The League

Dan Levy
Sports Media Guru

Dan Levy

The host of On the DL with new episodes every weekday.

Mmm... Measurables


I'm a combine geek. I get a kick out of watching a guy run the 40, leap high in the air to smack a series of escalating sticks, stand and jump (broadly) and perform the same shuttle run we did in grade school, sans erasers.

I love the combine. But I'll never understand why it matters.

There are 'measurables' in every sport. Baseball scouts track pitch speed and accuracy for pitchers. We've all heard of a five-tool player, right? Well, those are measurables -- batting for average, batting for power, speed and base-running ability, fielding ability and throwing ability -- but they can't be measured in a vacuum. Sure you can throw a bunch of draftees on a field with Tom Emanski and see which of them can hit a garbage can from center field, but baseball is a game where the measurables need context. It doesn't matter how accurate a pitcher is if everyone is smacking the ball out of the park. It doesn't matter how fast a guy is from first to third if he can't hit the ball.

And could you imagine if there was a Wonderlic for baseball?

In basketball you can watch a guy jump. You can watch a guy shoot. You can watch a guy run up and down the court and see how quickly he becomes winded. And sure, it's important to know a guy's true height and wingspan. His shoe size, even. But the best shooters still need to get open, so it's as important to know if a player can hit an open shot as it is to see if he can get open enough to get the chance to hit the shot.

In football, measurables in context don't seem as important as other sports. It's measurables you can measure in a vacuum -- or on an otherwise empty stadium in Indianapolis -- that helps determine who will excel. At least that's what personnel people have shown everyone.

At the highest levels of college and professional sports -- and to some extent high school -- video has become the most important tool in scouting. Football coaches legendarily sleep in their offices breaking down game film to prepare for the next opponent. So why can a coach prepare for a game by watching hours of film on his opponent, yet can't decide if a player is draft-worthy based on the same medium? Arrogance, that's why.

The NFL is the NFL. Watching a player dissect a defensive backfield or devour an offensive lineman in college is great, but those opponents clearly are not the caliber of the NFL current player. So how can teams really measure the value of a player? With their own series of inane tests, of course!

The wide receiver drill is silly. The passing drills are silly. Really every drill is silly. My favorite drill is watching the linemen run the 40. If someone can explain why that would ever be important, I'd love to know. But that doesn't mean I don't love watching the big lugs chugging down the line.

Once the combine numbers became available to the public, lore was born for players. Agents stoke the fires of their clients' results. Mike Mamula became a first-round draft pick. Now that the NFL Network shows every minute of the combine over four days, it really has gone too far. But they can go even farther.

Measure the size of each guy's hands! Hey, remember in the Super Bowl we were told how big and strong Ben Roethlisberger's hands are. Big, strong hands equals championships.

Throw a ball on the ground, let a player dive on it, then release a rabid wolverine on the field. See how long the player can keep the ball away from the wolverine. More than 20 seconds, he'd be valuable in a fumbled-ball pile on.

Create a running back obstacle course...under water. Yes, if the backs can make cuts with the resistance of water, imagine what they can do with a linebacker or two hanging on them. Oooh, and add in some electric eels too! You know, to test elusiveness.

Sure, the combine is fun to mock. And while we can debate the merits of combine numbers and how they translate to performance on the field when compared to actual game play on film, seeing these players get poked and prodded has certainly become fun to watch.


Here's a little game for you. Going back to the 2004 NFL workout numbers, pick who is the best pro, based on their measurables.

Wide Receiver
6'3, 196 lbs, 4.42-40, 40.5" vertical.
6-4, 229lbs, 4.50-40, 41" vertical.
6'3, 221lbs, 4.47-40, 35" vertical.
6-0 1/2, 212 lbs, 4.53-40, 36" vertical.

Answers: Derrick Hamilton, Clemson. Johnnie Morant, Syracuse. Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh. Jerricho Cotchery, North Carolina.

Tight End
6'5, 265, 4.68, 17 reps, 38.5 vertical.
6'4, 263, 4.78, 23 reps, 35" vertical.
6'3 1/2, 265, 4.81, 22 reps, 33" vertical.

Answers: Ben Troupe, Florida. Ben Hartstock, Ohio State. Chris Cooley, Utah State.

By Dan Levy  |  February 19, 2009; 5:58 AM ET  | Category:  Dan Levy , Draft Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I can't disagree that measurables only disqualify someone - if all 4 wideout's ran the 40 in 5 seconds or more they would be too slow for the NFL.

If the none of the tight ends could have done reps of bench pressing 225 lbs more than 10 times they wouldn't have been strong enough for the NFL.

What's more difficult to measure is eye-hand coordination and Larry and Chris were tops in that department and strong enough and fast enough. (I'm only an ex-college player and ex-9th grade High school football coach and a ex-JV baseball and ex-AYSO soccer coach - so take what I say with a grain of salt).

Posted by: agapn9 | February 19, 2009 1:52 PM

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