2014 NFL Combine: Analyzing Athleticism

Donte Moncrief surprised many with his breakout performance at the combine, but who is the most athletic split end prospect? (Photo: US Presswire)

By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer

The NFL Scouting Combine developed as a central location for evaluators to convene and, well, evaluate future NFL talent. There are multiple drills, tests, medical checks and grueling interviews designed to analyze everything about a prospect and whether or not he’s worth the million dollar investment.

Ask those in the know and they’ll tell you the medical checks are the most crucial. Just take how Cyrus Kouandjio’s stock has taken such a bit hit after several team doctors failed his medical check (complications from a knee surgery). That being said most of us aren’t doctors and most of us would rather watch prospects run and jump as its much more entertaining. Unless of course you’re a House junkie I guess.

But how exactly do we judge a prospect’s potential based on the information we gather at the combine? To be honest a lot of what’s televised and reported is for show. I mean does an offensive lineman ever run 40 yards in a straight line? However, it does give you a picture of his overall athleticism, movement skills and coordination. In fact the combine is built to do just that: gauge athleticism. There is a clear distinction between athleticism and skill. Skill refers to the acquired or learned abilities you can actively practice, improve and eventually master. An example of a football skill would be for a running back to carry the ball high and tight, an offensive lineman to execute a proper cut block or for a quarterback to master a seven step drop. All those skills are vital to being successful at the NFL level, but to be elite it requires talent.

Talent is the inherent raw ability to jump higher and run faster than the competition. Although yes its possible to “learn” to run faster through technique and practice, but everyone is limited by their genes. And you certainly can’t learn to be taller. So, let’s focus on the main aspect the combine helps to evaluate. Talent. Every position needs a different type of athleticism. Height is great, especially for receivers who need to attack the ball at its highest point, but interior offensive linemen lose leverage at anything over 6’5 or so.

The following is my attempt at being creative. I took the most athletic prospects at each position and used the intensity of the color green to map each prospects level of talent at each attribute or measurement. The darker the green the better or more elite a prospect is in terms of that particular trait. Height and weight are listed first and then what I consider to be the most important trait next. Notice how the 40 is one of the last indicator for the offensive line.

Offensive Tackles:

The casual fan could watch an entire NFL game on Sunday and have no idea the offensive tackle position even exists. While not sexy, the tackle has become a premium position as teams seek to protect their quarterback. When it comes to the tackle position the ideal size is in the 6’5-6’6 range and a well built 315-330 lb.

What is maybe more important though is arm length to control leverage and restrict defenders movement, and to a lesser degree hand size. Next I’d say the 3 cone because it emphasizes quick feet, agility and flexibility. All are important traits in attempting to mirror and block the elite edge rushers in the game. Having an effective kick step and backpedal are absolutely essential to be a tackle. The 20 yard shuttle tests change of direction ability and lower body explosion, which are again key to pass blocking but also to drive opponents back in the run game.

The 10 yard split is more important than the 40 because long speed is all but useless for a lineman. How quickly he can get going will help predict whether or not he can pull and reach the second level effectively. Finally the 40 is more a test of overall athleticism and fitness while the broad and vertical jumps are pure lower body explosiveness.

Player Ht Wt Arm Lngth Hand Size 3 Cone 20 YSH 10 yrd Split Broad J 40 Time Vert
Taylor Lewan 6’71 309 33 7/8 9 ¼ 7.39 4.49 1.64 9’9 4.87 30.5
Greg Robinson 6’5 332 35 10 7.8 4.86 1.68 9’5 4.92 28.5
Ja’Wuan James 6’6 311 35 9 7/8 7.42 4.56 1.82 8.6 5.34 29
Cyrus Kouandjio 6’6 6 322 35 5/8 10 ¼ 7.71 4.84 1.79 8’0 5.59 27.5
Seantrel Henderson 6’71 331 34 5/8 10 ½ 8.15 4.77 1.71 7’9 5.04 24
Morgan Moses 6’6 314 35 3/8 9 7/8 7.93 4.95 1.94 8’10 5.35 21.5


Interior Line:

Much like the tackle spot interior linemen need to have long arms, big hands and weigh over 300 lbs in order to anchor the line and manhandled defensive tackles. Their ideal height, however is a bit lower as leverage and their center of gravity is the name of the game.

Player Ht Wt AL HS 20 YSH 10 Split 3 Cone Broad J Vert 40
Joel Botonio 6’41 302 33 7/8 9 5/8 4.44 1.68 7.37 9’6 32 4.97
John Urschel 6’3 313 33 10 3/8 4.47 1.75 7.55 8’5 29 5.31
Brandon Thomas 6’32 317 34 ¾ 10 ½ 4.83 1.78 8.13 8’2 29 5.09
Gabe Ikard 6’35 304 33 1/8 9 5/8 4.37 1.78 7.3 8’6 26 5.13
Trai Turner 6’25 310 34 9 ½ DNP 1.72 DNP DNP 27.5 4.93
Jonotthan Harrison 6’34 304 33 3/8 9 7/8 4.86 1.78 7.97 9’5 27 5.15
Marcus Martin 6’33 320 34 10 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
Matt Armstrong 6’21 302 33 10 5/8 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP 5.36


Split Ends:

Most people realize that Tavon Austin at 5’9 174 and Brandon Marshall at 6’4 230 play vastly different roles. While Austin uses quickness and speed to get open downfield out of the slot, Marshall relies on his size, short area explosion and leaping ability to exploit mismatches outside. This group is more of than latter, the bigger, stronger types who are almost exclusively split outside where their size causes problems isolated against smaller cover corners.

Height, weight (but more so strength), arm length and hand size are what allows them to utilize a massive catch radius to snatch the ball away from defenders. The 10 yard split more so than the full 40 helps gauge the receiver’s ability to explode out of a stationary position. Sound familiar? One of the biggest differences in the analysis of speedy slot receivers and X receivers is that the latter is asked to be red zone targets and grab the ball at its highest point. The vertical measures just that, as well as overall explosiveness. For slot receivers it’s useful but split ends have a much more practical application of that ability: abusing smaller defenders in the corner of the end zone.

Player Ht Wt AL HS 10 Split Vert 40 3 Cone Broad J 20 YSH
Martavis Bryant 6’36 211 32 5/8 9 ½ 1.53 39 4.42 7.18 10’4 4.15
Donte Moncrief 6’23 221 32 3/8 9 1/8 1.5 39.5 4.4 7.02 11 4.3
Mike Evans 6’46 231 35 1/8 9 5/8 1.57 37 4.53 7.08 DNP 4.26
Jeff Janis 6’27 219 32 ½ 9 1.47 37.5 4.42 6.64 10’3 3.98
Jordan Matthews 6’31 212 33 ¼ 10 3/8 N/A 35.5 4.46 6.95 10 4.18


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40 Responses to “2014 NFL Combine: Analyzing Athleticism”

  1. J H TARBORO says:

    Tampa’s CB D.Revis, Chicago’s DE J.Peppers, and Carolina’s WR S.Smith are on the trading block before being cut.

    • GM-In-Training says:

      All of those contracts would have to be reworked before a trade for the Pats to take them on. Otherwise, you wait for them to be cut and start over on the deals.

  2. J H TARBORO says:

    Pats release 4 (WR TJ Moe,DT Corey Grissom,WR/RB Sam McGuffie, and LB Taylor Reed

  3. Daniel R. Martin says:

    ****Why are my posts being held for moderation now?***

    I’m probably one of few fans here, but I can’t help but to feel as though the money Talib will require could quite nearly pay for a quality corner and a darn good safety. I would like to have Talib, don’t get me wrong. But if he can’t remain healthy enough to perform at or near an elite level when it truly counts (i.e. AFC Title Game) he is of limited value. I’m beginning to feel the same way about Gronk. The primary difference there is that Talib is a very good cornerback, whereas Gronk is the best TE in the game.

    Also, I am starting to think the team should cut Wilfork if he won’t play for around $3M per.

    • steve earle says:

      I don’t think your wrong about Talib at all Dan though I’d like to see an equally talented replacement onboard before Bill lets him go. AS for Wolfolk, much depends on how his recovery is going but a restructuring should be in order to save cap space.

  4. Daniel R. Martin says:

    I’m probably one of few fans here, but I can’t help but to feel as though the money Talib will require could quite nearly pay for a quality corner and a damn good safety. I would like to have Talib, don’t get me wrong. But if he can’t remain healthy enough to perform at or near an elite level when it truly counts (i.e. AFC Title Game) he is of limited value. I’m beginning to feel the same way about Gronk. The primary difference there is that Talib is a very good cornerback, whereas Gronk is the best TE in the game.

    Also, I am starting to think the team should cut Wilfork if he won’t play for around $3M per.

  5. J H TARBORO says:

    Pats re sign TE Hooman!

    • Daniel R. Martin says:

      Unless he is playing for marginally more than the league minimum, I can’t accept that as good news.

      • J H TARBORO says:

        It’s not great news but it’s business!

      • acm says:

        can’t have 53 all pros on the roster. Hooman is a solid depth signing, great at nothing but good at a number of things. Doubt they broke the bank for him either.

  6. Joe Blake says:

    Looks like (my guess) 4 years and $40 million with $18 million guaranteed for Talib. Crow is just as good as Talib and will cost much less. (Crow will end up pennyless given his multiple support payments!). Hope he still plsays well.

    • Jim R says:

      Joe, I think they are preparing for plan B with Talib. Either Crow would work IMO

    • Pete H. says:

      I’d say that contract (we’ll see if it really goes that high) is worth it for the Pats, especially if they can work in even a bit of protection. For a true impact player, that is a reasonable contract, even with some of the injury/character concerns. They can structure it so that there is a large salary in the final year so they can either extend or cut him at that point, and they have good young depth locked up for the next couple of years for relatively cheap. Especially considering the likely rise in the cap, you may see contracts really increasing in value over the next 4 years. Cromartie does look like the top “Plan B” option if the Pats don’t see things the same way. Talib taking out the opposing team’s best big receiver usually allows Dennard to cover a smaller or less skilled WR, which he excels at, and allows safeties to focus attention elsewhere, meaning the defense can do more when he is on the field.

  7. GM-In-Training says:

    I like the color-coding for a quick comparison.

    You don’t like the Bench Press for assessing interior lineman?

    • MarcSluis says:

      That’s a great point. The main issue I have with the bench is two fold. Weight room strong and football strong are two totally different things. More importantly arm length has such a huge effect as well. Those with longer arms have to raise the bar a longer distance. Therefore prospects with longer arms (a good thing) have artificially lower bench numbers, which means prospects are punished by having lower reps only because they have a different positive trait of long arms if that makes sense. That being said its still a decent measure of strength and should probably be included.

  8. ramone77 says:

    we can’t let talib go. without him, or secondary is poor. tom has a few years left, we have to win now! enough of this value crap.

  9. acm says:

    A Chromartie has just been released by the Jets. I think there is still a good deal of gas left in his tank and could be an option for the Pats to replace Talib on the cheap-erish as top CB contracts go these days. Talib seems less and lass likely to be back.

    • Bill Vermont says:

      Those big deals have all gone to teams own players. Pats at still in drivers seat with Talib, but it will take probably 4yrs @ $25MM+ with 15MM guaranteed. That’s a boatload of money for a guy given away 2 years ago

      • steve earle says:

        Your right Bill and add to that all the down time due to injuries makes me have to wonder?

      • acm says:

        true, after all free agency hasn’t started yet but these contracts set the market for the rest. Talib as an injury risk is likely to be the source of the diff in Pat’s evaluation of his services and his own. My guess is there would be more than just a few teams out there ready to beat the Pats offer and quite frankly I’d be shocked if he returns.
        To be perfectly honest, I’d rather see them invest in other areas of the D in free agency and get their CBs in the draft. Or, If they can get A Chromartie for anything like 5-6 mil or less, I could care less where Talib goes or not.

  10. roark says:

    I thought all players were ahtletic lol

  11. Russell says:

    For free agents I look for the Patriots to look at CB Corey Graham, DE/T Arthur Jones, TE Scott Chandler and Darren Sproles (if he’s cut or traded)

    • roark says:

      Who the hell is Scott Chandler ?

      • steve earle says:

        Chandler is FA TE Buff Bills. Decent TE but no game braker. We could get better in the early rounds of the draft imo and an equaly talented TE in the mid rounds for less then it would take to sign Chandler. Again imo.

    • steve earle says:

      I too like Arthur Jones because he has the size to move inside for when Bill wants to play a 4-3 then can be the DE in the 3-4. Seems the kind of flexability that is valued in Foxboro. Your list is very good but Arthur is my personal 1st choice of FA.

  12. J H TARBORO says:

    TCU pro day CB Jason Verett proved his skills at corner but there is a buzz about his WR skill set and hands. Most scouts see him as dual player and his route running coming out of breaks are compared to Welker but he’s much quicker.

    • steve earle says:

      I like Verett too but he’s another undersized guy. I got beaten up earlier when I put Lamarcus Joyner on one of my mocks another talented small guy. Bill doesn’t tend to lean toward these drasticly undersized players though so I’m not expecting either of these two to be Pat’s.

  13. J H TARBORO says:

    Tebow rumblings have started again!

  14. J H TARBORO says:

    Marc Sluis this is a really good article.

  15. Pete H. says:

    What do people think about Jimmie Ward? Seems like a good SS prospect with a higher ceiling than Harmon- any chance he’s available when the Pats pick at the end of the second round?

    • acm says:

      I think he would be. I really like the way he breaks on the ball and his explosiveness in short areas – better in that regard than DMac, imo – but a concern with him is he lacks the top end speed to cover deep as well as he is probably 10 lbs away from the ideal weight for a FS.

      Not sure he is what the Pats need unless they are looking to replace DMac, though. At this point, a tone-setter, who’s not too big a liability in coverage would be a better fit, I think. Outside of the 1st round, I think Bucannon would be the best option but very much doubt he drops out of the top 50 picks.

      • steve earle says:

        Right you are about the S position acm, agree completely. About that SS I still think Ahmad Dixion fits the need. He can cover and hit. Someone replied, when I pointed to him before, that he had red flags and as far as I know it was only a one time off field and one time on field events. Am I wrong? If not I can live with a S with an aggressive streak. He looks to me as a 3rd rounder, what about you?

        • acm says:

          Regarding red flags, the only one I remember had to do with failure to control his temper on occasion, which has lead to penalties.
          The bigger problem with Dixon is that he can’t cover that well, making him a rather 1-D safety at the next level. He is a hard-hitter but I don’t think that would be enough for him to get drafted earlier than the 4th. I personally expect even Loston to be drafted before Dixon, both in the 4th and even later.

          At S, both strong and free, outside the 1st round I am looking at Buccanon, Ward, Brooks and potential convert to the S position and also a hybrid LB in Telvin Smith. In the later rounds Tre Boston, Brock Vereen and Dezmen Southward could be interesting options. Personally, if the Pats really want to strengthen the position from the draft, I hope they skip on these later-round players and go for someone like Buccanon – they have one too many average safeties who are only good for special teams as is.

          A player I like in the later rounds (5th or so) who performed as a FS at the combine is Dontae Johnsin from NCST but the catch with him is that I like him more as a tall, physical corner. His ability to play at FS would only be a bonus.

        • Russell says:

          amc good eye on CB/S Donte Johnson. I have watched him play at N.C.State good player with a good upside. I think a 4th rounder however, at 6’2″195lbs size is great.

        • acm says:

          Russ, you may well have a point there for D. Johnson in the 4th. With Sherman likely to command close to 15-16 mil in free agency next year, Seattle may well draft DJ in late 4th as insurance.

        • steve earle says:

          Acm, Yes temper drew some flags for sure but as for not being able to cover I’m not sure that’s valid. They used him at baylor as a hybred LB/S which I would think would limit his coverage oppertunitys or at least make him a run first defender. Now I could be wrong but my thinking is he would be a good late 3rd rd pick and at least as good as Loston, no special knock on Losten who is a like kind of talent.

  16. MaineMan says:

    Jeff Janis’ 9″ hands are a concern, but he seemed to catch everything very cleanly in the Combine drills. He seemed to have very good vision for the incoming pass and the body-control to make very good adjustments. Together with his speed, size and very crisp cuts, I’d have to think that Pats are looking at him.

    And, yes, I DO think that another WR draftee could be in the cards for this season since there still aren’t any “sure things” on the roster (Amendola, general health – Dobson, foot, – KT, technique issues lingering through the end of the season – Boyce, still unproven – Edelman, free agent – Moe/Harrison, haven’t played a down in the NFL yet).

  17. Russell says:

    Nicely done article mr. Sluis! I agree with “acm” Zach Martin at OG ,tho he’s listed as an OT. If Martin is on the draft Board when the Patriots pick, I think they take him.

  18. acm says:

    Good one, Mr. Sluis!

    would you care to add Dakota Dozier to the interior OL and maybe Zach Martin and Anthony Steen too, although they didn’t perform in the drills, iirc. Jack Mewhort could be an option for the OTs.
    As for the split ends, I think Cody Latimer and Cody Hoffman would be interesting additions as the Pats are not very likely to take a WR in the early to mid rounds this year.

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