How much do the NFL Combine and other big testing events like Pro Day actually matter?
Poll any group of 30 red-blooded American adults and you’ll probably get about 27 different answers.
The fact remains, though, that they’re still around and people cover them ad nauseam. SEC Network’s coming to Missouri’s Pro Day on March 23, after all, and guys running around in tights at the Combine took up the better part of sports highlights toward the tail end of last week.
The problem with events like this, though, is that if you poll any group of 30 red-blooded Americans adults who attend them about how well a certain individual performed -- say, a Charles Harris-type individual -- and you’ll probably get about 27 different answers as well.
Missouri Football’s Twitter account, for instance, released a video of all the praise Harris received for his on-field workouts at the Combine. At the same time, an SB Nation article posted yesterday called Harris one of the “losers” of the Combine because of unimpressive speed numbers that he put up in the 40.
So which is it? Can Harris be simultaneously winning and losing? Is he inching closer to being a first-round lock, or becoming more and more in danger of falling to the second round?
I don’t know, man. I’m just a former mediocre sports writer turned current mediocre infrequent statistical analyst.
The best way I know to go about answering this question is by way of comparison. Stacking up Harris’ testing numbers and college results -- because that’s really the most we have to go on so far — with other top edge rushers in the 2017 draft class and some of the more fearsome Missouri edge rushers of recent vintage as well.
So let’s dive in a little, shall we?
We took Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 15 edge rushers in this year’s class — all guys they probably expect to be gone by the end of the third round — and stacked up their Combine and college results to see where Harris fits in.
You can see that Harris is about the size of the average top edge rusher in this year’s class, if a little lighter. His arm length and hand size are a little smaller which, really, doesn’t matter.
What does matter is when we start to get to some of the testing.
His 21 bench-press reps are tied for eighth of the 12 who lifted at the Combine, his 32-inch vertical jump is 11th of 12 and his 109-inch broad jump is last of 12.
Those aren’t huge deals, either. Who cares if your 3-4 sackmaster can only jump nine feet from a standstill instead of 10?
The speed and explosiveness times are more germane. And about as concerning for Harris. His 4.82-second 40-yard dash was a tenth off the top-15 average and 11th of the 13 who ran. His three-cone drill (7.47 seconds) -- which tests short-space quickness and fluidity of movement -- was 11th of 12 and his short-shuttle drill (4.42) -- also testing quickness and change of direction — was seventh of 10.
None of them were above average for a top-flight prospect at the Combine.
There are plenty of other positives teams can look to for Harris if they wish to overlook some of those testing shortfalls. His backstory, for one. A no-star who tirelessly worked himself into an all-conference player. His intelligence, for two, both on the football field and in life. His game film, for three. David Sharpe is still shaking off flashbacks from that spin move.
His college production, for four.
He had more tackles per game, on average, than his top edge rusher compatriots and, while the sack per game number sinks behind, the tackle for loss per game number is pretty much right on. When you subtract Derek Rivers’ stats against FCS competition, his tackle for loss number is nearly identical to the average (.909).
So there’s plenty to like about Harris. But when you see a bigger, stronger guy like Myles Garrett also put up far more impressive speed and explosiveness numbers, or a similarly sized T.J. Watt go .13 seconds faster in the 40 and .68 seconds faster on the cones, it also could leave a bad taste.
The good news? There’s always the home-field advantage of Pro Day.
That’s where Kony Ealy improved his 40 time from a 4.92 at the Combine to a (program-reported) 4.57. And where Markus Golden knocked his down from a 4.90 to a (program-reported) 4.70.
We also stacked Harris up against testing results from seven other recent Missouri edge rushers of renown at the Combine or Pro Day — Golden, Shane Ray, Ealy, Michael Sam, Jacquies Smith, Aldon Smith and Stryker Sulak...all of whom went to the Combine — to see how he’s doing.
Again, the 40 isn’t great. Neither is the three-cone, although the short shuttle is better than average.
Here’s what I found interesting: Harris is the same size as Jacquies Smith was at the 2012 Combine. So he’s a useful physical comparison, at least.
Harris’ 40, bench, broad and vert are right about in line with Smith’s, but the shuttle and three-cone are worse.
Smith went undrafted. Harris...uh...is getting drafted. Probably rather highly.
Why the difference? Partly because Harris was a much more productive pass-rusher in college.
His .474 sacks per game puts him right on par with Shane Ray — a first-round pick, remember — and his .908 tackles for loss per game plop him between Ray and Aldon Smith. Again, a first-round pick.
So NFL scouts can see what he did in college and know that, even with mediocre testing numbers, he can be a legitimate pass rush threat at the next level.
The problem is, they can basically do that with about a dozen other guys in this year’s class as well, most of whom tested better at the Combine than Harris.
There’s always Missouri’s Pro Day on March 23rd. And Harris’ performance in the MATC might be what determines whether he’s a first-round lean or a first-round lock.