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NFL Combine Cautionary Tale (2020 Fantasy Football)

Feb 24, 2020

Verticals and shuttles and 40’s, oh my! The 2020 NFL Combine is finally upon us (February 23 – March 2), an event which will provide a stage in Indianapolis for all incoming rookies to display their physical abilities through several on-field events. This is an opportunity for players to make an impact and jockey for position in the upcoming NFL draft, which is just two months away. While this event is fun for the fans and allows the players an opportunity to make a lasting impression on 32 franchises both on and off the field, as dynasty fantasy football players, we need to ensure we keep things in perspective.

This is the time of year when we use anything we possibly can to support the narrative that “our guy” is the next rookie sensation and perennial star in the NFL. This can include anything from a player’s interview skills to on-field display, or even a shirtless gym selfie that takes the internet by storm. While I am not one to put too much stock in any one event, the combine as a whole can certainly be worthwhile. This is the players’ chance to show what they bring to the table compared to their peers in standardized events. Of course, we look at the college resumes and there are so many variables including strength of schedule, market share, supporting cast, etc. The combine pits prospects up against each other on a level playing field and allows us to compare apples to apples.

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When thinking about writing a piece related to the NFL Combine, I was going in several different directions. One thing I wanted to look at was certain thresholds met by incoming rookies in various events and the impact it might have had on draft capital/NFL production. We all know that NFL production is extremely scarce when looking at running backs and wide receivers taken after Round 3 of the NFL draft. So I wanted to take a look at the impact that Combine testing might have on draft capital and measurables that might push a running back or wide receiver out of the first three rounds. Below is what I found when looking at all data from the 2015 to 2019 NFL Combines.

RB not taken in first three rounds if: WR not taken in first three rounds if:
40 over 4.67 40 over 4.7
Vertical under 28.5 Vertical under 31
Bench under 10 Bench under 10
Broad Jump under 112 Broad Jump under 110
3 Cone over 7.32 3 Cone over 7.38
Shuttle over 4.53 Shuttle over 4.5
RB not taken in first two rounds if: WR not taken in first two rounds if:
40 over 4.61 40 over 4.7
Vertical under 28.5 Vertical under 31
Bench under 10 Bench under 10
Broad Jump under 116 Broad Jump under 110
3 Cone over 7.27 3 Cone over 7.38
Shuttle over 4.53 Shuttle over 4.5
RB not taken in first round if: WR not taken in first round if:
40 over 4.54 40 over 4.53
Vertical under 28.5 Vertical under 31
Bench under 10 Bench under 10
Broad Jump under 118 Broad Jump over 110
3 Cone over 7.04 3 Cone over 6.95
Shuttle over 4.24 Shuttle over 4.41

In a nutshell, if any of the thresholds stated above were not met, then that player was not drafted in that particular round. For example, over the last five years, we have not seen a wide receiver run over a 4.53 40-yard dash and be taken in the first round of the NFL draft. It’s clear that certain measurables seem to have very little impact on both NFL draft capital and long-term NFL production. As you can see above, bench reps seem to carry little weight (no pun intended) on predicting both draft capital and production. While we certainly want to see our favorite prospects test well and hit certain thresholds, just because those numbers are reached does not necessarily correlate to success. John Ross, Will Fuller, Phillip Dorsett, and Kevin White hold the four fastest 40 times of all wide receivers taken in the first round since 2015. I don’t need to tell you that none of those four have posted a top-24 fantasy season to date.

As I broke down thresholds required in order to achieve certain draft capital, I also compared combine results to NFL production. Below is a chart showing measurables compared to top-12 and top-24 seasons at running back and wide receiver.

No top-12 RB seasons have: No top-12 WR seasons have:
40 over 4.65 40 over 4.62
Vertical under 28.5 Vertical under 31
Bench under 10 Bench under 15
Broad Jump under 113 Broad Jump under 115
3 Cone over 7.27 3 Cone over 7.03
Shuttle over 4.53 Shuttle over 4.32
No top-24 RB seasons have: No top 24 WR seasons have:
40 over 4.65 40 over 4.7
Vertical under 28.5 Vertical Under 31
Bench under 10 Bench under 11
Broad Jump under 113 Broad Jump under 110
3 cone under 7.27 3 cone over 7.03
Shuttle over 4.53 Shuttle over 4.41

As you can see, there was no difference in the minimum thresholds separating a top-12 running back from a top-24 running back and very little separation between a top-12 wide receiver and top-24 wide receiver. While the ranges shown above are extremely broad, it just reiterates my point that as a fantasy football community we should be very cautious with how much stock we put into Combine results.  For example, only 46 of 160 wide receivers that participated in the shuttle event since 2015 went over 4.32 seconds. Based on the stated thresholds, that means we can eliminate 29 percent of the field from top-12 wide receiver consideration. That level of certainty shouldn’t instil confidence in anybody.

As I spent this entire article preaching of caution when it comes to next week’s on field events, I want to leave you with a few fun facts I came across when diving into the 2015 to 2019 NFL Combine results. While there may not be correlation, they certainly are interesting.

  • There have been 10 first-round wide receivers that did not participate in the 3 cone or shuttle events. Up to this point in their careers, none have posted a top-24 wide receiver season.
  • There have been five first-round wide receivers that posted fewer than 15 bench reps at the Combine. You guessed it. Up to this point in their careers, none have posted a top-24 wide receiver season.
  • Zero players that participated in the NFL Combine and went on to become an undrafted free agent have posted a top-24 season in their respective position.

I wish everybody’s favorite prospects the best of luck in Indianapolis!

Note: All yearly positional finish data collected from www.fantasypros.com and all Combine information collected from www.pro-football-reference.com.

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John Bauer is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from John, check out his archive or follow him @TheBauerClub.

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