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Do NFL Scouting Combine results actually tell us anything about athletes?

Beware the workout warrior and the “expert” projections.

NFL Combine - Day 5 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With the NFL Scouting Combine quickly approaching, I was wondering if there was any correlation between athletes’ testing results, and their overall production in the league. To narrow my focus I chose to look at pass rushers.

I started by looking at pass rushers who were drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Those three players were T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Alex Highsmith. I looked at their 3-cone drill, 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump results.

From there, I then went to more prominent names around the league. First, was a player many thought was one of the few can’t-miss prospects coming out of college, Myles Garrett. The second was one of those same types of player in last year’s draft, Aidan Hutchinson. Again, I looked at all of the same times.

What was difficult was how some players didn’t participate in all the drills. I was looking for uniformity, and so I stuck with the NFL’s official website for all the results of the combine for these players. On top of that, I looked at’s “prospect grade” and more to get a feel for what the scouts were saying/thinking heading into the draft.

Let’s start with the pass rushers which were drafted by the Steelers:

T.J. Watt

Prospect Grade - 6.30 - Will Eventually Be Plus Starter


A long-limbed effort rusher who posted impressive numbers against the run and pass in just one year as a starter. He is a tireless worker who pursues from snap to whistle and his brother, J.J., will be a tremendous resource for technique and pass-rush plan. While he is unlikely to win a race to the edge, he’s a plus run defender who can get to the quarterback with plus hand work and relentless effort.

Sources Tell Us

“He looked a lot stronger and a lot more confident on tape this year. He needs to get bigger, but he’s already a strong guy. I can see him standing or playing base end for a 4-3 team. He’s going to keep getting better.” — Midwest area scout for AFC team

3-Cone: 6.79 Seconds

40-yard Dash: 4.69 Seconds

Vertical Jump: 37”

Broad Jump: 10’ 8”

Bud Dupree

Prospect Grade - 6.40 - Will Become Good Starter Within Two Years


Dupree is an explosive, powerful athlete with a background in basketball. While he’s been productive at Kentucky, his tape doesn’t always do his potential justice. He must continue to improve as a pass rusher, but his traits are undeniable. Difference between being good and great might be his coordinator.

Sources Tell Us

“He’s a little slow to diagnose, which causes him to get a late start on plays. I would ask him to drop into space in zone dog looks and that’s about it. To me, he’s a pure see ‘em, get ‘em 3-4 rush end.” — NFC East regional scout

3-Cone: --

40-yard Dash: 4.56 Seconds

Vertical Jump: 42”

Broad Jump: 11’6”

Alex Highsmith

Prospect Grade - 5.99 - Average Backup Or Special-Teamer


Stand-up edge rusher with splashy production to get him noticed by 3-4 fronts. Highsmith is quick to diagnose and slip blocks to make plays in the backfield, but lacks the strength and anchor to take on blocks and set strong edges. He’s clearly put in work when it comes to creating a diverse inside/outside rush attack that has a chance to keep growing if he can weaponize his hands and improve his speed-to-power attack. His play is more finesse than physical and may not be ready for early downs in the NFL. He currently projects as an NFL backup but his ascending play and production could push him into a bigger role if he can get bigger and stronger.

Sources Tell Us

“I feel like he’s got a shot to play (in the NFL) if he can fill out and get stronger.” — Area scout for AFC team

3-Cone: 7.32 Seconds

40-yard Dash: 4.7 Seconds

Vertical Jump: 33”

Broad Jump: 10’5”

I almost forgot just how freakish Dupree was/is as an athlete. His combine times, especially the broad jump, rank among some of the best in combine history. Nonetheless, when you compare those to Highsmith, the player who just collected 14.5 sacks in 2022 certainly didn’t have eye-popping numbers.

Now for some of the non-Steelers for comparison.

Myles Garrett

Prospect Grade - 7.50 - Perennial All-Pro


Elite edge rusher who possesses rare explosiveness and the fluid-movement skills and agility of an NBA shooting guard. Good size, but he’s never likely going to be a hold-your-ground run defender, and might be best suited as an outside linebacker. However, his ability to explode into the backfield through a gap or around the edge gives him disruptive potential on every snap. Garrett still needs to fine-tune his pass-rush strategy and could stand to give more consistent effort from the start of the snap until the whistle. But his pass-rush production and athletic traits point toward an all-pro career.


40-yard Dash: 4.64 Seconds

Vertical Jump: 41”

Broad Jump: 10’8”

Aidan Hutchinson

Prospect Grade - 6.80 - Year 1 Starter


Defensive end prospect with a can’t-miss combination of football character, skill and physical traits who is more likely to contend for occasional Pro Bowls than become an All-Pro playmaker. Hutchinson’s strength and flexion allows him to drop a deep anchor and set a very firm edge, and that is unlikely to change as a pro whether he’s used in 4-3 or 3-4 fronts. He can be too mechanical, engaging in cursory contact rather than using his hands to whip the man in front of him quickly. Hutchinson is an instinctive rusher, assailing the pocket with a non-stop barrage of activity. His hands are skilled and efficient to grease the edge while fluid counter steps open inside paths to the pocket. He needs to add a few more items to his rush menu in order to maintain his rush production against NFL tackles. Hutchinson is scheme versatile and should be a very good starter with a very high floor, but his ceiling might not be as elevated as some of the talent he’s been compared to.


40-yard Dash: 4.74 Seconds

Vertical Jump: 36”

Broad Jump: 9’9”

When it comes to pass rushers, men as big as Garrett and Hutchinson aren’t supposed to be able to move in that way. These guys are specimens in every aspect of the word, and they were drafted high in the first round for a reason.

So, is there a correlation? Without a much deeper dive into Pro Day results and specific college statistics, you can see they are all relatively similar. The correlation, in my opinion, is the combine doesn’t determine one’s potential, it simply solidifies what scouts may have been thinking about a prospective player.

In the case of Highsmith, he didn’t test as well as the other pass rushers, but the Steelers clearly liked his on-field film and his combine results were good enough for him to be the team’s 3rd round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Charlotte.

With all that said, should fans just throw the combine results out the window? Not at all. But should they take them with a grain of salt? Absolutely. They are a part of the process, but not the entire process altogether. Nonetheless, the Underwear Olympics (combine) officially kicks off next week.

Buckle up!

We talk about this, and more, on the Friday episode of the “Let’s Ride” podcast. You can listen in the player below: