How could the Combine impact the Jets 2016 NFL Draft?
In 2015, Jets running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell both had productive seasons even though they might have left fans wanting a little more. Both Ivory and Powell are role players (not "foundation" backs) in their late 20s headed for free agency. With cap crunches elsewhere, the Jets might not be able to spend much at running back in free agency, which is why the Jets should look to solutions through the NFL Draft. Since the Combine is taking place this weekend, here are some thoughts about the process and the names we should start tuning into over the next two months.
Running Backs burn up the track in Indy
The drills and tests portion of the NFL Combine started with a bang on Friday thanks to the running backs. After two days of mostly interviews between media, players, coaches and front office staffers, stars Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry cemented their likely draft positions with some solid 40 times and agility drills.
Elliott and Henry clocked 4.47 and 4.54 seconds in the 40-yard dash, respectively. Factoring in their sizes, their times become even more impressive. While speed score might not be the best marker for NFL success, this year's NFL scores from the top running backs are quite impressive. Speed score was developed by Football Outsiders and operates under the premise that a 170-pound running back and a 230-pound running back both clocking 4.50-second 40-yard dash times shouldn't be considered equals. Speed score effectively adjusts for weight. Most running backs entering the NFL have a score of 100 with the vast majority of prospects falling between 85 and 110. For some reference, here are some notable scores of great NFL backs: Adrian Peterson scored a 114 with a broken collarbone. Jamaal Charles scored about 111. Eddie Lacy scored a 110 and Marshawn Lynch had a 109.
Here is the formula: (200 X [Player Weight]) / ([Player 40 Time] ^ 4])
To get a sense of what top scores look like, here is the 2015 class, note that the top three scores all belong to players who were considered "surprise" players (Karlos Williams, David Johnson and Jeremy Langford) to many in the NFL this past season. Last year was considered one of the best running back classes in over a decade, and only eight runners scored higher than 100. Frank DuPont on Rotoviz compared their scores on Friday. This year, 13 running backs scored above 100. I've also run the formula and made this informative table:
Keys to success
For the metrics route, there are other keys to predict NFL success, according to Kevin Cole of Rotoviz.
So who checked all of Cole's boxes on Friday? Just two prospects and neither are as of yet household names: Daniel Lasco (Cal) and Tyler Ervin (San Jose State).
Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)
6-feet, 225 pounds | 4.47-second 40-yard dash | 118-inch broad jump
While he missed Cole's optimal broad jump number by six inches, teams who see him as a "foundation" running back in the NFL and give him the opportunity to demonstrate that will likely overlook the concern over Elliott's burst. Elliott's 40 time will be what everyone remembers and will do nothing to knock him off his late first- or early-second-round draft grade. The Jets could certainly use a player like Elliott who looks poised for success. But to burn a first round pick on him doesn't seem like a wise decision for a team with dire needs at offensive line and edge rusher.
Derrick Henry (Alabama)
6-foot-3, 247 pounds | 4.54-second 40-yard dash | 130-inch broad jump
Elliott, Henry's main competition, did nothing to harm himself but Henry might have pushed himself higher in the second round by virtue of his freakish athleticism. Henry passes Cole's height requirement and he blew the broad jump requirement out of the water by six inches. While Henry missed the third requirement of a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash, it is hard to imagine Henry couldn't be successful between the tackles in the NFL with an unexpected burst for a man his size. Finding a spot for Henry on the Jets wouldn't be a problem, but in order to avoid trouble the Jets would be wise to re-sign a player like Powell who might augment the Jets passing game.
Keith Marshall (Georgia)
5-foot-11, 219 pounds | 4.31-second 40-yard dash | N/A broad jump
Elliottt and Henry solidified their position as the top two backs, the title for the fastest man at running back fell to Georgia's Marshall with an incredible 40 time after posting 25 bench press reps. Marshall was a highly-touted recruit coming into Georgia, but injuries and insane depth at the position (Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb) forced him into a smaller role. Marshall didn't get many opportunities, rushing for only 350 yards and three scores on 68 carries in 2015 after missing much of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with a torn ACL. Marshall's most productive season in college was four years ago, and his opting out of the broad jump and three cone drills raises eyebrows considering his vertical leap tested into only the sixth percentile. It is highly irregular for a player of Marshall's profile, even with his success in the 40, to find NFL success. There are no other players who project to be available on the third day of the NFL Draft with as much athletic upside as Marshall.
Tyler Ervin (San Jose State) and Daniel Lasco (Cal)
Ervin: 5-foot-10, 192 pounds | 4.41-second 40-yard dash | 130-inch broad jump
Lasco: 6-feet, 209 pounds | 4.46-second 40-yard dash | 135-inch broad jump
Ervin and Lasco were the only running backs to hit all the marks to pass all three of Cole's hurdles in height, 40-yard dash and broad jump to indicate there's a good chance at NFL success. Not many scouts loved either of them, as they ranked in the teens to the 20s among all prospects. But their performances in Indianapolis will get teams to pay more attention now.
In addition to their testing, both Ervin and Lasco had solid success in college as pass-catchers, which is another strong determiner of NFL viability now more than ever thanks to the ever-increasing emphasis on pass plays at the pro level.
The biggest difference between these two players is size, which is then indicative of role. At just 192 pounds, Ervin would likely project more into a change-of-pace role and on special teams as a kickoff or punt return specialist. With Lasco at 209 pounds, he seems much more likely to be able to carry the load more and would be the more likely to contend for a role on early and/or running downs. As it currently stands for the Jets, while both players are somewhat fringe prospects, both could be helpful to the Jets in their respective capacities.
Kenyan Drake (Alabama)
6-foot-1, 210 pounds | 4.45-second 40-yard dash | 123-inch broad jump
Just like Marshall, Drake was stuck playing behind others on his roster due to injury, but also because there were some extremely talented teammates at Alabama during his tenure: Henry was last season's Heisman winner, T.J. Yeldon was the 36th pick in 2015 and Lacy.
While Drake only received limited touches, he will be hard for NFL teams to ignore in Days 2 or 3 of the draft thanks to his solid frame, high efficiency as a runner and receiver, and his knack for making plays on special teams. Drake certainly doesn't come into the draft process with the label of "workhorse" attached (which most RB prospects do), but maybe like WR Braxton Miller, he could be a playmaker in the right offense. He is an intriguing prospect who could offer dynamic playmaking abilities in Chan Gailey's backfield, but he shouldn't be the only egg from the NFL Draft basket.