This isn't just about a player's time in the 40-yard dash, though that's more important than you realize. Depending on the position of course.
The scouting combine is more than that: a chance for agents to -- wink, wink -- meet with teams about prospective free agents. One agent said recently he knew exactly what offer he would get from teams for a high-profile client based on conversations at places such as the combine. Ironically, the deal he eventually accepted was not one of the ones offered beforehand.
Still, the 40-yard dash is important, particularly if you're a cornerback or receiver.
"So much of the order in which they're drafted is based on how well they run and work out," said Russ Lande, an ex-NFL scout and draft analyst for the National Football Post. "No matter what teams say, that's one position for many teams where the combine is an enormous factor. You want to see athleticism. ... I've heard a lot of scouts say if a guy runs in the mid-4.5s, that's not a top-10 pick."
But for other positions? Well, it's not as important. Alfred Morris ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds last winter. He sort of did OK.
Even for corners, though, the time can be misleading. Two years ago Joe Haden's stock supposedly dropped because he ran poorly at the combine, but Cleveland still "gambled" on him with the fifth overall pick. He, too, has done fine.
And the key with the 40 time is not to let it override what a team has seen on film. If a guy plays slow on film, don't be fooled by a fast 40 time. Instincts and smarts help players move faster; consequently someone who lacks those traits will play slower.
Other drills at the combine are telling: the pass-drop drills for outside linebackers, particularly those transitioning from defensive end; the change-of-direction drills for linebackers and defensive backs; and drills in which the defensive back must back pedal, turn, run and look back to find the football. Those are often more revealing than a 40-yard dash time.
- John Keim