2021 Offseason Questions: Do You Trust Hand-Timed 40-Yard Dash Numbers?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row. Pittsburgh went 1-4 in the final five, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason, resulting in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. And right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there always questions to ask. Though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Do you trust hand-timed 40-yard dash recordings?

First of all, I’m going to leave it open-ended as far as what it means to ‘trust’ in this case. But I think the subject is as relevant as it has ever been. Because this year, hand-timed 40-yard dash results are all anyone gets, since there is no Scouting Combine.

Now, there hasn’t always been a Combine, where they actually compute the time from start to finish and go over it before announcing ‘official’ times. But I’m inclined to assume that reviewing a run through a computer and determining exactly when a person starts and stops 40 yards later is likely more accurate than somebody literally standing there with a stopwatch.

Yet maybe I’m in the minority here. There are still some (mostly older) evaluators who swear by hand times, such as Gil Brandt, and at least one beat writer who I won’t name who I’m assuming has never timed a professional athlete, who also insists that hand times are better.

Regardless of relative accuracies, the ultimate question is whether or not hand-timed 40s can be trusted to be an accurate representation of a player’s speed over a set distance. The lack of uniformity with everybody being timed at different venues is another confounding factor here that can’t be helped.

But, again, it’s all we have this year. Everybody’s hand-timed Pro Day 40-yard dash is their ‘official’ time that will represent them for draft evaluators. At least among those who value 40 times to begin with. So are they to be trusted, and what qualifying factors can be implemented to try to conform the data?

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