2014 Combine viewing guide

by Tony Villiotti

The next milestone on the journey to the NFL draft is reached this week with the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Offensive linemen will roll into town on Wednesday and head out on Saturday. Other position groupings follow the offensive linemen with defensive backs wrapping up the annual event on Tuesday, February 25. Here is a summary of the schedule for each playing position.

The NFL Network will provide 60 hours of live programming of the event beginning on Thursday, February 20. The Combine is one of the highlights of my year and forces me to think creatively so that I can manage to watch most of the 60 hours without incurring the wrath of my wife. This was a lot easier before she retired.

This article is intended to make it easier for fans to make sense out of the jumble of numbers that will be scrolling across our television screens. There are two basic questions a fan may have while watching the Combine. First, how does what I just saw that player do measure up against other guys who play the same position? Second, how important is this drill in predicting future success? The first question is much more easily answered and that will be addressed first.

The table at the end shows information by playing position and for each drill based on Combine results from 1999 through 2013. The table includes:

• The average measurement for each position
• The cut-off for a measurement that would rank in the top 10% since 1999
• The cut-off for a measurement that would rank in the top 30% since 1999
• The cut-off for a measurement that would rank in the top 50% since 1999

This table is a handy reference guide to be consulted while watching the Combine.

There a few protocols that were followed and which will be useful for you to know regarding the reference guide:

• Running backs have been split into two groups – those weighing 210 pounds or less and those weighing over 210 pounds – because of the different characteristics between the two groups. This split is arbitrary. There should be a split, it just is not clear where it should be.
• Fullback and special team players are excluded from this analysis.
• For purposes of this analysis, defensive ends weighing less than 265 pounds (admittedly an arbitrary breakpoint) have been combined with outside linebackers.
-Many players come out of the college with an uncertainty about whether they will play outside linebacker or defensive end.
-This uncertainty can be due to either the player’s ability or the defensive scheme played by the team who drafted the player.
• Defensive ends weighing 265 pounds or more have been grouped with defensive tackles for the same reason.

Now, how important are these drills anyway? In recent years it has been the “in thing” to trash the importance of the Combine, but why do all these NFL folks keep showing up? I have kind of a middle of the road view on the matter. There is no way to rely strictly on numbers to make a talent evaluation. On the other hand, though, more information is better than less information and I believe that the Combine does serve a useful purpose in that regard. I have tried a handful of different ways to quantify the importance of a drill in predicting success, but have not yet found one that is “the answer”. I am going to use a new one for this article. While I will not bore you with all the calculation details, my basic methodology is to take the top 10, 20 and 30 performers for each drill and then track the success of those players.

I tend to stay away from the use of standard deviations (though I understand them and know how to use them) and the like for evaluation purposes in favor of a less technical approach. Using this methodology, I identified the drills that seem to me to be most and least predictive of success.

Here is a summary of my somewhat subjective conclusions. Some are counter-intuitive while others are what we would expect.

Regarding quarterback, the one consistent thread in past analyses has been that there is no drill that predicts quarterback success (see Tom Brady). For that reason, I did not address the quarterback position.

Happy viewing! That honey-do list can wait.

The chart is below. Click it for an enlarged version.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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