For the better part of a year (maybe longer), the NFL Draft analyst community has been treating one shared opinion as mathematical certainty: that Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is the best player in the class and a no-brainer to be drafted first overall.
Garrett has been described as "generational" and a "freak" athlete, and has drawn comparisons to NFL Hall of Famer and official all-time sack leader Bruce Smith. Dare to question Garrett's production - he logged 4.5 of his 8.5 sacks last season in a single game against Texas-San Antonio - and one is likely to be summarily dismissed to "watch the tape" or reminded that Garrett suffered an early-season ankle injury, and presumably played through some pain. The mere suggestion that the Cleveland Browns consider other options with the number one overall pick is usually met with disdain.
So far Garrett has somehow avoided mainstream scrutiny (this has apparently been reserved for the quarterbacks). But with the scouting combine coming later this week, and pro days on the horizon, is it possible the junior pass rusher is about to lose some shine off the apple? By all accounts he should dominate the event. Legend has it that in 2015 Garrett ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and reached 40" on his vertical jump.
Found a link. Little over 2 yrs ago. Tweet from now deleted account saying Garrett ran 4.46. Feldman reports 40" VJ https://t.co/cxmjhjCedp https://t.co/8nZuLGlAJe— Justin Higdon (@afc2nfc) February 18, 2017
As far as I can tell, this is purely anecdotal. The twitter account boasting of the 40 time no longer exists. Bruce Feldman is one of the most respected reporters in all of college football, but it's unclear how he came upon that 40" vertical number. In the age of iPhone cameras and social media, it seems that somehow, both of these incredible athletic feats avoided video detection. Beyond that, there is further reason for skepticism.
According to ESPN, as a high schooler at Nike's football combine, Garrett, weighing in at 6'4" 247 pounds, was clocked at 5.08 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 4.94 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle.
These figures are among the worst in his position group. The 34" vertical he posted suggests the promise of explosiveness, and room for improvement, but the times are still alarming. If we are to believe the 2015 reports, Garrett would have improved his 40 time by more than half a second, and his vertical by six inches in the span of about a year, all while gaining weight. But that was three years ago. Surely even wondering about this is silly. It's probably commonplace for high school athletes to improve by leaps and bounds within three years, right?
will 21 year old myles garrett have better numbers than 18 year old myles garrett? it's hard to say https://t.co/qNNBBKLPkQ— Dilla (@E_Dilla) February 16, 2017
As Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friends."
High school testing numbers are not available for every combine invitee or NFL draftee, but ESPN does house a significant number of results. I looked up every NFL draftee who's been selected in the first three rounds of the last two drafts, and was able to compare 51 players' high school test results to their combine and/or pro day outputs. It's not a huge sample size, but with limited data available, this at least gives us a starting point for future investigations.
High School vs College Combine Numbers
|Ole Miss||Laremy Tunsil||OL||6060||295||27.7||5.12||4.61|
|Tunsil (pro day)||OL||6050||310||28.5|
|Coleman (pro day)||WR||5105||194||40.5||4.40|
|Ole Miss||Robert Nkemdiche||DL||6050||265||32.0|
|Russell (pro day)||CB||5111||192||38.5||4.49||4.00|
|Ore St||Isaac Seumalo||OL||6030||280||27.6||5.38||4.61|
|Odhiambo (pro day)||OL||6037||314||27.0||4.69|
|Miss St||Preston Smith||DE||6040||215||25.0||5.02||4.87|
|Coleman (pro day)||RB||5113||206||4.40|
For my money, Darron Lee, Nick Vigil, Preston Smith, Chris Conley, C.J. Prosise and Jaelen Strong show the most significant improvement across the board, though Conley's high school numbers were pretty freaky to begin with. Nike measures vertical differently than what we see at the combine and pro day. Instead of having a player leap to touch the highest point, Nike has a pad that measures how long a player is in the air. This could account for some wild swings in vertical, but the majority of the prospects remained fairly static from high school on into the pros. These 51 players averaged a two inch improvement in vertical jump. Smith's plus-nine inch swing was the biggest positive, and Landon Collins' 8.6" drop-off was the steepest decline.
In the 40-yard dash, Nick Vigil led all players by cutting his time down by .29 seconds, while Adolphus Washington's 0.27 increase from high school to the combine was the biggest jump. All told, prospects shaved an average of 0.05 seconds off of their high school 40 times. In the 20-yard short shuttle, again Vigil led the way dropping his time by a whopping 0.6 seconds. Smith was nearly as good, with a 0.59 dip. Keanu Neal at 0.26 and DeForrest Buckner at 0.25 saw the biggest slow downs in their shuttle times. On average, prospects improved their shuttles by one-tenth of a second from high school to the pros.
For comparison's sake, let's say Myles Garrett does indeed check in with a 4.46 40 and a 40" vertical at the combine. These would represent improvements of 0.62 seconds and six inches respectively. Not impossible, but it certainly seems unlikely given the comparable numbers we have so far. The best 40-yard dash improvement I’ve found so far is under half that 0.62 figure.
If Garrett equals the max increases we've seen in each category so far, he would come out with a 43" vert (ridiculous!), a 4.79 40, and a 4.34 shuttle. That would be a damn good day. If he improves by the group averages, Garrett would register a 36" vertical jump, a 5.03 40, and a 4.84 shuttle. Aside from the vert, which we established earlier was already pretty good, this outcome would be a titanic disappointment.
Before anyone gets too upset by any of this, realize again that it's a small sample size. For the sake of time, I did not venture out beyond the third round, and the availability of high school testing numbers is still spotty.
Nevertheless, it's notable that few, if any players I checked into experienced the dramatic upward swings in overall athleticism being projected for Myles Garrett. I predict his numbers will fall somewhere in between the max improvements and the averages we've seen for the last two draft classes, and that he will post a 35-36" vertical, a 4.80-4.85 40, and a 4.50-4.60 second shuttle at between 265-270 pounds. These will be solid numbers, but not the freakish results being advertised.
This is provided that Garrett decides to work out. We saw a number of highly-touted prospects opt out of certain drills last year, and never complete the full array of athletic testing. If Garrett follows their examples, it will raise a whole new set of eyebrows.