Quinnen Williams, New York Jets, NFL Draft Combine
Quinnen Williams, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

Thinking about the importance of each NFL Scouting Combine drill

The NFL Scouting Combine is less than a week away, and after last year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, excitement for Indy is at an all-time high.

A total of 324 wide-eyed prospects have been invited to the league’s underwear Olympics, all hoping to improve their stock in the upcoming draft.

Outside of position-specific field drills, all prospects regardless of position participate in six numerically tested events: the 40-yard-dash, the vertical jump, the broad jump, the bench press, the three-cone drill, and the 20-yard short shuttle.

Every combine drill has value for every position, but of those six, which are the overall most and least important drills for determining future success?

Cliché as it may be, no drill is more important than the 40-yard dash.

As the old saying goes, “You can’t teach speed,” and the NFL is built on speed first and foremost.

For skill positions, elite speed creates fear for defenses, in turn altering how they plan to cover said speed. For trench players, the 40 can be viewed as an overall test of athleticism, since large players with rare speed for their size tend to be athletic in most other areas as well.

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The 40, in general, is the most important drill at the combine, but the 10-yard-split is the most important data piece teams will gain from the week.

The 10-yard-split is not a drill itself, but a part of the 40-yard-dash. The 10-yard-split measures how fast a prospect covered the first 10 of those 40 yards, a clearly translatable example of explosion.

Rarely are football players running 40 yards in a straight line, rather, they are far more often running shorter distances in two-to-three-second bursts of intensity. Due to this, the 10-yard-split is a valuable data point for every position.

While every drill is important, the bench press is the least applicable to NFL success for a multitude of reasons.

For starters, while strength and weight room attitude are vital for professional athletes, skill position players benefit more from speed and flexibility than brute strength. On top of this, skill players can still have plenty of lower body strength without elite upper body strength, and lower body strength is a far more valuable trait for players who make their money running anyway.

For linemen, the bench press can create a false narrative of poor strength, when the real issue is biomechanics.

Players with longer arms have a natural disadvantage in the bench press since they have to raise the weight further off the ground when fully extending on reps. Because of this, linemen with long arms, a highly desirable trait for any team at that, tend to do worse in the bench press than linemen with shorter arms, regardless of how strong each player actually is.

A prospect may showcase elite upper body strength on tape, but do poorly in the bench press, opening the gate for draft media as a whole to unfairly question said player’s toughness, attitude, or strength directly.

The Oklahoma Drill Podcast is back to break down the combine from a macro perspective, analyzing which drills matter most for each position.

Understanding the importance of each drill, what those drills are specifically measuring, and how those measurements translate to the field are vital when digesting combine data. After more than two year since the last meetup in Indianapolis, a crash-course on the event is more than overdue.

Audio Version available to members only: Learn more here

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Andrew Golden is a film analyst for Jets X-Factor with a focus on the NFL Draft, prospect evaluations and breaking down scheme fits. He also co-hosts the Oklahoma Drill Podcast with Vitor Paiva and Matt Mauro. Email: agoldenjets[at]gmail.com
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