They're just numbers. Everything gathered at the combine—the 40, the jumps, the change of direction drills. Just numbers. They can't and don't tell the entire story on any draft prospect.
However, if a prospect fails to meet expectations at the combine or flat-out bombs the workout, those numbers become something more. They become questions.
When a prospect runs a slow time or fails by some other grading tool, teams have to know why. And that means scouts need to do more homework. The question raised needs to be answered in the scouting report before a team can finalize its draft board.
"When you grade tape, you always have in your mind a 'play speed,'" former Chicago Bears Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel explained. If on tape, a prospect looks like he's running the equivalent of a 4.45, that's his play speed. But if he then runs a 4.62 at the combine, Gabriel said, teams think, "Wait a minute, he's not the athlete I thought he was. I have to go back and watch more tape ."
Take TCU's Paul Dawson. This guy can play. Just turn on the film and let it roll. He was a very productive college player. Dawson was the top prospect at the inside linebacker position coming into last week's combine in Indianapolis, and a workout in a controlled football environment can't measure his instincts or the ability to make plays.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
However, a 40 time of 4.93 seconds for Dawson (along with a 28-inch vertical jump) is going to raise some eyebrows in the scouting community. That's a slow time for a linebacker who is expected to match NFL speed on Sundays this fall.
Along with Dawson, I would also mention Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess (4.70), Miami cornerback Ladarius Gunter (4.69) and TCU safety Chris Hackett (4.81). I watched all these guys on tape. Those are all good football players, even if they didn't test well in Indy. They will play in the league.
I'm an awesome football player. The best/most productive linebacker in this draft. Not a track Star. #meetmeonthefield
— Paul Dawson Jr (@PjDawson47) February 22, 2015
I saw Gunter up close on the practice field at the Senior Bowl. He isn't afraid to compete, and he found the ball all week, against some of the best talent in the country. He passed the test in pads.
Scouts know it would be a mistake to go back and change a prospect's grade based on a poor 40 time after months of studying tape. They know the combine is a stressful environment and not every prospect is going to run his best time at the end of a long week in Indianapolis.
That's the message I've gotten from the scouts I've spoken to this week.
I've been there as a player. The gauntlet of testing at the combine is exhausting, and you are worn out by the time you complete the 60-yard shuttle run to wrap up the drills. This thing is brutal. That's the best way I can describe it.
Now, we would be lying if we said the times, the testing numbers didn't matter. They do, to an extent, and scouts want to see results that somewhat mesh with the tape.
But a poor workout doesn't close the book on a kid. This is why Gabriel used to encourage every prospect to run in Indianapolis.
"If you go to the combine, and if you don't have a good workout for whatever reason, then you have a chance to redeem yourself at a pro day," Gabriel said. "But if you don't go to the combine, and if you wait till your pro day and you bomb, you're done."
Dawson, Funchess. Hackett, Gunter and any other prospect that didn't quite meet the bar at the combine can change the narrative, improve their times and put to bed the questions about speed, movement skills and flexibility when they run on campus.
The pro day is a great tool, and the comfort level of these prospects will rise when they run on campus. Just think about it: You dress in your own locker room, warm up with your college strength coach and test with your teammates. It's a beautiful thing compared to the stale environment of Indianapolis. You are much more relaxed, and the times usually reflect that.
DARRON CUMMINGS/Associated Press
Gabriel mentioned Devin Hester as an example of how times will improve back on campus. Hester ran in the 4.4 range (a very solid time) at the combine, but he wasn't "Devin Hester fast," according to Gabriel. Then when Hester ran at Miami on his pro day, he posted a 4.35 time—on grass.
NFL teams can average the two times together, and it's up to the top decision-maker on the time they will use for the scouting report, but the majority of scouts I talked to said they take the best time—regardless of where the prospect runs.
"I always took the best time. Some people average them out. But when you average them out, you're talking different surface, different time, different place," Gabriel said. "Look at it this way, does Usain Bolt run a 9.6 100 meters every time he runs?"
Michigan State's Trae Waynes ran a 4.31 and Miami's Phillip Dorsett a 4.33 in Indianapolis. Those are ridiculous times. Maybe these two rest on those numbers, but for the majority of prospects, including the guys that just didn't meet expectations at the combine, the pro day creates another opportunity, another chance to impress scouts while answering questions.
"If a guy plays fast and he looks fast and for whatever reason doesn't run as fast at the combine and then goes down to the school and tears it up, well, you know it's verified. He did it," Gabriel said.
These pro days on campus don't have the hype or buzz of the combine workouts, but the times, the testing and the positional drills carry the same amount of weight in the draft process.
Dawson ran a very slow time in Indy. There was talk of Funchess moving to tight end. Gunter looked stiff in drills and lacked the recovery speed based on the 40. And Hackett, a safety I really like on film, didn't have the "long speed" needed to produce in an NFL secondary.
Those were the narratives I heard this past week after workouts, but with the pro days coming up, that can all change.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.