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.
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?