The NFL Combine and Performance on the Football Field: Do high scores on the NFL Combine physical tests predict success in the NFL? Several studies have been conducted to answer these and other questions. The investigation by Kuzmits and colleagues described in the abstract below is perhaps one of the most negative.
Kuzmits and Adams investigated the correlation between National Football League (NFL) combine test results and NFL success for players drafted at three different offensive positions (quarterback, running back, and wide receiver) during a 6-year period, 1999-2004. The combine consisted of series of drills, exercises, interviews, aptitude tests, and physical exams designed to assess the skills of promising college football players and to predict their performance in the NFL. Combine measures examined in this study included 10-, 20-, and 40-yard dashes, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 20- and 60-yard shuttles, three-cone drill, and the Wonderlic Personnel Test. Performance criteria include 10 variables: draft order; 3 years each of salary received and games played; and position-specific data. Using correlation analysis, we find no consistent statistical relationship between combine tests and professional football performance, with the notable exception of sprint tests for running backs. We put forth possible explanations for the general lack of statistical relations detected, and, consequently, we question the overall usefulness of the combine. We also offer suggestions for improving the prediction of success in the NFL, primarily the use of more rigorous psychological tests and the examination of collegiate performance as a job sample test. Finally, from a practical standpoint, the results of the study should encourage NFL team personnel to reevaluate the usefulness of the combine’s physical tests and exercises as predictors of player performance. This study should encourage team personnel to consider the weighting and importance of various combine measures and the potential benefits of overhauling the combine process, with the goal of creating a more valid system for predicting player success.
Another study by Sierer, et. al. compared the NFL Combine performance differences between drafted and non-drafted players. Findings were slightly more positive. Although drafted athletes were found to perform better than non-drafted athletes, the success of each athlete in the NFL was not used as a criterion measure and predictive validity was not established. Boulier and Stekler used a data base from NFL drafts between 1974 and 2005 and a range of measures to determine the success of players selected in the draft. The study examined the success of drafting quarterbacks and wide receivers and also found combine test scores to be only slightly helpful in predicting NFL success at these positions.
It is understandable why it is so difficult to statistically determine success from field tests since football is skill specific and physical tests cannot mimic the many key situations for each player position. Clearly, there is room for improvement even in the area of speed tests where researchers found some predictive value. Football is a game of quickness, starting, stopping, and acceleration. An analysis of game play would reveal that it is a rare occasion when players in most positions sprint a distance of 40 yards. The First 3-step test and the 10-yard dash are much more sport specific for interior linemen (blocking, pass and run rushing) than the 40-yard dash. If the 40-yard dash is deemed necessary, the test should be changed to include split times at 5, 10, and 20 yards. Also, a plant, cut, and 10-yard acceleration test is also more football-appropriate for linebackers, defensive backs, and linemen.
Although the 2018 NFL Combine was more comprehensive and controlled than during the period the three studies above were conducted, it is time for further investigation to determine the predictive value of individual tests and combined scores on game performance in this modern era.
Boulier, Bryan Leslie and H.O. Stekler. 2010. Evaluating National Football League Draft Choices: The Passing Game. International Journal of Forecasting Vol. 26, Issue 3, July 589-605
Kuzmits, F.E., and A.J. Adams. 2008. The NFL Combine: Does it Predict Performance in the National Football League. J Strength Cond Res. Nov;22(6):1721-7.)
Sierer, S.P., Battaglini, C.L., Mihalik, J.P., Shields, E.W., and NT Tomasini. 2006. The National Football League Combine: performance differences between drafted and non-drafted players entering the 2004 and 2005 drafts. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: January 2008 – Volume 22 – Issue 1 – pp 6-12.