Purpose: The National Football League (NFL) holds an annual combine to evaluate college football athletes likely to be drafted for physical skills, to review their medical history, and to perform a physical examination. The athletes receive an orthopedic grade on their ability to participate in the NFL. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that this orthopedic rating at the combine predicts the percent of athletes who play in the NFL and the length of their careers.
Methods: A database for all athletes reviewed at the combine by the medical staff of one team from 1987 to 2000 was created and linked to a data set containing the number of seasons and the games played in the NFL for each athlete. Players were grouped by orthopedic grade: high, low, and orthopedic failure. The percent of players who played in the NFL and the mean length of their careers was calculated and compared for these groups.
Results: The orthopedic grade assigned at the NFL combine correlated with the probability of playing in the league. Whereas 58% of athletes with a high grade and 55% of athletes with a low grade played at least one game, only 36% of athletes given a failing grade did so (P < 0.001). Players with a high grade had a mean career of 41.5 games compared with 34.2 games for players with a low grade and 19.0 games for orthopedic failures.
Conclusion: This is the first study to report on the predictive value of a grading system for college athletes before participation in professional sports. Other professional sports may benefit from using a similar grading system for the evaluation of potential players.