The NFL combine matters. Often dismissed as the “underwear olympics” which prove nothing about a player's ability to play actual football, the athletic thresholds which are tested at the combine do matter.
We've seen good athletes who don't turn out to be bad football players at times, but we almost never see bad athletes who become good players.
So when Alabama safety Xavier McKinney ran a 4.64 40 yard dash, placing him in the 19th percentile of all safeties since 1999, there was instant panic across “draft Twitter.”
But McKinney is a special player. Someone that despite the 40 yard dash, where he was also somewhat hobbled, is well worthy of a first round draft pick. Xavier McKinney was a do it all safety at Alabama, as indicated by the stat sheet he stuffed weekly.
McKinney finished the 2019 season with 95 tackles (5.5 for loss), three interceptions, three sacks, and four forced fumbles. These weren't fluky sacks either, as he even showed the ability to win with pass rush moves when met with a blocker.
McKinney lined up at traditional safety in a 2 high look at times, but also moved around to MIKE, WILL, and around the line of scrimmage as a blitzer. He quite literally does it all.
McKinney's ability on the field may only be bested by his football smarts and work ethic off of it. McKinney spoke to this during the combine last week, crediting head coaching legend Nick Saban as a reason he's become great.
McKinney's versatility makes him the perfect fit for the modern NFL. As offenses go smaller, utilizing more 11 personnel and ditching the old power running games on early downs, defenses will need to adjust with hybrid players.
Offenses are doing everything they can to stretch the defense and force them into bad decisions through elements like RPOs and increased play action. Players like McKinney, who can fill multiple roles and provide answers to all types of questions, are the natural next step to keep up with offensive innovation.
The Cowboys missed out on a Swiss-Army knife safety in Derwin James back during the 2018 draft, and they would be smart to do what they can to snag another James-type of safety in the first round this year. Even if McKinney isn't a Derwin James level of prospect.