Casserly: 40 Times Useful, But Overrated

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Yesterday on Redskins.com, Redskins.com’s Gary Fitzgerald discussed draft expert Mike Mayock’s emphasis on speed at the skill positions.  The piece boils down to one overarching theory: fast is good, and slow is bad.

But speed can also be deceiving, as NFL.com analyst and former Redskins executive Charley Casserly points out in his latest piece leading up to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.  How fast a prospect can run in a straight line doesn’t ultimately tell you much about an athlete’s ability to play football:

To fans, the combine’s most alluring event is the 40-yard dash, but this can be a misleading measurement for team officials.

Players train hard for the combine and many of them post 40 times that make them appear faster than they really are in typical game settings.

How many times in a player’s career will he run in a straight line, wearing nothing but Spandex?

More often than not, the winner of the annual foot race is more bust than boom.  Here are the winners from each of the last five years:

2011: DeMarcus Van Dyke, CB, Tennessee Titans
2010: Jacoby Ford, WR, Oakland Raiders
2009: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders
2008: Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
2007: Yamon Figurs, WR, Baltimore Ravens.

Aside from Johnson to the Titans, none of these players have panned out in their eventual destination.  While college speed is alluring, it can mask flawed fundamentals and hinder a player’s professional development.

That’s not to say that speed is always a bad thing either.  The Redskins have had success with world-class speed, taking Champ Bailey (4.28) with the seventh overall pick in 1999, and pairing him with Darrell Green, the NFL’s fastest man.

And who was the Redskins’ general manager that year?  None other than Charley Casserly.

This year’s decision-maker, Mike Shanahan, has also selected speed in previous stops.  In 2005, cornerback Darrent Williams ran a 4.30 and was selected 56th overall by Shanahan’s Denver Broncos.

Casserly explains that the key to gauging football speed is to not let the 40-yard time confuse what you see on tape.  If something is too good to be true, then it probably is:

I judge a player’s game speed off tape. If his combine 40 seems much faster, I throw it out, because it’s not a true reflection of his game speed.

He goes on to explain that the Combine is most important for two areas that cannot be easily measured: player physicals and position drills.  This weekend is the first time that teams will have access to a player’s medical information, which could affect a player’s draft stock as it did for DaQuan Bowers in 2011.

Player position drills are especially valuable to players like Ryan Kerrigan that were making a position switch in the pros:

A defensive back who never played man coverage in college will engage in man cover drills…An offensive tackle who only played on the right side in college will be able to take a crack at the blind side.

The two most informative positional drills for me are those of the offensive line and defensive backs.

The Redskins could have particular interest in both defensive backs and offensive line help in April’s draft, making these drills even more important for Washington fans.

Coverage of the Combine is ongoing on the NFL Network, but position drills will begin airing on Saturday morning at 9 a.m.

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