Combine speed doesn't equal NFL success

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Darrius Heyward-Bey ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.3) in the 2009 NFL Draft Combine, earning him the 7th overall pick by the Oakland Raiders. He has yet to record a 1,000-yard season.Stats & Information gets you ready for the NFL Draft later this week by taking a look at draft strategies over the years. Today, what we make of Scouting Combine stars.

With the Combine seemingly becoming more of an emphasis each season, what is the correlation between the results from the week in Indianapolis to draft position and success in the league?

Darrius Heyward-Bey played at the University of Maryland for three seasons and never had more than 800 receiving yards or five touchdowns in any given season. Nevertheless, based on the strength of his 40-yard dash (4.3) in the 2009 NFL combine, the fastest of his year, the Oakland Raiders drafted him seventh overall.

In all of his 2009 mock drafts, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. predicted Heyward-Bey to be drafted 25th, below Michael Crabtree (eighth) and Jeremy Maclin (10th). Fellow analyst Todd McShay’s mock drafts were all similar to Kiper’s with Heyward-Bey being drafted around 20th. Both McShay and Kiper cited his speed and 40-yard dash time as primary reasons for teams to draft Heyward-Bey.

However, Heyward-Bey’s high draft position has not translated to success in the NFL. Since entering the league in 2009, Heyward-Bey has 99 career catches, six touchdowns and has yet to record a 1,000 yard season. In comparison, over the same timeframe, Maclin has 189 career catches and 19 touchdowns.

Heyward-Bey is just one example of the increased emphasis on combine results versus college careers since the combine began in 1982. The combine includes physical and psychological tests for the prospects along with interviews with team scouts, executives and coaches.

The 40-yard dash is an essential component of the combine for wide receivers as it can predict their speed in the open field. Similarly to running backs, speed in the 40-yard dash has led to a high draft position.

Since 2005, the average draft position of a wide receiver has been pick 128 (round four/five). The average draft position of the top-10 fastest wide receivers in the combine since 2005 has been 57th, over 70 positions higher than the average.

Unfortunately, their success in the combine and the draft has not translated in the league. Of the top eight fastest wide receivers from 2005-2011, only two are starters in the NFL (Jacoby Ford and Heyward-Bey) and six are not starters or are no longer in the league. They also have no Pro Bowl appearances. Of the six non-starters, they have a combined 184 receptions and 17 touchdowns.

Top Combine Results for WRs, Since 2005