At the end of every February, hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts, doctors, and staff members flock to Indianapolis. At the same time, die hard football fans start to show the effects of rookie fever and flock to their TVs to set their DVRs for the NFL Combine.
When you stop to think about it, it really is a strange phenomenon.
We watch these young men run, jump, and lift over and over again. They get measured like prize cattle and prodded by team doctors to see if they fit the bill. The only issue is that no one really knows exactly what to look for in these measurements! Some NFL teams are known to have a strong affinity for one measurement over the others (for example, Oakland and 40 yard dash times) and there are a ton of commonly held beliefs such as quarterbacks needing to be 6’2” or taller to succeed. What exactly does the combine mean to us, the dynasty fantasy footballer? Sure, faster and bigger is better. But the question that I’ve always had is exactly how fast is fast enough? Is it just a fast 40 or do I need to look at cone, shuttle, 10 yard splits, and everything else too?
I decided to delve into these questions by looking at what seems to be one of the most difficult positions to predict for fantasy players and NFL teams – the wide receiver. My goal was to figure out what measurements mean the most and see if there were any trends that might help us increase our odds of getting that next big receiver and lessen the chances of drafting yet another wide receiver bust.
To start this process, I took the top 25 scoring receivers in a PPR format from the 2011 season. I then tracked down as much of their NFL combine (or pro day info when the combine didn’t apply or wasn’t complete) data as possible, so I was comparing pre-draft specs to pre-draft specs. For some of the older players in the top 25 (like Reggie Wayne and Brandon Lloyd), this was a bit more difficult as combine data from 5-10 years ago was a lot more sparse than it is now. Even with that issue, I was able to put together quite the list of data for pretty much all the top 25 in the following measurements:
2.) Relative body size (pounds per inch)
3.) Hand size
4.) 40 yard dash time
5.) Vertical leap
6.) Broad jump
7.) 20 yard shuttle
8.) 3 cone drill
Once I had that list, I was able to find the maximum, minimum, and average for each physical measurement so that I knew what I was looking for in rookie WRs. A rookie receiver who was better than the average of the top 25 was awarded a “point” while a rookie receiver who was below the minimum of the top 25 lost a “point.” If a measurement was between the average and the minimum, no “points” were awarded or deducted. Using this method, I was able to come up with a list of receivers who have the physical tools that are closest to the top 25 WRs from last year, as well as eliminate several receivers who just don’t fit the bill using this data.
The only non-physical trait that I looked at (because I noticed a pattern) was round drafted. Of the top 25, nearly half of them were first round picks. The rest of the rounds, including undrafted receivers, had 2-3 receivers each with the exception of round 5 (no top 25 receivers). Given the disproportionate number of top 25 receivers from the first round, a bonus point was given to receivers taken in the first round of the NFL draft since they seem more likely to make it to that level.
1) There was one top 25 WR that seems to be the exception to everything – Wes Welker. According to the analysis (-3 for a score), he is too small, too slow, and his jumps are way under par, yet he excels in the league. I would like to think of him as the exception that proves the rule. Anyone could be a top 25 WR; however, what are the chances that we will find someone exactly like Wes Welker again? Not very likely.
2) Low scores don’t mean NFL failure, just that they don’t possess the tools to make it to the top 25 level. They could still very productive NFL WRs and worthy of a roster spot. After all, pretty much all fantasy WR3s and flex play guys on most rosters are outside of the top 25 WRs.
3) The combine drills only measure physical skills. I did not look at or consider any of the other things that go into player evaluation such as injury history, character issues, college production, intelligence, work ethic, or situation. You’ll need to use these things to round out your own evaluation.
4) I am NOT guaranteeing the success of a WR with a high score. I am just saying that physically they meet the qualifications of a top 25 WR.
5) Failing in one measurement seems to be okay as 8 of the top 25 were deficient in one area. However, only one top 25 WR was deficient in two areas (aside from Wes Welker), and that was Antonio Brown.
6) In a lot of cases, we are talking about differences of hundredths of seconds. Take all measurements with a grain of salt.
I think that covers it, so now it’s on to the results!
After looking at the top 25 PPR WRs from last year, I found these to be the bare minimum physical requirements. Remember, a WR seems to be able to make up for being deficient in one area; however, those deficient in more than one area aren’t very likely to ever be top 25 WRs.
In order to be a top 25 WR, the numbers show you should meet the following:
Height – At least 71” (5’11”)
Size – At least 2.6 pounds per inch
Hand Size – At least 9”
40 yard dash – Under 4.58 seconds
Vertical Leap – At least 32”
Broad Jump – At least 120” (10 feet)
20 yard shuttle – Under 4.4 seconds
3 cone drill – Under 7.1 seconds
The average of the top 25 WRs is:
Height – 73.25” (6’ 1.25”)
Size – 2.83 lbs/inch
Hand – 9.5”
40 yard dash – 4.47 seconds
Vertical Leap – 36.7 inches
Broad Jump – 124.2 inches (10’ 4.2”)
20 yard shuttle – 4.24 seconds
3 cone drill – 6.96 seconds
Highest scoring WRs in 2012 class (deficient area if any):
7 points – Alshon Jeffery, AJ Jenkins
6 points – Greg Childs, Michael Floyd, Stephen Hill (shuttle), Mohamed Sanu (40 yard)
5 points – Justin Blackmon, Keshawn Martin, Marvin McNutt, DeVier Posey, Tommy Streeter
4 points – Nick Toon, Marvin Jones (vertical), Chris Owusu (hand size), Devon Wylie (Height)
2012 WRs who did not score 4+ and have multiple deficient areas (Very slim chance of being top 25 according to the data):
Kendall Wright (Height, Hand size, 40 time)
TY Hilton – Lowest score of the class at -3
Chris Givens (hand size, jumps)
Travis Benjamin – Second lowest score (height, size, hand size, jumps)
Joe Adams (Height, size)
*Again, not saying they won’t be NFL productive. They just likely won’t be fantasy WR1/2 level productive if history repeats itself.
Highest scoring WRs in 2011 class (deficient area if any):
10 points – Julio Jones
9 points – Jon Baldwin
8 points – AJ Green
7 points – Greg Little
6 points – Greg Salas, Leonard Hankerson (vertical)
5 points – Clyde Gates, Torrey Smith (Hand size)
4 points – Kris Durham (shuttle), Denarius Moore (vertical), Austin Pettis (40 time)
This analysis falls in line with the general idea that last year’s receiver class was truly special at the top end, but there wasn’t a lot of depth. While this year’s group doesn’t have that elite top end group, it does have a very solid group of WRs (11 WRs between 5-7 points in 2012 vs five in 2011). Again, keep in mind, I’m not promising success for those with high point totals as there are a lot of other things that go into the equation such as work ethic, injuries, and situation. I’m just saying that they fit the profile of a top 25 WR.
Just for reference, here are the point totals for the top 25:
10 points – Megatron and Julio Jones
9 points – None
8 points – Roddy White, Larry Fitzgerald, AJ Green
7 points – Dwayne Bowe, Hakeem Nicks
6 points – Victor Cruz, Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Dez Bryant
5 points – Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Laurent Robinson
4 points – Reggie Wayne, Brandon Marshall
3 points – Marques Colston, Steve Smith, Stevie Johnson
Under 3 – Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown, Wes Welker
*Nate Washington and Brandon Lloyd were excluded due to lack of data on them.
After looking at the data, two things stood out to me.
First, the common belief that big guys don’t need to be as fast was not backed up by the analysis. In fact, when looking at the receivers in the top 25 who were 6’2” or more, they were actually slightly faster in the 40 yard dash and cone drill than those under 6’2”. None of the differences between “big” receivers and small ones were significant, aside from the broad jump. Big WRs averaged a full 7 inches more than their smaller counterparts.
Second, I unfortunately wasn’t able to find that one measurement that seems to be more important than the others (though the jumps seem to weed out more people than anything else), but rather a combination of all of them that paves the way to success.
That is it for this study – I hope this profile helps you in your evaluation of rookie receivers so you can find the next great one instead of the next big bust!