Friday, December 11, 2020

Published December 11, 2020 by with 1 comment

What Are the Most Impressive NFL Combine Performances Ever?

If you combine the major tests and adjust for weight and height, which NFL player had the most impressive combine performance?


Unfortunately, the modern combine hasn't existed for that long, so I only have data back to the year 2000. Still, that gives us a good-sized data set (~5000 players with at least some data).

To try to find 'best performance ever', I wanted to do two things:

  1. Adjust for weight and height...a 200 lb guy running a 4.5 forty is way less impressive than a 250 lb guy doing it.
  2. Try to combine all metrics...a 200 lb guy running a 4.5 forty and getting 4 bench reps is way less impressive than a 200 lb running a 4.5 forty and getting 24 bench reps.
The metrics that seem to be available for most people are:
  • 40 yard dash time
  • bench press reps (number of times they bench press 225 lbs)
  • broad jump
  • vertical jump
So I used those.


To calculate this, I used a three step process:
  1. Perform linear regression for each metric using weight and height as inputs ('metric = C1*weight + C2*height + C3').
  2. Divide actual value by value predicted from the regression for each metric to get a score. E.g., if a player ran a 4.5 40 and the model predicted a 4.7 one for his weight and height, he'd get 4.5/4.7, or 0.957 for that metric.
  3. Calculate an overall score that's a weighted rss of the individual scores. The weights are 1, 1/5, 1/2, 1/2 for the four metrics in that order.
It doesn't affect the calculation much, but throughout, I use weight as an input for everything but bench reps, and weight^2/3 as an input for bench reps.


Using the calculation described above, these are the greatest combine performances (actual value to the left and predicted value in parentheses to the right):

player40 time (s)bench (reps)broad (inches)vertical (inches)
Vernon Davis4.38 (4.82)33 (21)128 (114)42 (33)
Terna Nande4.51 (4.70)41 (20)124 (115)39 (34)
Vic Beasley4.53 (4.78)35 (20)130 (115)41 (33)
Mario Williams4.70 (5.06)35 (23)120 (109)40 (30)
Cornelius Washington4.55 (4.89)36 (22)128 (112)39 (32)
Myles Garrett4.64 (4.93)33 (23)128 (111)41 (31)
Nick Perry4.55 (4.92)35 (23)124 (111)38 (31)
Margus Hunt4.62 (4.95)38 (21)121 (113)34 (32)
D.K. Metcalf4.33 (4.67)27 (18)134 (118)40 (34)
Jerick McKinnon4.41 (4.57)32 (19)132 (117)40 (35)
Davis Tull4.57 (4.78)26 (21)132 (114)42 (33)
Jon Alston4.50 (4.65)30 (19)132 (118)40 (34)
Vernon Gholston4.65 (4.89)37 (23)125 (112)36 (32)
Sean Weatherspoon4.62 (4.74)34 (21)123 (115)40 (33)
Demario Davis4.49 (4.71)32 (19)124 (116)38 (34)
Scott Young5.08 (5.15)43 (27)115 (104)35 (29)
Michael Johnson4.61 (4.89)28 (20)128 (114)38 (32)
Alex Barnes4.59 (4.66)34 (20)126 (117)38 (34)
Benjamin Watson4.50 (4.85)34 (22)123 (113)36 (32)
Virgil Green4.54 (4.79)23 (20)130 (115)42 (33)

#1 there did not surprise me. Vernon Davis's 40 time is pretty well known as an insane combine performance.

The first really odd one in that list is actually #2, Terna Nande. He had an extremely short NFL career with a single tackle in his entire career. However, at just 230 pounds he pulled off 41 reps on the bench, and all of his other performances were above average. No other non-lineman in history has gotten more than 40 reps. The rest of the top few had or are currently having pretty good NFL careers.

Since the 40 time is the one that seems most discussed, here is the same analysis if you use only the 40 time to rank:

playerweight (lbs)40 time (s)
Montez Sweat2604.41 (4.86)
Vernon Davis2544.38 (4.82)
Bryan Thomas2664.47 (4.89)
Dontari Poe3464.89 (5.35)
Dwight Freeney2664.48 (4.89)
Tank Johnson3044.69 (5.11)
Calvin Johnson2394.35 (4.74)
Dontay Moch2484.40 (4.79)
Matt Jones2424.37 (4.75)
Bruce Campbell3144.75 (5.16)
Taylor Mays2304.31 (4.69)
Terron Armstead3064.71 (5.12)
James Hanna2524.43 (4.81)
Martez Wilson2504.42 (4.80)
T.J. Duckett2544.45 (4.82)
Bruce Irvin2454.41 (4.77)
Rashan Gary2774.58 (4.95)
Connor Barwin2564.47 (4.83)
Nick Perry2714.55 (4.92)
Lane Johnson3034.72 (5.10)

It's interesting looking through both of these that the really legendary players aren't at the top. Many of them are good players, but Calvin Johnson and J.J Watt are the only ones near the top in either table that will definitely go down as all-time greats. Aaron Donald, Derrick Henry, etc. had above average combine performances but some that did clearly better went on to worse careers.

I was curious about that and decided to go in the other direction. What great players had bad combine performances? To do that, I took all all-pro players and matched with names from the combine, and the worst were Max Unger, Tyrann Mathieu, and Tarik Cohen. All under-performed estimates in every metric here. The worst performance from an all-time great here was Adrian Peterson. He was roughly average, but I would have guessed his 40 time was way better (4.68 s).


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