Using NFL Scouting Combine for fantasy purposes

If you don't know the name Gil Brandt, you don't know football.

Brandt (aka "The Godfather") was the vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-1989, helping the franchise become one of the most powerful in all of sports. He is also known for his innovative management and scouting techniques that are used by NFL teams to this day. In fact, his target test results for each position in the NFL Scouting Combine (as seen in the chart below) could be seen as a window for future fantasy football success.

The Cowboys have been testing and recording prospects with these drills since the early 1960s, and most teams have been doing it long enough to know what "good measurables" look like. There will, of course, be instances where a player will blow scouts away with an amazing 40 time or a record number of reps in the bench press. But it's more important to identify the target numbers that indicate a prospect is worthy of further evaluation, both on the field and in fantasy land.

Here's a look at the target totals, per drill, that Brandt has followed.

Note: Quarterbacks do not lift weights or run the 60-yard shuttle at the combine; offensive and defensive linemen also do not run the 60-yard shuttle.

So, how predictive has Brandt's target results been since 2010? Well, I took a look at the data and broke it down per position, starting with the quarterbacks. The results reflect a player's rookie season rankings (based on fantasy points) at his position, since most fantasy leagues out there are seasonal. While no system is perfect, you'll find that Brandt's targets have been an effective research tool.

Quarterbacks

Rookie quarterbacks typically haven't made a huge fantasy impact. In fact, only four have finished in the top 10 in terms of fantasy points since 2010. Another seven signal-callers have finished among the top 20 in their respective rookie campaigns. Deshaun Watson (2017) would have made this list too, but he started just six games for the Texans as a rookie (he also put up a bananas 24.12 fantasy points per game, the most of any first-year signal-caller with at least six games). In case you were wondering, Watson hit all but one of Brandt's targets at the 2017 combine, the 20-yard shuttle, and he missed it by a meager 0.01.

Let's start off with Cam Newton (2011), who ranked third in fantasy points among quarterbacks as a rookie. That's the highest rank of any first-year field general since 2010. He hit every one of Brandt's marks. Robert Griffin III (2012) finished fifth in points as a rookie, and he too nailed all of Brandt's targets (RG3 didn't participate in the 20-yard shuttle or 3-cone drills). Dak Prescott (2016), who ranked sixth, also hit Brandt's mark in every drill but the 20-yard dash (DNP).

If we finish off the top-5 best fantasy finishes among rookie quarterbacks, we see that Andrew Luck (2012) and Russell Wilson (2012) were also able to hit the marks. Out of the rest of the rookie quarterbacks who finished 20th or better in fantasy points, there were really only two significant outliers ... Jameis Winston (2015) and Andy Dalton (2011). Winston, who ranked as the QB13 in points as a rookie, hit just one of Brandt's marks (3-cone). Dalton, who was the QB15 in his rookie season, hit just two (20-yard shuttle, 3-cone). Every other signal-caller who has ranked at least 20th was able to reach most of Brandt's marks (sans DNPs).

One thing for fantasy owners to note among the players who did well in most of Brandt's marks ... all of them are (or were) mobile or running quarterbacks.

Running backs

Since 2010, we've seen a combined 19 rookie running backs finish in the top 30 in fantasy points, including 11 in the top 20 and five top 10s. The top finisher, Saquon Barkley (RB1, 2018), reached Brandt's marks in all but one of five drills (he didn't participate in four). The one drill he missed, the 20-yard shuttle, was a near miss at 4.24. David Johnson (2015) was a beast at the combine, hitting all but one of the eight marks (he barely missed the 20-yard shuttle at 4.27). He went on to finish seventh in fantasy points among running backs in his first year.

Christian McCaffrey (2018), Doug Martin (2012), Gio Bernard (2013), Miles Sanders (2019), Nick Chubb (2018) and Jahvid Best (2010) all reached at least six (67 percent) of Brandt's marks among the backs who ranked in the top 20 as rookies. There were three outliers, however, one of which might surprise you. Le'Veon Bell (2013), who ranked 14th among running backs as a rookie, reached just three of eight marks (he didn't take part in the 60-yard shuttle). To his credit, though, Bell was extremely close on the 20-yard shuttle (2.64), the 40-yard dash (4.60), the broad jump (118 inches) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.24). The other outliers at running back were Alfred Morris (2012) and Zac Stacy (2013).

Of the remaining eight backs who finished in the top 30 (RBs 21-30) in fantasy points as rookies, three (Roy Helu - 2011, DeMarco Murray - 2011, Tre Mason - 2014) hit at least six marks. Nyheim Hines (2018) hit four of six (no bench press, 20-yard shuttle or 60-yard shuttle). The worst of the group was TJ Yeldon (2015), who reached only three of the nine marks for success set by the Godfather.

To add some context, let's look at some of the bigger names in the current world of fantasy football who didn't finish in the top 30 as rookies. Derrick Henry (2016) reached five of eight marks (no 20-yard shuttle), Mark Ingram (2011) hit on just two of eight (no 60-yard shuttle) and Melvin Gordon (2015) made the mark in five of nine. Devonta Freeman (2014) was one of the worst among combine runners, reaching just one of the six drills on Gil's list. He did come close in several categories, but overall he missed the mark. Again, we're just looking at first-year success.

Wide Receivers

Rookie wideouts have been hard pressed to make a major fantasy impact overall, as just 17 have ranked in the top 30 at the position since 2010. I'm going to focus on 16 of them, because Justin Blackmon (2012) didn't participate in most drills at the combine. Unlike the running backs, the wide receiver position wasn't as clear cut based on Brandt's targets. However, there were plenty of success stories. Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) nailed all but one of the marks (bench press), and he went on to tie for the best finish among rookies (WR7) since 2010. Michael Thomas (2016) hit the mark in just five of eight drills (no 20-yard split), but he barely missed in the 40-yard dash (4.57), the vertical jump (35) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.7).

Of the remaining five players who were top-20 wide receivers as rookies, Kelvin Benjamin (2014) and Mike Williams (2010) were the only real outliers in terms of hitting Brandt's marks. Benjamin hit on a mere one of nine, and Williams hit on just two. I think it bears noting that neither player did very much from a statistical or fantasy perspective after their respective rookie seasons.

The bottom six wideouts, all of whom finished between WR 21-30 as rookies, hit on a good percentage of Brandt's marks. That includes Jordan Matthews (7/9) and Sammy Watkins (6/8) in 2014, Terry McLaurin (6/7) in 2019 and Torrey Smith (9/9) in 2011. Cooper Kupp (3/6) in 2017 and Calvin Ridley (4/7) in 2018 were the outliers.

Tight Ends

Rookie tight ends rarely make a fantasy impact, and this research proves it. Over the last nine years, just one has finished in the top 10 while another 10 have ranked TE 11-20. The lone top-10 player, Evan Engram, finished fifth in 2017. He hit on six of the seven Brandt targets (no 20-yard shuttle, 60-yard shuttle). The next best finisher, Rob Gronkowski, ranked as the TE11 in 2010. Unfortunately, he was a DNP in all but the bench press drill (he surpassed Brandt's mark). That has been par for the course at the position, as Chris Herndon (2018), George Kittle (2017), Hunter Henry (2016), Jordan Reed (2013) and Dallas Goedert (2018) all failed to participate in at least four of Brandt's nine drill target totals.

The rest of the tight ends who finished in the top 20 as rookies include Jermaine Gresham (2010), Noah Fant (2019), Tony Moeaki (2010) and Mark Andrews (2018). Out of those four, only Fant nailed six or more of Brandt's drills.

Final Notes

In the world of fantasy football, volume will often supersede how a player tests at the combine. Case in point ... despite the fact that he reached just two of Brandt's nine combine marks, Alfred Morris still ranked eighth in fantasy points as a rookie runner. He had no real competition for touches in the Redskins backfield, however, as Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster all dealt with injuries. That resulted in a season with 335 carries, which is still the most rushing attempts of any rookie runner in the last nine years. To Brandt's credit, Morris' career sort of fizzled after his first-year success. The same can be said of Tampa Bay's Mike Williams. He was also brutal at the combine based on Brandt's marks, but he still finished as a top-20 wideout as a rookie. Of course, Williams led the Bucs wideouts in targets with the likes of Arrelious Benn, Sammie Stroughter and Michael Spurlock as his main competition. While he would score a solid nine touchdowns in his third NFL season, Williams' career, like Morris', also fizzled after Year 1.

While it's apparent that a player who might not test well at the combine can still make an immediate fantasy impact if the situation he's in results in volume, that same player isn't guaranteed to be more than a "one-year wonder." That's yet another way Brandt's marks can help us in fantasy land. And at a time when the desire for scouting research is at an all-time high, Brandt's target totals have proven to be a viable tool for incorporating data from the combine into the fantasy world. The proof is in the numbers. So while you're watching the combine on NFL Network, use Brandt's genius to your fantasy advantage.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTubeand *Instagram for the latest fantasy football news and analysis!

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