Putting too much stock into the Combine can be dangerous. But so can ignoring the results from Indy. Athleticism matters.
The key is figuring out which measurements point to NFL success. Luckily, some very smart people have looked into that very topic.
For RBs, it’s weight, 40-yard dash time and 3-cone time. That makes sense. We’re looking for big dudes who can run fast and change direction.
So let’s create a composite measurement for every RB at this year’s Combine by weight-adjusting their times in the 40-yard dash and 3-cone.
We’ll start with the 40s. The graphic below plots 40 time vs. weight for all RBs at the Combine since 2015 (129 total). The bold line shows what we should expect a RB to run according to his weight. Below the line is better than expected; above is worse.
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Hill paced all RBs at the 2019 Combine with a 4.40-second 40 time — impressive even for a 198-pounder. We’d expect him to run a 4.51 based on results over the past 5 years. Only 3 RBs since 2015 have recorded faster 40s: Keith Marshall, T.J. Logan and Nyheim Hines.
Hill averaged a big 5.6 yards per carry over 3 seasons at Oklahoma State and ripped off runs of 52, 53, 79 and 92 yards.
Ryquell Armstead, Temple
He checked in at 220 pounds and clocked a 4.45-second 40. That’s .13 seconds faster than expected. Among 129 RBs to run at the Combine since 2015, only 9 have been faster than Armstead. And all but 2 of them were 210 pounds or lighter.
In terms of weight and speed, Armstead looks like a Rashaad Penny clone. Penny recorded a 4.46-second 40 at 220 pounds last year.
Elijah Holyfield, Georgia
If you’ve watched Holyfield play, you know that his game isn’t built on speed. But his 4.78-second 40 time was still super disappointing — even at 217 pounds. That’s almost 2 tenths of a second slower than we’d expect at his weight.
Only 5 RBs at the Combine since 2015 have been slower than Holyfield: Jahwan Edwards, Dee Hart, Kenny Hilliard, Dimitri Flowers and Alec Ingold. Not exactly a who’s who of successful NFLers.
Nick Brossette, LSU
At 209 pounds, Brossette was just the 85th heaviest RB to run in Indy since 2015. His 4.72 40 time was 117th fastest — and .17 seconds slower than weight-based expectation.
It’s a bad look for a guy who averaged a mediocre 4.3 yards per carry in his lone season as LSU’s lead back.
Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
Singletary tipped the scales at just 203 pounds and disappointed with a 4.66-second 40 time — about .13 slower than expected. Among 31 RBs at 205 pounds or lighter to run in Indy since 2015, Singletary’s time ranks 3rd slowest.
The 3-cone drill measures a player’s quickness and agility — and has proven to be a strong predictor of RB success in the NFL.
Here’s a plot of weight vs. 3-cone time for all RBs who have completed the drill at the Combine over the past 5 years (73 total):
Singletary and Brossette
Both guys make appearances on the wrong side of the ledger again.
Singletary’s 3-cone time was especially disappointing because his game is seemingly built on change-of-direction ability. The 203-pounder was the 11th lightest RB to run the 3-cone at the Combine since 2015, and his time was 9th worst.
Singletary left Indy with a 20th percentile SPARQ (athleticism) score. He put up huge numbers at Florida Atlantic — 4,684 total yards and 67 TDs across 3 seasons — but it’s fair to question whether he was more a product of the competition he faced.
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
Like Singletary, Williams is a light-ish back who struggled in the 3-cone drill. The 206-pounder clocked a 7.44-second time — .38 seconds slower than expected and the 5th slowest time at the Combine over the past 5 years.
Jordan Scarlett, Florida
The former Gator turned in the 7th slowest 3-cone time since 2015, despite checking in at just 208 pounds. He ran .3 seconds slower than expected.
Scarlett averaged a nice 5.4 yards per attempt at Florida but carried just 344 times across 3 seasons.
Miles Sanders, Penn State
His 6.89-second 3-cone time was the 12th fastest at the Combine over the past 5 years. And Sanders did it at 211 pounds, making him .19 seconds quicker than expected. That was part of a strong all-around showing that earned him an 80th percentile SPARQ score.
After sitting behind Saquon Barkley in ’16 and ’17, Sanders busted out for 1,274 yards and 9 TDs on 5.8 yards per carry last season.
Alex Barnes, Kansas State
This big dude can move. Barnes goes 226 pounds and registered a 6.95-second 3-cone time — .17 seconds quicker than expected. The only 220+ pounds backs to best that time over the past 5 years: David Johnson, Malcolm Brown, Royce Freeman, Kalen Ballage and Jarvion Franklin.
Barnes also showed well in the 40, short shuttle, vertical and broad jump, earning a 93rd percentile SPARQ score. That follows a breakout 2018 campaign that saw him tally a 256-1,355-12 rushing line and 20-194 receiving.