February 20, 2013 in 2013 Combine
Does a player's great time in the Scouting Combine's 40-yard dash mean they'll end up succeeding in the NFL? We crunched the numbers (analysis and embed code beneath the infographic).
The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine starts this weekend, and unfortunately the importance of the event will be lost on most people, as one number above all will stick out: the 40 time. The NFL Combine is a four-day experience for these players as they interview with most of the teams, undergo intense medical and psychological testing, and participate in a series of on the field drills, yet one number can seemingly make-or-break a player's Combine in the eyes of fans (and even some NFL teams).
Forty times are no doubt valuable to a degree. You want to see burst and acceleration, and having long speed never hurt anybody. That being said, they aren't the be-all end-all for determining speed. Even for a speed position like wide receiver, you aren't starting from a track position and likely won't run in a perfectly straight line. You will also be wearing pads, which is another hinderence. Even if a defender allowed you to start from a track position and didn't try to get in your way at all, it still doesn't have a direct correlation to the NFL because so few passes are actually thrown 40+ yards (to say nothing of the other skills needed to track the ball and catch it). What really comes from the 40 time is the little things.
For instance, the 10- and 20-yard splits (especially for positions other than WR, RB and DB) are very important. If two guys run the same 40 time but one guy is better in the first 20 yards and the other better in the last 20 yards, the guy who is faster in the first 20 yards is probably more desirable. Even if the 2nd runner runs it slightly faster, that initial quickness is probably more applicable to football than long speed. The other positive is it gives you another benchmark to compare players. If two corners are roughly the same size and show the same cover ability on tape, and one runs a 4.35 and the other runs a 4.55, then you can probably feel comfortable taking the faster one. What gets teams in trouble is when the guy who runs a 4.55 grades out better in skills and the mental side of things, but they take the more athletic one.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is the weight people try to give to non-speed positions like quarterback, defensive line and offensive line. Unless something goes incredibly well or terribly wrong, these guys aren't ever running 40 yards or anything close to it. These are guys who should be judged on their 10- and 20-yard splits, yet people try to care about their 40-yard dash times. Even with the quarterback position changing and guys like Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton having good 40 times, this has little to do with their success. It was great to see that level of speed, but they still have to be quarterbacks first. That is why the majority of signal callers with that speed either converted to wide receiver or are out of the league.
People who like the 40 will say that it matters to the speed positions, but not even there is there a good correlation between success in the 40 and success in the NFL. Sure, there are exceptions like RB Chris Johnson or WR Mike Wallace, but even the majority of the sub-4.4 times from running backs, receivers and corners didn't help them do anything significant in the NFL (and many were down right busts).
So while much of the focus will be on the 40-yard times, remember in reality this is just one of the many drills these prospects participate in, and the drills are just part of the grade a player gets from the Combine. Enjoy watching the Combine and checking back here for coverage, but don't let 40 yard dash numbers make or break a prospect for you to root for.