Don't Put Too Much Stock In The NFL Combine

After one team raises the Lombardi Trophy and the confetti clears, football fans begin a long wait until the next season. During these agonizing months without our favorite sport, a few events offer brief respite: the NFL Combine, the NFL Draft, and any big free agent moves a team may make.

One of these events, the NFL Combine, takes place this weekend. This is a chance for NFL scouts to get a close look at some of the premier collegiate talent, in hopes of landing the perfect draft pick. While the combine can be a good complementary scouting tool, teams should be wary of relying on it too much in the decision-making process.

Seemingly every year there are a handful of players who drastically improve their draft stock due to an exceptional workout at the combine. A player's performance in a controlled environment like the combine, however, does not always equate to on-field success.

For example, here are the top 40-yard dash times of the past eight combines.

1. Chris Johnson (2008): 4.24   

2. Dri Archer (2014): 4.26    

3. Marquise Goodwin (2013): 4.27

4. Jacoby Ford (2010): 4.28    

4. Demarcus Van Dyke (2011): 4.28    

6. Yamon Figurs (2007): 4.30    

6. Darrius Heyward-Bey (2009): 4.30    

6. Tye Hill (2006): 4.30    

9. Tyvon Branch (2009): 4.31    

9. Johnathan Joseph (2006): 4.31    

9. Justin King (2008): 4.31    

Obviously CJ2K has had a productive career, and Johnathan Joseph has been extremely steady at the cornerback position, but many of these players never reached the potential they showed during the dash.  

In that group, four players were selected in the first round: Chris Johnson, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Tye Hill, and Johnathan Joseph. 

Johnson and Joseph have justified that selection. Heyward-Bey has not emerged as the number one receiver the Raiders expected him to be, but is entering his seventh season, and is a decent complementary receiver for the Steelers. Tye Hill bounced around the league before failing to find a team after the 2010 season. He totaled 115 tackles and one interception during his career; not the production a team wants from a first round pick.

Four of the remaining players were selected in the third round, with the other three speedsters going in the fourth round. Ideally a third-round selection should develop into a solid starter for a team, with Pro Bowl upside, and while a fourth-rounder is more of a project, he should be making an impact by his third season.

Dri Archer was selected by Pittsburgh in the third round last season, and it is still too early to judge his career. 

The Buffalo Bills selected Marquise Goodwin with their third pick in 2013, but he has not developed into the consistent starter they had hoped for. Goodwin is entering his third season, so there is still time for him to improve, but the receiver only has 18 catches for 325 yards and a three touchdowns thus far.

Marquis Goodwin was the fastest player in the 2013 draft. Credit: cbssports.com


Always a fan of speed, the Raiders selected Demarcus Van Dyke in the third round of the 2011 draft. Van Dyke was selected ahead of a corner named Richard Sherman, but only has 17 tackles and one interception in his NFL career. He played in two games last season for the Steelers, and will try to rebuild his reputation in Kansas City.

Receiver Yamon Figurs was drafted in 2007 by the Baltimore Ravens. In his two seasons with the Ravens, the third-rounder played in 26 games, but caught only two passes for 79 yards and one touchdown. He played in only four more games over the next two seasons, for the Lions and Raiders, before bouncing out of the league in 2011.

Of the three players selected in the fourth round, two are still in the league. 

Jacoby Ford, who was selected by Oakland in 2010, was let go by the team after the 2013 season. Ford then signed a deal with the New York Jets before the 2014 season, but was cut by the team prior to the start of the regular season. Ford has 57 career catches for 848 yards and three scores, and has signed a futures contract with the Tennessee Titans for the 2015 season.

Another Oakland draftee - they sure do love fast players, don't they? - Tyvon Branch has 476 tackles, three forced fumbles, and four interceptions since entering the league in 2008. He has played his entire career for the Raiders, starting in every game from 2009-2011, but only played in five games over the last two seasons.

Justin King was drafted by St. Louis in 2008. The defensive back totaled 116 tackles and one interception in his four seasons in the NFL.

The results with this group are certainly mixed, but the average player from this lot would be selected in the middle of the second round, entering his fifth season, and playing in an average of 11 games per season. For a league predicated on a "speed kills" mentality, the fastest 11 players over the past eight combines have not found consistent success.

Although the 40-yard dash is the highlight of the combine, several NFL-hopefuls have strung together great numbers across the board.

Matt Jones is a great example of the type of impact a good combine workout can have on a player's draft stock. Jones played quarterback at the University of Arkansas, as well as basketball for the Razorbacks. 

Few believed that Jones would find success in the NFL at the quarterback position, and the consensus was that receiver would be his best chance at a career in football. That notion gained more traction when the 6'6" Jones produced a monster workout, highlighted by a 4.37 40-yard dash. 

On the strength of his workout, Jones, considered to be a project, was selected with the 21st overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had moments of brilliance with Jacksonville, but never justified a first round selection. The quarterback-turned-wide receiver lasted only four seasons with the Jaguars.

One running back was able to garner a second round pick in the 2007 draft despite rushing for only 859 yards and 9 touchdowns on 255 carries - an average of 3.37 yards per carry - during his entire college career. 

That player is Chris Henry, who only started one season with the Arizona Wildcats before deciding to try his luck with the NFL Draft. Henry wowed scouts at the combine;  the 5'11", 230-pound back ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, and put up big numbers in the 20-yard shuttle, 60-yard shuttle and 3 cone drill. 

Teams fell in love with his "potential," and the Tennessee Titans decided to pull the trigger on Henry with the 50th pick in the draft. The back played in only eight games during his two-year career, never reaching the potential that Tennessee bet on.

Combine enthusiasts may remember this name: Vernon Gholston. Gholston displayed the ability to become a feared pass rusher at times while at Ohio State. In 2007, the defensive end notched 14 sacks for the Buckeyes, and declared for the draft after the season. 

While Gholston was already gaining recognition from teams prior to the combine, his workout vaulted him into the top ten. At 6'3", and 265 pounds, Gholston ran a 4.65 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225 pounds a staggering 37 times. 

http://www.newyorkjets.com/videos/videos/NFLN-Vernon-Gholston---2008-Combine-Performance/276eb0f9-79d0-11df-ba56-acc8e62813e9

Following his workout, many teams believed that the young defensiv e end could become an elite player in the NFL. The New York Jets decided to jump on the player with such raw talent and chose Gholston with the sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, ahead of the likes of Calais Campbell and Cliff Avril. 

Gholston played only three seasons in the NFL, all with the Jets, and never recorded a single sack.

There are some gems to be found at the NFL Combine, but too often teams base a player's future on what he is able to do in shorts.

The word most often thrown around this time of year is "potential." Experts and analysts love to talk about what a player might be able to do once they enter the league, but potential is a tricky thing. 

If a player shows up to the combine and produces eye-popping numbers, did he suddenly develop those skills? Has he not had all of that talent while playing at the collegiate level? A more prudent measure of this player's skills are what he has done on film over the course of his college career. A player may run a 4.3 40-yard dash in shorts, but his "field speed" may be much closer to a 4.6. 

When a player puts the pads on, and has an opponent across from him, that is when he proves his worth. It isn't in a dome stadium while wearing shorts and Under Armour in the middle of February.

Cam Newton delivered this quote during the past season: "we all have unbelievable potential, but a wise man told me potential never won a game." 

The NFL Combine can be a great tool if used as only a small piece of a larger puzzle. What a player has shown between the lines after the ball is snapped, however, is much more important.

Teams should be focused on how a player uses the gifts he has been given, because at the highest level, everyone is gifted.

A great combine workout should be taken into account, but should not outweigh a player's production in college. As Newton so eloquently stated, "potential never won a game."

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