Defensive tackles – Combine numbers vs Pro Production

Let’s look at which combine drills seem to be the most important in determining when a defensive tackle will be an effective pass rusher.  This is only to analyze those players who got high sack totals, it is not meant to analyze their ability to stop the run, etc.

For the study I examined the 2005-2016 seasons and found every defensive tackle who had 6 sacks or more in a season and examined their combine results.  Some of the players had no combine info available and some had partial info available.   Here is the list in no particular order…

  1. Rod Coleman (x2 seasons)
  2. Rocky Bernard
  3. Bryant Young (x2) (no combine info available)
  4. Warren Sapp (no combine)
  5. Cory Redding (only bench press)
  6. Vonnie Holliday (no combine)
  7. Corey Williams (x2)
  8. Cullen Jenkins (no combine)
  9. Darwin Walker (no combine)
  10. Darnell Dockett (no 3c, SS)
  11. Tommie Harris (only bench press)
  12. Shaun Rogers (no combine)
  13. Laroi Glover (no combine)
  14. Jovan Haye
  15. Albert Haynesworth (x2) (no combine)
  16. Kevin Williams (x2)
  17. Jay Ratliff (x3)
  18. Jonathan Babineaux
  19. Ndamukong Suh (x4)
  20. Tommy Kelly (x2)
  21. B.J. Raji
  22. Shaun Ellis (no combine)
  23. Fred Robbins
  24. Geno Atkins (x5)
  25. Karl Klug (only bench press)
  26. Henry Melton (x2) (no 3C, SS)
  27. Richard Seymour (no combine)
  28. Dwan Edwards
  29. Jason Hatcher
  30. Jurrell Casey
  31. Kyle Williams (no VJ, BJ)
  32. Gerald McCoy (x4)
  33. Marcel Dareus (x2)
  34. Nick Fairley (x2)
  35. Chris Jones
  36. Aaron Donald (x3)
  37. Sen’Derrick Marks (only 40 time & VJ)
  38. Jonathan Hankins
  39. Tom Johnson (no combine)
  40. Dontari Poe
  41. Kawaan Short (x3) (only 40 time)
  42. Leonard Williams
  43. Fletcher Cox (x2)
  44. Malik Jackson

I compared their combine data with the average defensive tackle combine participants’ combine data.

The average DT combine participants’ data was the following…

  • Height: 6’3
  • Weight: 298
  • 40 time: 5.12
  • Bench Press: 27.5
  • Vertical Jump: 28.06
  • Broad Jump: 105.53 inches
  • 3 cone: 7.59
  • Short Shuttle: 4.70

So which combine drill proved to be the most important?

Answer: The Short Shuttle (AKA 20 yard shuttle)

Out of the participants who had available combine data, only 3 players players ever had a 6 sack season who also had below average short shuttle times.  Those players were Kevin Williams, Fred Robbins and Jurrell Casey.

Robbins only obtained 6 sacks once in his career and that was exactly 6 sacks.  Casey has done it twice with a 10.5 sack season and a 7 sack season.  Kevin Williams is the true anomaly, as he started his career with 10.5 and 11.5 sacks before hitting a rough 3 year patch and then producing 8.5 and 6 sack seasons, then finished his career with 6 straight seasons where he did not obtain 6 or more sacks.

The short shuttle was easily the most important drill.  26 of the 6+ sack players participated in the short shuttle at the combine and only 3 of them had below average times.  So is it possible to have 6+ sacks with a below average short shuttle?  Obviously, but the odds are not in your favor.

If you narrowed the list down to only those players who have had multiple 6+ sack seasons (between ’05-’16), and combined their average short shuttle times, you’d get an impressive 4.52, nearly 2 tenths of a second faster than the average.  Narrow the list further to only those players who have had 3 or more 6+ sack seasons (Jay Ratliff, Ndamukong Suh, Geno Atkins, Gerald McCoy and Aaron Donald) and the average time drops even further to 4.39 seconds.

The second most important drill, believe it or not, was the 40 yard dash.

34 of our 6-sack players participated in the 40 yard dash and only 5 of them had below average 40 times.  Those players: Corey Williams, Shaun Rogers, Kyle Williams, Chris Jones and Jonathan Hankins.  Of those players, only Corey Williams managed to have more than one 6 sack season (he had 2).  So it’s clear that if you’re going to be a defensive tackle that consistently produces high sack totals, your 40 time needs to be under 5.12 seconds.

Here’s the list of drills in order of importance:

  1. Short Shuttle (26 above average, 3 below average)
  2. 40 yard dash (27 above average, 5 below average, 2 on the money)
  3. Vertical Jump (19 above average, 8 below average)
  4. 3 Cone (14 above average, 9 below average, 3 on the money)
  5. Broad Jump (13 above average, 11 below average)
  6. Height (21 above average, 12 below average, 10 on the money)
  7. Weight (23 under average weight, 19 above average weight, 2 on the money)
  8. Bench Press (14 under average reps, 12 above average reps)

Of the players who had 3 or more seasons of 6+ sacks, only Kevin Williams was below average in more than 1 drill.  And if Ndamukong Suh’s broad jump was half an inch longer, you could say that all of those guys with 3+ seasons were above average in every drill except Kevin Williams.  Guess the combine DOES matter.

The full combine results of the aforementioned players can be found here.




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