The NFL combine is the meat market of the NFL. Speed, size, and strength are all recorded to find the top prospects of the future. Fans and the media fixate on the best numbers and can be quite critical of poor 40 yard dash results. Instantly a 4.35 running back seems so much more appealing than a player who ran a 4.55.
But is the two tenths of a second the difference between a bust and NFL stardom? Is the 40 yard dash really the end-all be-all of the NFL?
Of course not.
For starters the difference between two tenths of a second is not something one can measure without a stopwatch. The fact that players are running without pads and start in a sprinter’s stance is also not relevant to the next level. Actually, if I’m going to go one step further, how often are these future millionaire athletes going to be running in a dead straight line? NFL running backs rarely have a clear cut straight path to the endzone without making some sort of cut, juke, or spin. Sure once the ball carrier breaks the first wave of defenders his odds increase to take it the distance, but even then he has to worry about ball hawking safeties.
I have a different way to evaluate running backs, a drill that in my opinion gets no credit for being a true NFL test of a prospects skills. It’s called the 3 cone drill, and if you look back at the history of the results, you’ll see a pattern that fantasy football fans may find a little interesting.
Simply put, the 3 cone drill is a measurement of a players’ cuts in and out of breaks. Speed to turn the corner, speed to make someone miss. What’s really the most surprising statistic is that going back over the last 4 years, the top cone drill performers are almost all NFL studs, or are on pace to be.
This year RB Chris Rainy of the Florida Gators ran an impressive 3 cone drill time of 6.50, breaking the record that Ray Rice held for years. In fact 3 RB’s of this years draft prospects had impressive numbers: Rainy, Doug Martin of Boise State, and LeMichael James of Oregon. When added to the list of top 3 cone drill performers of the last 4 years, their numbers accompany some impressive household names.
Quickness, along with the ability to shed defenders, gives a team a weapon at RB that can be added easily into almost any offense. A nice change of pace RB can help a team pick up decent yardage. Ray Rice is a Fantasy Football all purpose workhorse, and while he didn’t kickoff his career as a full-time starter, Rice slowly contributed as best he could growing into the stud he is today.
The team and system do need to fit the style of the player in order for things to work out. Adding any of these quick RB prospects to a club with no offensive line or no passing game could really ruin their chances of doing some damage, at least in their first year. Doug Martin looks to be more of an all around running back, but James and Rainy have “3rd down” type qualities and are about getting to the outside or slipping through coverage.
At this point, and before Pro day results change my mind, Chris Rainy, LeMichael James, and of course Doug Martin are all on my short list for players to watch.
James is a diehard fantasy football fan who has been playing for over 20 years. He doesn’t have a favorite team, mainly from moving around a lot when he was a kid. This has to lead to many fantasy championships as James drafts with his head, not with his heart. James also plays heavily in Dynasty Football and loves DFS and Picking games. He’s excited to see where he can go writing for Gridiron Experts