NFL Combine – Running Back Round Up: Who Won & Who Lost?
By Ha Kung Wong
It’s that time again!
Time for most of college football’s top prospects to go through a seemingly random group of drills to hopefully improve their draft stock among NFL team GMs and coaches. And among the top positions watched every year, particularly since Ezekiel Elliot’s breakout last year after being drafted in the first round, are running backs.
So how did this year’s to running back prospects perform at the NFL Combine? And what do these drills even mean to NFL scouts? Let’s take a look.
Average RB Range: ~30-38 inches
5 Year RB Average: ~34.5 inches
Top 10 2017 RB Vertical Jump Height
Theoretically, scouts look at vertical jum to help assess total power and urst. Sure, jumping off the ground isn’t exactly the same as jumping out of the backfield through the line, but generating power through the lower legs certainly is art of the equation.
The running backs that are consistently being rated in the top 3 of draft pundits include Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey. So it’s no surprise that the bulk of the analysis surrounded these three layers. And it’s no surprise that social media would essentially overreact to every it of news, including Leonard Fournette’s shockingly low vertical jump.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) March 3, 2017
Why was this such a big deal? Well, turns out that the average vertical at the NFL Combine for a RB drafted in the 1st round is 35.6 inches and the shortest vertical jump by a RB drafted in the 1st round is 31.5 inches. And, if you’re math challenged, 28.5 is quite a bit lower than both those numbers. Although social media blew up, Fournette was unconcerned.
To NFL Network, Leonard Fournette says 28.5" vertical is "where I expected to be… I'm not a jumper."
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 3, 2017
Dalvin Cook only performed slightly better with a 30.5, ut Christian McCaffrey lew the doors off with a 37.5, the second highest among RBs.
Keep in mind though that LeSean McCoy had a 29 vertical, and you don’t see many think he lacks burst in the NFL.
40 Yard Dash
Average RB Range: ~4.5-4.7 seconds
5 Year RB Average: ~4.6 seconds
Top 10 2017 RB 40 Yard Dash Times
Scouts generally look at the 40 yard dash to help assess straight-line speed. Clearly that’s important aspect of being able to beat defenders into the second level and beyond.
And Fournette but all fears to rest by running a 4.51 second 40 yard dash, fastest by a RB 240+ pounds this year, and the est in that category since 2006.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 3, 2017
Fournette vs. Cook vs. Elliott
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) March 3, 2017
Cook and McCaffrey managed to do even better with a 4.49 and 4.48, respectively, both in the exceptional range for RBs.
Top 10 2017 RB Bench Press Reps
Bench press is arguably the least important aspect of the Combine, regardless of how entertaining it is to watch. Very rarely does a RB have to push something directly off his chest while standing still, but having good upper body strength does somewhat translates to all security and stiff arm ability.
That being said, of the to 3 prospects, Cook stole the show with 22.
We 👀 you, @dalvincook!
— NFL (@NFL) March 2, 2017
It was nowhere near the top performance by Samaje Perine, with 30 whopping reps, but it’s still above average. And it was way better than McCaffrey’s subpar 10 reps, and Fournette, who opted out.
Average RB Range: ~109-125 inches
5 Year RB Average: ~117 inches
Top 10 2017 RB Broad Jump Distance
Typically not as important for RBs as it is for OTs, the broad jump still allows scouts to assess lower-body explosiveness, power and flexibility.
McCaffrey did the best with 121 inches, well above average, with Cook coming in just under average at 116 inches. Fournette, not being a “jumper”, opted out.
3 Cone Drill
Top 10 2017 RB 3 Cone Drill Time
The 3 cone drill is another one that isn’t as important for RBs, but it does help scouts assess a player’s ability to change directions quickly, bend and accelerate.
And for this drill, it was McCaffrey’s time to shine with the fastest 3 cone time since 2003.
286 running backs have participated in the 3-cone drill at the combine since 2003
Only 1 completed it faster than Christian McCaffrey pic.twitter.com/6oz8yqfuwQ
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) March 3, 2017
Cook put in much slower 7.27, third slowest among participating RBs, and Fournette, once again, opted out.
60 Yard Shuttle
Top 10 2017 RB 60 Yard Shuttle Time
The 60 yard shuttle is also normally more important for assessing defensive players, but it still helps some scouts assess a RBs ability to stop and explode in another direction with the ball.
McCaffrey ended up with top marks among all participating RBs, while both Fournette and Cook opted out.
Ultimately, the Combine results for this year’s crop of RBs didn’t significantly change draft grades, but it did confirm that Fournette, Cook and McCaffrey still lead the top of the RB draft list. However, based on each performance as a whole, McCaffrey benefited the most from his results while Cook likely took the biggest hit. Fournette will continue to ride his reputation since he opted out of a significant number of events.
Looking at 3 Sigma Athlete’s SPARQ athlete calculation based on Combine results (where 50% is NFL league average), McCaffrey ended up 4th with 70.7%, whereas Cook ended up 4th to last with 9.0% and Fournette did not qualify for a calculation.
In fact, according to 3 Sigma Athlete’s Zach Whitman, no RB who tested as a sub-10th-percentile SPARQ athlete has been drafted in the first round in the last 17 years.
Football Outsiders, however, put together a Speed Score that accounts for weight and 40 yard dash time, normalizing the fact that we expect lighter running backs to run faster. According to their calculations, Fournette ended up with the highest Speed Score of all RBs, whereas Cook ended up 6th and McCaffrey ended up last of that trio at 10th.
At the end of the day, though, the Combine isn’t everything. Whether they end up being Ezekiel Elliot or Trent Richardson once getting to the NFL, though, is anyone’s guess. But this will definitely give scouts plenty to think about.