Arm strength, speed, jumping ability, and yes, hand size. All of these attributes -- and many more -- are on display for scouts and coaches at the 2014 NFL combine. But can a football player really hurt his draft stock with a poor performance? And does a bad combine affect a rookie's paycheck?
Yes, though there's a caveat.
An expert's opinion
Steven Burkett, the CEO of Eye-Scout, a software company that specializes in pro athlete evaluation, talked to me about the combine in greater detail.
NFL drafts of years past are chock-full of examples where combine performances differed from the media's expectations -- for better or worse -- and rookies' contracts were affected.
In 2005, for instance, Matt Jones was a 6'6″ QB many projected as a middle-round pick, but a ridiculous combine -- he ran a sub-4.4 40 -- earned him ESPN's designation as the "best player in the draft." After being picked in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars as a wideout, Jones signed a five-year, $8.5 million contract -- a 200% premium to what most mid-round picks got that year, according to Spotrac.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney in 2002, and corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie translated combine domination into first-round success as well, signing multi-million rookie contracts much higher than most expected.
On the other side of the coin, it appears the combine can damn draftees as well, such as Vontaze Burfict in 2012. The linebacker was initially projected as a top five pick by some journalists, but a slew of problems -- an awful 40 time, poor interview skills, and a failed drug test -- preceded him being left him out of the draft entirely. By the time the Cincinnati Bengals signed him to a three-year, $1.4 million contract as an undrafted free agent, he was making about 75% less than the average first-round rookie linebacker.
Based on a scan of players who had tough combines, it appears these issues aren't limited to certain positions.
|Position||Pre-Combine Est. Round Drafted||Actual Round Drafted|
Of course, this analysis is under the assumption pre-combine mock drafts and media reports are always accurate. What if they weren't?
Going forward, the combine could be affected by one game-changer: big data. Brian Kopp, a senior VP at STATS, told me that the company's X-Info analysis system is already being used by 12 NFL teams and a handful of college football programs.
Much as it's doing with player tracking in the NBA, STATS offers NFL decision makers more analytical ability, and with a client list that Kopp says is "growing by the week," it may not be long before the majority of league is involved.
More data likely means more transparency, something that could make the media's mock drafts more accurate. If the average blogger is able to better understand the rationale a scout uses, projections could be improved. That's something everyone can get on board with.