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Why Are There So Many Athletic Marvels in the 2020 NFL Draft? A Ringer Investigation

If it seems like a stunning number of prospects in this class are extraordinary athletes … well, let’s go to the extremely grainy tape

Ringer illustration

Last week it was reported that TCU wide receiver Jalen Reagor ran a 4.22-second 40-yard dash at a pro day in Texas, a mark that ties John Ross’s 2017 combine time for the fastest 40 ever recorded. Reagor’s supersonic time could be a major boon as he attempts to climb the 2020 draft board and become a first-round selection. Unfortunately, I can’t focus on the ramifications of Reagor’s workout, because all I can think about is the terrible quality of the video that supposedly shows his historic run:

How the hell did anyone produce a video that looks like this? No phone released in the last 15 years has a camera this bad. I guess I’m to believe that (a) the person who filmed this was using a Motorola Razr, and (b) even though all of the scouts, trainers, and athletes in attendance at this pro day presumably had iPhones and Androids, Motorola Razr Person was somehow chosen to shoot the video. Was this the result of an experimental procedure developed by Thomas Edison in 1892 to convince investors to fund a newfangled motion-picture camera called “the spectrometoscope”? Did somebody teach the artist from the Lascaux cave paintings about frame-by-frame animation? Is 4.22 the total number of seconds it took Reagor to cross the finish line, or the total number of pixels in this entire video? Is this actually evidence of the existence of Bigfoot?

If Reagor did run a 4.22-second 40-yard dash, that’s incredible—especially considering he clocked a 4.47 40 at the NFL draft combine in February. Did he chop a quarter-second off his time and become the fastest football prospect ever in just two months? The quality of the video is so poor that it’s impossible to verify the claim. The clock on a 40-yard dash is supposed to start at the first motion by the runner, but when the runner is just a blob in the middle of the screen, it’s tough to pinpoint that motion. And while cameras are typically positioned perpendicular to the track so that it’s easy to tell when the runner crosses the finish line, this video was shot straight down the track so it’s tough to identify the exact frame in which he crosses the finish. At the end, one of the assembled scouts holds up his stopwatch to the camera to reveal his recorded time. But even if the stopwatch is an exact measurement, it doesn’t help us: We can’t see the damn thing, since this video was recorded on a decorative gourd with a hole in the middle.

Potential draftees posting ridiculous stats at pro days is nothing new—for as long as NFL prospects have been able to run drills at their respective colleges, there has been a notable discrepancy between their combine results and their pro day results. The difference this year is that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, professional teams are now incapable of completing in-person scouting. Although there’s always a measure of inaccuracy with hand-timed drills as opposed to the laser-measured drills at the combine, teams feel that they can ensure a certain level of consistency by sending the same scouts to multiple pro days. But now NFL teams can’t verify times in any way, which means one thing: Folks, it’s Lying Season.

For example: Here’s Cam Dantzler, a Mississippi State cornerback projected to go in the middle rounds of the draft, ostensibly running a 4.38-second 40. That’s a huge improvement from the 4.64 he posted at the combine. You can tell it’s a 4.38 40 because the numbers on the screen say “4.38” and an impressed scout shows a stopwatch that reads 4.38.

There’s only one problem with this video: 4.63 seconds elapse between Dantzler’s first motion and the time that he crosses the finish line.

So Dantzler’s improvement of 0.26 seconds is more like an improvement of 0.01 seconds. Essentially, his laser-timed combine 40 was accurate.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a laser-timed 40 for Georgia tight end Eli Wolf, who wasn’t invited to Indianapolis for the combine. Here’s Wolf’s 4.43 at a pro day, which certainly does not look like a 4.43:

Wolf was a two-star recruit who walked on at Tennessee, where his older brother Ethan was on scholarship. He later transferred to Georgia, and in four years between the two schools he had a rather unspectacular career, tallying 21 combined catches with two touchdowns. But that didn’t stop him from purportedly posting some of the most stunningly impressive testing numbers in league history.

Let’s break down how absurd these numbers are. A 6.72-second three-cone drill would be the fastest mark ever by a tight end, and the second-fastest time at this year’s combine regardless of position. A 4.06-second shuttle drill would have been the fourth best at this year’s combine, with everybody faster measuring 5-foot-10 or shorter. Wolf is 6-foot-4. He apparently boasts the burst of a superstar defensive end and the flexibility of an elite cornerback, all packed into a prototype tight end’s body. A nearly exact comparison for Wolf, based on numbers alone, is Von Miller … only taller, stronger, and with more straight-line speed. Either the coaches at Georgia and Tennessee failed to recognize the potential of a once-in-a-generation athlete, or some of these numbers are bogus.

One side effect of this pandemic is that people are realizing how many jobs can be performed remotely. To be honest, I thought NFL scouts would fall into this category. Given that most college football games are recorded with multiple broadcast angles plus All-22 tape, and that testing drills can be recorded and broken down frame by frame, I’ve always wondered why scouts spend so much time on the road instead of in front of computers.

The run-up to this draft has displayed how wrong that take was. Over the last few weeks, I have gained a newfound appreciation for why scouts need to do their jobs in person: If they don’t, prospects will report outrageous numbers in an effort to boost their draft stock. We’ll see how successful those attempts are this year.