If the NFL Scouting Combine were the magical entity known as "the female form," then the 40-yard dash would be the boobs. (Actually, this is where we got the term, "(that thing) is the tits!") And when a player comes into the combine and runs a sub-4.30, scouts look at each other cautiously and whisper, "I think I see nipple."
Well, Kent State running back Dri Archer was wearing a low-cut tank top and no bra at this year's combine, and he "accidentally" bent over to pick up a pencil on his way to a 4.26.
It's not the fastest of all-time, as he had predicted, but according to the numbers I've culled from NFLCombineResults.com, it's tied with Jerome Mathis for the seventh-fastest. Archer becomes just the 19th prospect in Combine history to break 4.30 and if nothing else, it put him on the map for fans. And I'll repeat that:
Any NFL scout worth Andy Reid's weight already knew who Dri Archer is. How do I know this? Because he was at the NFL combine. They already knew he was fast, probably had a good idea that he was the fastest in this year's draft pool, and some may have even suspected he would break the record. Not only that, but one scout did unofficially clock him at 4.18, which puts him as close to Bo Jackson as it does to Chris Johnson.
The question then becomes: So what?
Let's say that Archer had run an official 4.18, would it have helped his draft stock? By how much? Because the truth is that no matter how fast he was, it wasn't going to change the myriad of reasons that were always going to keep Archer out of the first round. Like that he's 5'8, 175 pounds, that he played at Kent State, that his senior season was far less productive than his junior season due to injuries.
There's an intimation that a tenth of a second means everything on the NFL level. If that's even true, it's only true for certain types of players. Perhaps it's the difference between drafting Champ Bailey or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (many years apart but their 40 times are neck-and-neck) but both of those guys already had all the other factors that make them a first round pick.
It wasn't going to get Trindon Holliday into the first round (or first five rounds) alone and you could make the argument that Holliday's stock was improved by zero factors because again, these scouts already know who's fast.
What I want to do today is take a closer look at the fastest players in combine history. Where were they drafted and how much better did they turn out than peers were were just a hair slower than them. Did speed matter nearly as much as draft position, and was draft position really determined by speed?
Or was it just Al Davis mucking up the order of things?
(It has a lot to do with Al Davis.)
First, let's look at the fastest of the fastest. Before Archer's time this year, 18 players have run a sub-4.30 forty-yard dash. Here they are, with Pro-Football-Reference's Career Adjusted-Value listed by their names, plus their overall position in the draft:
Under-4.30 Ordered by speed
|Demarcus Van Dyke||4.25||3||3||1||81||OAK|
- The Oakland Raiders have drafted four of the ten fastest players in combine history. The Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills took four of the other six. These are three of the least-successful franchises of the combine era, with this data dating back to 1999.
- Three of the four fastest players in combine history went after the third round. Melendez was a "what the hell" pick of the Falcons in the late seventh round (though he went one pick ahead of Bryce Fisher, so it's not always a good idea to just "what the hell" any of your picks.)
- These are the fastest players in combine history, and the average draft position is middle of the third round.
- Chris Johnson didn't just run 0.02 seconds faster than Archer, he's also a 5'11, 195 lb back and though he went to East Carolina, he was coming off of his career-year (1,951 total yards, 23 touchdowns.) He was also in one of the strongest running back classes of recent memory: Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones and Rashard Mendenhall all were taken ahead of him.
Matt Forte and Ray Rice went in the second round. Kevin Smith, Jamaal Charles and Steve Slaton went in the third. Tashard Choice, Ryan Torain, Tim Hightower and Justin Forsett were also in the same class.
So, how fast would Archer, a 5'8, 175 lb back, have to run in order to be a first round pick? I don't know... a three?
Can players do that? Can you run... a "three"?
A recent ESPN Insider article notes Football Outsiders' "Speed Score" index that doesn't just measure speed, but speed in combination with size.
Introduced on ESPN Insider back in 2008, Speed Score is Football Outsiders' metric for evaluating running back prospects. It's built on the simple idea that, because smaller backs tend to run faster than larger backs, we should be more impressed by a 4.5-second 40-yard dash from a 220-pound back than the same clock reading from a 170-pound back. As such, Speed Score incorporates a back's official time in the 40-yard dash with his weight to produce a measure of his speed given his size, using this formula: (Weight x 200)/(40 time^4).
Archer's 40-time was the fastest at the combine but his speed score ranked eighth. Which is still pretty good, but also a good indicator of why he could never really be a great running back prospect so... again, what is the point?
Archer had a speed score of 105.1 while Johnson had a speed score of 121.9. (The average being 100.)
The highest speed score this year was Damien Williams of Oklahoma, a 222-lb back that ran a 4.45.
Let's take a look at this list again, but order it by who has had the most valuable career and see if there's any correlation between the leaders and the losers:
Ordered by Value per Year
|Demarcus Van Dyke||4.25||3||3||1||81||OAK|
- Instead of not having a number for undrafted free agents, I just assign them a draft value of 250 and team name of "UDF"
(UDF is currently drafting better than the Raiders)
- Of the eight most valuable players to run a sub-4.30, six of them were first round draft picks. You could make a case for a player like Johnson upping his value from high-second round to low-first round, but one 40-yard run at the combine didn't propel him up much further than that. There were only a couple of true value picks: Mike Wallace and the unfortunately-injured Johnny Knox.
- The worst bust was Heyward-Bey, a receiver taken by Oakland that was only a top pick due to the fact that the Raiders exist. And even then, Heyward-Bey has been just slightly-below average compared to the other players on this list in terms of AV/Year.
Routt is another great example of a player taken as high as he was only because Raiders.
- Players like Hill and Goodwin really don't have enough of a career yet to truly judge.
How big of a difference is it to run a 4.30 or a sub-4.30?
4.30 to 4.31, by total value:
- Notice again that the top three total AV scores belong to first round picks. Moss and Peterson were both seen as elite draft picks before the combine, while Joseph actually went a bit later than expected despite his 4.31.
- Of the next 13 players, not a single one was drafted in the first round.
- The three undrafted players have produced next-to-nothing. And you would also want to note that if a player like Moss did see his stock go up due to a 4.31, why couldn't Owusu, Gates or Lockett even get drafted?
(Because it didn't/doesn't matter)
- The highest-drafted disappointment was Taylor Mays of USC, native of Seattle, but let's not overlook the fact that his 4.31 did nothing for a draft stock that was once thought to be "elite." It wasn't enough to overcome his shortcomings as a safety.
- Compare sub-4.30 to 4.30-31:
The faster group had a higher average AV, more years in the league on average, a higher AV/year, but they were also taken ~22 picks ahead of players that were just a fraction of a second slower; 33-percent of the players that ran a sub-4.30 were drafted in the first round, compared to just 18.75-percent of the players that ran a 4.30 or 4.31.
One possible difference -- and this isn't just another joke -- is the Oakland Raiders.
They selected 27.7-percent of the players to run a sub-4.30, compared to just one of the 16 players to run a 4.30 or 4.31. Could that simple fraction of a second be enough to increase the ADP of a player, due to the fact that Al Davis is paying closer attention to you?
It still doesn't change this fact:
34 total players have run a 4.31 or better at the combine, 13 of those players posted an AV/year of at least 4.00 (roughly average), and nine of those 13 above-average players were taken in the first round. The four exceptions being Wallace, Knox, Mike Thomas and Darrent Williams.
Out of those four exceptions, Mike Wallace is the only "true" exception. The rest are human error: Williams sadly passed away in 2007, though he was on his way to being a very good player it would seem, we will never truly know. He played just two seasons.
Thomas had one great season but hasn't played in the NFL since 2012, recently signing with the Texans to try and resurrect his career.
Knox was injured in a game against the Seahawks and has since retired because of it. None of those three players had a large enough sample size to really do justice to the AV/year marker.
A ton of players have run a 4.32-4.34, so let's go deeper...
4.32-4.33, by Total Value
|Robert Griffin III||4.33||28||2||14||2||WAS|
|Chris Clemons (FS)||4.33||20||5||4||165||MIA|
|Dexter Jackson (WR)||4.33||0||2||0||58||TB|
Notice what happens when you place that "Average" market in the middle of the list? See how there are just six players above it and half of those players were top four picks?
Griffin's time at the combine did not matter. People knew what he could do and unless he ran a 5.00, it wasn't going to scare anyone off. We knew he was fast.
Same goes for Vick and McFadden.
Notice how many first round picks are below that line? A total of 14 players are below average on this list (see how heavy the top is and how empty the bottom is?) and only one of them -- Troy Williamson, considered one of the biggest reaches of recent NFL memory -- was a first round pick.
There is certainly some value there, most notably the other Chris Clemons, who is a ~average player that was available in the fifth round, but is that anything compared to the massive dropoff after Clemons, and to a lesser extent, Louis Murphy?
The rise and fall of players like Chad Jackson do show that fast players are over-valued, but Jackson is another example of a guy that was projected to be a "first-round lock" and yet his 4.32 didn't get him there. He fell in the draft.
These same trends continue if you keep going, and a bunch of guys have run a 4.34. If 25 guys are this fast, then how is anyone going to separate themselves?
The 4.34 Group, by Total Value:
- The top four Total AV players were top 10 picks. There are no "steals" here, where a guy runs a 4.34 and increases his draft stock to the third round, then blows up. That has happened still just the one time: Mike Wallace. The fifth guy on this list to be drafted in the top 10, Tavon Austin, is well on his way to being one of the most valuable players to ever run a 4.34. His AV of 6 this year places him fourth in AV/year on this particular list.
- Interestingly, Best is another guy whose career is probably over due to injury.
- Tye Hill was a player who saw his stock rise after the combine, as the draft approached, and was a surprise pick at 15th overall by the Rams. Which sort of serves as the counter-example of the argument, doesn't it?
If a player sees his stock rise because of a 4.34, and doesn't possess the other tools, it's not going to make him "better" just because he ran a 4.34. Typically, guys like DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson aren't better because they run a 4.34, they run a 4.34 because it's part of the whole that made them better.
Did that make sense?
The playmaking ability isn't necessarily a product of their 40-time, for guys like Vick, Griffin, Hall, their speed makes them better but not their speed alone. You can roll out of bed and run a 4.34, maybe, but you can't roll out of bed and play football.
There's a lot more to it than that. The reason that Usain Bolt isn't the best player in the NFL isn't just because he hasn't signed with a team yet:
Guys, it's not that easy to play professional football.
Good players are fast but fast players are not necessarily good.
The 4.35 Group, by Total Value:
- Compare these five groups again and you'll see that there isn't even any real sliding scale of draft value or correlation between speed and ADP. The fastest group is drafted considerably higher than the guys who ran a 4.30-4.31, but the guys who ran a 4.32-4.33 are nearly drafted in the same position as the guys who ran faster than 4.30. The group that ran a 4.34 again dip down in their ADP, but the group that ran a 4.35 is taken about nine spots higher than the 0.1-faster group.
There's also no real correlation between speed and success, at least not in these groups. Though you could argue that a player who runs a 4.70 is not going to make a good receiver, it's a lot harder to argue that running a 4.35 is that much different than running a 4.52.
Yes, Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in the league, but Josh Gordon is arguably giving him a run (run intended) for his money and ran that time of 4.52 I just referenced.
Heyward-Bey can run a 40-yard dash that is than three-tenths of a second better than A.J. Green, but that's not going to make him A.J. Green. Sometimes he's only marginally better at receiver than A.J. Feeley.
When Vernon Davis runs a 4.38 at over 250 pounds, it certainly draws attention -- and for those people that enjoy freaks like the ones you see at Ripley's Believe It Or Not, it does so deservingly -- but Rob Gronkowski ran a 4.65 and Matt Jones ran a 4.37. You could just as easily have watched Davis's games at Maryland or sat in on a practice and known just as well that he was a freak athlete.
Here are some more players that aren't among the 96 fastest in combine history.
- Adrian Peterson, 4.40
- Marshawn Lynch, 4.46
- LeSean McCoy, 4.50
- Matt Forte, 4.46
- Jamaal Charles, 4.36
- Josh Gordon, 4.52 (unofficially)
- Antonio Brown, 4.47
- A.J. Green, 4.50
- Demaryius Thomas, 4.38
- Alshon Jeffery, 4.48
- Dez Bryant, 4.52
- Richard Sherman, 4.54
- Darrelle Revis, 4.38
- Earl Thomas, 4.43
Plenty of speed here, but again, I have to ask you: Did their 40 time even make a single difference? Charles is the closest on that list to being one of the fastest 96 times recorded at the combine, and yet he wasn't drafted in the first two rounds.
Green ran a 4.50, and nobody downgraded him from being an elite wide receiver prospect worthy of the top five.
Why are we actually doing an NFL Scouting Combine? Why are we actually treating 40-times like they mean anything?
- There were a total of 96 players in this study, all of whom ran a 4.35 or better at the NFL scouting combine from 1999 to 2013. Out of those 96 players:
- Five of the top six were drafted in the top seven of their respective drafts. (Exception: Chris Johnson)
- Eight of the top nine were drafted in the first round. (Exception: DeSean Jackson.)
- 12 of the top 14 were taken in the first round. (Exceptions: Jackson, Mike Wallace.)
- The highest-rated undrafted free agent was Ricardo Lockette.
- He's not rated very high.
- The only players to have an AV/year above 4.00 that weren't taken in the top 100 picks were Johnny Knox and Mike Thomas, both of whom had careers that lasted four years or less.
- The biggest bust was Troy Williamson.
- Of the 64-lowest rated players on this list, the only first round picks were: Ahmad Carroll, Tye Hill, R.Jay Soward, Williamson. That's 6.2-percent of those guys.
- Of the top 32 players on this list by AV/year, four of the five lowest-ranked first round players were drafted by the Raiders: Darren McFadden, Michael Huff, Fabian Washington and Darrius Heyward-Bey. All of whom had a AV/year of 4+.
There are those that argue that the combine is overrated and that workouts like the 40-yard dash aren't a great measure of evaluating player talent, but I would take it a step further than that:
The combine and the 40-yard dash aren't even important to NFL teams, with the exception of the Oakland Raiders in one era that is likely over.
The 40-yard dash is important to players, to the media, and to fans, but it has exhibited almost no correlation between fast times (at combine high) and a better ADP. Surely some of these players went a bit higher than they were expected to go and some were probably drafted when they shouldn't have been, but that didn't stop players like Chad Jackson or Johnathan Joseph also going lower than expected. One could even argue that Jackson's "slide" in the 2006 NFL draft was entirely due to mock drafters and the media seeing his 40-yard dash of "4.32 seconds" and assuming he was now a lock for the top 15.
But no teams took a bite in the first round.
The sample size above of the 96 fastest players in combine history really looks no different than any random grouping of NFL draft prospects. Some elite players, a lot of average players, some very bad prospects and players. The best correlation above of anything to success is their draft position, which we already knew to be true. Despite the fact that there is always going to be your "Tom Brady" exceptions, higher-drafted players are always more likely to be successful players.
And this was even true decades ago, before any combine, before any 40-yard dash, hell... before most fans and teams could even watch that much game tape of college athletes. There was a Hall of Fame player drafted in the top five of every draft from 1975 to 1981. You didn't need to see Walter Payton at a "scouting combine" to know you were getting someone special. You didn't need to know how many reps of 225 that Anthony Munoz could do in order to draft him third overall in 1980, or Lawrence Taylor second overall in 1981.
Two more Hall of Famers went in the top 10 in 1982, and two Hall of Famers were the top two picks in 1983. Overall, six Hall of Famers were taken in the first round of the '83 draft and zero Hall of Famers over the rest of the draft; which back then lasted 12 rounds.
The 40-yard dash is absolutely and utterly meaningless.
It is often a byproduct of what we already knew: NFL players are pretty exceptional athletes. Whether they run a 4.30 or a 4.50, doesn't just mean little to teams and to their future success, but also means almost nothing for their draft position.
Sorry, but I guess you could say that I forgot about Dri.
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