This article will explain which combine tests are the best indicators of future pro production for edge rushers. Let’s dig in.
From mockdraftable.com I found the following average numbers of combine participants… (I could not find enough data on the 20 yard split to make a trustworthy average)
- Height: 6’3
- Weight: 267
- 10 yard split: 1.65
- 40 yard dash: 4.83
- Bench: 23 reps
- Vertical: 33 inches
- Broad: 114 inches
- 3 cone: 7.24
- 20 yard shuttle: 4.42
So to determine which of these tests is the best indicator of future pro production, I dug up the combine numbers of every edge rusher who ever had 8 or more sacks in a season since 2005 and compared them with the averages.
I understand that sacks are not the end-all be-all of production, and that many things can factor into sack totals such as supporting cast, hustle, quality of opponents and just plain luck, but for purposes of this study it’ll have to do. It’s also not to say that some of the players who tested poorly couldn’t move inside to defensive tackle and be productive there, or stay at defensive end and be solid against the run, but this study focuses solely on edge rushers’ potential to get high sack totals.
75 edge rushers have registered at least one 8 sack season since 2005. I noted which of those 75 players had below average combine results. (A few folks like Terrell Suggs had incomplete data and were left out of the study)
Of the 75 players, only 12 of them had a below average vertical jump. This appeared to be the most important test. Here are the full results:
- Below average vertical jump: 12
- Below average broad jump: 15
- Below average 3-cone: 17
- Below average 40 yard dash: 17
- Below average shuttle: 19
- Below average height: 19
- Below average bench press: 28
- Below average 10 yard split: 32
- Below average weight: 46
Obviously weight is somewhat linked to the player’s height but the majority of the 8 sack players weighed less than the average of 267, so for purposes of this study I graded weights HEAVIER than 267 to be negative.
As far as the 10 yard split goes, my feeling is that the 10 yard split measurements are such an inexact science that it’s hard to even take the measurements as being truly indicative of a player’s burst. We all know full well that a quick first step is extremely important so I’m chalking that one up to inexact measuring.
So given that the vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone and the 40 yard dash are the most important pre-indicators of sack production, I took a look at the players who scored below average in at least 3 out of 4 of those “big 4” categories to try to see just how important the combine tests proved to be.
Of the 75 players who had at least one 8-sack season, only 5 of them had below average test results for 3 out of 4 of the “big 4” tests.
Those 5 players are are listed in the chart below (sub-par times in red).
Let’s go over them. First up is Hali. Hali has had an extremely productive career. Not only was Hali sub-par in the big 4 tests, but he was also sub-par in the bench press. His 10 yard split was not available. How did he defy the odds? My guess is that it’s because his times were actually recorded at a pro day, not the actual combine. Perhaps he tested on a slow track and field, perhaps he was being timed by hand instead of the electronic timing of the combine, or perhaps he just wasn’t feeling it that day or was battling a nagging injury or something.
How about Bryce Fisher? Well, Fisher did technically have two seasons of 8+ sacks, but that’s all he had, and he never topped more than 9 sacks in a season. Outside of those 2 seasons, the most sacks he ever had was 4. He only played 7 seasons in the league and bounced around to 4 different teams. So while he did break the 8 sack mark, one can hardly consider his career productive as a whole.
Paul Kruger’s story is similar to that of Fisher. He’s played 7 seasons so far and has broken the 8 sack mark twice, with his best season totaling 11 sacks. Outside of those 2 seasons, his best was 5.5 sacks.
Michael Bennett of the Seahawks has broken the 8 sack threshold in 3 different seasons, with his best season totaling 10 sacks. It’s worth noting that Bennett has had the luxury of playing with the best secondary in the league for the past 3 seasons and has had plenty of help on the defensive line to give him favorable 1-on-1 matchups.
Robert Ayers just barely made the list because he did have one season of 8+ sacks which was last year when he finally tallied 9.5 sacks in his 7th season as a pro. Prior to that, 5.5 sacks was the most he had tallied in a season. You have to wonder if he didn’t just kind of “fall into” some of the sacks he had last year, because it was an anomaly compared to the rest of his career.
So of the 5 players listed, only Tamba Hali has had a truly elite career of multiple 10+ sack seasons, and again I think this can be chalked up to pro day times that were likely slower than Hali’s true athleticism. I have a feeling that if he had been healthy and had tested at the combine he would have performed much better than he did at his pro day, but that’s just my educated guess.
So as you can see only 1 player has tested below average in 3 out of 4 of the big 4 tests and has still gone on to have an elite career. The jury’s still out on Michael Bennett I suppose, but however you slice it, it’s very rare for someone to have consistently high sack totals if they test poorly in the big 4 tests.
Which brings us to the rookie class of 2016. The following players tested below average in all 4 of the big 4. (K. Dodd and R. Thompson did not participate in all of the big 4 tests so they were left out of the study)
Statistically and historically speaking, the above players have a very, very small chance of ever getting 8 or more sacks in a season. Ronald Blair reportedly was injured during his combine tests so you might put an asterisk next to his name, but the outlook doesn’t look good for these guys who tested poorly in all 4 of the big 4.
The following players tested poorly in 3 out of the big 4 tests.
These guys also have a huge uphill battle.
How about the players who tested well? I’ll list them too, although it goes without saying that good test results even in the big 4 do not guarantee future production, it shows that they are at least athletically capable of being productive pass rushers.
The following players tested average or above average in all 4 of the big 4 tests.
The following players tested average or above average in 3 of the big 4 tests. (Tapper may have scored well in all 4 but did not participate in the 3-cone)
So there you have it. It will be interesting to see which of these rookies goes on to have successful careers as pass rushers, but I wouldn’t put my money on the guys who didn’t test well in the big 4 tests. History shows that the odds are just not in their favor.
Update: Let’s take a look at the 2017 combine.
Here are some of the top ranked edge rushers and their results…
Overall it was a pretty good combine for most of the top ranked edge guys… Barnett was below average in Vertical and 40 which is a concern, although his 3-cone drill was excellent. McKinley’s 40 time was elite, but his vertical jump was average, and his 3-cone and short shuttle were dreadful. Myles Garrett and Rivers were the only two guys listed that were above average in every drill.