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The RotoViz Guide to the NFL Scouting Combine: Top 10 Things to Root For

CordarrellePatterson4For all of you dynasty fantasy football junkies out there – myself included – February is a complex time of year.  In some ways it’s the best time of the entire offseason because you’re diving head first into your rookie scouting.  In other ways it’s the worst time of the offseason because, unlike most other parts of the year, there’s VERY little new information coming at you.  All NFL games are done.  All the underclassmen have decided to enter the draft or stay in school.  The college all-star circuit is complete.  NFL free agency doesn’t begin until early March and the draft is excruciatingly far away in May.  The NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday February 22nd stands out like a shining beacon of hope, ready to satisfy your football fix and save you from going into withdrawal convulsions.  It’s your one and only chance to take in some really crucial information about your rookie prospects and while it may not be game-action, it’s still a LIVE event!  Hallelujah!

I absolutely understand the temptation to watch the Combine live but I’m here to tell you not to.  I know it’s difficult but for the love of Pete, please don’t actually watch it.  Don’t give in!  Stay strong!  You’ll survive, I promise.  In fact, there are millions of more useful alternatives to watching the Combine.  For example:  cleaning out your attic, doing some long division, watching paint dry, cleaning out your gutters, self-inflicting Chinese water torture, watching the entire ten minutes of this video, and maybe even getting that root canal you’ve been putting off.  They’re all much better uses of your time than watching the “Underwear Olympics”.

Combine Data – Fuel for the RotoViz Engine

Before I give you the impression that the Combine doesn’t matter, let me be crystal clear – the combine is VERY IMPORTANT.  By all means, analyze the shit out of the data!  That’s where the value is.  I’m about 48.3% sure that RotoViz wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the wealth of numbers that the Combine provides.  Combine stats go into everything from Height-Adjusted Speed Scores, to Physical Scores, to Agility Scores, to Explosion Scores…(a lot of scores, really).  Not to mention plain old height, weight, length, and speed measurements that can be very worthwhile themselves when we put them into context.

All I’m saying is “don’t bother watching it.”  I really can’t see anything to be gained from the mind-numbing activity of watching a whole bunch of dudes run in a straight line or jump up and down over and over again.  And don’t get me started on positional drills…more on that later.  I will, however, pay someone $5/hr to watch the whole thing for me and accurately record any and all stumbles, trips, falls, or stubs that impact measurement times.  No, really I’m serious.  That’s probably the one valuable piece of info to be gained by watching it live.  I’d much rather pay someone else to do it though.

But IF YOU MUST, I still won’t fault you for watching the Combine.  It really is the ONLY thing going on in February and I know how tough the football withdrawals can be, trust me.  So, if you find that NFL Network has somehow managed to work its way onto your television screen and the sight of freakish athletes running around is drawing you in like a mind-vaporizing tractor beam, I’m here to help you out.  Here are some things you can root for to make it more interesting.

Most draft analysts and (it seems) a lot of NFL teams have some predictable reactions to combine metrics that we at RotoViz might interpret differently.  That makes it easy to cheer for things that may seem a bit contrarian on the surface.  We want these numbers to push consensus opinion on a player in the opposite direction from ours to allow us to scoop up values for our NFL or dynasty fantasy football teams.  Here’s what I mean…

Top 10 Things to Root for in the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine

1) Root for Davante Adams to weigh in no less than 210 lbs.

 I could have gone a couple of different ways with my favorite WR in the 2014 draft class.  I could have asked you to root for a mediocre 40 time (since that matters less than his dominant metrics), or perhaps just an “average” combine performance across the board since a truly eye-popping workout could push his value higher than it currently is.  Then again, if draft analysts and early rookie drafters aren’t taking note of a guy who put up a historic college season by being one of the most productive red zone receivers in the past 9 BCS seasons, I doubt even a scintillating combine performance will do much to change their opinion.  So, I went with his weight.  As Shawn Siegele noted in his early WR rankings

 Adams seems to be devalued because he played in the Mountain West and caught passes from a prolific quarterback, but his market share easily trumps many of the bigger names…If [Adams] shrinks from his listed 6’2”, 212, then he’ll lose a meaningful advantage he appears to enjoy over many of the hyped names. If it holds up, I wouldn’t be overly worried about his level of competition with all of the other positive markers.

The Fantasy Douche has also shown in numerous ways what an advantage bigger receivers have over their average or smaller-sized counterparts:

They put up more 1000yd/10TD seasons.
They make their QBs look good.
They tend to be more efficient in the red zone.

I could go on, but you get the point: bigger receivers are better stat producers.  I’ve also been doing some work on showing how size relates to fantasy success.  I find that weight tends to be even more predictive than height, and that 210 seems to be a bit of a tipping point.  More to come on that later, but for now…cheer for Davante to tip the scales at 210 or more.

 

2) Root for Lache Seastrunk to run a 4.40 forty yard dash.

Wait, what?  Won’t that push his value up?  Yes, that’s exactly right.  Seastrunk is one of the most overvalued players currently projected to go in the first round of rookie drafts, in my opinion.  The higher his rookie draft stock goes, the better.  Listed at 5’10” 210 on Baylor’s official website, a 4.40 forty yard dash would give Seastrunk a 112 Speed Score (a measure of how fast you are for your size) which should have Seastrunk fans drooling.  The reason I’m low on him is his weak market share of Baylor’s rushing yards and touchdowns.  Last year I developed a running back model that showed a correlation between a high market share of college production and fantasy success.  Speed Score was another factor in the model, but not nearly as important as market share.  I find that players who account for greater than 2/3rds of the ground stats in their final college season tend to do better in the NFL than players who account for less of those college stats.

Even if we remove the six carry game vs. Oklahoma where Seastrunk was injured AND we take all of Bryce Petty’s 210 yards and 14 TDs out of the equation, Lache only accounted for 44% of the 2013 Baylor rushing production, which is actually a below-average market share.  Throw in the fact that Seastrunk is relatively undersized and HE DIDN’T CATCH A SINGLE PASS IN 2013 and there are far too many red flags for me to justify burning a first round pick on him.  I’ll be jumping for joy if Seastrunk blazes a good 40 time because if he does, you can bank on him being taken in the first half of round 1.

 

3) Root for Allen Robinson to record at least a 38” vertical.

 Robinson appears to have the requisite size (6’3” 210), collegiate market share (.38 DR), and breakout age (19) to be worthy of a first round rookie draft pick.  The one thing that continues to bother me is his atrocious red zone efficiency in 2013.  Using the College Career Graphs App you can see that his red zone TD rate is only 6%.  What we really want to see is something north of 30% if we’re following Jon Moore’s Eric Decker Factor.  He actually did achieve that in his sophomore season (33%), so it seems like he can do it.  But it still bothers me that he trailed off in his junior campaign.

I always love using the College WR Stat Filter App to drill into those red zone numbers.  It turns out that in 2013 he scored only one red zone TD on 16 targets, while in 2012 he scored 5 red zone TDs on 15 targets.  Which is the real Allen Robinson?  Even though I’ve done no research to prove that vertical correlates to red zone efficiency, I’ve worked up a quick formula:  6’3” + 38” = TDs right?  I’m still rooting for that 38” or better level because it will make me feel like he’s closer to the 2012 version of himself than the 2013 version.

4) Root for Jordan Matthews to run no faster than a 4.50 forty yard dash.

 In case you hadn’t noticed already, Jordan Matthews is a RotoViz favorite.  He has the most dominant market share profile of anyone in the 2014 class.  Matthews has some fans out there in the draft analyst community, but he’s certainly not getting Day One buzz.

At least part of that lack of hype comes from the notion that Matthews lacks top-end speed and/or game changing athleticism.  While it seems unlikely, if he happens to rip off a sub 4.50 I think that could immediately change the draft community’s perception of what Matthews brings to the table and his rookie draft stock will follow suit.  He seems to be a late first round pick at these early stages, which I think is a fantastic value.  Even though forty times do matter, they still seem to be less important than DR and breakout age.  I’m rooting for Matthews not to break that 4.50 barrier so he continues to fly under the radar as a great dynasty value pick.

5) Root for Bishop Sankey to post a sub 11.00 Agility Score.

If you’re new to RotoViz and the work of Shawn Siegele…welcome.  You might want to get used to winning championships more often.  You’ll also want to go back and read all about Shawn’s work on Agility Scores.  Agility Score is simply the sum of a player’s 3 cone drill and 20 yard short shuttle times.  Though simple in its calculation, Agility Scores are an extremely useful tool in identifying running back talent.  Scores of 11.00 and below represent elite lateral quickness.  That lateral quickness often translates into success in the receiving game as these players are able to create separation while running routes and they’re able to make defenders miss when they receive the ball in space.  Bishop Sankey is a prospect who oddly seems to be falling out of favor with draftniks at the moment because he’s “nothing special”.  Case in point:

 

6) Root for Kelvin Benjamin’s height to measure under 6’6”.

Kelvin Benjamin has some serious size to him at 6’5” 234 lbs (according to the FSU website) and it looks like he has decent athleticism.  That’s automatically intriguing to NFL teams as well as dynasty owners.  Unfortunately, there are a couple major red flags with Benjamin.  He just turned 23 this month putting him closer to 24 by the time he takes his first NFL snaps as a rookie this fall.  If you don’t think that’s a big deal, take a moment to read this.  What’s even more concerning is that despite his Megatron-like size he was never dominant at FSU.  He didn’t crest the .30 DR mark in either of his two seasons.  Put another way, he doesn’t even have a breakout age.

The reason I’m rooting for him to come in under 6’6” is because I don’t want him to be considered a tight end.  It seems very unlikely he’ll be projected or used as a TE at the NFL level, but if by some chance he’s considered too big to be WR I think that will sink his rookie draft stock.  I think Benjamin represents too much risk to be any more than a late first round rookie pick, so I’m more than happy for someone else to reach on him.  If he’s considered a TE all bets are off and he might fall out of the first round entirely, pushing better prospects up the board.

7) Root for Ka’Deem Carey to run exactly 4.45 in the forty yard dash.

Yes, a 4.45 forty at only 207 lbs doesn’t sound all THAT great, but that’s kinda the point.  If Ka’Deem Carey runs an “average” forty time you may find people getting off the bandwagon a bit, and that’s exactly what you want for a player as dominant in rushing production as Carey was in 2013.  He sports a truly elite .87 rush DR accounting for 83% of Arizona’s rushing Yards and 90% of their rushing TDs.  Here’s a quick table of all the players in the sample from my RB model who’ve posted rushing market shares of 80% or higher with Carey and his assumed weight and forty included:

NameSchoolDraftWeight(lbs)40YardSpeed ScoreMS RuYdMS RuTDDR Ru
Javon RingerMichigan State20092054.5595.70.970.960.96
Le'Veon BellMichigan State20132304.60102.70.920.920.92
Alfred MorrisFlorida Atlantic20122194.6395.30.940.900.92
Garrett WolfeNorthern Illinois20071864.4099.30.900.900.90
Joique BellWayne State (MI)20102204.6891.70.810.970.89
Matt ForteTulane20082174.44111.70.880.880.88
Thomas JonesVirginia20002164.45110.20.850.890.87
Ricky WilliamsTexas19992444.56112.90.810.930.87
Ka'Deem CareyArizona20142074.45105.60.830.900.87
Steven JacksonOregon State20042314.55107.80.880.760.82
Ray RiceRutgers20081994.42104.30.780.830.80
Jacquizz RodgersOregon State20111964.5988.30.830.780.80

Sure, not every back on this list has turned into a stud, but some certainly have.  You can see that more often than not, these elite DR prospects have been fantasy-relevant at a minimum.  Furthermore, if you re-sort the table descending on Speed Score, you start to see a bit of a pattern – the sub 100 Speed Score guys are generally not quite as successful as the over 100 guys.  A 4.45 forty for Carey might just thread that needle where it gives him a good Speed Score (105), but also lets down those who were looking for something closer to 4.40 to justify investing in a smaller running back.  Right now it seems like Carey is a consensus top three rookie back, so anything that helps to reduce that cost will work in our favor.

 

8) Root for Austin Seferian-Jenkins to record 10.75” hands and 34.25” arms.

This is another unscientific one – I’ve done no research on the correlation between hand size or arm length/wingspan and red zone productivity, but you have to think that they’re probably somewhat related.  Thus, I want ASJ to measure as beastly as possible so he can be the “Baby Gronk” he looks like from a physical and metrics perspective.  First the physical:

Player Height Weight Hand Zize Arm Length
Rob Gronkowski 6’6″ 265 10.75″ 34.25″
Austin Seferian-Jenkins 6’6″ 276 ?? ??

For the metrics, we can use the College Career Graphs App (it includes TEs if you hadn’t noticed already).  Gronk has the better market share (.48 vs .25 which admittedly isn’t all that close) but ASJ actually beats out Gronk for red zone efficiency (.67 vs .46).

AustinSeferian-Jenkins-GronkDR

Lest you think that Gronk had better raw red zone numbers, here are the stats from the College WR Stat Filter App:

PLAYER School SEAS RZTgt TDS RZTDR
Rob Gronkowski Arizona 2008 13 6 0.46
Rob Gronkowski Arizona 2007 3 2 0.67
Austin Seferian-Jenkins Washington 2013 12 8 0.67
Austin Seferian-Jenkins Washington 2012 15 5 0.33
Austin Seferian-Jenkins Washington 2011 11 6 0.55

And yet ASJ somehow seems to be the #3 rookie tight end right now behind Ebron and Amaro.  Both of those prospects are interesting in their own right; Ebron is built in more of the athletic “move” mold than the Gronkian all-around threat and Amaro is more of a raw production phenom than a relative stats dominator.  But ASJ still stands out to me as the one with a shot to be the next Gronk.  The chances are pretty slim, no doubt, but I’m still willing to gamble with a mid-to-late second round of rookie pick if ASJ’s body measures out in the same ballpark.

 

9) Root for Mike Evans to run no slower than a 4.55 forty yard dash.

You may consider this cheating, and I won’t argue with you.  But why reinvent the wheel when Davis Mattek has already written such a killer piece on the topic?

 

10) Root for Marqise Lee to dominate “The Gauntlet.”

If you’re not familiar with the combine’s WR positional drills (aka “The Gauntlet”) here’s a great primer.  They make players run in a straight line (with no defender covering them), catching five balls (and subsequently dropping them on purpose, mind you) from two different directions.  It supposedly demonstrates vision, hand-eye coordination, and…”fluidity”.  While I get that catching footballs is sorta the whole gig with being a wide receiver, the idea that ANY part of a player’s evaluation should come from a non-padded drill like this is borderline ludicrous to me.  How is this even remotely related to playing wide receiver, which I think of as gaining separation from a defender and securing a football while being slammed to the ground by multiple defenders?  It’s comical, really.  But you know a few draftnik tweets about Lee tearing up the Gauntlet is all it would take for the Lee fanatic in your league to seriously consider taking him at 1 overall in your rookie draft.  And that’s exactly what I want to happen.

I don’t think Marqise Lee has the requisite size to be a true difference maker in the NFL.  I know size isn’t everything, but I like to see true dominance at the college level before I’m willing to relax my preference for big receivers.  Lee’s 2013 campaign was anything but dominant.  Shawn Siegel lays out a pretty good case why his breakout 2012 season at age 20 probably makes it worth taking a shot on Lee, but I’m still not sold.  With a flashy Gauntlet performance he’s sure to go far too high in the first round for my taste, which is perfect.  Let everyone else pass on some of the other elite talents in this class who are flying under the radar.

Happy Combine watching!  (It’s either that, or a root canal)

 

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