Urschel analyzes combine, draft position

As a right guard for Penn State, John Urschel made 24 straight starts in his final two seasons. Gregg Segal for ESPN

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – In case you haven’t heard of Penn State offensive guard John Urschel by now, he’s a smart man. Very smart.

He has published several mathematical papers, including “Instabilities in the Sun-Jupiter-Asteroid Three Body Problem,” taught Penn State math classes and earned the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is widely regarded as the academic Heisman.

Of course, we still don’t quite understand the Urschel-Zikatanov Generalized Bisection Theorem -- yes, he even has his own theorem -- but we’re much more familiar with football. (And Connect Four, which Urschel says he’s mathematically unbeatable in … but that’s another story.)

So, ESPN recently asked Urschel to take his math talents and apply them to the gridiron, specifically how NFL combine measurables such as 40-yard dash times and the 225-pound bench press relate to draft position and future success for offensive linemen.

The Nittany Lions’ All-Big Ten guard doesn’t do things halfway, so he looked at the combine results of 400 offensive linemen since 2006 and discovered a few interesting patterns:

  • Offensive tackles tend to be selected a round earlier than guards and centers.

  • Urschel offered the exact percentages but basically showed that scouts know what makes a great lineman … but it’s much trickier to figure out what a good lineman looks like.

  • Spotting a surefire starter in the draft is “more crapshoot than science,” as linemen taken in the top 150 picks had a 41.2 percent correlation to their average starts. Outside of the 150 was just 11 percent.

  • The best combine indicators for offensive linemen are the 40-yard dash and 20-yard shuttle.

Of course, Urschel delves into deeper detail and offers more results in his full story right here. Or you can pick up ESPN The Magazine’s March 3 Analytics Issue. Either way, odds are you’ll learn something.