Last week Christian McCaffrey, the Stanford do-everything utility player, went to the NFL combine, known by some as the underwear Olympics, and put up, for the most part, gaudy numbers. He jumped through the roof with the second highest vertical amongst running backs, had the second fastest three-cone drill time in 14 years, and ran a 4.4 40 yard dash.
By all accounts those are numbers that any scout in the NFL would be pleased with, and they fell in line with the reels of game tape that McCaffrey has put together over his time at Stanford. His showing up to the combine and displaying explosiveness, speed, and agility was just a mere formality.
Of course, scouts and keyboard warriors have a completely different view of the world.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock you know that most of the Internet blew up over the fact that McCaffrey could only bench press 225lbs for 8 total reps. Facebook and forums were flooded with comments from guys who suddenly realized that they could beat an NFL prospect in one aspect, and suddenly everything about McCaffrey was shitty.
It was a rather predictable reaction. And it certainly wasn’t a great look for McCaffrey. But the truth is, that number doesn’t matter one fucking bit.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think that McCaffrey could’ve prepared better for the rep test and put on a better show. It would’ve reflected better upon him. And running backs and receivers still have to block, which certainly requires upper body strength.
But even then, McCaffrey repping 225lbs 8 times hardly begins to tell us the story of what will happen with his career. In fact, I would argue it tells us virtually nothing.
Why the bench press doesn’t really matter for NFL athletes.
The bench press test is a woeful misrepresentation of strength. There’s no doubting the fact that you can get better at the bench press test. Primarily by benching more. Just like you can prep for the 40 yard dash and put on a great time. But those tests are just small windows into the overall development of an athlete.
Repping out 225lbs tells us nothing more than that the athlete probably practiced the bench press. On top of that, the actual test alone does virtually nothing for telling us what the actual strength potential of an athlete really is.
The 225lb rep test does nothing more than highlight endurance, which, again, is obviously important. But we place far more credence on it that it deserves. If we wanted a look at pure strength potential, then we’d test one rep max.
But we’re not done.
The bench press is nowhere close to a representation of a football specific move. Very few times on the field does a player find themselves lying on their back and pushing a solid mass against the force of gravity.
More often than not, a player is standing, working against another player, and has the leverage of their legs and positioning to make use of as well. All of those factors matter a ton and make a much bigger difference as a whole than what a player can do while lying flat on the bench.
And if you want examples of that with McCaffrey then one need look no further than the stories about him pushing a 600lb utility vehicle 43 times with lineman during summer workouts. Which, if you think about how it stacks up to the football field, becomes a far more relevant demonstration of pushing power.
Football is about blocking, tackling, and moving through space. Being able to do those things is what determines success on the field. Obviously being strong and having endurance is paramount, but being able to rep out 225lbs for 30 reps is hardly a representation of football success.
Instead, we need to know how an athlete can handle the constantly changing environment that unfolds directly in front of him. We need to know if he can make split second decisions, change course, and handle the ball.
McCaffrey is exceptional with all of these, and has put together reels of game tape that highlight his athletic ability and how he can alter the course of a game with just a single touch.
We have no idea if McCaffrey will become an all pro in the NFL. Statistically speaking, the dude doesn’t have a great shot, considering the average player only lasts 3 years. But no matter what happens with his career, we can guarantee it won’t be because of his big bench press.