 4.10; Metcalf: 4.50/4.39 (Combine/Pro Day)
  • 3-cone - Chart: 7.00; Metcalf: 7.38/7.23 (Combine/Pro Day)

Obviously, Metcalf’s 58 catch, 900 yard performance as a rookie shows that he can have success in the NFL as long as he’s not asked to do the things he’s not good at. He had a rough time earlier in the year when the team misused his talents, but once the coaching staff identified what he did well and focused on that, while not asking him to catch the types of passes he’s not great at catching, his performance greatly improved.

Thus, as the eyes of the football world are on Indianapolis next week, this is a handy guide to keep around for reference. A player’s future performance certainly isn’t defined by how they perform at the combine, but if a player fails to meet the thresholds for every category at their position, that’s when it might be time to at review his college film and see if he was facing NFL competition, or if he was embarrassing future insurance salesmen. On the flip side, we’ve obviously seen athletic phenoms like Christine Michael come up short over the course of their career, so the measurables are only a part of the puzzle.