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Athleticism Matters in Athletics (Umpteenth Edition)

Last Wednesday, as I was singing the praises of the NFL’s most athletic wide receiver, the typical comment was again made: “Combine #s and measurables only get you so far.” Okay, but it’s also generally true that combine numbers and measurables will only take you so far.

In other words, mediocre athletes have a ceiling in his league, and we should never expect them to go beyond being marginal NFL players.

A couple of cases in point. Last week Joseph Bonham gave us a good read, saying in effect that Jayrone Elliott and Kyler Fackrell have hit their ceilings. The Green Bay faithful have lost faith in these two outside linebackers.

Well, maybe there’s a reasonable explanation.

Fackrell participated in the NFL Combine in 2016, and Elliott took the same tests at a Pro Day event in 2014. Let’s take a look at those scores – and for comparison purposes I’ve included those of a proven, quality outside linebacker, Clay Matthews III.

The easiest way to do so is to view the percentiles rather than the test scores: where these players ranked among other outside linebackers taking the tests at the NFL Combine. In Elliott’s case, I was able to compute his approximate percentiles by comparing his marks with similar marks of other combine test takers. So, if you are 33rd percentile, you are among the bottom third of your peers.

Test                             Fackrell          Elliott              Matthews       Schobert                    

10-yard split                52nd                 N/A                 98th                  49th                                     

20 yard shuttle            31st                  23rd                      75th                  49th

3-cone drill                  19th                  29th                  83rd                  55th

Vertical jump              53rd                       21st                  64th                  42nd

Bench press                  5th                         17th                       56th                  49th

In these five categories, both players usually rank in the bottom third of outside linebackers taking the test – and maybe a third of the NFL Combine invitees never even make the final roster of an NFL team. When it comes to upper body strength, neither is even among the top 80 percent of their peers.

I believe that an outside linebacker’s “burst,” as measured by one’s 10-yard split time, is more important than the 40-yard time for this position. It undoubtedly goes a long way to explaining Clay’s success.

So, with a couple exceptions, both Fackrell and Elliott are well below average in burst, agility, spring, and strength.

The 6’5” 245-pound Fackrell does have above average weight (71st percentile) and height (96th). Elliott, who continues to be listed at 6’3” and 255 pounds, is also above-average size-wise. It could be, however, that while the Packers were putting a premium on size, outside linebackers that are smaller than these two tend to perform better?

Ted Thompson’s Drafting Genius

In this season’s draft, Ted Thompson and the Packers finally – though still with a couple of exceptions – embraced the concept of drafting highly athletic players. It’s something he’s never done before to any notable degree.

Based on athleticism, we can at least understand why the Packers have Elliott on the team – he went undrafted and there aren’t a lot of top athletes in that pool.

As for Fackrell, however, he was chosen in round three, 88th overall – when there were still some more athletic outside linebackers available.

How about the next outside linebacker picked after Fackrell? It was Joe Schobert, fourth-rounder, chosen 99th overall. If Ted Thompson put more stock in athleticism, wouldn’t he have selected Schobert, whose percentiles are also listed above?

Terrific Ted must have known about him. He played down the road at UW in Madison for four years.

Schobert also had some other credentials that Fackrell lacks: first team All-Big Ten (by coaches and the media); Big Ten Butkus–Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year, first-team All-America Team (FWAA and ESPN); second-team All-America by AP, Walter Camp, USA Today, CBS Sports, Sporting News, Athlon Sports; invitee to 2016 Senior Bowl – oh, and he won the Jack Lambert Trophy (nation’s best linebacker).

Schobert had a modest rookie year with the Browns: 29 tackles 0.5 sacks, one pass defended. But who do you bet is going to have the longer and more successful career, Schobert or one of these two Packers borderline outside linebackers?

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Rob Born

Due to Aaron Rodgers’ reckless ways, I’m officially launching the Campaign for GM Gutekunst to Acquire the Best Available (Veteran) Backup Quarterback – NOW.

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7 Comments

  1. Kato August 29, 2017

    Tom Brady was a below average athlete at the position. Donald Driver wasn’t an exceptional athlete. Emmitt Smith didn’t test well at the combine either. Those are just a few examples off the top of my head.

    1. MJ August 29, 2017

      Good read. Thanks, Robster. Ted shifted to more athletic players at DB, recently. The move has not yet reached the OLB position yet. But in 2025 we will field the fastest LB in the league, just watch. I’ll follow TJ Watt and Takkarist McKinley’s careers. We could have taken Watt straight away, or traded up for McKinley. Those were likely impact players, not middle of the road guys. But heck, at least we can hope King becomes a strong contributor BEFORE finishing his rookie contract.

  2. Howard August 29, 2017

    Jordan Tripp exceeds or is close to almost every combine test as Matthews. I believe Beigel is almost the same if not the same as Matthews. It will be interesting if Tripp plays Thursday to see if he takes any snaps at OLB.

  3. Empacador August 29, 2017

    Rob, how does Vince Biegel compare with those guys? And for grins T.J. Watt as well.

    1. Robster August 29, 2017

      EMPACADOR: Biegel’s percentiles were 46-49-77-42-40. T.J. Watt’s were 46-84-90-82-41. Many commentators were claiming Watt’s high draft prediction was based mostly on being J. J. Watt’s brother, but he’s an exceptional athlete in his own right. Biegel compares closely to former teammate Joe Schobert.

      1. Empacador August 30, 2017

        Thank you kind sir!

  4. PF4L August 29, 2017

    If i’m given a choice between a football team filled with athlete’s (track stars, basketball and baseball players) who can run fast, jump high, etc. Or a team of mediocre athlete’s who just play tough hard nose football, i’d take mediocre.

    I’m not sure if Brian Noble was a great athlete, but i know the man could play hard nose football. I want a team that if they go down, they go down fucking fighting. I don’t need this player passive 31-0 bullshit.

    But until the circus leaves town, we live with what we live with….unfortunately.