|Each player at the combine runs the 40 twice, compiling six different times in the drill. (Getty Images)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- As hundreds of former college football stars participate in the NFL job fair known as the scouting combine, they will be part of a grand experiment in the most popular and most publicized event -- the 40-yard run.
In a first, the combine will use fully automated timing, meaning electronic devices will be used for both the start and the finish of each 40. But these FAT 40 times will not be revealed to players or NFL teams, The Sports Xchange has learned.
Most player workouts will be between Saturday and Monday, with some special-teams players only working out Friday.
NFL teams were briefed on the new timing method Wednesday. Because teams keep 40 times to a hundredth of a second, there has long been a push to further legitimize those times by using the same methods as track and field and the Olympics.
But according to coaches and scouts who discussed this with The Sports Xchange, the FAT times are expected to be .20 to .24 seconds slower than the relative times recorded using methods the combine has gone with since 1990 and before.
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"We were told it is just an experiment and we won't be told the results," said one team official. "People are worried about the reaction players may have if the 40 times change that much."
Combine, team and league officials are concerned that an abrupt change to recognizing the more accurate FAT times would create a culture shock of sorts for players. These players have long been told that, for skill positions such as wide receiver, cornerback and running back, a 4.30 clocking is elite, 4.40 is extremely good, 4.50 is good and 4.70 and above may be cause for concern at those positions for an NFL prospect.
As an example, the great Jerry Rice had a rather pedestrian 40 time in the mid-4.6 range. If that time were converted to equate to FAT timing, Rice, rated by many as the best wide receiver -- or the best player -- in NFL history, would be credited with only a mid-4.8 time in the 40.
So suddenly adding .20 to .24 seconds on the combine times for prospects could result in some sort of psychological shock. As it is, some of the top-rated athletes do not run at the combine. If FAT 40 times became official, it is feared even more players would refuse to run at the combine.
For the past 22 years, combine 40 times included two manual timings and one that was determined by a manual start and an electronic beam at the finish. In those cases, all starts were determined by the player's first motion. Before 1990, all times were entirely manual.
The fastest verifiable time in combine history was 4.12 seconds by Bo Jackson in 1986 on manual watches in the Superdome.
There are numerous stories that Deion Sanders ran faster than 4.2 seconds at another Superdome combine. But research indicates he was timed in 4.28 seconds at best on one of the so-called "official" watches.
Even before the inclusion of the secret FAT timings this year, there was confusion among the media and fans over so-called "official" 40 times. And the reason is simple -- there really is no single, "official" 40 time.
Here is what happens to get the 40 times at the combine that are revealed:
• Those who participate in the 40 run twice, and on each run they are timed by two hand-held stopwatches and one electronic timer (initiated by hand on the player's first movement).
• Combine data put together for NFL teams by National Scouting includes all six of those times for each player, but no single official time.
Team scouts and coaches have various approaches for reaching agreement on a 40 time they use from those six timings. Some use averages. Some throw out slowest and fastest and then average the rest. Some ignore the whole thing and use a time taken by their own scout.
But the rapid ascent of the combine as a media event has created a lot of misconceptions, especially with the addition of live coverage by NFL Network on television and NFL.com online. In recent years, in an attempt to expedite reporting of data, both NFL Network and NFL.com have published 40 times and have not cited the source of those times, except to say they are unofficial.
And this year there will be more of the same, as stated in this week's press release from NFL.com and NFL Network, which says: "For the first time ever, NFL.com provides unofficial 40-yard dash times for each participant in real time with the Combine Tracker, allowing fans to obtain results and data faster than ever before. Additionally, the new Combine Tracker lists how each athlete performed in all of the drills, providing a central location to receive statistics as they happen."
All this is great for fans viewing online or on television, as long as they understand, as the press release states, that the times are "unofficial." Most media will go with those same times until more specific data becomes available.
In deference to the players, NFLDraftScout.com uses the best verifiable -- or listed -- time from the combine unless it is conspicuously skewed from the other times. But the times are usually well grouped.
|*Top scores from 2000-2011 Combines (unofficial bests also listed if verified)|