Mar 1, 2021 - Sports

Canceled NFL Scouting Combine puts 40-yard-dashes on the backburner

John Ross during his record-setting dash of 4.22 seconds in 2017. Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
John Ross during his record-setting dash of 4.22 seconds in 2017. Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Top NFL prospects would normally be gathering in Indianapolis this week for the annual Scouting Combine. But due to the pandemic, this year's event has been canceled.

What they're saying: No combine means no 40-yard dash times making headlines. Former scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah thinks that could be a glimpse of the future:

  • "We're about 2–3 years away from personnel departments not caring about 40 times. The game GPS data is going to replace it. Who cares what he ran in the 40, I know exactly how fast he ran in game conditions & I have 5 years of data for context."

The big picture: Longtime Cowboys executive Gil Brandt popularized the 40-yard dash in the 1960s, sending staffers to schools with a stopwatch.

  • Now, it's a made-for-TV event, with players timed using laser technology. And a combine-specific training industry has emerged to help athletes prepare for the event.
  • But now that so much player-tracking data is being collected at the college and NFL level, the 40 will almost certainly lose relevancy with scouts, as Jeremiah suggests.

Yes, but: Will it ever lose relevancy with fans? Probably not.

  • Getting rid of the 40 would be like getting rid of the Slam Dunk Contest at the NBA All-Star Game. It might be pointless, but it's why most viewers tune in.
  • Two decades ago, there was almost no media presence at the combine. Now, thousands of credentialed media members attend, and it's apparently one of the wildest weekends of the year.

The bottom line: The 40-yard dash is an arbitrary distance; most NFL action comes within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage and players aren't sprinting in straight lines.

  • But an especially fast time still drives the offseason news cycle and can also be a fun variable come draft day.
  • So, even if scouts and general managers don't care about the 40, the NFL and its fans do — and thus, it's likely here to stay.

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