Short answer: Yes.
There has been a good amount of hand wringing on the interwebs following Keenan Allen’s recordation of what I think can only be described as an awful 40 time of 4.71. The two most common responses that I’ve seen are: 1) Doesn’t matter, and 2) Anquan Boldin ran a 4.72. I think both of those responses are problematic. I’ll say that I don’t think things are as bad for Allen as the 40 time might suggest, but that’s for a different reason than I’ve heard given. My defense of Allen’s 40 time pretty much comes down to a medical defense. He probably hasn’t been healthy enough to train for the 40, which is probably a pretty important part of running the 40. Agents don’t spend thousands of dollars every year training their guys because the training doesn’t help. I’ll return to the medical issue later, but for now let me go through the defenses I’ve seen of Allen’s 40.
First, the Doesn’t Matter defense is probably just an exercise in mental inflexibility. When presented with new evidence, the Doesn’t Matter group is putting their hands over their ears and saying “La la la la,” – they already had enough evidence to make up their mind. If you’re not actually updating your thinking when new information comes out, are you ever incorporating information into your thinking that doesn’t confirm prior beliefs?
The Anquan Boldin defense is more reasonable, although it is also problematic. The Boldin defense is reasonable because Allen does look surprisingly close to Boldin with the bad 40 time. But it’s problematic because it also puts Allen in the company of a number of receivers who have been much less impressive than Boldin. So if you’re trying to figure out the expected value of drafting Allen, should your expectation be the best receiver that looks similar? Or should it be perhaps the median outcome of the similar receivers? There’s also the issue that Boldin was larger coming out than Allen is. Here is a table which shows some guys who had similar measurables to Allen.
|Michael Clayton-Louisiana State||2003||209||4.67||0.35||14||0.34||0.34||77.07||0.71||13.83||1.79|
|Justin Jenkins-Mississippi State||2003||210||4.6||0.77||12||0.37||0.60||73.33||0.75||14.19||–|
|Anquan Boldin-Florida State||2002||216||4.72||1.37||14||0.35||0.48||72.21||0.93||15.55||6.14|
|Arnaz Battle-Notre Dame||2002||217||4.58||0.94||11||0.39||0.45||70.45||0.45||14.09||0.18|
|Brandon Lafell-Louisiana State||2009||211||4.58||1.06||13||0.34||0.58||60.92||0.85||13.89||1.00|
|Tony Johnson-Penn State||2003||202||4.61||0.63||8||0.28||0.50||55.25||0.50||14.26||–|
In the end, I think the Boldin defense of Allen is problematic for the same reason that I think it’s problematic to say that arm strength doesn’t matter for NFL quarterbacks. Every time we hear about a guy who lacks arm strength we also get a reference to Joe Montana. But if your example for the guy that bucks the trend happened once, and happened 30 years ago, how realistic is it to expect it to happen again? It could happen again, that’s just not the most likely outcome. In the case of Allen, the most likely outcome is not that he becomes Anquan Boldin.
As I said, I don’t think things are as bad for Allen as the 40 time might suggest, but that also doesn’t mean that I think a team should burn a high draft pick on him. The same medical issue that slowed him down for his 40 should also go into the thinking of a team when they draft him and really it should be incorporated in the form of uncertainty. There is no certainty regarding his true speed and there might also be issues related to the knee. I’m sure medical staffs can figure out the issue with the knee, so then it just comes down to the fact that you don’t have any certainty related to his speed. It’s not that a team couldn’t look at the risks and decide to still take him, it’s just that it doesn’t make any sense to pretend like the 40 time doesn’t matter at all. And in that case they should realize that they’re hoping for a 206 pound receiver to be Anquan Boldin-ish.