The NFL Combine starts today, giving NFL teams the opportunity to scrutinize players before making decisions about their draft plans. It is quite a spectacle, with people awaiting the top 40 times, vertical jumps, bench press, among other measurables. So, understandably, is no shortage of data coming out of the combine. The interesting considerations is how important that data really is. There have been analyses done to identify which combine drills are predictive of NFL success.
The one measurement that always seems to get the most press at the combine is the 40 yard dash. The interest has grown the point that the players at this year’s NFL Combine with the fastest 40 times have been offered Porsche Carreras (this is being done by Adidas who, in 2013, offered a shoe contract to the player with the fastest 40 at the NFL combine.) While that’s all very cool, the point of the NFL Combine is for players to increase their draft stock. We have seen cases where fast 40 times led to players being drafted higher (perhaps) than they were generally graded. What I wanted to take a look at is how much the 40 yard dash and other numbers at the Combine correlate with when a player is selected in the NFL draft.
I examined data from NFL Combine Results, using results from the 1999 through 2013 NFL Combines/Drafts. I restricted my analysis to players who were selected in the draft the same year they participated in the Combine. I looked at physical measurements (height, weight, arm size, hand size) and recorded combine drills (40 yard dash, 20 yard shuttle, 3 cone drill, vertical jump, broad jump, bench press, Wonderlic test score) and examined their correlation with draft position. A summary of the results are in the table below:
|Quarterback||Broad Jump: 0.312|
|Running Back||40 yard dash: 0.358|
|Wide Receiver||40 yard dash: 0.210|
|Tight End||40 yard dash: 0.332|
|Offensive Lineman||40 yard dash: 0.205|
|Defensive Back||40 yard dash: 0.401|
|Linebacker||40 yard dash: 0.363|
|Defensive Tackle||Bench Press: -0.263|
|Defensive End||40 yard dash: 0.272|
|All Players||40 yard dash: 0.119|
Obviously, other factors such as a player’s on-field performance in college, character issues and the needs of the team impact when/if a player is drafted. Interestingly enough however, 40 yard dash time showed the highest correlation of the variables considered across all players, and had the highest correlation for all but two positions. This somewhat validates the attention given to 40 times at the combine, however it should be noted that most of these correlations would be considered weak/moderate. Although, according to NFL Savant, 14 of the 15 players who ran a sub-4.3 second 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine since 1999 were selected in the NFL Draft that year, with 5 going in the first round. While this might not be enough to convince players to eschew all other training and focus solely on getting their 40 times down, it’s definitely worth keeping a close eye on the stopwatch. You can watch the workouts live online at NFL.com.