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NFL Scouting Combine: What We Should Care About

What is important from the NFL Scouting Combine, and what isn’t?

Bryce Young

The NFL Scouting Combine is a marquee event in the NFL Draft process and rookie draft process for us dynasty lovers. Hundreds of the top players from all levels of college programs are invited to a single location to show off their athletic abilities and there is a ton of information for us to gather from it. Discerning what information is actually meaningful to us is perhaps the most important part of analyzing the combine results and that’s what I’m here to do today.

Height and weights

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way now: heights and weights. It’s no secret that college programs get are basically like pro wrestling federations when it comes to listing player’s sizes and that they are quite frequently smaller than what’s listed. It may not seem like much but this difference can change the type of profile a player has.

Bryce Young weighing in at 204 pounds was a big deal. It was widely accepted that Young had been playing around 185 pounds and no quarterback weighing so little had been drafted highly in the NFL Draft let alone gone on to find success. On the flip side, Zach Evans came into the combine at 5’11” and 203 pounds after being listed as 6’0” and 215 pounds by Ole Miss, which really matters for what kind of workload we can project him for in the NFL. One of the knocks on Evans entering the evaluation process is that he never actually commanded a large part of his backfield’s opportunities. Now that we know he’s only 203 pounds, perhaps that’s part of the reason why.

Finding out real heights and weights can also put a new perspective on a player’s film. Quentin Johnston looking extremely nimble for someone who was listed as 6’4” and 215 pounds isn’t quite as impressive when you find out he’s actually 6’3” and 208 pounds. It’s still very good, just not as impressive as we thought it was.

‘They are who we thought they were’

Next, we need to remind ourselves of the famous Dennis Green quote: “They are who we thought they were!” If you’ve been on Twitter anytime recently, I’m sure you’ve seen someone saying: “Make sure not to double count!” What they’re referring to is inflating a player’s stock for doing what we expected them to do.

If a player ran a fast 40-yard dash time when one of the reasons we were excited about them was the fact that they were expected to be very fast, we shouldn’t raise their stock because of it. They did exactly what we thought they would do. An instance of this is Anthony Richardson. Richardson came into the draft as a raw quarterback but with tantalizing athleticism and running ability. Him running a 4.43-second 40-yard dash and having a 40.5” vertical jump is amazing but it shouldn’t change your evaluation, as we knew he was a unique athlete. Even with those testing numbers being better than expected, it doesn’t change who he is as a prospect, it doesn’t change his ability on the field.

Now, when a player does not test the way they are expected to, we should take notice. Tyler Scott running a 4.44-second 40-yard dash, which was 13th best for wide receivers at the combine, was a disappointment. Scott, who has been seen as more of a dart throw later in rookie drafts type of prospect, was expected to compete for the best time amongst wide receivers and needed to do so as it was what his profile is really relying on.

The positional drills

The other big part of the combine is the positional drills which, surprisingly, do have some noise to them. It’s important to remember that there’s no defense being played at the combine. Wide receivers aren’t being pressed at the line when they start a route. Quarterbacks don’t have a defensive end barreling at them as they step into a throw. Running backs are hitting holes that don’t close. These aspects need to be taken into account when watching players run through their drills.

I know some of you out there right now are thinking to yourself: “But Wyatt, I’m not a scout, I don’t know what I’m looking for.” I’m no scout either but there still are things we can pick up from watching the drills. How accurate is each quarterback’s ball placement? Is the wide receiver catching their pass in stride or do they have to slow down for the throw? Are the wide receivers and tight ends making solid hand catches or are they letting footballs get in close to their body? How sudden are the wide receivers in and out of their breaks when running routes? How quickly are the running backs reacting to the direction changes in their drills? Are the running backs covering the ball when running through “traffic” and carrying it in their outside arm when running to one side of the field?

These kinds of nuances are something you likely know to look for without realizing it just from watching football.

What shall we do with the info?

Okay, so now you’ve analyzed the combine, what do you do with that information? This is when I work to finalize my pre-NFL Draft rookie rankings tiers. We now have almost all the information we will get apart from draft capital.

Of course, we will have information to update after pro days happen but that’s also why I like to build my tiers now. I take less from drills that happen at pro days because they’re done in a way to help make the players more comfortable and perform better. They’re normally on their home field running through the drills with their former teammates and coaches – it’s set up for them to succeed. But, we do get some updated testing numbers for players who didn’t do certain tests at the combine which we need.

Once you have your rookie rankings tiers, you can start to identify the areas of your rookie drafts that you want to be in. If you think there’s a clear tier gap after the 1.05, and you have the 1.06, perhaps you’re trying to find a way to move up into that elite tier or trying to trade back to the end of your current tier to pick up an extra asset while staying in line to get a similar level of prospect.

The really important part of getting your rankings tiers ready for the NFL Draft, though, is to help prevent yourself from overreacting to draft capital. For my rookie rankings tiers, in almost all cases, players don’t move between tiers because of draft capital. They only move up and down within their tier. A player would have to have a drastically different draft capital than what’s projected for them for me to abandon my pre-NFL Draft evaluation.

To me, it’s important not to be a prisoner of the moment. When Tyrion Davis-Price was drafted in the third round of last year’s NFL Draft, I didn’t move him up to being a borderline second-round pick in my rookie rankings like some people did because that would have made him jump up a tier. I felt strongly that Davis-Price wasn’t a quality prospect and stuck to that keeping him in the fourth round of my rankings.

Hopefully, after today, you’ll be able to view the combine through the correct lens to better help you prepare for your upcoming rookie drafts. Rookie evaluation is not easy, but knowing the correct things to look for will go a long way in helping you work towards being proficient at it and when you can draft well in your rookie drafts, you can gain a significant advantage on your leaguemates.

NFL Scouting Combine: What We Should Care About
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