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Shutdown Corner's Overrated and Underrated: Combine metric

Johnny Manziel Combine
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Johnny Manziel at the combine (USA Today Sports Images)

This offseason, Shutdown Corner's Frank Schwab and Eric Edholm will look into what is overrated and underrated in all aspects of the NFL. We fully expect your angry emails and comments that are sure to follow.

OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED: Combine metric

OVERRATED

Eric Edholm: 40-yard dash

It’s the most watched event at the NFL combine. We gear up for men in tights and track cleats that they will never wear on a football field, covering a distance they almost never will cover on a football field, save for running down kickoffs.

But why?

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Sammy Watkins runs the 40 at the combine (AP)

Sammy Watkins runs the 40 at the combine (AP)

I am not saying the 40 doesn’t have its value. But it’s way too ballyhooed for, frankly, something that doesn’t measure or simulate very accurate football conditions.

You’re seeing smart evaluators put more stock in the 10-yard splits — how fast they are for the first quarter of the race — as a measure of burst and explosion. That I get, especially for linemen, linebackers and defensive backs, the bulk of whose work is performed in such shorter-spaced situations.

Jerry Rice said the 40 is overrated, and I tend to agree with him, even though Rice tends to harp on the few things he’s criticized for — long speed being a rare example.

Still, he has a point. For years, we’ve unfairly boosted the stock of some sprinters whose speed never really made a big impact in the NFL — sub-4.3 guys such as Stephen Hill, Josh Robinson, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey who either couldn’t play worth a lick or spent too much time in the trainer’s tub.

Frank Schwab: Wonderlic

Nobody seems to understand why the Wonderlic, a supposed intelligence test that has about as little to do with football as making players take the bar exam, is even part of the pre-draft process.

It is not a way to predict who will be good at football. The only thing the Wonderlic does is cause embarrassment for players whose low scores are inevitably leaked to the media. Considering how the results of the supposedly private (and nonsensical, for football purposes) test gets made public every year, it’s kind of curious why someone — NFLPA, a group of powerful agents, the prospects themselves — haven’t told NFL teams that it is boycotting the test as a group.

It wouldn’t matter if teams couldn't administer the Wonderlic. The test, which has a maximum score of 50, has virtually no use. San Francisco running back Frank Gore reportedly scored a 6. Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert had a 42. So, yeah. It's just given as another way for teams to exert their control over prospects at the combine, really.

So remember when you hear about the Wonderlic test scores next year that they serve no purpose and only cause grief when someone gives all the scores to the media. It’s a wonder why the players still agree to take it.

UNDERRATED

EE: Three-cone drill

None of the fabricated, sterile combine drills can accurately simulate football conditions. But if there’s one that can come the closest, it’s this one.

You can train for the three-cone and get better at it with more reps, sure, but unlike the 40-yard dash or any of the jumping drills, it’s a multiple-movement operation that’s not performed in a straight line, much like actual game conditions.

Sometimes a slower 40 time can label a player as “slow,” but a strong 3-cone time often can indicate that they have the necessary short-area quickness to thrive. Some examples: Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta ran a pedestrian 40 time (4.68) in 2010 but a strong 3-cone time (6.72) that shows he could move just fine. The same for Stevan Ridley in 2011 (a 4.65 40 and a 6.78 3-cone) and Brian Hartline in 2009 (4.52, 6.65).

Look, it’s not a flawless metric. Some of the top finishers the past few seasons have not become great NFL players. But it appears to be a more accurate and telling representation of the kind of athleticism that’s required to play in the league.

 


FS: Vertical and broad jump

How often do football players run 40 yards? As Eric said, the three-cone drill better replicates football movement than the 40-yard dash. The vertical and broad jumps don’t really replicate what a player does on the field most of the time, but those two metrics do measure what is perhaps most important on an NFL field: short-area burst.

Vertical jump and broad jump are great indicators of lower-body strength and the ability to burst off the ball in a small space. Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, Atlanta receiver Julio Jones and 49ers safety Eric Reid are among the top 10 performers in the broad jump at the combine since 2006. Chiefs safety Eric Berry and 49ers tight end Vernon Davis are among the vertical jump leaders. There are a lot of busts among those leaders too, but no combine metric is going to give teams a clear answer on who will be a good or disappointing NFL player. Any combine metric is one small piece of a huge puzzle.

But, if I need to pick a couple pieces of the puzzle that should be a tiny bit larger than they are now, give me the broad and vertical jump.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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