Around this time of year you start to hear a buzz around the stats of players participating in the NFL Combine. One in particular is always talked about, and even people who don’t follow sports know of this one, the 40-Yard Dash. Managers and analysts will often use this stat as a key indicator to predict how well a rookie wide receiver will perform in the NFL.
The 40-yard dash is exactly what it sounds like, a full out sprint for 40 yards straight. Throughout the years, this part of the NFL Draft Combine has grown in popularity and is one of the most talked about stats among football fans. You never hear your buddy’s talking about the 3-cone drill or the broad jump.
But when in football are you running in a straight line, with no pads on, and no football in your hand? The goal of this research is to test to see whether this timed statistic plays a role in a Wide Receiver’s success during their rookie season.
To test this, I have collected sample of 84 player data and analyzed their rookie season stats against their 40-yard dash times. I only used data on players who had at least 30 targets throughout their rookie season to eliminate the risk of skewed data caused by the small sample size of an individual player.
The range of the dash times only spanned from 4.22 to 4.68 seconds. This small range will be important to keep in mind when comparing player’s speeds. Meaning that though two players may have really close times, but a small change in time means they are relatively faster, which usually results in a better draft stock.
From the player data above you can begin to paint a picture of the results. Jacoby Ford, who was the fastest in the data set, had a slightly lower reception per target percentage than our average. His yards per reception was very impressive though, but had around the same amount of touchdowns as your average rookie. Does this mean that 40-yard dash helps increase a rookie’s yards per reception? Well if you look at Hank Baskett’s stats, you will see he was relatively slower than both Jacoby Ford and our average. But he was able to average 21.1 yards per reception, the highest in out data set.
Another player to look at is Julio Jones, who had a very quick time on the 40 yard dash, averaged 17.8 yards per reception and roped in 8 touchdown passes over the course of his notable rookie season. Well, Marques Colston and AJ Green had very similar stats as Julio Jones their rookie season but also had slower 40 yard dash times.
And with the 7th overall pick, the Oakland Raiders select the speedster receiver Darius Heyward-Bey. Though being incredibly hyped coming into the draft, Heyward-Bey has been rather quiet in the big leagues and was a disappointment to the people of Oakland throughout his rookie campaign. He managed to only catch 9 of the 40 passes thrown his way for just one touchdown.
Then there is always Mr. Jordan Shipley who was one of our slowpokes in the data. Even with this hindrance, Shipley was able to have a rather impressive catching percentage, by catching 52 of the 75 passes thrown his way for 3 touchdowns.
Now, using a regression analysis we can test the causality that the 40-yard draft has on different wide receiver statistics.
In all three of the results above, you see an R2. This essentially tells you how much variation was accounted for in our model. You typically want to see something around 0.80 in order to say that the independent variable has a considerable effect on the dependent variable. An example to illustrate this is, say you were testing the sales of tickets against the price of tickets and your R2 was 0.92. This would mean that ticket prices accounted for 92% of the variation in ticket sales. Which is about what you would expect to see given that a price of a ticket effects a fans decision to purchase one.
By analyzing our R2 in each test, we see that in each of the three models we only account for about 5% of variation explained by the 40-yard dash on the given rookie statistic. This is enough evidence to conclude that the 40-yard dash is an insignificant predictor on how well a rookie will perform during their first season in the league.
Since most wide receivers that get to this point in their career are fast to begin with, maybe it is time for managers and analysts to start looking towards other statistics to help them determine how well a player will perform.
As this theory becomes more common knowledge it will be interesting to see if eventually the NFL changes the combines 40-yard dash, or adds another, where the players do the dash while wearing padding and holding a football.
In case you are interested in seeing all 84 of the Wide Receivers data, here it is:
|Year||Name||40 Yard||Rec||TGTS||Rookie Rec/Tgt||% Rec/Tgt||Rookie Y/R||Rookie TD|