Bill Walsh

Wide Receiver Primer: What to watch at next week’s NFL Combine

By Guest Contributor Scott Warfe

The short answer to this question: very little.

The long answer is, well, as follows:

In researching the correlation between Combine success and NFL success for skill players, Frank E. Kuzmits and Arthur J. Adams of the University of Louisville found that “combine exercises are not correlated with success for quarterbacks and wide receivers.” Specifically, in comparing wide receiver success to combine performance, Kuzmits and Adams found that “[games] played and average yards per reception seem unrelated to all of the combine variables,” namely the 40-yard dash. In fact, only one area can be successfully predicted by speed: salary.

But this relationship is not as intuitive as you might think, as the Kuzmits and Adams found that the slower players had higher third-year salaries. This seems implausible, given the success of such speedsters as DeSean Jackson, Mike Wallace, Roddy White, etc. Yet, as shown below, “track speed”—as Bill Walsh termed it—rarely translates to game speed.

To illustrate this, consider the following breakdown of NFL players drafted from 2008-2010. Notice the relationship between 40-time, draft position, and NFL success.

2008 Top Four Combine Performers (40-Yard Dash):

2008 Top Four NFL Players:

2009 Top Four Combine Performers (40-Yard Dash):

2009 Top Four NFL Players:

2010 Top Four Combine Performers (40-Yard Dash):

2010 Top Four NFL Players:

In general, aside from Desean Jackson, Mike Wallace, and Johnny Knox, there is very little correlation between 40-times and NFL success. What’s more, as shown, there is no corollary between 40-time and draft position. Granted, it does appear that faster 40-times do positively effect draft position, but the effect is not substantial. Indeed, Daniel W Robbins of the University of Sydney, Australia, confirms this, as he found that “statistically significant relationships between the various performance measures and draft order [were] scarce.”

So, if the combine predicts neither NFL success nor draft position, then why doesn’t it go the way of Crystal PepsiTM, Laserdiscs, Alicia Silverstone, and all the other relics of the past? Click here to find out, as well as the two tests Walsh relied on above all others during the evaluation process.

In addition to blogging on, Scott has been featured, and Follow him on Twitter@ScottWarfe.

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