Inside the Key NFL Scouting Combine Drills and Tests

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterFebruary 19, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 25: Dion Jordan of Oregon runs the 40-yard dash during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 25, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine kicking off this week, let’s take a closer look at the key drills and events these draft prospects will work through in Indianapolis. Below is a breakdown of the 40-yard dash, Wonderlic exam and more as this year’s pro hopefuls look to showcase their skill sets in front of the league’s top talent evaluators.


40-Yard Dash

This is the moneymaker at the combine—and speed sells in the pros. That hasn’t changed since I ran at the combine back in 2000 at the RCA Dome, and the times we see now are even better on the field turf inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.

Prospects will get two shots at the 40, and the key is the start. Think of the first 10 yards and the speed/explosion the players can generate before they get to top speed (20-40 yards). It's one of the major aspects of pre-combine training at Athletes' Performance Institute, IMG Academy, etc. 

You want to see that burst out of the three-point stance and a solid 10/20-yard split (crucial for offensive/defensive linemen) before players elongate their stride through the finish. Prospects should view this as a 50-yard dash with an emphasis on running through the finish line (don’t lean at the line, it’s not a race) and only throttling down when they are at least 10-15 yards past the end mark.

Skill players should run in the 4.4-4.6 range, while a sub-4.4 time is excellent.

There is no question the 40-yard dash is the headline event of the combine, but does the stopwatch speed mesh with the game speed on the tape? 


Short Shuttle

The short shuttle (or pro agility shuttle) is a lateral movement/quickness drill. Prospects will align in a three-point stance, run five yards to touch the line, sprint back 10 yards, change direction and then finish with one final five-yard burst (5-10-5).

This drill measures a player’s short-area change-of-direction speed and footwork/technique/lower body control on quick turns. These prospects should adjust their stance (drop the lead foot back slightly to the initial direction) and rip the arm through to gain power/explosion at the start with a simple pattern to follow—three steps, five steps, three steps—to complete the drill.


Three-Cone Drill

Out of all the testing on the field in Indianapolis, the three-cone drill is the best judge of core, functional football movements from my perspective.

Feb 25, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o runs the shuttle dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Picture three cones in the shape of an “L” spaced five yards apart. Prospects will begin in a three-point stance, drive for five yards, touch the line and come back downhill to the starting line before working back to the second cone. Here, the prospects make a 90-degree turn, burst to the third cone (weave around the cone) and sprint back (running the “L” pattern) to the finish.

This test measures a prospect’s ability to accelerate, change direction with speed and identify flexibility/hip movement at the cones. The key is to explode out of the cuts, sink your hips/core and maintain speed throughout the drill.


Vertical Jump

The vertical jump measures a prospect’s lower body strength/power from a flat-footed stance. These players will not be allowed to take a staggered stance or step into the jump, and they are measured from the end of their reach.

Think of Olympic movements (clean, jerk, snatch) and the power generated from the squat rack (chain squats, band squats) for an example of where that explosion comes from out of the parallel, flat-footed stance at the beginning of the jump.

Look for prospects to sink the hips—plus swing their arms—to generate some momentum before they jump (straight up) to extend and register a score in the drill.


Broad Jump

Very similar to the vertical jump in terms of measuring lower body strength/power, prospects will perform a standing long jump from a stationary, flat-footed stance.

Feb 25, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Desmond Trufant does the broad jump during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

However, the broad jump also measures a prospect’s balance and core strength on the landing. If they fall back—or forward—it's time to do the drill again. Prospects have to stick the landing and show the ability to control their lower body once the heels touch the ground.

Scouts will record the distance from the back of the heel with the only pre-jump movement consisting of a prospect sinking his hips and swinging his arms to explode into the air.


Bench Test

The bench-press test is more about muscle endurance over pure strength in a one-rep format (prospects will not max out in this drill).

Using 225 pounds (same number for every positional group), prospects will throw up as many reps as possible with a “spotter” to grab the bar once the arms give out.

Prospects are not allowed to “bounce” the bar off their chest (reps will be subtracted) or raise their hips off the bench, and they must perform “clean” reps (full extension) throughout the drill.

The key is to get into a rhythm (with a controlled pace) to rep out as many as possible knowing that the spotter will grab the bar when your muscles tell you to quit.


Wonderlic Exam

The test is taken in a classroom setting with 12 minutes to complete 50 questions. Prospects will work through math, verbal, etc. in a multiple-choice format to post their score.

When I went through the exam, the atmosphere in the room was suspect at best, and I didn’t think guys took it that seriously. Compared with the competition on the field during drills and the max-effort put out in the 40, short shuttle, etc., the Wonderlic was clearly not a top priority for many players at the 2000 combine.

The key to posting a good score is to pick and choose. Don’t spend too much time on a question and move quickly through the subject areas that play to your strengths. Prospects aren’t expected to get through all 50 questions in 12 minutes, and a score over 30 is considered excellent.


Do the Times/Scores Translate to the Tape?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 23: Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M takes part in the vertical jump during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 23, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I’m a big fan of the combine as it forces these prospects to test in an uncomfortable, stressful environment. And that’s something I will discuss tomorrow in a post here at Bleacher Report.

However, as a talent evaluator, these times/scores have to be applied to the prospect’s abilities as a football player on the tape. Do you see that same speed, change-of-direction ability and explosive power when you study these players on film?

These numbers (or “measureables”) are a part of the draft process, but they can’t trump what shows up on the tape as scouts grade prospects based on how their skill sets translate to the NFL level.


Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.