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Chalk Talk - Dissecting the NFL Combine

Coleman Feeley

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submitted on Today, 12:49 PM in Texas Longhorns Football By Coleman Feeley

After the hype of the National Championship and the Super Bowl fades, the attention of the sports world shifts to basketball and then baseball, leaving football players to lurk in the shadows until August. During this time, a football team must never lose focus on their goals for next season; and not unlike the athletes still on the team, the graduating seniors must also keep their sights set on goals they’ve established.

However, unlike athletes still on the team, seniors who have committed to the next level must now train without their teammates’ support. They have to begin to shift their focus from position specific workouts, training room visits, and film sessions to combine results. The NFL Combine is an annual ‘invitation only’ event that serves as a showcase for the upcoming draft.

The Combine spotlights each football player’s athleticism rather than his on-field ability. The reason being: NFL scouts can study film anytime they want to a see what kind of player someone is; but how do you tell if a lineman is actually fast or if he just kick-slides well? How do you tell if a running back is following play calls or instinct? How can you tell if a corner is strong enough to hold his own against the likes of Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant? The answer, the Combine.

This year Texas has five members of its 2014 roster (Malcolm Brown (RB), Cedric Reed, Jordan Hicks, Malcom Brown (DT), Quandre Diggs) attending next week’s NFL Combine. Regardless of their positions, college football’s finest gather each year in Indianapolis to test their athleticism with the 40 yard dash, vertical leap, broad jump, three cone drill, 20 yard shuttle, 60 yard shuttle, the bench press, and the Wonderlic. These eight events are designed to characterize crucial football skills through a measurable medium.

40-Yard Dash

‘The 40’ tests acceleration and top-end speed. Athletes begin by taking their place at the starting line and entering their running stance (called a ‘start position’), generally as close to the line as possible to minimize the distance run, even if it is only by a few inches. It is legal for athletes to lean over the line only if their hand is placed behind the front edge of the starting line.

A player must then hold their starting position and may begin whenever they are ready. An athlete may NOT ‘roll’ into his start; he must be motionless for a moment before beginning.

While it is unrealistic for many football players to ever run forty yards in a straight line during a game, it is a great baseline for athleticism and speed. With current laser timing devices, the fastest forty clocked at the Combine was set in 2008, and belongs to Chris Johnson – East Carolina star and current running back for the NY Jets, who set a blazing 4.24 seconds. However, before the laser timing began, players were clocked with hand held stop watches and the fastest forty belongs to the great Bo Jackson with an astonishing 4.12!

The Bench Press

The bench press is obviously meant to test upper body strength and is weighed heavily for both offensive and defensive linemen. Athletes of any position perform as many repetitions as possible in one set with 225 pounds. Athletes must raise the bar to ‘full extension’ then lower the bar to their chest before raising the bar again.

The record currently sits at 51 reps which was set by Justin Ernest in 1999. Unfortunately, Ernest did not play in the NFL and went undrafted adding to the argument that the Combine is not the best measurement of a football player. The All-American defensive tackle out of Oregon State, Stephen Paea, put up an impressive 49 reps in 2011 and was drafted 53rd overall by the Chicago Bears.

The Vertical

The vertical leap, of course, tests how high an athlete can jump, but it also tests lower body strength. Athletes stand with one arm extended as a device called a ‘Vertec’ is adjusted to the player’s height. Regardless of how heavy a player is, he must have an enormous amount of lower body strength and explosion to record a good vertical. This drill plays a crucial part in the judging of DBs and running backs. The current record of 45 inches was set in 2009 by cornerback Donald Washington out of Ohio State University (fig 1).


20 Yard Shuttle (Pro Agility) 

The 20 yard shuttle, also known as Pro Agility, is a great measure of an athlete’s quickness, ability to change direction quickly, as well as ability to move laterally. Speed, quickness, and acceleration are vitally important to the game of football, but more important is the ability to move quickly laterally.

Linebackers, offensive linemen, running backs, and quarterbacks are all required to move laterally without losing speed on nearly every play. The 20 yard shuttle is a great indicator of this skill and often times weighed more heavily than the 40 yard dash.

The record time for this event is shared by Jason Allen (CB) from Tennessee (‘06) and Brandin Cooks (WR) out of Oregon State (‘14). They both completed the drill in the blazing fast time of 3.81 seconds. (Mike Richardson from Notre Dame will assist in the demonstration.)

The Broad Jump

The broad jump in the NFL Combine is often overlooked by many fans, but it could possibly be one of the most important tests for defensive players and linemen. The broad jump tests lower body strength, and more importantly, it tests horizontal explosion, representative of the force a football player imposes on the ball carrier or defender he hits.

This test is, by far, the most simple at the Combine. Athletes line up behind the front edge of the start line and then, without taking a step, leap out as far as possible. Athletes may not take any steps after landing and the measurement is taken from the foot farthest back.

While a simple test, learning how to correctly ‘stick the landing’ is crucial. Many great broad jumps are rendered non-measurable due to an extra step taken upon landing. Or, more often, one foot lands further back and causes the loss of a good 6-8 inches.

The record broad jump at the NFL combine was set in 2013 by Southern Miss inside linebacker Jamie Collins, currently with the New England Patriots, at 11 feet 7 inches! (Apologies for quality.)

The 3 Cone Drill

Often called the ‘L drill’, the 3 Cone Drill is sometimes confused with the 20 yard shuttle despite being a much more complicated event. This drill tests not only acceleration and quickness, it helps to evaluate an athlete’s ability to move in tight spaces.

The Athlete starts much like he would for a 40 yard dash, behind the front edge of the line in a ‘start position’. He then runs to a line 5 yards away before turning and running back to the start. After the initial ‘down and back’ (10yds total) the athlete runs the 5 yards again, turns and runs a 90 degree angle and circles a cone an additional 5 yards away. After the athlete has completed the 180 degree turn at the third cone he will run around the second cone and return to the start.

The record time for this event was clocked at 6.42 seconds by Jeffrey Maehl. The wide receiver out of Oregon recorded this time at the 2011 Combine. (Although this is not Jeffrey Maehl, or the record time,Mike Richardson from Notre Dame shows a great start and completion of the 3 Cone Drill)

60-Yard Shuttle

This event is often forgotten when discussing the Combine due to its similarity to the 20-yard shuttle. The 60-yard shuttle is, however, not a lateral event. Results reflect not only the top end speed of an athlete but his ability to change directions in regards to vertical movement on the field. An important event for DBs and receivers, the 60 yard shuttle closely resembles routes run by receivers and tests an athlete’s ability to maintain top end speed for a longer period of time.

The top performer in Combine history for this event was Brandin Cooks from Oregon State with a time of 10.72 seconds. Cooks had an amazing trip to the Combine last year (‘14) standing out as the top performer in the 40-yard dash, the 20-yard shuttle, and the 60-yard shuttle. He also set or tied the record in two events. (Here we see Mark Restelli complete his 60 yard shuttle in 11.01 seconds.)

The Wonderlic

Officially known as the ‘Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test’, the Wonderlic tests an individual’s ability to learn and solve problems. The Wonderlic consists of 50 questions to be answered in 12 minutes. Unanswered questions are counted as wrong and the scores (out of 50) often directly correlate to IQ. The Wonderlic score that equates to average intelligence is around 20.

In 1975 Pat McInally, a receiver/punter from Harvard, recorded the only known perfect score from an NFL player. Other notable high scores include those of Mike Mamula (DLine) with a 49, Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB) with a 48, Calvin Johnson (WR) with a 41, and Colin Kaepernick (QB) with a 38.

As mentioned earlier, these events only show correlations between athletic ability and football ability. The Combine should never serve as a measuring stick for a player’s on-field ability; however, a good ‘forty’ time can always change minds. The 2015 Combine begins Tuesday, February 17. 

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