In defense of the combine

The bench press and the 40-yard dash actually pack predictive power

Originally Published: April 14, 2014
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine

Keating IlloJason Schneider for ESPNCertain combine stats explain about 20 percent of how well pros play in their first few seasons.

NFL COMBINE STATS can be fascinating. I remember reading last year that Eric Fisher had a 28½-inch vertical, and I sat and stared at my laptop, trying to visualize how an offensive lineman who's 6-foot-7 and more than 300 pounds could jump that high. (Then I stood and tried to test my own vertical, and you don't want to know the rest of that story.) But I have always been skeptical that combine stats are all that meaningful in predicting the future of a potential draft pick. How do you weigh a week of drills against three or four years of a player's work?

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.