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Historic NFL ZScor: Decade’s Best Offensive Prospects

After the feedback given by the community in my previous article, I was inspired to look at the NFL Scouting Combine over the past decade. Explained in my last article, numbers can often become misleading and this is why it’s important to value on-field production as much as athletic ability.

Robert Griffin III celebrates against Oklahoma - Kevin Maguire


Over the past decade, SEC dominance has left its’ mark on college football. Its’ dominance can also be traced to the quarterback position. Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, and Johnny Manziel, hailing from the SEC, are three of the most hyped prospects in draft history. Their abilities as a dual-threat prospect were sought after by each and every NFL team. After winning the National Title during his first year on campus, Auburn University’s Cam Newton ran a blazing 4.56 40 yard dash despite being 6’6″ and weighing 250 lbs. Furthermore, he displayed a ZScor of 2.94, third best of each quarterback measured over the past decade.

When talking about overhyped prospects, one cannot look past Tim Tebow. Setting both SEC and NCAA records, Tebow was looked as an athletic quarterback, who lacked the proper tools to become an NFL star. He shined at the 2010 NFL Combine, running exceptional agility drills. Running a 6.66 3 Cone Drill, Tebow exemplified better acceleration than Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray, and Jamaal Charles. Scoring a 3.29 Z, Tebow was the second-best over the past decade.

Prior to the 2011 college football season, the casual fan outside the state of Texas had not heard of Baylor University’s gem, Robert Griffin III. A dual-sport stud, “RGIII” had explosive speed and the ability to throw while under pressure. His performances on the football field led to a sudden rise to fame. Accounting for 4,952 yards in his redshirt junior year (ACL tear in 2009), Griffin was able to bring Baylor into the national spotlight and give them their first ever Heisman Trophy. Griffin’s draft stock skyrocketed. After being placed behind Andrew Luck (2.52 Z), Griffin ran a blistering 4.41 40 Yard Dash, and had a remarkable 39″ vertical. Due to his incredible metrics, Griffin earned a ZScor of 4.64, higher than any quarterback in the previous decade.

Out of the top three, Griffin III, Tebow, and Newton, Cam is the only one who has been able to sustain a solid career in professional football. Tebow struggling with inconsistency and Griffin’s injury problems, they both are still very young and their careers can be saved.

Running Backs

While the necessity for a “work horse” running back has dropped dramatically, there are still plenty of gifted runners in professional football. No running back over the past decade, has been more honored or prized than Oklahoma University’s Adrian Peterson. Peterson was a gem, a rare combination of size and speed which previously had only been witnessed during the careers of Jim Brown, Herschel Walker, and Bo Jackson. When it came to entering the NFL, all 32 teams knew what Peterson was capable of, now he just had to show it off. Running a 4.4 40 Yard Dash and having a vertical of 38.5″, Peterson finished with a Zscor of 2.30, solidifying the Minnesota Vikings’ decision to take him 7th overall.

Jamaal Charles generated incredible buzz coming out of University of Texas. Similar to Robert Griffin III, Charles gained a reputation as a dual-sport stud. Charles became a 4x All-American from Track and Field alone. As a talented runner, it translated well on the football field. On combine day, his track success led to a 4.38 40 Yard Dash and a 6.8 3 Cone Drill. Scoring a 3.73 Z, Charles would later became a gem to Kansas City.

East Carolina’s Chris Johnson looked blazing fast in college. He torched the opposing C-USA defenses, rushing for a blistering 110 yards per game. In February of 2008, Johnson ran a 4.24 40 Yard Dash, the fastest ever in combine history for any position. With an 130″ Broad Jump, Johnson displayed fantastic versatility finishing with 6.51 Z. The Tennessee Titans would take Johnson 24th overall and “CJ2K” still has the fastest 40 yard dash in combine history.

Wide Receivers

Over the past decade, a transition has led to bigger, faster and stronger wide receivers. Elite speed is now matched with elite strength,  providing for nightmare match-ups against defenders. If there were ever a competition for most exciting players in football history, Miami’s Devin Hester would be a front-runner. Coming out of “The U,” Hester played on offense, defense, and special teams. His transition to the NFL would not be clear cut, but his extraordinary athleticism helped greatly. Running a 4.27 40 Yard Dash and also displaying a 38″ Vertical, Hester displayed elite athleticism which would provide for a special career in the NFL. With a ZScor of 2.65, Hester would use his premier athleticism to break the NFL record for punt and kick return touchdowns.

University of Alabama has a better reputation when it comes to defensive talent, but Julio Jones is a strong exception to the rule. After bullying much of the SEC, Jones ran a surprising 4.34 and had an outstanding 135″ Broad Jump. Julio Jones earned a ZScor of 3.38, putting him second among those tested.

Over the past decade, no wide receiver has been more productive or more discussed than Calvin Johnson. “Megatron,” coming out of Georgia Tech, ran a blazing 4.35 while also showing off a 42.5″ Vertical. Already being far taller than his counterparts, Johnson’s catch radius is simply unfair. With a ZScor of 6.76, Calvin Johnson is one of the most athletic and most talented receivers of all-time.

Tight Ends

As wide receivers became bigger and faster over the past ten years, tight ends also needed to adjust to fit the bill Coming out of “The U,” Jimmy Graham was an extremely raw draft prospect. Despite having the look of a football player, Graham lacked the technique. His 4.56 40 yard dash and 38.5″ Vertical led to a score of 3.91 Z. .

After being recruited as a wide receiver by Purdue, it was made known that Dustin Keller would be bulking up and making the transition to tight end. Keller possessed the skills of a slot receiver and was an exceptional blocker. At the scouting combine, Keller would finish with a ZScor of 4.67. After being drafted by the Jets in 2008, Keller would become a phenomenal pass-catcher and blocker.

No tight end, will ever match the athleticism of Maryland’s Vernon Davis. After running a 4.37 40 yard dash and showing off a 42″ vertical, Davis is quicker than the majority of wide receivers. With a ZScor of 7.36, Davis set the new standard for the modern tight end. We may never see a tight end who matches the production and athleticism of Davis.

Part Two will be coming soon. Thanks for the support. 

Michael Anders View All

Born in NYC x Raised in VA

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