Behind the times: the 10-yard split

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One of the biggest misconceptions that emerges from the NFL Combine each year is the importance of 40-yard dash times. The 40 is the considered the glamour event of the combine, and every year NFL executives, scouts, draftniks and fans (including me) get carried away by some of the mind-boggling times. This often puts too much value on a player’s straight-line speed, more so than on his pure football talent.

Am I saying that the workouts at the combine aren’t important? No, but some of the workouts need/should be evaluated from a more football-related standpoint.

One of the most important and consistently overlooked measurements at the combine is the first 10 yards of the 40, known as the 10-yard split. This is simply a measurement to see how fast a prospect can cover the first 10 yards of their 40. It’s great to see how fast someone can run 40 yards, but how often in an NFL game are players required to cover that distance on one play? A more reasonable measurement, and a better indicator of “football speed,” is 10 yards.

A 10-yard split not only measures the short-area burst of an NFL prospect and but also allows evaluators to determine if the prospect is a two-stepper (a player who can get up to full speed in two steps) or a strider (a player who needs to hit full stride to reach his top speed). Since football players as a whole are consistently forced to quickly explode in and out of their breaks throughout the game and change directions, short-area explosion (typically within 10 yards) is a pivotal reflection of a player’s overall “football speed.”

The 10-yard split is a vital time gauge for every position in the NFL, but it’s arguably more important for edge pass rushers than at any other spot. Pure pass rushing specialists who rely on their first step to gain an advantage on offensive tackles need to display explosive first-step quickness out of the stance. So the timing of a pass rusher’s 10-yard split is an excellent indicator of how quickly he can explode off the ball and cover the ground needed to get after the quarterback. To put this into perspective, I broke down some of this year’s top hybrid defensive end/outside linebackers to give you an idea which prospects’ 10-yard split times are NFL-worthy and which prospects’ fast 40 times are simply a mirage.

I constructed a range of times from past drafts using only the DE/OLB position. Note: NFL Combine times as a whole have gone down dramatically each of the past couple of years, so the most times that are being used are only from the past five years.

A “Great” 10-Yard Split Time (1.55 seconds and under)

Cliff Avril, Lions: 1.50 (2008)
Chris Long, Rams: 1.53 (2008)

A “Good” 10-Yard Split Time (1.56-1.59)

Gaines Adams, Buccaneers: 1.58 (2007)
Derrick Harvey, Jaguars: 1.59 (2008)

An “Average” 10-Yard Split Time (1.60-1.62)

Kamerion Wimbley, Raiders: 1.60 (2006)
Bruce Davis, Patriots: 1.62 (2008)

A “Below Average” 10-Yard Split Times (1.63-1.69)

Charles Johnson, Panthers: 1.63 (2007)
Anthony Spencer, Cowboys: 1.64 (2007)

With an eye toward the 2010 draft class, let’s break down the nation’s top pass rushing DE/OLB hybrids according to their 10-yard split times and assess what each time means in terms of their NFL potential.

Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech (6-1

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