In the NFL scouting world, 4.3 is the new 4.4. For wide receivers and cornerbacks, running the 40-yard dash in the 4.4-second range is only praiseworthy if you plan on playing running back or linebacker in the NFL.
As far as the "trench men" (offensive and defensive linemen) are concerned, the 40-yard dash has been rendered useless. The 10-yard split is where money is made and lost.
While the 40-yard dash has become the glamour event of the combine, its scouting value varies from one position to the next. Everyone remembers Vernon Davis' incredible performance last year (4.38), but NFL scouts were even more impressed with his results in the 20-yard split (2.52 seconds) and vertical jump (42 inches).
The following is a look at the most important aspect of the combine for each position:
Quarterbacks: Interview process
Scouts don't place much importance on any of the combine drills when evaluating a quarterback's potential. Last year, none of the quarterbacks who finished with the best time in any specific agility drill was selected higher than the fourth round of the draft.
Quarterbacks are not asked to participate in the bench press or 60-yard shuttle, and Vince Young destroyed the validity of the Wonderlic test, as it pertains to a quarterback's mental capacity at the next level.
Height, weight and handspan are all taken into consideration, but the most important aspect of the combine process for quarterbacks is the 15-minute interview they conduct with teams that seek them out. This is when a quarterback can distinguish himself from other prospects with similar skill sets by displaying intellect, leadership skills and mental toughness. A great interview can lead to a follow-up visit to a team's facility during predraft individual workouts.
Running backs: Three-cone drill
The three-cone drill is crucial for running backs because it measures how quickly they can pivot and accelerate. Reggie Bush (Saints), Laurence Maroney (Patriots), DeAngelo Williams (Panthers) and LenDale White (Titans) did not participate in the running portions of last year's combine. It's not surprising that the four other highest-drafted running backs in 2006 -- Joseph Addai (Colts), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars), Brian Calhoun (Lions) and Jerious Norwood (Falcons) -- all cracked the 7.10-second plateau in the three-cone drill.
Wide Receivers: 20-yard split
All the agility and speed drills are vital to wide receivers. While the 40-yard dash is considered an effective measuring stick, the 20-yard split can provide a better indication of a receiver's ability to gain separation from defensive backs off the line of scrimmage.
Marques Colston ran a pedestrian 4.55 in the 40. However, his 20-yard split time (2.62 seconds) was among the best of the receivers who ran. Maybe more stock should have been placed in his initial burst, rather than his top-end speed.
Tight Ends: Vertical jump
The vertical jump is the best indication of a player's short-area explosiveness. Tight ends are rarely the fastest or biggest players on the field, so their ability to explode out of their stance is critical to their success. As mentioned above, Davis set the standard for the 2006 class.
Offensive Linemen: 20-yard shuttle
Arm length, handspan and strength reps on the 225-pound bench press are all important, but the 20-yard shuttle seems to trump all the other measurables when evaluating offensive linemen. The short shuttle is a terrific indicator of how quickly a lineman can shift his weight and move laterally, necessary tools in pass protection and when attempting to hit a moving target as a run-blocker. Nick Mangold (Jets) set the bar for offensive linemen at last year's combine (4.36 seconds).
Defensive Linemen: 10-yard split
Defensive linemen will rarely run 40 yards on a given play, so NFL scouts place much more stock in the first 10 yards. Manny Lawson (49ers) turned in the best time last year (1.53 seconds).
Linebackers: Broad jump and shuttles
The broad jump and shuttles typically provide the best indication of a linebacker's short-area quickness, change-of-direction skill and explosiveness. Not surprisingly, the top two linebackers selected in the 2006 draft -- A.J. Hawk (Packers) and Ernie Sims (Lions) -- were among the elite in both categories. Hawk set the bar for all linebackers in the short shuttle (3.96 seconds) and long shuttle (11.06 seconds), while Sims outleaped all other linebackers with a 10-foot-5-inch broad jump.
Defensive backs: 20-yard and 60-yard shuttles
Both shuttles display a player's change-of-direction skill. The short shuttle measures short-area quickness, while the long shuttle better measures the ability to regain top speed after stopping and starting. Being able to stop and start without losing much in transition is vital to playing defensive back in the NFL.
Jason Allen (Titans), who ran the best short-shuttle time (3.81 seconds) at last year's combine, was the top safety selected in the 2006 draft. The four first-round cornerbacks -- Tye Hill (Rams), Antonio Cromartie (Chargers), Jonathan Joseph (Bengals) and Kelly Jennings (Seahawks) -- all ran sub-4.25 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle, and sub-11.25 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle.
By Todd McShay
Todd McShay is the director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998.