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Finding the Real Winners of the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine: Defense

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NFL Combine Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The other day I tried to examine the players who stood out in last weekend’s NFL Scouting Combine. You hear about players who dominate certain drills, but little focus is put on which drills are relevant for each position.

I decided to take studies looking at how Combine drills correlate with NFL success in three different areas to determine the event’s true winners on the offensive side of the ball.

Today I’m going to do the same thing with defensive players. Just as with the offensive positions, there has been a recent study published that examines the connection between success at a given drill with lasting at least five years in the league at each position. I also look at a study done by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective on the connection between Combine drills and Approximate Value (AV) and one that does the same with Pro Football Focus’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric.

To be considered a relevant drill at a given position, it has to appear it at least two of the three studies.

As always this is not a perfect measure. Just because a player appears on this list doesn’t guarantee a great NFL career. It simply is intended to show players who exhibit certain traits correlated with NFL success.

As with the offense, due to the different ways positions are classified I had to do my best to translate the data in a way that provides consistency.

Edge Rusher

The 40 yard dash was the only test that appeared across multiple studies, making it the position least correlated with Combine outcomes.

Amare Barno of Virginia Tech, Sam Williams of Mississippi, Travon Walker of Georgia, Boye Mafe of Minnesota, and Nik Bonito of Ohio State were the fastest in this group.

Interior Defensive Lineman

On the interior there were four measurements that correlate in multiple studies. They are weight, the bench press, the 40 yard dash, and the shuttle.

This was a bit difficult to judge from the Combine because there were not an overwhelming number of players who took part in all four.

The biggest winner was UConn’s Travis Jones whose weight was in the 89th percentile, ran his 40 yard dash in the 88th percentile, and finished shuttle in the 61st percentile judging by MockDraftable’s historical database at the position. He did not take part in the bench press.

Georgia’s Jordan Davis only weighed in and ran the 40, but was in the 96th percentile or better in both.

UCLA’s Otito Ogbonnia was in the 88th percentile for weight and the 64th percentile for the bench press, not taking part in other tests.

Linebacker

At the linebacker position the 40 yard dash and the 3 cone drill showed up as relevant across two of the three studies.

This was not a standout year at linebacker for these drills at the Combine.

Nephi Sewell of Utah was the only player above the 60th percentile in both drills.

The best 3 cone was turned in by Darrian Beavers of Cincinnati who was the only linebacker prospect to finish in the 80th percentile historically at the Combine. He didn’t run the 40. Neither did Terrel Bernard of Baylor who turned in the third best 3 cone.

Fast 40 times from players who didn’t participate in the 3 cone were turned in by Montana State’s Troy Andersen, Alabama’s Christian Harris, Georgia’s Channing Tindall, Oklahoma State’s Malcolm Rodriguez, Penn State’s Brandon Smith, and Georgia’s Quay Walker.

Cornerback

Considering how little correlation there was with results and wide receivers as we determined in the offense post, it is striking to see how relevant the Combine seems to be at cornerback. Weight, the 40 yard dash, 10 yard splits, and the 3 cone all showed up in multiple studies.

Sam Houston State’s Zyon McCollum was the only corner to have scores for all four measurements at the Combine, and he was excellent in all four. His weight rated in the 75th percentile. His 40 time was in the 95th percentile. His 3 cone was in the 98th percentile. And while there isn’t enough data to quantify 10 yard splits historically, his was the third fastest in the class.

The other standout was UTSA’s Tariq Woolen. He weighed in bigger than any other corner in the class at 202 pounds. He also happened to run the second fastest 40 and post the best 10 yard split at the cornerback position this year.

Altonate Taylor of Tennessee was in the 75th percentile of weight and 92nd percentile in the 40 yard dash while posting the third fastest ten yard split in the class.

Safety

The 40 yard dash, the vertical, and the shuttle made two of three studies at the safety position.

There were a limited number of participants in the shuttle, making it difficult to find a standout in all three.

Daxton Hill of Michigan turned in the best shuttle, which put him in the 87th percentile historically at the position. His 40 time was also in the 96th percentile for safeties, although his vertical only fell in the 29th percentile.

JT Woods of Baylor was in the 96th percentile in the 40 yard dash, the 91st percentile in the vertical and did not participate in the shuttle.

Nick Cross of Maryland, Lewis Cine of Georgia, and Markquese Bell of Florida A&M all were in the 91st percentile in the 40 yard dash and the 71st percentile of the vertical or better. None of them participated in the shuttle.