NFL Scouting Combine Primer

Steve O Speak

The NFL Scouting Combine starts today and for a couple hundred college athletes, this is one of the biggest weeks of their lives. Everything they do over the next few days will analyzed and criticized by hundreds of scouts and coaches, and if those decision makers like what they see, it can be worth millions of dollars to the players. Here is a list of this year’s invitees to Indianapolis. There are four main areas that a player can impress the scouts and coaches in. The weigh-in, intelligence and interview portion, basic drills, and position drills.

The Weigh-in:  The weigh-in sometimes gets overlooked because fans believe it’s just looking a what a player weighs, but its much more important than that. Not only is it a look at what a player weighs, but also how he looks. Is his weight all muscle and is it in the right areas, for instance upper body strength is more important for some positions than others. The weigh-in also compares a players current weight to a rough estimate of what he weighed during the season. Has a player lost/gained weight since the season, and will that impact his speed and strength in later drills. In addition to the actual weigh-in, measures of height, wingspan and hand size are just as important to a player. The weigh-in is also the time where they give the player a physical and can find any birth defects, as well as review any medical issues involving a player.

Intelligence and Interview:  While football sometimes is viewed as barbaric and not a ‘thinking man’s’ sport, it probably has more to do with intelligence than any other sport. All sports have split second decisions to be made, but in football you are making them while literally being engaged with an opponent. All the strength and speed in the world don’t matter if you don’t have what it takes between the ears. A player’s attitude in the interview portion and the way he can respond to questions can make or break a player. While teams love talent, they want to draft a player they like. Since they are investing millions of dollars into these players, they want to draft someone who will not get in trouble with the law. As for intelligence, we’ve all heard of the aptitude test, the Wonderlic, that is given to players each year. While the ability to do well on it is important, what’s really important is the timed aspect of the test. How much were you able to get done correctly in that time period. You don’t have to be book smart in the NFL, but you have got to be street smart and understand the X’s and O’s.

Basic Drills:  The basic drills are probably the most hyped at the Combine, because these include the basics to football, speed and strength. The 40-yard dash and the bench press are two of the most important drills (as well as the most popular). The 40-yard dash isn’t just based on how fast you are in 40 yards (though speed doesn’t hurt), explosion and power are also measured in the drill. Not to mention they are timed at 10 and 20 yard intervals as well, which are more important times for linemen and linebackers. As for the bench press, as much as a strength drill its an endurance drill. If you can bench 500 or 600 pounds once that’s great, but how many times can you bench 225 is the real key. In addition to those drills are the jumping drills, high and broad. Both of these drills measure lower body strength and the explosion a player has. The last two drills, 3-cone and shuttle drill, measure lateral speed and change of direction.

Position Drills:  Every position has drills based on skills needed at that position, but a common misconception among those watching at home is that the drills are pass/fail based on the outcomes of events, completed passes, blocking the rusher, etc. What’s really being judged in each event are things like footwork, reaction time, speed, and strength. Basically the look and feel of these “game situations”. A quarterback could not complete a single ball (though I wouldn’t recommend it) and still have a successful drill, if his footwork, arm strength and zip on his throws are all impressive. While position drills are highly important, its critical to remember what exactly they are testing to decide whether or not a player did well.

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