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Study: Correlation Between Combine Invites And Draft Picks

With the 2016 NFL Combine kicking off this week, I wanted to take a crack at a research study related to it. There will be over 300 players working out at Indianapolis, to work out, compete in drills, get interviewed, and go through a battery of medical tests. Still, each year, a sizeable group of non-invites get drafted.

The question I had was how often the Pittsburgh Steelers took a player who did not work out at the Combine. After reaching that number, I had to compare it to the league – statistics  are almost always relative – and then it took on several layers from there.

In the table below, I have several breakdowns.

Players drafted who attended the Combine: Pretty obvious.

Total Picks: The number of total draft picks since 2007. Since I started with the Steelers, I used the beginning of the Mike Tomlin era and kept it consistent for the rest of the league. I do realize most teams have had more turnover than Pittsburgh during that span.

Percentage of picks from players who attended the combine: To make the number relative, avoiding any misleading numbers based on total picks. The team who had 75 draft picks are naturally going to have more non-combine selections than the team who had 55 because of sample size.

Highest non-combine selection: The number designates the round, and if there were multiple over that span, it will be indicated with a x2, x3, etc. So if from 2007-2015, the highest non-combine draft pick was a second rounder, and it happened twice, you’ll see a 2nd (x2).

Non-combine selections from rounds 1 through 4: I started with the data for the highest selection but realized it didn’t tell me a ton of information. Given that pretty big timeline of nine years, pretty much every team had at least one high pick in a player. So I broke it down further to look at the frequency a team would invest a high pick in a non-combine invite. I chose the cutoff point at round four because every team had used at least one fourth rounder, or higher, on a non-combine invite.

Non-combine selections from rounds 5 through 7: To show the teams that prefer to wait until the late rounds to take non-combine players.

I used the website NFL Combine Results for my data collection. It should be pointed out some players not counted did attend the combine but did not work out due to injury.

Team Combine Selections Total Selections Combine % Highest Round Non-Combine 1-4 Non-Combine 5-7
SD 51 57 89.5 1st 3 3
MIN 67 75 89.3 2nd 1 7
CLE 62 70 88.6 2nd 3 5
DEN 60 69 87 1st (x2) 3 6
BUF 63 73 86.3 2nd (x2) 4 6
NYG 56 65 86.2 4th 1 8
GB 69 81 85.2 4th (x2) 2 10
TB 56 66 84.8 2nd 1 9
ARI 55 65 84.6 3rd 3 7
NYJ 47 56 83.9 3rd (x2) 2 7
HOU 62 74 83.8 3rd 1 11
PIT 63 76 82.9 3rd 3 10
TEN 63 76 82.9 4th 1 12
PHI 66 80 82.5 2nd 4 10
SF 66 80 82.5 1st 3 11
CAR 53 65 81.5 2nd(x2) 5 10
NO 44 54 81.5 3rd 2 8
IND 56 69 81.2 2nd 5 8
DET 56 70 80 2nd 3 11
BAL 59 74 79.7 3rd (x2) 9 6
STL 63 79 79.7 4th 1 15
ATL 58 73 79.5 1st (x3) 4 11
CIN 65 82 79.3 1st (x2) 3 14
DAL 55 71 77.5 1st 4 12
CHI 51 66 77.3 3rd 3 12
MIA 57 75 76 1st 5 13
KC 57 74 77 3rd 2 15
OAK 55 74 74.3 2nd 4 15
WSH 54 73 74.3 1st 4 15
JAX 48 67 71.6 2nd 7 12
SEA 55 78 70.5 4th (x2) 2 21
NE 54 83 65.1 2nd (x4) 9 20

Some takeaways:

– It’s no surprise but the New England Patriots again march to the beat of their own drum, with the lowest percentage of combine invite selections. Their nine picks in the first four rounds tie for the league-most.

– The Ravens are a curious case. They came in 21st in percentage of combine selections but they have nine picks within the first nine rounds, trying the Pats for the most. They are also the only team in the league draft more non-combine players from the first round rounds than rounds five through seven, nine to six.

– The Atlanta Falcons have drafted three first round picks who didn’t work out at the combine but they came in a three year span from 2007-2009: Jamaal Anderson, Sam Baker, and Peria Jerry.

– Four teams, the Packers, Seahawks, Giants, and Rams, have never used anything higher than a fourth round pick on a non-combine invite. The Seahawks have used 21 picks on those after round four, suggesting they prefer to wait on those players. The Rams have used 15 on the latter half of players with just one – Barrett Jones – taken in the fourth.

– We’ll finish this out with a Steelers-centric approach. The Steelers come in 12th place at 82.9% of their picks working out at the Combine. Only three players taken during the first four rounds: Matt Spaeth, Tony Hills, and Daniel Sepulevda. All of those were during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, meaning the Steelers haven’t done it since.

The full list of players who didn’t work out at Indianapolis: CB Shaq Richardson, TE Rob Blanchflower, WR Justin Brown, WR Toney Clemons, RB Baron Batch, FB Frank Summers, OT Tony Hills, QB Dennis Dixon, S Ryan Mundy, TE Matt Spaeth, P Daniel Sepulevda, and CB William Gay.

Beginning with the 2009 season, no non-combine workout player has been drafted before the 5th round by Pittsburgh. And of that 12 man group, only two – Blanchflower and Summers – come from non Power-5 conferences. It would put the odds of the team drafting say, a Kevin Byard from Middle Tennessee, pretty low.

The Steelers have also never drafted a non-FBS player not invited to the combine since 2007. Over that span, they’ve only drafted two – Nick Williams from Samford and Cortez Allen from The Citadel – both who received an invite. In our next study, we’ll look at exactly how infrequent the Steelers take FCS and below talent compared to the rest of the league. You can bet they’ll be at the bottom of the list.

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