INDIANAPOLIS -- As the coaches, scouts and general managers from all 32 NFL teams converge on Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, some fans might still question exactly how this event fits into the overall draft picture.
It is certainly a key part of the puzzle. In many cases it is the first time NFL people are seeing the top prospects face-to-face. The personal interviews and the medical testing are invaluable.
Part track meet, part grammar school fitness test ... those are the workouts of the combine. Let Mike Mayock explain why NFL teams will be watching closely. More ...
So, what about the athletic drills? How much does it matter what a quarterback runs in the 40-yard dash or how high a linebacker can jump? Well, it's not more important than a player's overall football ability, but it's part of the detailed analysis teams like to have.
When I was with the Dallas Cowboys, we compiled all the numbers and we used the data as something to consider if two prospects were viewed evenly. Does it matter if one quarterback runs the 40-yard dash a fraction of a second faster than another quarterback? Maybe not. But if we are looking at two college quarterbacks we like, and we have them rated the same, that might be a case where better combine numbers tilt the decision-making process. It is rare that these drills would come into play before the overall scouting evaluations.
With that in mind, here is a primer of what to look for in the various combine drills, along with some numbers that give you an idea of what will be considered a "good" performance, based on position.
The most famous and the most publicized of these drills, the 40-yard dash shows sustained speed over a distance. However, the 40 might be even more important for some positions when looking at the 10-yard and 20-yard splits. The splits are good indicators of a quick first step, something every coach wants to see in all his players.
With receivers, there's increased focus on the 10-yard time, because it measures burst off the line of scrimmage. When you compare two receiver prospects, it's often the wideout with the better 10-yard dash -- not the 40 time -- that attracts more attention.
Linemen, on the other hand, are not asked to excel in this event. They rarely need to run 40 yards, outside of chasing down the occasional interception. Obviously, you want fast players across the board, but a lineman isn't penalized at the combine like a cornerback for a slow 40-yard time.
Bench press repetitions of 225 are the standard. This is more than just an exercise for the biggest and strongest linemen. Most all players need upper body strength to excel. Even those at the "finesse" positions, such as wide receiver, use their arms and shoulders to release from, or shield, their opponents. Scouts don't get overly concerned with bench press numbers for a receiver or a quarterback, but the test is critical for offensive and defensive lineman. A lineman benching fewer than 20 times raises red flags.
Vertical and broad jumps
Players jump straight up or straight forward without using a first step for momentum. These jumps accurately display a prospect's explosiveness, which is relevant not only for receivers and defensive backs for jump balls, but also by offensive and defensive linemen to move or gain leverage against their opponents.
20-yard and 60-yard shuttles
In the "short shuttle," players straddle a yard line, run 5 yards in one direction, then 10 yards in the other direction, then 5 yards back to their original starting position. They must touch the ground at each stop except the last.
In the "long shuttle," players run 5 yards, then back to the starting point, then run 10 yards and back to the starting spot, then 15 yards and back to the starting spot, again touching the ground at each stop but the last.
With running backs, quickness is king. A back's burst can be measured through the shuttle run. The Titans' Javon Ringer is a good example of a player who drew interest because of his performance in the shuttle run. Ringer didn't run as fast as some other backs in the 40 at the 2009 combine, but his quickness negated that score and Tennessee fell in love.
This drill sets cones five yards apart, forming a right angle. Players run back and forth between the first two cones, touching the ground near both. Then they run around the second cone, weave inside the third cone and around the outside of both top cones back to the stating point. Fluid completion of this drill is a sight to see for any coach or scout.
The shuttles and the 3-cone drill display the athleticism crucial to being a quality football player. The speed of the game at the pro level is such that fluid lateral movement and the ability to quickly change direction are critical. In some cases, good times in this drill can trump poor 40 times when it comes to how coaches view certain prospects.
The Dallas Cowboys have been testing and recording prospects with these drills since the early 1960s. Likewise, most teams have been doing it long enough to know what "good measurables" look like. Sure, some players will blow people away with an amazing 40 time or a record number of reps in the bench press. But it's more important to identify the target numbers that indicate a prospect is worthy of further evaluation.
As you follow along and check the results of this year's combine, here are what the target numbers look like by position (note: quarterbacks do not lift weights or run the 60-yard shuttle; offensive and defensive linemen also do not run the 60-yard shuttle):