NFL Combine 101

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: February 21, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — The NFL’s biggest “workout session” called the NFL Combine takes center stage at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis from Thursday to Tuesday as potential draftees dreams can be made in 4.29 seconds (a very good forty-time in case you didn’t know).

It is hard to believe that the zany idea of past Dallas Cowboys draft braintrusts Gil Brandt and Tex Schramm from over 25 years ago to gather all of the draft’s prospects in one place so every team could get a look together has come so far — you can thank former University of Kansas option quarterback Nolan Cromwell for the madness as he was traveling from team to team in 1977 with the same information giving the forward thinking Brandt the idea for the combine — has become off the chart “huge”.

How large is this one-time anomaly event? Well, the NFL Network will broadcast 26 live hours of coverage — more than even the Senior Bowl’s 19 hours. There will also be a Super Bowl like “Radio Row” atmosphere at the Indianapolis Convention Center so fans can get instant results — no more “urban legend” results like Deion “Prime Time” Sanders running a “slow” as he called it 4.19 forty-yard dash in secrecy at the 1989 event.

The NFL Combine is part of the annual arduous four-month long “NFL job interview” process for college players to get to their dream of being drafted. The process has four distinctive parts — Bowl Game, All-Star Games especially the Senior Bowl, the combine, and the private workout (Pro Day) — that are all extremely important for building a powerful resume for potential players and a successful draft board for NFL personnel departments.

The event is such a big deal that approximately 600 NFL Draft evaluators including head coaches, general managers and scouts plus their “favorite” tag-alongs the media — almost 400 credentialed members of the medial — will pack into the RCA Dome to watch 335 college players do whatever is asked of them in shorts and tee shirts.

These poor kids will be stamped with their cattle number like “QB03” and then they will be poked and prodded every which way to Sunday as they will be interviewed, examined, x-rayed, measured, run all over, made to jump, twisted, bent, interrogated on their past… you name it all to enhance their spot in the 2008 NFL Draft.

With this year’s success of the “Little Giants” — rookies including Kevin Boss, Jay Alford, Ahmad Bradshaw, Aaron Ross, Zak DeOssie, and others making a huge impact on the 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants — plus a record 35 rookies starting on opening day in the 2006 NFL Season, the importance of the draft in building a competitive team is omnipotent throughout the NFL.

The hoopla over the event to me is borderline insanity as most scouts I talk to put more credence in regular season game tape, All-Star game performances, talking with college staffs, bowl games, and almost anything else over seeing guys tested at the combine in shorts. But statistics show players need to go and participate especially early entrants in the draft, because they don’t have the advantage of going to All-Star games — In the 2006 Draft of the 330 players invited to the Scouting Combine, 222 were drafted.

The combine is also important, because of the “love” factor, every year some NFL personnel evaluators fall in love with a prospect based solely on the combine (see Eagles 1995 first round draft pick and seventh overall pick DE Mike Mamula — moved up the board from a second or third round pick to a top ten pick mostly based on his high marks at the combine). Teams can get an “I gotta have him” attitude usually leading to draft day moves and players can enhance their draft value and drive up their rookie contract value based on their work in Indy.

The agents definitely know the value of the combine as in recent years players have been pulled off college campuses to prep for the event at combine specific facilities. The players learn everything from interviewing skills, how to take the Wonderlic Test, explosive running techniques and pumping iron at pre-combine training camps in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Southern California (ex. Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida has 32 players training with coach Tom Shaw at high-end prices paid for by agents).

The Events

On the Field Drills

“The Forty” — This is the glamour event of the combine as guys want to show the world how fast they are. The player starts from a three-point stance and runs 40 yards as fast as possible. The player is timed in 10, 20 and 40 yard increments, to gauge the player’s explosion and speed. Now track speed is good, but “football speed” — ability to run fast while cutting or changing direction and catching the ball — is most important. Too often guys go to speed camps and “manufacture speed” (see 2007 Draftee Washington State WR Jason Hill) causing scouts to take a harder look at their game film.

225 Pound Bench Press — This is the second most talked about event of the combine as everyone the same as when I was in high school wants to know “What can you bench??” At the combine everyone except quarterbacks and wide receivers are required to show how many reps they can do at two twenty-five. Of course this event is led by famous loud mouth Arizona Cardinals Strength and Conditioning Coach John Lott — “Come on Meat, HUP, HUP!!” Remember that players with longer arms have a tougher time pumping out reps and shorter squat guys usually can do some good damage in this event. To show you the importance/non-importance of this event, the record holder former Ohio State DE/LB Mike Kudla (45 reps in 2006) wasn’t even drafted.

Standing Vertical Jump — This event shows the explosiveness of players from a still position. With the NFL passing game based a lot of times on jump balls this event is of ought most importance to receivers and defensive backs. From a flat-footed position the player jumps up and smacks at plastic flags on a pole. When you watch this event think of explosive Niners TE Vernon Davis, who had a tight end record of 42 inches at the 2006 combine.

Broad Jump — Another explosion drill. From a standing position a player’s lower body strength is tested as squat and jump forward as far as they can. This event is usually led by the running backs. Jumps are measured from the starting point to the player’s back heel.

Three Cone Drill — This event is a test of a player’s speed, agility and cutting ability. Three cones are set up in an “L “shape (triangular format) with five yards between each of them. From a three-point stance at the first cone, on a coaches whistle the player has to sprint five yards ahead to the first cone then touch a white line — then sprint back to the starting cone touching a white line there — then running to the outside of the second cone – then cutting right to circle around the third cone — then finishing by running around the second cone and returning to the first cone. This sounds exhausting just thinking about running this drill.

20-Yard Shuttle — This is the old fashioned test most of us did in the Presidential Physical Fitness challenge, remember how much fun that was in fifth grade. This drill tests speed, agility, and coordination. From a three point stance on a whistle a player runs five yards to one side touches the yard line — then runs ten yards in the other direction touches the line there and runs back to the original line.

60-Yard Shuttle — Same as the twenty-yard shuttle, but longer. This time the player has to go 10 yards to a line then five yards back then 10 yards the other way then 20 yards back and finishes this time 10 yards to the starting point. This is an endurance monster sorry big boys on the O-Line.

Position Drills — This is my favorite event at the combine, because position coaches know what specific practice drills that their position players need to know to succeed. They design ball motion drills usually around blocking dummies. I love watching the D-Lineman practicing their rip moves and running full force at a blocking dummy. Also watch for receivers running routes, quarterbacks being asked to throw the infamous out-pattern to the far sideline, and college defensive ends trying to make the transition to linebacker in the NFL trying to catch the ball — at the 2007 event former NFL coach working for the NFL Network called several non-catchers “volleyball” players as passes bounced off their hands.

Off the Field Events

Measurements — Hey players do you want to feel like a piece of cattle. As soon as players arrive in Indy they are give a cattle number (ex. QB03) and every player in attendance is measured head to foot with their height, weight, arm length, and hand size recorded. And you thought that All-American lineman was really 6-foot-7 and 325 from his college game day program thought wrong as he was only 6-foot-4 ½ and weighed in at a sloppy 344. Also the combine has a new piece of equip called the “Bod Pod” where players get in a space ship type machine and it measure s their body fat percentage.

NFL Team Interviews — Like any young person going from college to a job, players need to ace their interviews. Teams know what this want to ask to get at player’s past and their future. This used to be a mad scramble where teams would hoard players they liked. But now teams get about fifteen minutes to get to know a player with a limit of 60 players for each team. This usually occurs at the convention center or player hotel with every team looking to see what makes a player tick. Remember “character” is the number one item on most teams list along with toughness, interests on and off the field, and intelligence (the Giants and Patriots are notorious for measuring a players understanding of the “game of football”). In 2006, young defensive tackle Amobi Okoye of Louisville showed coaching staffs that he was wise beyond his 19 years and parlayed it into being a top fifteen pick.

The Wonderlic Test — If there is one part of the NFL Combine experience I do not like or understand it is the Wonderlic test. The test is designed to measure a player’s I.Q. through a 50 question test administered in 23 minutes. Most players are tired/uninterested when taking the test, which leads to a majority of guys not completing the test. Some agents have started to have their clients cram for the test like the SAT coming out of high school, but at least you can take that test multiple times. This is one shot deal that many people put way too much emphasis on. I can still hear all of the preposterous Vince Young test score reporting from 2006 — By the way did Vince’s score preclude him from winning the 2006 Rookie of the Year award. And a did you know fact is that Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw both scored a 15 while colossal bust Akilli Smith scored a 37. Here is a sample question: “Paper clips sell for 23 cents per box. What will four boxes cost” — take all the time you need, because all I care about is your FBI or Football Intelligence.

Injury Evaluations — All players walk around with their x-rays and injury history. Teams and their doctors will poke and check any little thing that doesn’t sound or look right. I know players like Jason White a former Oklahoma quarterback and past Heisman Trophy winner who had bad knees have to get tired of answering question after question about their condition. You can’t blame teams for checking everything when they are investing so much, but most people knew former Louisville running back Michael Bush suffered a bad leg injury in his senior year before he even went to the combine.

The Cybex Machine Test — This machine will work the heck out of a player’s knee as they are strapped to basically a spring-loaded madman creation. The Cybex machine tests a player’s knee movement and flexibility. While this test seems like any other medical test, it can be the difference in being a Day 1 or 2 pick.

The Drug Test — Everybody wants to make sure players are clean coming into the NFL. So like any other new job a drug test is administered looking for illegal drugs including marijuana (allegedly Warren Sapp test positive for weed at the 1995 combine), cocaine, and performance-enhancing drugs (Luis Castillo of the Chargers test positive for ‘roids at the 2005 combine, but still went in the first round).

Schedule of Groups


Offensive Lineman, Tight Ends, and Specialists


Quarterbacks, Running Backs, and Wide Receivers


Defensive Lineman and Linebackers


Cornerbacks and Safeties

The Players

There will be over 300 players throughout the four day event with every position represented from QB to DE to Long Snapper. Not all invitees will participate in all events and some may pick and choose or wait for their Pro Day to show their stuff — Thanks Agents!!

Some players who I will be interested in seeing their efforts are:

— Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan (Had a bad Senior Bowl, has a suspect arm and is he all hype).

Arkansas running back Darren McFadden (Will he work out, is he the top player in the 2008 class, and how is he physically).

— Hampton defensive end Marcus Dixon (How is his character (off the field past), is he ready for the NFL, and does he deserve to be labeled a sleeper).

Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski (Is he all hype or is he a player, Is he finished with boxing, and is he fluid enough to play safety in the NFL).

You can see a complete list of all the combine invited players at our friend site Great Blue North Draft Report.

Top Combine Event Metrics

Fastest 40 Yard Times

4.19 – Deion Sanders (DB), Florida State – 1989 (Hand Timed)

4.28 – Jerome Mathis, (WR), Hampton – 2005 (electronic)

4.29 – Fabian Washington, (CB), Nebraska – 2005

4.30 – Darrent Williams, (CB), Oklahoma State – 2005

4.30 – Yamon Figurs, (WR), Kansas State – 2007

Most 225 Pound Reps

45 – Leif Larsen, (DT), Texas-El Paso – 2000

45 – Mike Kudla, (DE), Ohio State – 2006

44 – Brodrick Bunkley, (DT), Florida State – 2006

43 – Scott Young, (OG), BYU – 2005

42 – Isaac Sopoaga, (DT), Hawaii – 2004

Best Vertical (Who are these guys???)

46 – Gerald Sensabaugh, (FS), North Carolina – 2005

45 1/2 – Derek Wake, (OLB), Penn State – 2005

45 – Chris McKenzie, (CB), Arizona State – 2005

45 – Chris Chambers, (WR), Wisconsin – 2001

43 1/2 – Dustin Fox, (FS), Ohio State – 2005

43 1/2 – Kevin Kasper, (WR), Iowa – 2001

Fastest 10 Yard Times

1.43 – Aundrae Allison, (WR), East Carolina – 2007

1.43 – Eric Weddle, (SS), Utah – 2007

1.43 – Marcus McCauley, (CB), Fresno State – 2007

1.45 – Leon Hall, (CB), Michigan – 2007

1.46 – Colin Branch, (FS), Stanford – 2003

Fastest 20-Yard Shuttle Times

3.73 – Kevin Kasper, (WR), Iowa – 2001

3.76 – Deion Branch, (WR), Louisville – 2002

3.78 – Dunta Robinson, (CB), South Carolina – 2004

3.82 – Dante’ Hall, (RB), Texas A&M – 2000

3.83 – Kevin Bentley, (OLB), Northwestern – 2002

Fastest Three Cone Drill Times

6.45 – Sedrick Curry, (CB), Texas A&M – 2000

6.48 – Rogers Beckett, (FS), Marshall – 2000

6.49 – Carlos Rogers, (CB), Auburn – 2005

6.50 – Leon Hall, (CB), Michigan – 2007

6.51 – Jon McGraw, (SS), Kansas State – 2002