The pro day portion of the offseason is upon us, which means NFL prospects across the country will strap on the cleats and run through drills for NFL talent evaluators. One of the more popular pro day events is the 40-yard dash.
But is the 40-yard dash becoming obsolete? Is preparing to run in a straight line for a drill still relatable to football? Are the new GPS technologies football has adopted over the years a better measurement of play speed?
Technology has certainly enhanced the way NFL fans view the game, but also how teams can track player movements and use technology as an evaluation tool.
NFL player tracking, also known as Next Gen Stats, is the capture of real time location data, speed and acceleration for every player on every play. Sensors track tags placed on players' shoulder pads, charting individual movements.
These performance monitoring systems have shaped the way teams evaluate their players during workouts, practices and games, as they capture player data and convert it into usable statistics.
Those statistics have become popular amongst media outlets and fans, especially the ones that calculate the top speed a player reaches during a particular play or the average distance of separation between a pass catcher and defender.
Those are useful tools NFL teams have added to their evaluation process, and while they're making their way into the college game as well, Lions general manager Brad Holmes said recently that it will never completely replace some of the old-school testing conducted by the NFL – like the 40-yard dash. Instead, Holmes said good talent evaluators use all the tools available to them.
"I'm not sure about actually removing the 40-yard dash time because I truly believe that it can confirm things that you may think from a play speed standpoint," Holmes said. "If you think that a player is fast on film, and then if he runs a fast 40, then obviously you can lean on that and say, 'OK, alright, that actually lines up to what I was thinking.'
"When it's the opposite, when you don't think that a player is that fast on film and then you see him running a fast 40-yard dash time, you shouldn't ignore that. You actually should use that to go back and look at and be sure like, 'I wasn't really expecting that, but let's just be sure.'
"Let's actually look and see why the data is actually saying that versus what your eyes are seeing. I think the more that you dive into that, I think you'll actually come up with the answer in terms of exactly what you're asking for about speed, whether it be 40-yard dashes or GPS timing. At the end of the day, we're looking at play speed and reliability to how fast a guy's playing football."