Authors: Raymond Tucker and Willie Black
Department of Kinesiology, University of Houston Victoria, Victoria, TX, USA.
College of Education and Health Professions Kinesiology Department University of Houston Victoria, USA.
University of Houston at Victoria
3007 N. Ben Wilson
Victoria, Texas 77901
Raymond Tucker, D.S.M., CFSC, CSCS * D, EXOS – XPS, FMS, USATF, USAW, is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Houston Victoria in Victoria, TX. His research interest focused on coaches’ leadership skills, program design, and performance measures used in strength and conditioning.
Willie J. Black, Jr. Ed.D. is an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Houston in Victoria, Texas. His research interests focus on leadership, physical education pedagogy, and
social justice in physical education.
Predictive Validity of the Physical Skills Test of the 40-yard Dash and Draft Placement in the NFL Draft.
Tucker, R. Predictive Validity of the 40-yard dash Physical Skills Test and Draft Position in the NFL Draft. To determine whether faster times by offensive and defensive positions correlate to higher draft positions in the NFL draft, the authors of this study looked into the correlation between the National Football League (NFL) combine test results of the 40-yard dash. Data was collected and analyzed from 1,009 players invited to the NFL combine between 2018 and 2020. The results of the research discovered a statistically significant correlation between the 40-yard dash for the offensive positions of WR rs = .436, n = 147, p = .001; TE rs = .356, n = 58, p = .05; OL rs = .373, n = 77, p =.05; and for the defensive positions of LB rs = .573, n = 83, p =. 001; S rs = .510, n = 82, p = .05. These results suggested that faster times in the 40-yard dash for various offensive and defensive positions correlated to better draft position in the NFL draft.
Key words: NFL combine, NFL draft, 40-yd dash, Strength and Conditioning
The National Football League (NFL) combine is held annually in late February and early March at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. About 330 seniors are invited to the NFL combine to participate in a series of tests to gauge future draftees’ physical prowess and mental acumen. These tests include a medical history assessment, psychological examinations, on-field positional drills, and physical skills tests. The 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, 60-yard shuttle, 3-cone drill, broad jump, vertical jump, and bench press are among the physical skills tests administered at the NFL combine. This information can be used as one of the factors considered by representatives of the 32 NFL teams when selecting players in the draft (15).
The 40-yard dash is the most anticipated physical skills test in NFL combine history and has drawn a lot of media attention. According to past studies by Sierer et al. (13), the 40-yard dash may be the most heavily weighted performance measure for potential players competing at the NFL combine and can distinguish between drafted and undrafted players across numerous position categories. Studies conducted by Sierer et al. (13) provide evidence to validate the findings of subsequent studies by Brechue et al. (2) that the 40-yard dash is the most popular and crucial test for evaluating and contrasting football players at all levels of competition.
The 40-yard dash allows NFL personnel to evaluate the speed of a prospective player, which many consider an advantage in the sport of football. A study by LaPlaca and McCullick (9) found that some teams place a high value on these physical skills tests and will trade draft picks for a player who performed well at the NFL combine despite not being among the top rated collegiate football players in the nation. Two examples of the physical skills test of the 40-yard dash affecting draft status were identified by LaPlaca and McCullick (9), Stephen Hill and Darrius Heyward Bey. Despite only having 49 receptions in his three years of play as a wide receiver at Georgia Institute of Technology in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Stephen Hill ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds at the NFL combine (14). He was selected by the New York Jets, who traded three draft picks to move up in the second round to select Hill (5). Similarly, the Oakland Raiders selected Heyward Bey from the University of Maryland of the Big Ten Conference; Bey only had 609 yds receiving and 5 TDs during his final season at the University of Maryland but ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine (4). Heyward Bey was selected three spots ahead of Michael Crabtree, a wide receiver from Texas Tech University of the Big 12 Conference who had 1,165 yds receiving and 19 TDs during his final season and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds (11, 4).
Different NFL teams use the results of the physical skills test administered at the NFL combine to aid in the selection of prospective players. According to research by Sierer et al. (13), the performance measures utilized at the NFL combine are specified as sport specific evaluations that reflect the athlete’s capabilities on the field and during competition. This research supports Hoffman’s (7) conclusions that a variety of physical fitness traits, strength, power, speed, and agility, are essential for success in American football. Previous research studies on the performance measures used at the combine to determine prospective draftees’ ability and predict draft status are controversial. Football coaches assume that performance factors can forecast a player’s abilities, although several research studies have failed to identify any predictive factors (3, 6). These studies support future studies by Brechue et al. (2) that suggest the 40-yard dash appears to be a mystical measurement with no strong scientific basis for existence. Brecehue et al. (2) states that the 40-yard dash originated from legendary Paul Brown, former head coach of the Cleveland Browns. According to Coach Brown’s logic, a player typically only runs 40 yards or less on any given play. According to Berg et al. (1) and Fry and Kraemer (6), the 40-yard dash is a trustworthy predictor of field performance. Still, its applicability to football has been questioned because the typical football play calls for shorter sprints of 5-20 yards. It has been surmised that a player’s ability to accelerate quickly and change direction is more important than maintaining speed over a longer distance.
If there is a relationship between combine performance and draft status, according to Mcgee and Burkett (10), then individuals may profit monetarily from receiving specialized preparation for the relevant combine testing criteria. The authors further indicate if the outcomes of performance measurements at the combine testing do not predict whether a player will be selected in the draft, then performance on the playing field would be a better predictor of selection in the draft. Further studies by Kuzmits and Adams (8) and Robbins (12) cast doubt on the use of combine preparation programs by aspiring NFL players to enhance performance. The authors indicate that the usage of combine preparation programs and trainers to improve physical performance test results in order to increase draft position in the NFL draft may be a waste of time and money. The authors continue by stating that there is no scientific evidence or data to support the use of combine preparation programs, aside from sporadic marketing and advertising by these facilities or trainers to attract players in the hope that if they attend this training, they will improve their performance, which would potentially lead to higher draft status and a larger paycheck.
The authors hypothesize that faster time in the 40-yard dash by offensive and defensive positions correlates to draft position between the 2018 and 2020 NFL drafts.
This research study included a total of 1,009 subjects who attended the NFL Combine between 2018 and 2020, separated into the following positions: 9 Centers (C); 112 Cornerbacks (CB); 2 Defensive Backs (DB); 16 Defensive Ends (DE); 79 Defensive Line (DL); 24 Defensive Tackles (DT); 47 Edge Rushers (EDGE); 2 Fullbacks (FB); 15 Inside Line Backers (ILB); 10 Kickers (K); 83 Line Backers (LB); 4 Long Snappers (LS); 14 Offensive Guards (OG); 77 Offensive Line (OL); 13 Outside Line Backers (OLB); 57 Offensive Tackles (OT); 17 Punters (P); 53 Quarterbacks (QB); 88 Running Backs (RB); 82 Safeties (S); 58 Tight Ends (TE); 147 Wide Receivers (WR). Institutional review board approval was not required for this study because secondary data sources were utilized for data collection. This data was accessible through web based public access domains that do not release individual health information.
Data for this study was obtained from Pro-FootballReference.com, a commercial website with pro football history, including complete player, team, and league stats, awards, records, leaders, rookies, and scores. Data from this website are deemed to be accurate. For this study, we looked at the physical skills test of the 40-yard dash. Data was gathered on the physical skills test of the 40-yard dash utilized at the NFL combine to evaluate the speed of invited potential draftees used to predict draft position in the NFL draft. To analyze the data, subjects were divided into categories based on offensive and defensive positions and year drafted, entered into a spreadsheet, and uploaded into IBM® SPSS® Statistics 25. The statistical methodology utilized in this study was Spearman’s correlation, a nonparametric indicator of the magnitude and direction of a relationship between two variables assessed on at least an ordinal scale.
Table 1 represents the results of the skills test utilized at the NFL combines for the various offensive and defensive positions between 2018 and 2020. (see Table 1).
Table 1 reveals a positive statistically significant correlation between the 40-yard dash for the position of Wide Receiver (WR); rs = .436, n = 147, p = .001. This indicates a correlation between faster times in the 40-yard dash and draft placement for the position of Wide Receiver (see Table 1).
Table 2 displays that 72 Wide Receiver (WR) were drafted in the NFL between 2018 – 2020 compared to 47 nondrafted (see Table 2).
Table 1 reveals a positive statistically significant correlation between the 40-yard dash for the position of Tight Ends (TE); rs = .356, n = 58, p = .05. This indicates a correlation between faster times in the 40-yard dash and draft placement for the position of Tight End (see Table 1).
Table 3 displays that 36 Tight Ends (TE) were drafted in the NFL between 2018 – 2020 compared to 13 nondrafted (see Table 3).
Table 1 reveals a positive statistically significant correlation between the 40-yard dash for the position of Offensive Lineman (OL) rs= .373, n = 77, p =.05. This indicates a correlation between faster times in the 40-yard dash and draft placement for the position of Offensive Lineman (see Table 1)
Table 4 displays that 40 Offensive Lineman (OL) were drafted in the NFL between 2018 – 2020 compared to 14 nondrafted.
Table 1 reveals a positive statistically significant correlation between the 40-yard dash for the position of Line Backers (LB) rs= .573, n = 83, p =. 001. This indicates a correlation between faster times in the 40-yard dash and draft placement for the position of Line Backers (LB) (see Table 1).
The data in Table 5 displays that 36 Line Backers (LB) were drafted between 2018 – 2020 compared to 18 nondrafted (see Table 5)
Table 1 reveals a positive statistically significant correlation between the 40-yard dash and the position of Safety (S) rs = .510, n = 82, p = .05. This indicates a correlation between faster times in the 40-yard dash and draft placement for the position of Safety (S) (see Table 1).
The data in Table 6 displays that 38 Safeties were drafted between 2018 – 2020 compared to 24 nondrafted (see Table 6).
Significant correlations were found between faster times in the 40-yard dash and its predictive validity to forecast draft placement for the positions of Wide Receiver (WR), Tight End (TE), Offensive Lineman (OL), Line Backer (LB), and Safety (S). The findings of this study validate studies by Sierer et al. (13) that claim the 40-yard dash is perhaps the most heavily weighted performance metric for prospective players competing at the NFL combine because it can distinguish between drafted and undrafted players across many position categories. Further studies by Mcgee and Burkett (10) suggest that if there is a correlation between combine performance and draft placement, individuals may profit monetarily from receiving specialized preparation for the relevant combine testing criteria.
This study’s findings contradict Kuzmits and Adams (8) and Robbins (12), which questioned the effectiveness of combine training programs for aspiring NFL players. The authors claim it may be a waste of time and money to employ performance coaches and enroll in combine preparation programs to increase physical performance test scores to advance in the NFL draft. Studies by Robbins (12) made a very significant argument suggesting NFL executives may be unconcerned with combine test results since performance coaches can train and teach athletes strategies that would improve their results on the combine tests. According to the authors, combine tests are not sport specific and have little bearing on a player’s actual ability. Consequently, combine tests appropriately receive little attention from NFL personnel.,
The authors of this study indicate that if coaches utilize the 40-yard dash to assess an athlete’s running speed, they must identify whether a football player actually runs 40 yards in a single play during a game. For example, when does an offensive lineman run 40 yards on a single play in a football game? The same question can be asked for the positions of tight end, linebacker, and safety. The only position that could possibly run 40-yard in a series of downs in a football game would be the position of wide receiver. Football is a team sport requiring multidirectional speed and short peak accelerations over a distance of 5 to 15 yards.
The findings in this study indicate a correlation to draft position for the position of Wide Receiver (WR), Tight End (TE), Offensive Lineman (OL), Line Backer (LB), and Safety (S). The correlation for these various positions could be related to the personnel needs of a team in the National Football League during the NFL combine and not necessarily to the faster times in the physical skills test of the 40-yard dash.
APPLICATIONS IN SPORT
Based on the finding of this study, there seems to be a correlation between faster time in the physical test of the 40-yard dash and draft placement. This finding supports the use of combine preparation programs to enhance the performance of the physical skills used at the combine. The authors suggest that with the media attention given to the 40-yard dash during the NFL combine and during college pro days, it is tempting to believe that this is the only physical skills test that can improve draft position. Instead of focusing on the 40-yard dash, combine preparation programs should focus on improving the scores on all of the physical tests used at the NFL combine. The authors also suggest that football coaches should continue to develop the technical and tactical skills used in the game of football to improve football player ability. Researchers should pursue additional studies on this topic, and strength and coaches should look into this and similar studies to improve the draft placement of prospective players.
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