Sport Science: High-tech QB combine
As April 28 continues to creep closer, the top NFL draft prospects have been put through a series of obstacles in hopes of impressing coaches and scouts at the NFL combine, their university's pro days and in some cases, workouts with specific teams. Though players at each position feel the heat, the pressure is even greater for quarterbacks.
ESPN Sport Science created its own combine designed specifically to test the top college quarterbacks entering the NFL draft. By using cutting-edge technology, the Sport Science Combine not only presents a more in-depth look at the talent each QB possesses but also offers a methodical explanation behind the results.
Greg McElroy is known not only for his athletic prowess, but for his book smarts as well. McElroy's Wonderlic score at the NFL combine, 43 out of 50, is the second-highest score ever by a QB. In fact, McElroy, a Rhodes Scholar finalist, has been criticized for perhaps being too smart. (Well, we have to find something to complain about.) Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Alabama QB excelled at Mind Games, a combined mental and physical challenge designed to test reaction times.
Each QB was asked to swipe infrared beams as they lit up. The average reaction time was 0.67 seconds, comparable to the amount of time it would take to find an open receiver before the pocket collapses. Then they performed the test again, simultaneously answering a series of football-related questions. After the questions were added, average reaction times slowed by 11 hundredths of a second. But McElroy's reaction time actually improved 14 percent, proving that a quick brain is just as important as a strong arm.
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"I really liked testing my reaction times while answering questions," McElroy said. "That's something new and unique. You can study, you can do everything you possibly can off the field but once you get on the field, are you reacting fast? Are you playing fast? Because the main thing the coach will tell you do is play fast and play smart and play within yourself, but first of all, play fast, and that's why reaction time is huge."
Though some analysts think Taylor has a better shot at playing in the NFL as a receiver instead of a quarterback, Taylor is adamant about remaining a QB. However, one thing nobody can argue with is that Taylor is lightning fast. In addition to passing for 2,743 yards in 2010, the Virginia Tech QB rushed for another 659 yards and five TDs. At the combine, Taylor recorded a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, placing him first among this year's QBs and third among QBs in the past five years.
ESPN Sport Science used the Speed Test to pinpoint the exact moment Taylor reaches his fastest speed. After reacting to the infrared timing gate in 0.4 seconds, he accelerated to a top speed of 18.6 mph even before reaching the 10-yard mark in a 20-yard test.
The average starting NFL QB is 6-foot-3. Mallett stands at 6-foot-6. Though rumors of character issues have caused his draft stock to slide, Mallett's ideal size offers NFL teams an advantage. There is also no denying his arm strength -- he can throw the ball more than 70 yards, which helped him record more than 3,000 yards and 30 TDs in the last two years of his Arkansas career.
ESPN Sport Science determined that Mallett's 83-inch wingspan and 104-inch standing vertical assisted him in clocking a 65 mph throw. Further, his release point is about 8 feet above the turf, as high as any QB's in the NFL.
"The only thing that changes when I'm throwing a bullet or if I'm throwing it deep is my shoulder level," Mallett said. "If I'm throwing it deep, I raise my shoulders up a little bit to make sure I'm aiming high."
The FSU quarterback remained under the radar prior to taking home MVP honors in January's Senior Bowl. Ponder's draft stock has soared since. In Sport Science's Ultimate QB Test, which Ponder described as "a lot of things rolled into one," he dropped into a virtual pocket of infrared timing gates. As the pocket collapsed, one timing gate illuminated to indicate which direction he had to scramble. Once clear of the pocket, he was tasked with throwing a pass through a moving target. In 17 attempts, Ponder hit the target 14 times (82 percent accuracy). Ponder was 30 percent more accurate than any other QB in this test.
At 6-foot-5, Kaepernick possesses a greater ability to see over an NFL line of scrimmage than many other QBs. Considered by some to be the dark horse of the draft, Kaepernick had a better completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio than those of Drew Brees in his senior season at Purdue.
In the Touch Test, ESPN Sport Science challenged Kaepernick's ability by asking him to feather a pass over two rushing defenders into a specific target. "Just to drop back and try to hit about a three-foot target with two big guys running at me? Definitely pretty tough," Kaepernick said. If it was tough, Kaepernick didn't show it -- he was 80 percent accurate in the drill.
Andy Dalton and Pat Devlin
Dalton finished the 2010 season with a 13-0 record and a Rose Bowl championship, making him the winningest QB in TCU history. He is projected as a second- or third-round pick, but after stealing the show at TCU's pro day, Dalton may find himself going sooner than expected.
Similarly, Pat Devlin, Delaware's under-the-radar QB, finished 2010 with a 67.9 completion percentage and 22 TDs. Though his pro day was received with mix reviews, he has garnered the attention of NFL scouts and continues to impress with his interview skills. At the Sport Science combine, both Dalton and Devlin received top honors in the Accuracy Challenge. From 10 yards, each QB finished 15-for-15, and after throwing additional passes from both 15 and 20 yards, the signal-callers both achieved better than 90 percent accuracy.
"When you're releasing the ball, the last finger that you want to leave is your pointer finger so the ball will come off like this and you should get a good spiral," Devlin said.
Dalton echoed the importance of putting the ball in a tight window. "I liked the Accuracy Challenge and I felt like I did well," he said. "To hit 20 in a row is pretty good. I think that's one part of the game I feel like I do a good job at, so to come out here and show that was something I was happy with."
Dalton also excelled at the voice test, proving he has the highest frequency in his voice among the QBs tested. Sounds with high frequency are more directional, resulting in a voice that is more easily heard on the edges of the field.
The debate rages on about where each of these quarterbacks will be drafted. But one thing that can't be disputed is science. Tune in to "ESPN Sport Science: The QB Combine" at 7 p.m. ET.
Annabel Stephan works in ESPN Content Development and is a contributor to "Year of the Quarterback."
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