by Jeremy Brown
The NFL Season may be over, but the work is just beginning for GMs, coaches, and hopeful draftees. The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 23, but the NFL Scouting Combine
takes priority first. General managers, coaches, player personnel, and team medical staff from around the league have been watching film and evaluating players that fit their
teams’ needs since the end of the 2019-2020 season. That process eventually results in an intense, four-day job interview known as the NFL Scouting Combine.
The workouts and measurements documented at the combine obviously have some effect on draft stock. The analytics of a player’s performance is all but necessary in today’s
game. Gil Brandt, a Dallas Cowboys’ executive from the 1960 to 1988 and known as the originator of analytics, enlisted the help of Salam Qureishi, a computer programmer
associated with IBM who had a background at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Brandt and Qureishi reduced everything to five dimensions: character, quickness
relative to body-control, competitiveness, mental alertness and strength/explosiveness.
“We devised a system where we assigned different weights to the five areas based on the different positions,” Brandt said.
Back in the day, this kind of computer analysis was way before its time. Eventually, other teams recognized the success of the Cowboys and followed suit by breaking down the
analytics of a player. Thus, the NFL combine was born. The first NFL Combine was held in 1982 in Tampa, Florida.
But how much does the NFL Combine actually affect draft prospects today? Multiple studies have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of combine drills in how it will
predict future success for certain positions. For example, the factor that most predicted a wide receiver’s future success was height and vertical leap. Obviously, high-
pointing a pass and jumping over defenders is necessary to be a good wide receiver in the NFL. It was not hand size or speed or how fast the receiver can change direction.
These studies were conducted on multiple players in multiple positions, and it was discovered that analysis suggests the combine can predict about 20-25 percent of a player's
future NFL success.
There are plenty of examples for both sides.
Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.
Manning: #1 overall pick with an illustrious college career and then pro career.
Tom Brady: drafted in the sixth round, 199th overall and has now rewritten history as the quarterback with the most wins all time, Superbowl victories and appearances.
More recently, Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Tyreek Hill.
OBJ: 12th overall pick, fastest player ever to 200 receptions and 4,000 reception yards.
Hill: 165th overall, fastest receiver in the NFL, Superbowl champion
There are plenty of busts, too. Ryan Leaf was the second overall draft pick in 1998 behind Peyton Manning but never proved himself on the field in the NFL. Tim Couch, first
overall pick of the 1999 draft, never amounted to anything. Both of these players rode the coattails of a great college career and combine workout but never found success in
First-round draft talent speaks for itself. These players that have proven on the field their capabilities as players. Projected number one pick Joe Burrow from LSU was
recently told he had small hands and that the ball was more prone to slip out of his hands. You know who else was told he had small hands? Patrick Mahomes. NFL MVP, 5,000
yards / 50 touchdown club, Superbowl winning, 1st Team All-Pro boy wonder Patrick Mahomes was evaluated as having small hands, poor footwork, and an inability to adjust to a
pro-style offense. Now that is a freezing cold take.
There is a plethora of evidence and data to suggest that doing well at the NFL Combine can improve a player’s draft stock. That can be true for 3rd round picks and beyond. But
drafting a player is a healthy mix of analytics, eye test, and team fit. The combine is just a tool to try and eliminate risk factor for drafting bad players, but you won’t
really know that until you see them play on the field.
So sometimes you go with the safe pick, sometimes you take a chance. The combine is absolutely helpful but not the final deciding factor. You never know who is going to be the
next Tony Romo, or Dak Prescott, or possibly the next JaMarcus Russell.