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Using Combine Thresholds: Defense

Can previous combine prospects help us identify future Cardinals?

TaxSlayer Bowl - Mississippi State v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There is a lot to scouting future NFL prospects. Volume statistics, advanced metrics, watching film for traits, interviews, medical history, etc.

No one way is the way. Rather, they’re all tools that help us put together a puzzle to varying degrees. One of those tools is the combine testing.

Barring outliers on the far ends of the spectrum, you don’t want to knock a guy (too much) for failing in any particular regard. And should they fail, you stop and ask yourself, “Why?”

Was it injury? Lack of training? If it is lack of training, did it show in multiple tests? Does this lack of training corroborate sources that tell you this particular prospect has discipline/motivation issues? Perhaps a safety doesn’t test well in the 40 yard dash, but from film you know he isn’t a burner - but he more than makes up for it with killer instincts and anticipation.

Other facets can be more damning, such as bombing several interviews or a major red flag in medical checks. But today we will strictly look at measurements and testing.

Before we dig into this, let me stress that failing to meet several thresholds set by previously drafted combine prospects does not bar the team from drafting said player. But they may be less likely if they are “red” across the board. And by the same token, a player may meet several if not all benchmarks - but they may not meet the mark anyway. Whether it’s through traits evident (or not) in film, or the variations a new coaching staff may add to the mix of scouting.

Rather, it’s a fun way of noting prospects that are on both ends of the spectrum. Players who hit the mark may be of particular note, and players who fall well short may be as well.

It’s also important to note that we’ll only be using the 6 years of data available under Steve Keim’s tenure as GM. So we are dealing with very small sample sizes. For example, only three “pure” cornerbacks have been drafted since 2013. And one of those cornerbacks did not test. These limited sample sizes may not paint a complete picture of standards that the Front Office may or may not have for combine participants.

Let’s get started. First, with the defensive line. (Interior DL, defensive tackles, nose guards, etc.)

Note: Green = Meets or exceeds threshold, Red = fails to meet threshold, Bold = Meets/exceeds all thresholds within limited testing, Blue = Meets/exceeds all thresholds.

DL was the positions with the fewest criteria to meet, but nonetheless it’s interesting to note the prospects that hit across the board. Byron Cowart, Kingsley Keke, Dexter Lawrence and Renell Wren. I would expect Wren and Lawrence to be players to keep particular note of in the ranges they go in.

I don’t find this damning for any of the more high end prospects. Quinnen only missed the mark on arm length by half of an inch. Wilkins slightly more so, but nothing that should keep him off the board.

Oliver misses the mark on several areas. He misses the mark on height by an inch, not something that should be a tremendous issue. I can’t imagine hand size being a glaring issue either.

Next up, the edge prospects. For this particular position I factored in being underweight as a potential threshold, which will be highlighted in yellow. Overweight marks will be in red.

Only two prospects get perfect marks across the board, and it shouldn’t be a surprise. Nick Bosa and Montez Sweat. For the Josh Allen fans, I’d wouldn’t expect smaller hands to hurt him at all, even if he is in the 1 percentile.

On the other end of things, not too much to note. But I would expect Sutton Smith to be too undersized for the position. And perhaps Zach Allen to not be athletic enough.

Next, off-ball linebackers.

The lone perfect tester across the board, Sione Takitaki might be a name to keep and eye on. As well as Bobby Okereke, who only fails to hit every mark due to not testing in the bench press.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see players like Allison, Allen-Williams and Hanks fail to meet standards as they fail to hit a very low bar for the 40 YD, among other areas.

I would also find the threshold for bench reps to be largely a non-factor. Especially for a prospect like Devin White. Same applies for hand size and Mack Wilson. Would the team pull the trigger on the undersized Devin Bush?

On to cornerbacks!

This might be the area most prone to the sample size issue we discussed. That’s not to say that any of our “blue” prospects aren’t worth nothing, on the contrary - I think Ya-Sin, Love, Layne, and Oruwariye might be of particular note if they fall in the range of selections I think they may. The position as a whole will be interesting to keep track of. Given the free agent signings, the relatively weaker class and the team’s propensity to avoid the positon, will we even see much happen here? What does Joseph bring to the table with evaluating and valuing the position?

And finally, safeties. This one might be a little weird, since for the purposes of this exercise I’m lumping in testing from Bucannon and Baker, both of whom play very different roles. As do the safeties in this myriad class.

Will Harris is the lone “blue”. I’ll be honest, safety is pretty much on the backburner for myself right now so I couldn’t tell you much. Rapp and Harris might be interested fits based on what little I know, and I kind of just want Marvell Tell right now based on name points.

All the big names seem to check out for the most part. Gardner-Johnson is only off the three cone mark by .07 seconds, Hooker arms only fall short by about 5/8 of an inch, and the guys projected go go earlier like Adderley and Thompson made the mark in the categories they did test in.

So in summation, names that hit all the thresholds:

Defensive Line:

Byron Cowart (Maryland), Kingsley Keke (TA&M), Dexter Lawrence (Clemson), Renell Wren (ASU)

Edge Defenders:

Nick Bosa (OSU), Montez Sweat (Miss. St.)


Sione Takitaki (BYU)


Corey Ballentine (Washburn), Davante Davis (Texas), Jamel Dean (Auburn), Alijah Holder (Stanford), Michael Jackson (Miami), Lonnie Johnson (Kentucky), Julian Love (ND), Amani Oruwariye (Penn. St.), Ken Webster (Mississippi), Rock Ya-Sin (Temple)


Will Harris (BC)