Daily Sports Thought 3/3

I am a huge football fan. Not just a during-the-season fan, I am a year-round football fan. So that means I love the NFL combine. I don’t lose my mind over it every year, I’d still much rather see actual football played on the field, but it’s the start of March so I’ll take what I can get. I recognize the importance of the event, but I also recognize the lack of importance in certain parts of the festivities. The event that always dominates the headlines during the combine is the 40-yard dash, everybody’s favorite five seconds. And while I do think it is fun to watch people run as fast as they can in a straight line (I did track for six years in middle and high school) I don’t think the 40 is as important as we make it seem.

Firstly, most of the guys running at the event have been training specifically for these 40 yards since the season ended. They are not training to be football fast anymore, they are training to be 40 yards in a straight line fast. None of these players will be running at the same speed as their 40-yard dash when they actually step on the field in training camp. Regardless of that, it is still a good measure of a player’s speed. If a guy runs the fastest 40 in his position group he is still probably the fastest player in that position group even if he loses a few hundredths of a second between now and the summer. But even if that speed does hold up, how much does it really matter on the field? Here are the 13 players that have run a 4.28 or faster in the 40, excluding this year, since they started using electronic timing:

  • John Ross
  • Chris Johnson
  • Rondel Menendez
  • Jerome Mathis
  • Dri Archer
  • Henry Ruggs
  • Stanford Routt
  • Marquise Goodwin
  • Champ Bailey
  • Jacoby Ford
  • Jalen Myrick
  • JJ Nelson
  • DeMarcus Van Dyke

Do you notice anything about these players on the list? Maybe you noticed that you barely recognize any of them. Yes, Bailey was a great corner and Johnson rushed for over 2,000 yards but are any of those other names noteworthy other than Ruggs (for off-the-field reasons) and Ross (for breaking the 40 record)? The answer is no. Even I don’t know who a few of those guys are and I pride myself on knowing random NFL players. The reason I have laid this out is to say that clearly 40 times do not have a huge impact on production in the NFL so maybe we should stop covering them like they are the most important thing ever.

That brings me to this year’s combine. I got a notification from a few of my sports news apps letting me know that Tyquan Thornton ran an unofficial 4.21-second 40-yard dash. These apps must think that I am some novice sports fan because I saw the keyword in that sentence and it had nothing to do with the supposed record-breaking time. The keyword in that notification was unofficial. Every 40 time first gets reported as an unofficial time, and nearly every time that unofficial time is quite faster than the actual time. At this point, someone would have to run an unofficial 4.05 for me to care. This is not me trying to diminish Thornton’s accomplishment. The wide receiver from Baylor still ended up with an official 4.28-second 40 which puts him on that shortlist I mentioned earlier of the fastest players to ever run at the combine. But I had no idea who Thornton was before getting that notification, so I did what a lot of other people probably did on Thursday and I Googled him. Turns out Thornton caught 143 passes for 2.242 yards and 19 touchdowns in his career at Baylor. This past season he had 62 catches for 948 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was clearly a pretty productive player in college and probably worked well as a deep threat given his speed. But are we all going to throw that out the window now because he ran a 4.28-second 40? Probably not. Teams already knew he was fast from watching his tape. At the end of the day, it is what happens on the field that matters most. This showing at the combine might give Thornton a little bump up the draft boards. There are some teams out there that like speed enough at receiver to maybe draft him a round earlier than expected.

I am not preaching for the abolition of the combine. I still value it as an important event in the pre-draft process. I am just saying that we should treat it more like it actually is and less like we want it to be. Combine results aren’t going to drastically impact which quarterback comes off the board first in the draft. Aidan Hutchinson or Evan Neal aren’t going to slip down draft boards if their 3-cone drill isn’t as good as we expected. There are very valuable parts of this week such as interviews and medical exams, but workouts and drills are not on the same level as those. When all is said and done let’s just see this week for what it is worth: a bunch of future NFL players running and jumping around in their underwear.