The RAS: What It Is, What It Does, And Should We Still Use It?
Coined in 1987, the Relative Athletic Score (RAS) is a tool commonly referred to when discussing a football player’s athletic ability based on build and drill results. Even hand size factors into RAS. It is a scale that runs from 0 to 10, with 0 representing what is essentially a stick figure too weak to hold a golf ball, and 10 being what might as well be Adonis holding a pigskin. RAS is almost always brought up when picking through the draft to help scouts and choosy coaches evaluate who should or should not make the cut.
While not an exact science in the slightest, people use it mostly as a guideline, as some of the best players rank low, and some of the highest rankers play incredibly poorly.
The chief of the subject would be Kent Lee Platte, a lifelong Detroit Lions fan with expertise in math and metrics. He made the calculator able to tell a player’s RAS by typing in Combine metrics, but also used the website as a database to look back at past players and what such things can tell us in the long term. He acknowledges that the tool he’s been working on has flaws when it comes to its application, but continues working on the RAS website to gather more information and further help us learn and improve how we enjoy our American football.
To give the system credit, it evens things out by factoring in the position of the player, which is why RAS is applicable only to American football and not any other sport. We think judging soccer players based on hand size wouldn’t be too efficient, but that’s just our opinion. The calculator has quite a few upsides. It’s free to use, and any coach can type in their players’ Combine metrics to get a good sense if they’re heading in the right direction. While things like height and hand size are pretty much incorrigible, one’s RAS can be fudged up or down according to how one improves their drill results. It’s a rough estimate of skill, but is useful when evaluating areas one needs to work on to improve that score.
RAS also simplifies a long-term evaluation into an easily digestible number. Instead of having to compare how a player did in all these individual drills and how it relates to their build, news outlets and fans alike can just use a number, which eases discussions around things like Fantasy Football.
One of the criticisms levied against RAS as a whole is its generalization of skill dependent on certain factors. Some have taken the score as the ultimate rating of someone’s worth within football, and while there certainly is a trend, it can’t be hailed as the end-all be-all. One could compare RAS to an SAT score; it measures certain things about a person and their abilities, but does not capture the entire person and what they’re truly capable of. While these scores are good guidelines, if one were to only go by the numbers, they wouldn’t catch the outliers: people who can make or break a team if not examined closely. The two biggest examples would be Tom Brady and Brian Johnston.
Tom Brady posted an all-time RAS of 1.49, which is abysmal. The only things he really had going for him were his height and 3 cone drills. However, it’s safe to say he’s doing well for himself despite this.
On the other end of the spectrum, Brian Johnston, who was selected to play for the Chiefs in 2008, scored a perfect 10. While he definitely had the potential there, he did not make a good impression, for he was booted off after just nine games.
These outliers happen because football is more than just strength and speed. It requires strategy and working together as a team, and that sort of knowledge can’t be boiled down to a couple numbers on a screen.
The bottom line is that while the numbers are good for analysts and such as guidelines, one should not strictly abide by them. By reducing it to numbers, we are missing what makes football, as well as all sports, a great game— the human element. If we wanted to watch numbers duke it out on a screen, it would go against the competitive and speculative nature of sports as a whole.