Mar 8, 2022 - Sports

NFL combine: A historic year for speed

UAB's Alex Wright during a combine drill. Photo: Justin Casterline/Getty Images

UAB's Alex Wright during a combine drill. Photo: Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The importance of the NFL combine may be up for debate, but one thing is undeniable: It still drives plenty of buzz.

By the numbers: The 40-yard dash is the combine's crown jewel, and this year's event — which ended Sunday — featured the fastest average time ever (4.71 seconds) and a record number of players under 4.40 seconds (31).

Top performers:

  • Jordan Davis (DT, Georgia): We knew he was a freak, but not this freakish. At six feet six inches, 341 pounds, he ran a faster 40 (4.78) than Patrick Mahomes, and his broad jump (10'3") set a record for 300 pounders.
  • Kalon Barnes (CB, Baylor): His 40 time (4.23) was the second-fastest in history, and he headlined a cornerback class full of speed demons.
  • Malik Willis (QB, Liberty): He showed off his cannon with the throw of the weekend, scored well on the Wonderlic Test and proved his character when a random act of kindness was caught on camera.
  • Ikem Ekwonu (OT, NC State): Not only did he glide through his on-field drills, he also benefited from Alabama OT Evan Neal skipping the workouts. He could go No. 1 overall to Jacksonville.
  • Matt Araiza (P, San Diego State): The "punt god," who set the NCAA record with a 51.19-yard punting average last season, showed off his leg and even his speed in Indy. Could he be the first punter since 2012 drafted in the first three rounds?

The big picture: When COVID canceled last year's combine, teams relied on videos of pro days and private workouts. Draft prep didn't appear to suffer, leading some to question the future of the in-person event.

Yes, but: "The interview I think is where I get the most value," 49ers GM John Lynch told The Ringer. "Looking at 'em in the eye and feeling their energy ... That's really what the combine is all about."

  • Plus, it's big business for the league. Four days of programming, millions of social media views and lots of headlines.

Looking ahead: The combine has been held in Indianapolis since 1987, but could move to Dallas or L.A. as soon as next year in an effort to make it an even bigger spectacle.

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