The NFL Combine 40-Yard Dash: How Important is Maximum Velocity?
This investigation analyzed the sprint velocity profiles for athletes who completed the 40-yard (36.6m) dash at the 2016 NFL Combine. The purpose was to evaluate the relationship between maximum velocity and sprint performance, and to compare acceleration patterns for fast and slow athletes. Using freely available online sources, data were collected for body mass and sprint performance (36.6m time with split intervals at 9.1 and 18.3m). For each athlete, split times were utilized to generate modeled curves of distance vs. time, velocity vs. time, and velocity vs. distance using a mono-exponential equation. Model parameters were used to quantify acceleration patterns as the ratio of maximum velocity to maximum acceleration (vmax / amax, or τ). Linear regression was used to evaluate the relationship between maximum velocity and sprint performance for the entire sample. Additionally, athletes were categorized into fast and slow groups based on maximum velocity, with independent t-tests and effect size statistics used to evaluate between-group differences in sprint performance and acceleration patterns. Results indicated that maximum velocity was strongly correlated with sprint performance across 9.1m, 18.3m, and 36.6m (r2 of 0.72, 0.83, and 0.94, respectively). However, both fast and slow groups accelerated in a similar pattern relative to maximum velocity (τ = 0.768 ± 0.068s for the fast group and τ = 0.773 ± 0.070s for the slow group). We conclude that maximum velocity is of critical importance to 36.6m time, and inclusion of more maximum velocity training may be warranted for athletes preparing for the NFL Combine.