The NFL Scouting Combine is a useful tool for both prospective players and NFL talent evaluators. For players, it is an opportunity to showcase the skills needed to play in the National Football League. For scouts, it is a measuring stick that allows them to confirm the level of talent shown by a player on game film.
After four days of drills and tests, however, scouts and armchair GM's are left with an endless stream of statistics that must be sorted through to unearth underlying conclusions. To complicate matters further, combine results are not always a slam dunk. Flashy combine stats boost draft stock and look great in the short term, but don't always translate into long term, NFL success.
Thankfully, Tony Villiotti from Draftmetrics.com has produced a convenient guide for wading through these statistics. By comparing data that stretches all the way back to the 1999 scouting combine, Villiotti has compared and analyzed player results at each position to identify which combine drills, if any, predict future success. With multiple pending free agents at the linebacker position, the Bengals may look to fill some of those holes through the draft. Here is what Villiotti has to say about this position group:
• The 40-yard dash has the most significant difference between starters and all participants
-76% of 1-year starters and 77% of 3-year starters ran the 40 in 4.75 seconds or less compared to 55% of all Combine participants
-All splits showed fairly significant advantages for starters over all participants
• The 20-yard shuttle showed large differences in comparing 3-year starters to all participants
-62% of 3-year starters and 53% of 1-year starters ran the 20-yard shuttle in 4.27 seconds or faster compared to 40% of all Combine participants
• The vertical jump, broad jump and 3-Cone drill results showed modest advantages for starters versus all Combine participants
-Most compelling of the three was the vertical jump
-77% of 3-year starters and 74% of 1-year starters jumped 33 inches or higher compared to 66% of all Combine
As Villiotti points out, speed, agility, and vertical leg explosion are the biggest factors for a linebacker to become a long-term starter. An astounding 77% of all three-year starters at the linebacker position ran a 4.75 second or better 40-yard dash. When you consider it, this is not a shocking revelation. A faster, stronger player will always be more likely to succeed than a slower, weaker player.
It is nice, however, to be able to attach definitive numbers to each drill. This makes it much easier for talent evaluators to identify what "fast" and "strong" really mean. Villiotti's predictive model is not infallible though. There will always be some players who surpass these statistical marks and still end up failures.
Likewise, there will always be some players who fall short of these benchmarks and become starters. One has to look no further than the Bengals to see this principal in action. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict ran a plodding 5.09 second 40-yard dash and jumped a meager 30 inches in the vertical jump at the combine before blossoming into the team's best linebacker of 2012.
Still, Villiotti's numbers are compelling. With over ten years of data on his side, its hard to deny the correlations. At the very least, Villiotti's guide offers us a baseline for comparison and definitely merits some consideration during next week's scouting combine.