The first combine weekend in primetime is now complete. Did the NFL’s move to a later slot affect overall player performance?
The NFL decided to go a different route with the scheduling of the combine beginning with this past weekend. Now instead of going through their drills in the morning or afternoon, draft prospects will now do everything later in the day. This year’s combine had a 4-11 p.m. schedule for the first three days, and the defensive backs go from 2-7 p.m. on Sunday.
The reasoning that the league gave for the push back in time was to have more fans able to watch the combine.
“We are always looking at ways of bringing more football to a wider audience,” the league said in a statement in May of 2019. “This will enable us to accomplish the goal of reaching more fans while still fully maintaining the football integrity of the event. We will adjust the schedule to ensure a positive experience for the players and clubs.”
The reasoning makes sense, boosting ratings is always a key factor in decisions the league has to make. But did this come at the expense of a more productive combine?
I did my own research comparing the 2019 and 2020 combines together. I put together the averages of every position group in addition to the total class. The findings on three drills in particular; 40-yard dash, three-cone drill and pro shuttle were very interesting.
In every position group, with the exception of running backs, the average times in these speed drills were down across the board. Even the wide receiver class, which is highly regarded this year, ran slower times in all the speed drills.
The vertical and broad jump seemed to not be affected at all with many cases of position groups improving from 2019. Another minor exception was tight ends and defensive backs had the same 40-yard dash time as last year, but slower times on the three-cone and shuttle drills.
We also saw this year’s combine get hit with the injury bug with Jeff Okudah, Laviska Shenault, Kenneth Murray, Patrick Queen and Lloyd Cushenberry all getting hurt at some point during the drills. There was also some chatter that more injuries were happening due to all the downtime between stretching and the beginning of the drills.
I had the chance to speak to former NFL player John Thornton, who is now an agent at Roc Nation Sports, and he provided some great insights on when he would prefer the workouts to take place.
“I personally liked the earlier workouts,” Thornton said. “As a player, I hated night games because we had to sit around all day. I’m guessing it was the same for players. I’m sure the combine had them doing things during the day before they worked out. So yes, I’d rather the workouts start early in the morning.”
Despite the preference, Thornton did not think there was a change in the player’s performance, and anticipated players would start to adjust themselves by changing what time they train for the combine. “Most players don’t do their combine training at night, they usually train during the morning and afternoon. That will probably change in the future.”
Thornton also agreed with the sentiment that ratings were the driving factor in pushing the combine to primetime. “100 percent. Everything now is done for TV and ratings. Which is fine. If enough players decline to work out, maybe they’ll change back.”
I can definitely concede there are other factors at play and running at 9 p.m. isn’t the only difference between running a 4.6 and a 4.4. However, this is something the NFL needs to monitor going forward if next year’s combine continues the trend of decline and injuries in these drills.
But then again, with the combine seeing a jump in ratings, the league may not be too concerned about anything else.