Daily Chat: Interpreting NFL Combine Results



So as we wrap up the NFL Scouting Combine and as the results of all drills are compiled and the players ranked based on those results, it might be helpful to examine exactly what those drills are designed to measure. What, exactly, do these numbers mean?

It is obvious what some drills measure; pass catching ability, passing accuracy, etc. Let’s focus on those drills the purpose of which may not be as apparent.

40 Yard Dash. Forty-yard dash speeds are the most widely-cited number when it comes to NFL players, most frequently when it comes to wide receivers, running backs, tight ends and, in the case of exceptionally fast quarterbacks like Michael Vick and the Vikings own Joe Webb, quarterbacks.

The forty-yard dash measures top-line speed over distance. The only practical on-field application of this number, however, is using it to judge how a receiver might perform running a fly route. With the exception of those types of routes, football players rarely run forty-yards in a straight line during a game. It can also be used to measure how quickly a player could get down field on kick coverage, assuming they remain untouched.

A forty-speed of 4.3 is considered elite speed, so players who run the forty that fast tend to get a lot of attention. Keep in mind that Troy Williamson ran a 4.39 forty, which was a big reason he came out of nowhere and why the Vikings drafted him with their number seven pick from the Randy Moss trade. Big mistake, of course, to fall in love with his forty speed because the guy couldn’t catch for crap.

I can’t remember the exact number, but Randy Moss ran something like a ridiculous 4.2 forty. For a guy who could catch, that’s an eyepopping number and gives offensive coordinators visions of the fly route down the sideline or the receiver splitting safeties to outrun them to the ball and the end zone.

Sidney Rice ran a 4.5 forty but has a ton of other skills that make him superb receiver: Fantastic hands, great body control, long arms, leaping ability, concentration.

You’ll also see the forty numbers cited when discussing defensive backs but as someone said, if a Dback needs to run fast in a straight line for forty yards it can only mean trouble.

The forty is one small piece of the puzzle when evaluating a player.

10 & 20 Yard Dash. More applicable and perhaps more importantly, the ten- and twenty-yard dash numbers measure explosion off the line.

The ten-yard dash measures the quickness of the first step, how quickly a player can get off the line. This gives you an indication of how easily a receiver could get open, particularly in West Coast systems that depend on timing routes. The ten yard split is a number you want to pay attention to when it comes to offensive linemen, as it measures quickness off the line, especially in systems that like to pull their linemen.

The twenty-yard dash measures the players ability to maintain that initial burst. [Cam Newton’s 40 Yard Dash.]

Vertical & Broad Jumps. In these drills, a player jumps straight up or straight forward from a standstill. They measure explosiveness, giving you an indication of how receivers and defenders might contest jump balls as well as what type of leverage lineman might gain on one another.

The vertical jump measures lower-body explosion, power, and, especially, reach. This number is particularly important for receivers, giving you an indication of the personal perimeter within which a quarterback can expect them to catch the ball; can he throw it high and away from a defender and still know his guy is going to come down with the ball?

It is important for defensive backs for essentially the same reason; how capable will they be defending the fade and jump balls against the Randy Mosses of the world?

The broad jump, in addition to testing explosion and strength, measures balance, which is especially important for linemen who are typically leveraged against their opponent. Another thing the broad jump can expose is a player’s ability to bend, which is especially important with the mammoth offensive linemen (e.g. 6′ 8″ McKinnie) and their ability to gain leverage.

Bench Presses. The bench press drill measures upper body strength, which is important for most players, for receivers fending off defensive backs, for running backs running through tackles or applying a stiff-arm, for quarterback’s ability to shed sack attempts and linebackers’ ability to shed blockers as well as, of course, to measure the strength of linemen. Offensive or defensive lineman will want to bench press 225 pounds more than twenty times. The more, the better.

Shuttle Drills. For the 20-yard shuttle, a player stands over a yard line, runs five yards in one direction, touches the ground, runs 10 yards in the opposite direction, touches the ground, and then runs five yards again in the previous direction. [An example of a 20 yard shuttle drill.]

For the 60-yard shuttle, a player begins at the starting line, runs five yards and touches the yard line and returns to the starting line, then runs ten yards and touches the yard line and returns to the starting line, then runs fifteen yards and touches the yard line and returns to the starting line. [An example of a 60 yard shuttle drill.]

The drills measure linear and direction-changing quickness of an athlete, which is useful in many on-the-field situations but its utility is perhaps most dramatically illustrated by running backs.

One of the traits that makes Adrian Peterson such an amazing running back is his ability to stop on a dime and explode in the opposite direction. That ability makes defenders look like fools.

3-Cone Drill. Three cones are set five yards apart, forming a right angle. Players run back and forth between the first two cones, touching the ground at each, then run around the second cone, weave inside the third and then loop outside the remaining two on their way back to the starting point. [An example of a 3 cone drill.]

Like the shuttle drills, the 3 cone drill measures the fluidity of lateral movement and change of direction speed, two traits that are important for success at most positions in football. As mentioned above for the shuttle drills, lateral movement is important for the running back position but it can also give an indication of how an offensive lineman can play in space.


The one message that’s coming through loud and clear is the Vikings are serious about drafting a quarterback, the only question seems to be where to draft one? If Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert are off the board as expected, do any of the rest of this year’s quarterback draft class justify expending a 12th round pick?

The other bit that was sorta buried amidst all the talk of quarterbacks was Leslie Frazier‘s insistence that the team needs to improve at defensive tackle, as opposed to the defensive end position that everyone else seems to be focusing on.

Another indication of the popularity of the NFL is the viewership of the NFL combine last year. The NFL Network boasted 5.2 million viewers during the four-day event. Get more details at my eStrategy marketing blog.

And, by the way, if you like stats and facts and trends, I publish a daily eNewsletter called The Daily Numbers. YOU CAN SUBSCRIBE HERE.