Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Analyzing the Details of the NFL Combine

Every year the NFL scouting combine is attended by all 32 NFL teams, scouts, coaches, trainers and owners. They watch prospective players run 40 yard sprints, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 3 cone drill and shuttle run. They are there to get an in depth analysis of the college and invited players who they plan on drafting.

Now that the 2010 NFL draft is completed, with quarterback Sam Bradford going first and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh going second, how much does the scouting combine affect the results of the draft?

As many of the college football players entering the draft have been in the spotlight for a couple of years at least, most scouts and coaches know what to expect from each player. If the scouts impression of a safety is that he is fast on the field when covering a wide receiver, he is unlikely to change his mind when the player runs only 4.45 in the combines 40 yard dash (a great time would be under 4.4).

Sticking with the 40 yard dash, each football position has a different requirement. A running back, wide receiver or safety may be required to run 40 or even 60 or 80 yards as quickly as possible. The speed at which they cover the ground is what makes them great.

The defensive and offensive linemen on the other hand are expected to have excellent reaction time and acceleration over 5 or maybe 10 yards. They need to hunt down quarterbacks or hold back defensive tackles. Their 40 yard time is almost irrelevant, but their reaction time and acceleration will be critical to their performance on the field.

The trainers watching the combine know what to look for and are using video replay to analyze the athletes' performances in much more detail.

A recent episode of Sports Science did a great job of getting into the analysis of the results of the NFL scouting combine. Below is some video of Ndamukong Suh and some detailed analysis of his 40 yard dash and his tackle force. As a defensive tackle Suh's job is to react quickly, accelerate over a short distance and hit hard. This Sports Science segment does a great job analyzing these specific details.

What is interesting in the video is Suh's reaction time recorded by the Sports Science episode at 0.26 seconds. In an analysis of Usain Bolt, the 100 and 200 meter sprint world record holder, Bolt's reaction time for his world record 100 m was recorded as 0.145 seconds. Of course Bolt is a lean sprinter, using blocks and spikes and Suh is not, so this is not a fair comparison.

However the standardized tests and gathering of all potential recruits on the same day at the same time at the combine, allows trainers and coaches to compare all defensive tackles with the type of detailed analysis seen in the video. Suh's reaction time in comparison to other defensive tackles is what will be relevant, although his 300+ pound frame and tackling power will also be important.

The scouts expect the players they are scouting to perform to spec and very few players can change their draft position with any significance based on excellent performance at the combine. The detailed analysis that we do not see may however determine which team takes which player and how their NFL contracts are negotiated.

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