Does the Combine Predict Success?
This study by Anthony J Villiotti will:
• Put the draft into the proper perspective
• Examine the outcome of drafts from 2012 through 2022
• Evaluate the draft performance of NFL teams and selected colleges
• Review difference among draft years
• Comment on constructing a competitive NFL roster
Now that the NFL Combine is over, there will be a lot of discussion about Combine performances. Player X ran faster than expected, while Player Z was slower. There will be conjecture about how a player’s Combine results affected their draft standing. In actuality, it is hard to say whether it does or not. Most scouts say that it does not, but it is not hard to find cases where that apparently happened. One that comes to mind is Troy Apke who blew up the Combine and ended up as a 3rd round selection. Going into the Combine he was projected among draftnik “experts” to go much later.
Many say that the most significant impact from the Combine comes from the health exams and personal interviews, and not the on-field drills. I tend to agree with that. The Combine is entertaining for the hardcore fans, though, and provides off-season entertainment leading into free agency and the draft.
There have been articles written about which drills are more important for particular positions. A 2020 Sports Illustrated article suggested the following:
Broad jump is important for RBs because it measures power.
Vertical jump is important for receivers and safties because they will be in the air competing for a catch.
The 20-yard shuttle measures lateral movement and agility and is important for receivers.
This sounds logical, but is it the case? In this article we will address whether there are any common denominators in Combine results that might predict future success. In the past few months, our database has been expanded to include historical Combine results for drafted players and, where Combine results were not available, results from pro days.
For this article, I have calculated averages for the drills for playing position by classification. This includes all players drafted between 2012 and 2020. It should be noted that some players decide not to participate in some or all of the drills and other drafted players were not invited. While not reflected in the tables, ranges and the median for each position, drill and classification were also reviewed. The results of that review, when relevant, show up in the comments.
As a reminder, here are the classifications that are used in our analysis.
The short answer to the question of whether Combine results predict future performance is that it does not. That is not a surprising finding, but we have quantified the results for each playing position. There are some observations worth noting, though, and they are included in the comments following each table. No numbers are shown if there were less than five data points.
While the Major Contributors tend to do better in the Broad Jump and 3 Cone drill, this position comes down to things not measured in the drills like arm strength, touch, decision making and football IQ. I’m not sure why throwing velocity is not reported by the NFL, as that might be useful information. I’m sure teams measure that.