NFL prospects spend one week each year before the draft going through a bevy of drills and tests in front of coaches and scouts.
Originally started in 1977, the combine will be held this year from Feb. 24-March 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Several players in this draft have elite talent. But for one reason or another, they will need to answer questions about varying on-the-field or off-the-field issues before teams spend picks—and millions of dollars—on them.
What: Quick snapshot of standard height and weight to more specific dimensions, such as hand size and wingspan. Certain players also have their percentage of body fat calculated.
What: As the name implies, three cones are positioned in the shape of a triangle about five yards apart. Players sprint back and forth between cones, eventually zigzagging between and around the cones.
Why: It can reveal a player's ability to cut or stop on a dime, flexibility, and efficiency in transferring body weight. It could reveal players with quickness or injury-recovery concerns.
What: Prospects are required to jump straight up from a standstill. A pole with tag-like pieces of plastic stacked vertically is attached toward the top. The goal is to jump as high as possible with arms extended fully upward and smack the plastic tags, which will rotate if touched.
Why: Besides the obvious for positions like wide receiver or cornerback (leaping ability), it can also test explosiveness or how well a player has recovered from knee or ankle injuries.
40-, 20-, AND 10-YARD DASHES
What: Just as the name implies, it’s simply a straight-line sprint at three different lengths.
It's probably the most recognizable drill and one of the most commonly cited results in scouting reports. Many players will make or break their selected round—and dollars—depending upon how they perform in the 40.
The difference between two-tenths of a second (ex. 4.6 vs. 4.4) may seem minor, but it’s enough to be the difference between a first or second—and for the first time—even third-day selection.
Why: The 10-yard dash identifies initial burst, while the 20 looks to reveal which players are more of build-up-speed guys versus the pure one-speed- burners.
All three tell scouts about how well a player can explode off the snap or line of scrimmage.
What: Similar to the vertical, but instead of gauging how high, this measures how far a prospect can jump from a standing, flat-footed position. It is one of the more basic, long-standing drills performed at the combine.
Why: Measures lower-body strength from more of an overall aspect compared with the vertical jump. Players with tremendous power in their lower core tend to excel with this.
What: From a three-point position, prospects are timed how quickly—and accurately—they can run back and forth between five-yard increments while touching the ground on each side. When that’s completed, they immediately do the same drill at 10 yards.
Why: It's a good indicator of agility, flexibility, and lateral quickness.
(There is also a 60-yard version, which is the same drill, but at longer distances.)
What: It's simply the amount of reps a player can perform a standard bench press at 225 pounds.
Why: It measures upper-body strength and, to a lesser degree, a player’s conditioning level. It's not a concern for kickers and punters, and quarterbacks and wide receivers are not asked to complete this drill.
What: It's not exactly the same as a generic I.Q. text, but pretty close. Players are given around 11 or 12 minutes to complete 50 questions.
Why: It ultimately aims to measure a player’s intelligence level.
Here’s a sample Wonderlic question—not exactly a head-scratcher aimed at Ivy-league graduates:
A girl is 18 years old, and her brother is twice as old. When the girl is 22 years old, what will be the age of her brother?
Note: Joey Harrington scored very well, and we know how that turned out. By no means is it a canary in a coal mine for future NFL success. However, it may tip teams off to how quick or slow a player might need to learn his playbook.
What: Prospects still go through normal physicals and X-rays so any current or lingering injuries don’t catch teams off guard. Players are hooked up to a sophisticated machine that can test their range of motion.
Why: What makes the Cybex test unique is how it provides an accurate analysis of joint flexibility—key for guys with injury concerns.
What: Players will need to submit urine for illegal substance screening.
Idaho’s Mike Iupati receives more hype as the top-rated guard in this class but he might be just as good. The brother of Atlanta Falcons’ draft pick last year, Peria Jerry, John showed some dedication by coming in to the Senior Bowl practices about 20 pounds slimmer than expected. Can he maintain his weight? How will it impact his strength?
Drill/Test: Weigh-in & Bench Press
The jury is still out on this playmaking Bearcat. He showed up when it counted in the Senior Bowl game but Gilyard struggled in the week of practices leading up to it. While he’s actually known as having terrific hands, a serious case of the drops alarmed several scouts he may have lapses in concentration.
Drill/Test: Wonderlic & Positional
At 6-5 and 300 pounds Capers is not only a bit light but the combination of his stretched-out frame caused opponents at the Senior Bowl to continuously use it against him. He will need to either add considerable bulk or strength to prevent NFL-caliber players of out powering or out-leveraging the former tight end.
Drill/Test: Bench Press & Broad Jump
The one-time Volunteer was viewed as the savior of a struggling running game in Knoxville. After repeatedly violating substance-abuse policies Coach Phillip Fulmer had no choice but to kick the speedy Coker off the team. He played very well for the Hampton Pirates.
Drill/Test: Urine Sample
It’s easy to support a player when they forego a probable first-round selection by returning to their college campus for one more shot at a conference or national title. With two all-American caliber players from the same team doing it this past year, count me as one college football fan that was pulling for big things for the Sooners program in 2009.
To see these two players suffer season-ending injuries was very unfortunate; especially when it’s obvious they play for all the right reasons.
Gresham is arguably a better talent—at least as a receiver—than last years’ first-round pick and former Big 12 player, Brandon Pettigrew. He sustained a major knee injury and underwent surgery to repair torn knee cartilage. A possible Top 20 selection is in order if Gresham passes team evaluations.
Drill/Test: Three-cone & Cybex
The big fella may be a bit too big for some teams comfort. By most accounts Cody has recently fluctuated between the 375 to 385 pound range. Teams would prefer he comes in on the other side of 350 pounds before spending a second or third round pick on him.
Drill/Test: Weigh-in & 20-Yard Shuttle
At 6-4 and 255 pounds, the Longhorns explosive linebacker/defensive end hybrid defender figures to assume the same role as his former teammate and current Washington Redskins standout, Brian Orakpo.
How Kindle behaves and responds in team interviews at the combine could mean the difference between a mid-first round pick or a late second-round selection. He missed three games in 2007 after receiving a DUI. He followed that up last year by crashing through a dormitory while allegedly texting and losing control of his vehicle. These incidents combined with reports he struggles with assignments and grasping the playbook means he needs to shine with the non-physical tests. I have no doubt he will excel with the on-field aspects measuring strength, speed and quickness.
Drill/Test: Team Interviews & Wonderlic
Issue: Arm Strength/Accuracy
Urban Meyer’s offense enabled Tebow to put up gaudy numbers but it also disguised his blemishes. Most alarming was the unorthodox mechanics and wounded-ducks the former Heisman trophy winner and two-time national champion displayed at the Senior Bowl.
Drill/Test: Position Drills
Former Trojans Coach allegedly claims Mays can run a 4.25 forty. The hard-hitting safety is fast but I’m not sure he’s that fast.
Drill/Test: 40-Yard Dash
Issue: Arm Strength/Accuracy
Highly-regarded as a possible first overall pick after winning the Heisman trophy, the Sooners quarterback—and fans alike—saw major aspirations flash before their eyes after unfortunate shoulder injuries. Bradford suffered an AC Joint separation in his shoulder—twice. Teams will want to make damn sure his arm checks out before spending millions on him.
Drill/Test: Cybex & Positional Drills