Josh Norris

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2018 NFL Combine Preview

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


“Honestly, I enjoy the event for the spectacle that it is. Entertainment that puts prospects on an even playing field.”


I wrote those words four years ago when previewing the 2014 NFL Combine. It could have been worse. I could have called the on-field workouts meaningless or termed it “the underwear Olympics.”


Now, more than ever, I think Combine results matter. In fact, I know they do. Teams use athletic testing in a variety of ways and many times with success. There are definitely examples of “workout warriors” being selected early and failing, but that can be said for any style of evaluation.


We will be highlighting content which focuses on athletic testing after the Combine. Many resources do not receive enough attention. Like Mock Draftable’s visual representations, Zach Whitman’s findings on SPARQ and Justis Mosqueda’s Force Players among others.


Yes, for teams the medicals and interviews matter to a great degree. But we do not receive that information, therefore my focus will be on the numbers generated from this week. Above all, context and perspective are important.


As Zach Whitman put it - “Metrics don’t need to be perfect if we do a good job of understanding what they’re saying and what they miss.”


Link Aggregation


This draft season will focus on quarterbacks. This piece from Tom Pelissero might be the best reporting of multiple NFL views on each quarterback, specifically the biggest questions facing each.


The variety in opinions is startling. Remember, when trusting an anonymous scout’s character assessment, you are trusting someone you’ve never met to diagnose, evaluate and describe the personality of another person you have never met. That can be a slippery slope and very dangerous to regurgitate. Plus, there are 300-plus personnel people in the NFL. How often can you find that many people to agree on something?


During this week in Indianapolis NFL teams acquire a gross amount of information. Emulating NFL scouts is difficult, but the closest we have in the media is Dane Brugler. Follow him on Twitter. His look at fumble rates is important work.


As Conor Orr points out, the NFL Combine is hosting 10 more defensive backs than last year and almost 20 more than back in 2011. “Finally,” one NFL evaluator told Orr. “It’s a product of college offenses—so many DBs need to be on the field to defend today.” In the same piece, Conor asked me to give one name of a prospect who will shine in Indianapolis. There was a clear answer: NC State edge rusher Kentavius Street. I think he is a top seven prospect at his position.


If you are curious what positional averages are for each position at the NFL Combine, this Rotoviz link is a good resource.


If you are in to Combine prop bets, Lamar Jackson’s 4.35 o/u forty seems fast. At quarterback since 2006, Reggie McNeal ran a 4.35, Robert Griffin III ran a 4.41 and Marcus Vick ran a 4.42. I really like Derrius Guice, but I highly doubt he hits his 4.38 o/u. For comparison, Jamaal Charles ran 4.38 back in 2008. Also, Vita Vea over a 4.90 forty seems like a solid wager.


For the first time I can remember, corners and safeties are split into groups during defensive back workout day (Monday).


Finally, here is my favorite tweet of the week. It applies to this event and the draft process in so many ways.



Composite Scores


Combine results are often cited as individual figures. The 40-yard dash has been considered the “universal measurement” for decades.


What if there was a better way? What if we recognized that the forty is just one of seven or eight or nine meaningful results, and a potentially better way of interpreting athleticism is through a composite score which factors in outcomes along with weight.


SPARQ is the best example, and Zach Whitman has years and years, thousands and thousands of scores built up in his database so prospects each year can be compared to their predecessors. Great scores obviously stand out, but it is important to note that an average NFL athlete is not a negative. In fact, acknowledging non-NFL caliber athleticism might be most important. Whenever I discuss a player’s athleticism, I am referencing these scores rather than just their forty time.


A composite score combines all measurements and factors in weight, as a 230 pound running back recording a 41-inch vertical jump is more impressive than a 205 pound running back producing the same result.


Again, let’s stop clinging on to single forty times when explaining a player’s athleticism. Instead, cite composite scores as other tests can be equally important.


Thresholds


Some of the most important measurements have already been recorded prior to prospects touching the field in Lucas Oil Stadium. Heights, weights, hand size, arm length and wingspans can all be important for this reason: thresholds.


My perception of minimums and thresholds changed after reading this piece. If it needed to be funneled into a single line, one stands out: “Big picture wise, you want to play with the odds, not against the odds.” In this case, the odds mean siding with prospects who possess the measurements that are successful in a specific scheme deployed by the team.


An example is the Seattle Seahawks at cornerback. The last six corners Seattle drafted all possess arms 32-inches or longer. How can this impact their evaluation process? At the Senior Bowl, of the 14 or so prospects on the roster who were listed at corner, six had arms 32-inches or longer. So, the Seahawks (among other teams) go from focusing on 14 outside CB prospects down to six, theoretically improving the evaluations of that group with more time spent. Now, the others who project to the slot will be evaluated separately, but you get my point.


Taking it one step further, @Alistaircorp notes there were 13 (of around 40) cornerbacks at the Shrine, NFLPA and Senior Bowl with 32-plus inch arms. Again, some teams are able to narrow their evaluations down from 40 to 13 for outside corners.


Other teams don’t take it as far as to eliminate prospects completely but link certain tests with specific positions. Like the 3-cone drill for Patriots’ corners.


Will this mean some teams miss on quality players who do not fit within the parameters? Absolutely, but these decision makers are banking on good process to win in the end.


Short-Area Quickness


These next two sections are singular testing results that best project future success for certain positions. I am far less attached to these than in previous years, but it has been a tradition in highlighting them… so I will continue.


First is the 20-yard shuttle for offensive linemen. Here are 14 of the top 20 performances since 2006:

Eagles C Jason Kelce (4.14), Ex-Colts C Samson Satele (4.29), Bengals T Jake Fisher (4.33), Panthers C Ryan Kalil (4.34), Patriots OT Nate Solder(4.34), Ex-Jets C Nick Mangold (4.36), Colts OT Anthony Castonzo (4.40), Bears OT Charles Leno (4.40), Vikings G Brandon Fusco (4.43), Chiefs T Eric Fisher (4.44), Browns G Joel Bitonio (4.44), Texans G Xavier Su’a-Filo (4.44), Packers OL Jason Spriggs (4.44)  and longtime T Eric Winston (4.44).


Bruce Feldman believes Connor Williams could approach a 4.55, but that would not qualify for this list. No one qualified last year,


The other event that best projects success if among the top performers since 2006 is the 3-cone drill for edge pass rushers. Bears’ Sam Acho (6.69), Raiders’ Bruce Irvin (6.70), Broncos’ Von Miller (6.70), Ravens’ Tyus Bowser (6.75), Redskins’ Trent Murphy (6.78), Steelers’ T.J. Watt (6.79), Chargers’ Melvin Ingram (6.83), Jets’ Kony Ealy (6.83), Patriots’ Barkevious Mingo (6.84), Bengals’ Jordan Willis (6.85), Rams’ Connor Barwin (6.87), Texans’ J.J. Watt (6.88), Chargers’ Joey Bosa (6.89) and Vikings’ Brian Robison (6.89) make up 14 of the top 19 times.


Three prospects in the 2017 Draft qualified: Tyus Bowser, T.J. Watt and Jordan Willis.


Cliff Avril and Clay Matthews just missed with a 6.90. Anthony Barr, who now plays off the ball, registered a 6.82 a few years ago. Again, both of these are only including NFL Combine participants. Obviously all are not “hits,” but the rate of success (of varying degrees based on expectations) in comparison to other positions is high.


Web Of Truths


Thanks to Mock Draftable for packaging Combine results into a pretty picture.


If you have a few hours, go through the site’s database and try to pick out big-name players and see if their Combine results match where they win. Take Patriots’ WR Julian Edelman for example.



When comparing his performance with other WRs ranging from 2000 to 2017, Edelman posted an average 40, vertical, etc. But look at the 3-cone and short shuttle. He thrives when changing direction, which aligns with "where he wins."




Josh Norris is an NFL Draft Analyst for Rotoworld and contributed to the Rams scouting department during training camp of 2010 and the 2011 NFL Draft. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Josh Norris



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