The NFL combine CAN BE useful to differentiate between players who are elite athletes (even when compared to other elite athletes) and players who are good athletes with elite football skills.
This article will not try to speak to Noah Fant’s football skills, but it will show you that he is one of the best athletes at tight end to come out of college this century.
About 20 years ago one of my fellow draft/combine nerds came up with Speed Score, which basically grades a player on how fast they are for their mass. The underlying assumption is that smaller players SHOULD be fast. Big players who are also fast (using 40 yard dash as measure of fast) get huge speed scores.
A value above 120 is elite. A value of 100 is “average” and a value over 130 is other-wordly. Calvin Johnson was 233 pounds at the NFL combine and ran a 4.33 40. That worked out to a speed score of 132.6.
Here are the top 20 speed scores from the 2019 combine.
|Rank||Player||Position||School||Height||Weight||40 time||Speed Score||Drafted|
|1||Montez Sweat||EDGE||Mississippi St.||6/6||260||4.41||137.5||Washington Redacted / 1st / 26th pick / 2019|
|2||D.K. Metcalf||WR||Mississippi||6/3||228||4.33||129.7||Seattle Seahawks / 2nd/ 6th pick / 2019|
|3||Rashan Gary||DL||Michigan||6/4||277||4.58||125.9||Green Bay Packers / 1st / 12th pick / 2019|
|4||Devin White||LB||LSU||6/1||237||4.42||124.2||Tampa Bay Buccaneers / 1st / 5th pick / 2019|
|5||Devin Bush||LB||Michigan||5/11||234||4.43||121.5||Pittsburgh Steelers / 1st / 10th pick / 2019|
|6||Noah Fant||TE||Iowa||6/4||249||4.50||121.4||Denver Broncos / 1st / 20th pick / 2019|
|8||Justin Hollins||EDGE||Oregon||6/5||248||4.50||121.0||Denver Broncos / 5th / 156th pick / 2019|
|9||Jamel Dean||CB||Auburn||6/1||206||4.30||120.5||Tampa Bay Buccaneers / 3rd / 94th pick / 2019|
|10||Parris Campbell||WR||Ohio St.||6/1||205||4.31||118.8||Indianapolis Colts / 2nd / 59th pick / 2019|
|11||Brian Burns||EDGE||Florida St.||6/5||249||4.53||118.3||Carolina Panthers / 1st / 16th pick / 2019|
|12||John Cominsky||DL||Charleston||6/5||286||4.69||118.2||Atlanta Falcons / 4th / 135th pick / 2019|
|14||Ty Summers||LB||TCU||6/1||241||4.51||116.5||Green Bay Packers / 7th / 226th pick / 2019|
|15||Terry McLaurin||WR||Ohio St.||6/1||208||4.35||116.2||Washington Redacted / 3rd / 76th pick / 2019|
|16||Jazz Ferguson||WR||Northwestern St. (LA)||6/5||227||4.45||115.8|
|17||David Long||LB||West Virginia||5/11||227||4.45||115.8||LA Rams / 3rd / 79th pick /2019|
|18||Blake Cashman||LB||Minnesota||6/1||237||4.50||115.6||New York Jets / 5th / 157th pick / 2019|
|19||Chase Winovich||EDGE||Michigan||6/3||256||4.59||115.4||New England Patriots / 3rd / 77th pick / 2019|
|20||Miles Boykin||WR||Notre Dame||6/4||220||4.42||115.3||Baltimore Ravens / 3rd / 93rd pick / 2019|
You’ll notice that three of the players in the top 20 went undrafted. You should also notice that both Fant and Justin Hollins show up on this list.
The Broncos got two guys with elite straight-line speed, but I’ve never really liked using 40 yard dash (in underwear) times to evaluate players since 40 times rarely correlate to NFL success.
I think that there is more value in looking at the quickness (and change of direction ability) of players as measured by the three-cone drill and the 20-yard short shuttle.
A few years ago I came up with a way to get a quickness score similar to the Speed Score. Here are the top 20 players from the 2019 combine in terms of Quix Score. I should mention that players who did not participate in one of the two drills used for Quix Score, obviously were not given a quickness score, and I did not want to use Pro Day values.
|1||Anthony Nelson||DL||Iowa||6/7||271||11.18||121.4||Tampa Bay Buccaneers / 4th / 107th pick / 2019|
|2||Maxx Crosby||DL||Eastern Michigan||6/5||255||11.02||121.0||Oakland Raiders / 4th / 106th pick / 2019|
|3||Chase Winovich||EDGE||Michigan||6/3||256||11.05||120.2||New England Patriots / 3rd / 77th pick / 2019|
|4||Easton Stick||QB||North Dakota St.||6/1||224||10.70||119.6||LA Chargers / 5th / 166th pick / 2019|
|5||John Cominsky||DL||Charleston||6/5||286||11.41||118.1||Atlanta Falcons / 4th / 135th pick / 2019|
|6||Noah Fant||TE||Iowa||6/4||249||11.03||117.8||Denver Broncos / 1st / 20th pick / 2019|
|7||Nick Bosa||DL||Ohio St.||6/4||266||11.24||116.7||San Francisco 49ers / 1st / 2nd pick / 2019|
|8||David Long||CB||Michigan||5/11||196||10.42||116.4||LA Rams / 3rd / 79th pick /2019|
|9||Cody Barton||LB||Utah||6/2||237||10.93||116.2||Seattle Seahawks / 3rd / 88th pick / 2019|
|10||Dakota Allen||LB||Texas Tech||6/1||232||10.92||114.2||Los Angeles Rams / 7th / 251st pick / 2019|
|11||Andrew Van ginkel||LB||Wisconsin||6/3||241||11.03||114.0||Miami Dolphins / 5th / 151st pick / 2019|
|12||Ben Burr-Kirven||LB||Washington||6/1||230||10.94||112.4||Seattle Seahawks / 5th / 142nd pick / 2019|
|13||Andre Dillard||OT||Washington St.||6/5||315||11.84||112.2||Philadelphia Eagles / 1st / 22nd pick / 2019|
|14||Montez Sweat||EDGE||Mississippi St.||6/6||260||11.29||112.0||Washington Redacted / 1st / 26th pick / 2019|
|15||T.J. Hockenson||TE||Iowa||6/5||251||11.20||111.7||Detroit Lions / 1st / 8th pick / 2019|
|16||Miles Boykin||WR||Notre Dame||6/4||220||10.84||111.5||Baltimore Ravens / 3rd / 93rd pick / 2019|
|17||Blake Cashman||LB||Minnesota||6/1||237||11.07||110.5||New York Jets / 5th / 157th pick / 2019|
|18||Foster Moreau||TE||LSU||6/4||253||11.27||109.8||Oakland Raiders / 4th / 137th pick / 2019|
|19||Josh Allen||EDGE||Kentucky||6/5||262||11.38||109.4||Jacksonville Jaguars / 1st / 7th pick / 2019|
|20||Rashan Gary||DL||Michigan||6/4||277||11.55||109.0||Green Bay Packers / 1st / 12th pick / 2019|
A score of 120 is elite. You should note that every player in the top 20 was drafted. You should also note that Noah Fant is on this list as well. So he is not only fast, but also quick. How does his combination of speed and quickness compare to other tight ends this century? Let’s take a look.
Fant has the sixth-best Speed Score for a tight end at the combine this century.
|2||2011||Rob Housler||TE||Florida Atlantic||6/5||248||4.46||125.4|
|3||2010||Jimmy Graham||TE||Miami (FL)||6/6||260||4.53||123.5|
|4||2014||A.C. Leonard||TE||Tennessee State||6/2||252||4.50||122.9|
|9||2009||Jared Cook||TE||South Carolina||6/5||246||4.49||121.1|
|11||2011||Jordan Cameron||TE||Southern California||6/5||254||4.53||120.6|
|16||2017||Bucky Hodges||TE||Virginia Tech||6/6||257||4.57||117.8|
|18||2018||Mike Gesicki||TE||Penn St.||6/5||247||4.54||116.3|
|20||2009||Shawn Nelson||TE||Southern Miss||6/5||240||4.52||115.0|
Our old friend, Virgil Green, is on this list as well.
Fant has the eighth best Quix Score for a tight end this century.
|1||2011||Jordan Cameron||TE||Southern California||6/5||254||6.82||4.03||10.85||128.3|
|3||2018||Mike Gesicki||TE||Penn St.||6/5||247||6.76||4.10||10.86||124.3|
|5||2011||Schuylar Oordt||TE||Northern Iowa||6/6||261||6.83||4.25||11.08||121.2|
|13||2011||Rob Housler||TE||Florida Atlantic||6/5||248||6.90||4.21||11.11||113.9|
|18||2016||Nick Vannett||TE||Ohio State||6/6||257||7.05||4.20||11.25||112.3|
|20||2011||Zack Pianalto||TE||Michigan State||6/3||256||6.85||4.41||11.26||111.5|
If you average the Quix and the Speed Score, you get a new value I am calling QuiSp. Noah Fant has the eighth best QuiSp for a tight end this century.
Fant’s combination of size, speed and quickness is elite for a tight end. The comparisons to Jared Cook and George Kittle make sense given that both players are also in the top 10 in QuiSp for TEs at the combine this century.
If you look at the 10 most productive NFL TEs to be drafted this century, you’ll find that most of them did not show on that list of the top 20 Speed Score and Quix Scores for TEs this century.
|Rank||Tight End||Career AV|
So I guess the comparison to Jared Cook is good since he is one of the TEs who performed both well at the combine and well once he got into the NFL.