Outstanding quickness and change-of-direction skills may make Georgia DE David Pollack a better prospect than his 40-yard dash time would indicate
Before serving as a senior analyst at NFL.com, Pat Kirwan spent many years in the NFL as a coach, scout, salary cap manager and talent evaluator. His league tenure included a stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a scout and a nine-year run with the New York Jets in a variety of roles.
Kirwan recently provided two articles for NFL.com analyzing the numbers produced at the NFL Scouting Combine and a collection of college Pro Days. In the first, he analyzed the difference between "track speed" and "football speed" and offered some intriguing prospects who very well may play faster than they time. In the second, he compared power and explosion and identified some potential draftees who might be able to put all of their skills together into one successful package.
Read on for Kirwan's take on the combine numbers and the prospect pictures they paint.
It's Not Always About the Need for Speed
The NFL scouting combine is now a month behind us and many of the on-campus workouts are complete. There is a significant amount of measurable information gathered to help paint a picture of the athletic ability of many of the prospects. It goes without saying that how each and every one of the draft-eligible prospects perform on game tape is still the most important element to the final decisions, but I always like to dig inside the numbers looking for clues about each and every player.
Recently, I took the 40-yard dash times for players with a draftable grade and compared them to the results in the short-shuttle test. A player with a cumulative grade that indicates he should be one of the 250 athletes drafted in April indicates he's distinguished himself in some way on tape as a football player.
Then I looked for athletes with average-to-below average 40-yard times for their position who make up for the lack of long straight speed with exceptional quickness and change of direction. As we all know, unless you're on the kickoff team or running a "go" route at the wide receiver position, it's almost impossible to find a spot in a football game where you can identify a 40-yard dash. A lack of great straight speed can easily be offset by the ability to explode out of a stance, change direction in five yards, explode again for 10 yards and then change direction again, all while keeping your weight down. The short shuttle can be a much better indication of your ability to play football fast. I didn't say an indication of the ability to play football, but rather of the ability to play football fast.
I handled the speed training for the players when I was with the Jets for three years back in the early 90s. My general rule of thumb for comparing speed (the 40-yard dash time) to quickness and change of direction (the 20-yard short-shuttle test) was to take the 40 time and subtract the short-shuttle time and expect a 0.5 difference. For example, a player with a 5.0 40 time needs to run a 4.5 short shuttle to get the 0.5 differential. Simply stated, his speed and his quickness relate to each other. A man who runs a 4.4 40 and a 4.4 short shuttle is really a guy with straight-line speed who may not play very fast because of a lack of quickness. He is often referred to as a guy with "track speed." Conversely, an athlete who runs an average time of 4.7 in the 40 but can hit the short shuttle in 3.9 -- significantly better than the 0.5 differential -- can overcome his average speed with great quickness and change of direction.
Here are some very draftable players who demonstrated they are a lot quicker than they are fast and have overcome their pedestrian 40 times with a test that means a lot more to most football coaches:
|**Name**||**School**||**Pos.**||**40 Time**||**Short Shuttle**||**Difference**|
|1. Jason Brown||North Carolina||C||5.40||4.51||0.89|
|2. David Pollack||Georgia||DE||4.75||3.90||0.85|
|3. Chris Kemoeatu||Utah||OG||5.21||4.54||0.80|
|4. Jason White||Oklahoma||QB||4.99||4.19||0.80|
|5. Barrett Ruud||Nebraska||LB||4.72||3.94||0.78|
|6. Dan Buenning||Wisconsin||OG||5.33||4.59||0.74|
|7. Marcus Johnson||Mississippi||OG||5.45||4.71||0.74|
|8. Joel Dreessen||Colorado St.||TE||4.72||4.01||0.71|
|9. Charlie Frye||Akron||QB||4.79||4.08||0.71|
|10. Thomas Davis||Georgia||S||4.59||3.97||0.62|
|11. Chris Spencer||Mississippi||C||5.21||4.59||0.62|
|12. Marlin Jackson||Michigan||S||4.53||3.96||0.57|
There were a few others who beat the 0.5 differential in the time comparisons, but these are the dozen players who caught my eye that their quickness and change of direction (COD) trump the lack of ideal speed. Note that the offensive linemen who are all well over 300 pounds demonstrate an excellent ability to pull, get out to the linebacker level and move their feet in a short area, which is critical to doing their job on the football field. There's a reason David Pollack at just 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds with short arms had 36 sacks, 117 QB pressures and 58 tackles for a loss. He is relentless on film, but he also has extraordinary quickness and COD. I promise you a defensive end with 4.50 speed can't play as fast as David Pollack. Barrett Ruud is up against a number of linebackers with a faster 40 time but his field quickness is a big reason he finished his college career with 432 tackles.
Anyone can read numbers and tell you who the fastest or the strongest person is, but it's the ability to see the athletic potential and the playing speed along with the tools to compensate in one area or another, and for me seeing past an average 40 time because quickness and COD are present is an important clue about a prospect. No one is giving Oklahoma QB Jason White much of a chance to make it in the NFL. His knees may be questionable and his arm may be barely average, but he has quickness and has won on the college level, so at least don't get hung up on his 4.99 40 time when you see 4.19 in the short shuttle. A guy who can buy time in the pocket has a chance in this league.
How to Measure Power and Explosion
The numbers are starting to pile up from the NFL Scouting Combine results, Pro Days and the private workouts, so it is understandable if you are starting to get the idea that the NFL draft process is paralysis by analysis. That's not completely the case, since the grading of game tapes is still the most critical issue in scouting draftees, but a lot can be predicted by studying the measurable numbers that are being compiled.
Previously I discussed comparing the 40-yard dash times to the 20-yard short shuttle times so that there was a better understanding of quickness and change of direction vs. straight-line speed. Now I want to dive into another athletic dimension that has relevance, especially to defensive coaches: explosion and power. As one very successful defensive coordinator in the NFL said the other day on my Sirius Radio show, "We are always looking for explosive athletes who can deliver a blow, be great tacklers and meet force with greater force."
It is amazing what can be done with athletes that have rare measurables in this area if they are also good football players. Some test results are best when the number is low, like the 40-yard dash, the 20-yard short shuttle and the three-cone drill. There are other tests when the result is higher the score is better and those tests can tell us lots about explosiveness and power. The vertical leap, standing broad jump and the bench press are measurables where more is better.
I don't like to isolate one test score because it is too limited, but an overall score can tell us something about the athlete. One way I filter through all the eligible draft picks is to find the players that have a combined result of 70 or higher when I combine the vertical leap, standing broad jump and bench press test. As an illustration, if an athlete had a 40-inch vertical leap, a 10-foot standing broad jump and 20 reps on the 225-pound bench press test, he would have a combined score of 70. Those who know something about jumping, leaping and throwing weight around can see that 70 is an excellent combined score.
There is no reason to look to the results of athletes who do not have a high draft grade because, for the most part, they have already indicated they aren't good enough football players on the field. After filtering them out, I went looking for those prospects with a good playing grade and a score over 70.
I then filter out the weight-room guys who have 40 reps on the bench and an 18-inch vertical and a 7-foot broad jump. There's a place for a strong guy in a weight room, but he's not the guy most defensive coaches are looking for. Along the same line of thinking, a basketball-type player with a 42-inch vertical leap and an 11-foot broad jump but just nine reps on the bench also falls out -- he can't deliver a blow when he gets there. There's a place for the guy with springs in his legs, but he's not complete either.
Here are the defensive players with very good football grades who also got to the magic number of 70 used to sort out the best of the best in the area of explosive/powerful athletes. These guys can get there and bring it.
|**Name**||**School**||**Pos.**||**Vertical Leap**||**Broad Jump**||**BP**||**Tot.**|
|Demarcus Ware||Troy State||DE/LB||38½||10-foot-2||27||75|
|Derek Wake||Penn State||LB||45½||10-foot-10||20||75|
|Darryl Blackstock||Virginia Tech||LB||39||10-foot-6||25||74|
|Bryant McFadden||Florida State||CB||38½||10-foot-10||23||72|
|Justin Tuck||Notre Dame||DE/LB||38½||9-foot-10||24||72|
Note: A few defensive athletes have not completed their testing and I will update this list a week before the draft. The results are rounded off.
As you can see, a score of 70 or better is tough to get, but if a team factors in explosiveness, then this can be very important to them. Derek Ware from Penn State doesn't have the playing grade that Merriman, Pollack or Blackstock have, but he may be worth a higher draft pick than originally anticipated because he can explode and move like a guy many defensive coaches are looking for.
There are a number of athletes who just missed the 70 mark that warrant mention, including several defensive backs: Barrett Rudd, LB, Nebraska (69); Justin Miller, CB, Clemson (67); Kevin Burnett, LB, Tennessee (67); Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn (66); Dominique Foxworth, CB, Maryland (65).
Finally, it is important for the personnel people to pay attention to what type of players the coaches are looking and it is important for the coaches to pay attention to the type of athletes the scouts have found. There should be no arguments when a good defensive football player comes back with a score of 70-plus on my grading sheet. I used to send the coaches a list of all the former draft picks around the NFL who had a score of 70 or higher and that usually got their attention.