03-28-2005, 11:32 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
It's not always about the need for speed
It's not always about the need for speed
By Pat Kirwan
NFL.com Senior Analyst
(March 21, 2005) -- The NFL scouting combine is now a month behind us and many of the on-campus workouts are complete. There is a significant amount of measurable information gathered to help paint a picture of the athletic ability of many of the prospects. It goes without saying that how each and every one of the draft-eligible prospects perform on game tape is still the most important element to the final decisions, but I always like to dig inside the numbers looking for clues about each and every player.
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Recently, I took the 40-yard dash times for players with a draftable grade and compared them to the results in the short-shuttle test. A player with a cumulative grade that indicates he should be one of the 250 athletes drafted in April indicates he's distinguished himself in some way on tape as a football player.
Then I looked for athletes with average-to-below average 40-yard times for their position who make up for the lack of long straight speed with exceptional quickness and change of direction. As we all know, unless you're on the kickoff team or running a "go" route at the wide receiver position, it's almost impossible to find a spot in a football game where you can identify a 40-yard dash. A lack of great straight speed can easily be offset by the ability to explode out of a stance, change direction in five yards, explode again for 10 yards and then change direction again, all while keeping your weight down. The short shuttle can be a much better indication of your ability to play football fast. I didn't say an indication of the ability to play football, but rather of the ability to play football fast.
I handled the speed training for the players when I was with the Jets for three years back in the early 90s. My general rule of thumb for comparing speed (the 40-yard dash time) to quickness and change of direction (the 20-yard short-shuttle test) was to take the 40 time and subtract the short-shuttle time and expect a 0.5 difference. For example, a player with a 5.0 40 time needs to run a 4.5 short shuttle to get the 0.5 differential. Simply stated, his speed and his quickness relate to each other. A man who runs a 4.4 40 and a 4.4 short shuttle is really a guy with straight-line speed who may not play very fast because of a lack of quickness. He is often referred to as a guy with "track speed." Conversely, an athlete who runs an average time of 4.7 in the 40 but can hit the short shuttle in 3.9 -- significantly better than the 0.5 differential -- can overcome his average speed with great quickness and change of direction.
Here are some very draftable players who demonstrated they are a lot quicker than they are fast and have overcome their pedestrian 40 times with a test that means a lot more to most football coaches:
NAME SCHOOL POS. 40 TIME SHORT SHUTTLE DIFFERENCE
BROWN NORTH CAROLINA C 5.40 4.51 0.89
2. DAVID POLLACK GEORGIA DE 4.75 3.90 0.85
3. CHRIS KEMOEATU UTAH OG 5.21 4.54 0.80
WHITE OKLAHOMA QB 4.99 4.19 0.80
5. BARRETT RUUD NEBRASKA LB 4.72 3.94 0.78
BUENNING WISCONSIN OG 5.33 4.59 0.74
7. MARCUS JOHNSON MISSISSIPPI OG 5.45 4.71 0.74
8. JOEL DREESSEN COLORADO STATE TE 4.72 4.01 0.71
FRYE AKRON QB 4.79 4.08 0.71
10. THOMAS DAVIS GEORGIA S 4.59 3.97 0.62
11. CHRIS SPENCER MISSISSIPPI C 5.21 4.59 0.62
12. MARLIN JACKSON MICHIGAN S 4.53 3.96 0.57
There were a few others who beat the 0.5 differential in the time comparisons, but these are the dozen players who caught my eye that their quickness and change of direction (COD) trump the lack of ideal speed. Note that the offensive linemen who are all well over 300 pounds demonstrate an excellent ability to pull, get out to the linebacker level and move their feet in a short area, which is critical to doing their job on the football field. There's a reason David Pollack at just 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds with short arms had 36 sacks, 117 QB pressures and 58 tackles for a loss. He is relentless on film, but he also has extraordinary quickness and COD. I promise you a defensive end with 4.50 speed can't play as fast as David Pollack. Barrett Ruud is up against a number of linebackers with a faster 40 time but his field quickness is a big reason he finished his college career with 432 tackles.
Anyone can read numbers and tell you who the fastest or the strongest person is, but it's the ability to see the athletic potential and the playing speed along with the tools to compensate in one area or another, and for me seeing past an average 40 time because quickness and COD are present is an important clue about a prospect. No one is giving Oklahoma QB Jason White much of a chance to make it in the NFL. His knees may be questionable and his arm may be barely average, but he has quickness and has won on the college level, so at least don't get hung up on his 4.99 40 time when you see 4.19 in the short shuttle. A guy who can buy time in the pocket has a chance in this league.