2017 NFL Combine: Do you know the drill?

The Sports Xchange

March 01, 2017 at 2:03 pm.

Feb 29, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Florida State Seminoles defensive back Jalen Ramsey goes through a workout drill during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Photo Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 29, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Florida State Seminoles defensive back Jalen Ramsey goes through a workout drill during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Photo Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The National Scouting Combine is an annual invitation-only event where 300-plus prospects are put through a grueling job interview process that tests them both physical and mentally.

The Combine can be broken down into four separate categories: verified measurements, medical evaluations, interviews and on-field drills.

The Combine was originally created as an organized event for participating teams to perform medical checks, instead of prospects having to travel from city to city, going through the same exams. Team interviews are also a crucial aspect of the Combine as each franchise can schedule up to 60 15-minute formal interviews.

The medicals and interviews are the two most important steps at the Combine, but the athletic tests allow NFL teams to match quantitative data with a player’s tape. The on-field drills help provide context with each prospect participating on the same field, in the same setting and under the same circumstances (unlike campus pro days). Notable results in these tests won’t independently elevate a player’s draft grade, but it helps reaffirm what the tape says. And if the results don’t match, evaluators go back to study the tape and figure out what was missed.

Some label the Combine as nothing more than the “Underwear Olympics,” but as legendary NFL scout C.O. Brocato, who invented the three-cone drill, once told me: “Those who don’t value the Combine, don’t know how to properly use it.”

So for the National Scouting Combine novices, this is a step-by-step breakdown of each agility test, including an example of how a prospect’s performance can help or hurt his final draft grade and what NFL scouts think about each drill.


This test is used to measure vertical speed and acceleration.

Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:

1. Player starts in a 3-point stance.

2. After player hears, “You can go” from Director, he must hold for a 2-count before running.

3. No rolling starts. No quick starts.

4. Timer will start watch when player’s down-hand separates from the surface.

5. Player will run the 40-yard dash twice.

6. After running the 40-yard dash, players return to player holding area near starting line.

A year ago, Notre Dame wideout Will Fuller tipped the scales at only 186 pounds and measured a disappointing 8 1/4-inch hands. But his best asset and the main reason he was drafted 21st overall in the 2016 draft class by the Houston Texans is his speed. And he showed off his wheels in the 40-yard dash, blazing a 4.32 time, the second-fastest in the class. New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple (4.40), Arizona Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams (4.37) and Indianapolis Colts defensive back T.J. Green (4.34) also helped boost their draft grades with this drill.

On the flipside, poor 40-yard dash times can also hurt a prospect like Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins. The talented wideout entered the combine with speed questions and his 4.64 40-yard dash confirmed those concerns. Would a sub-4.5 40-yard dash have put him in the top-100 picks? Possibly. But instead Higgins was selected in the fifth round, No. 172 overall by the Cleveland Browns.

Scout’s take: “For certain position, this drill matters greatly. It’s important for wide receivers and cornerbacks, not so much for linemen and quarterbacks. Our league is about speed and this test helps attach some speed numbers to players. It’s not as important as people think, but it’s not as overrated as people think either.”


The first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash, this test is used to measure initial quickness and burst. Steps are the same as the 40-yard dash.

Among last year’s pass rushers, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah and Penn State’s Carl Nassib were both drafted by the Cleveland Browns. They also turned in two of the most impressive 10-yard split results and boosted their draft profile in Indianapolis. At 273 pounds, Ogbah registered a 1.58, which was identical to cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and wide receiver Josh Doctson, who both landed in the first round. Nassib recorded a 1.62, which bested several players drafted before him like Joey Bosa (1.68), Shaq Lawson (1.63) and Kevin Dodd (1.69).

Scout’s Take: “I know a few colleagues around the league who value the results in this category more than any other here. I still haven’t seen any verified data that backs that up, but I get it. Initial burst and quickness is obviously important.”


This test is used to measure agility and lateral movement.

Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:

1. While facing the Drill Director, player starts in a 3-point stance with legs straddling the line equally.

2. Player must have hand squarely on the start line and hold the position for two seconds.

3. After player hears, “You can go” from Director he may start drill.

4. Player will run to the right line five yards away and touch the line with right hand. Player will then sprint 10 yards to the left and touch the line with left hand.

5. After the last line touch, player will sprint through the finish line, which is the starting point of the drill.

6. All players will complete one run to the right and one run to the left. (two attempts)

7. Down hand is same as running direction. Left hand to the Left — Right hand to the Right.

8. It is the responsibility of the player not to slip and adjust to the surface.

Only five players in the 2016 class finished under four seconds in the short shuttle last year — all defensive backs. But safety Justin Simmons was the only prospect to register a sub-3.9 second time, posting a 3.85 short shuttle, easily the best at last year’s Scouting Combine. He was drafted 98th overall by the Denver Broncos, earlier than most anticipated at this time last year.

Scout’s Take: “Love this drill. Stiff athletes can’t escape the shuttles with good times. Burst, bend and lateral range are tested. Tightness is exposed.”


This test is used to measure lower body explosion and leaping ability.

Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:

1. Director will measure 18 and/or 24 inches down from the bottom marker on the Vertec and place a piece of tape at each mark.

2. Player will stand with his right side (ankle, hip, shoulder; left side if left handed) against the Vertec and extend his arm upward as far as possible.

3. Director will extend the Vertec to the top of the players’ extended hand at the top edge of tape and tighten in place. The bottom marker will represent 18 or 24 inches for that player.

4. Player starts jump with both feet planted on the ground.

5. Player may swing arms and dip knees.

6. Players may not shuffle feet before take-off as this will result in a scratch and jump will not count.

7. Player attempts 2 jumps touching the highest slat-marker on the Vertec from the floor.

8. That mark represents the players’ vertical jump.

Defensive back Jalen Ramsey was already considered one of the best athletes in last year’s draft class prior to the Combine. But his 41.5-inch vertical leap helped confirm it, making his status as a top-five pick a near-lock.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, running back Alex Collins managed only 28.5-inches in the vertical jump, a well-below average number for the position and the only running back to fall short of 30-inches. His poor time in this drill was not the main reason he fell to pick No. 171, but it certainly helped contribute.

Scout’s Take: “Higher you can jump, the better. But it’s more of a threshold drill. As long as you jump at a certain level depending on position, you’re fine. The best numbers in this drill don’t tell me much.”


This test is used to measure lower body explosion and balance.

Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:

1. Each player receives two attempts at the Standing Broad Jump.

2. Players must start with both feet/toes totally behind start line for valid jump.

3. Players may swing arms and bend knees prior to jumping.

4. Upon landing, player must maintain control, landing balanced with both feet planted.

5. Upon landing player may also fall forward, but not backwards.

6. Jumps are measured from heal of the foot nearest to the initial jump line.

7. Jumps are measured to the nearest whole inch.

8. Results are recorded in feet and inches jumped.

Six players in last year’s class hit the 11-feet mark in the broad jump. And of the six, three were drafted in the top-25 picks: defensive back Jalen Ramsey (11-feet-3), linebacker Darron Lee (11-feet-1) and safety Keanu Neal (11-feet). The Combine record (and possibly the world record) is held by Dallas Cowboys safety Byron Jones (12-feet-3).

Like the vertical jump, this drill is more of a threshold drill — better times are nice, but NFL teams are looking for certain marks at different positions. Offensive lineman Denver Kirkland was one of the bottom performers in the drill with 7-feet-10 in the broad jump. He went undrafted, but after several weeks on the practice squad, Kirkland emerged as a valuable contributor for the Raiders jumbo package this past season.

Scout’s Take: “It’s an overrated drill. Helps gauge lower body muscles and twitch I suppose, but you can’t convince me it necessarily translates to you being a better football player. I don’t care about it.”


This test is used to measure agility, flexibility and change of direction.

Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:

1. Cones are set five yards apart forming an “L” shape.

2. Player will start the drill in a 3-point stance.

3. With player in start position Drill Director will release player by saying “You can go”.

4. Director will start the stopwatch the instant the player’s hand separates from the surface.

5. The player will sprint forward 5 yards touching the line and returning to the start line touching that line before running around the cones.

6. Player must touch lines with Right Hand.

7. When running around the cones, the player will maintain outside leverage until the last cone. On the last cone, the player will circle around the cone before returning to the finish line.

8. The player will again maintain outside leverage while running around the cones on his way back to the finish line.

9. Player may not touch cone or place hand on surface when making turn around a cone.

Before he turned heads as arguably the top rookie receiver in the NFL last season, New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas turned heads with a 6.80 time in the 3-cone drill — a number much better than scouts predicted. Measuring under 5-10 and 200 pounds, cornerback Cyrus Jones needed positive numbers during his workouts to possibly secure a spot in the top-100 picks. And he didn’t disappoint with a 6.71 3-cone time. The New England Patriots used the 60th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to pick him up.

Scout’s Take: “The single most important drill at the Combine, plain and simple. Regardless of position, I want to know how the player performs in space and this helps show change of direction, explosiveness and overall athleticism. There is validity to this test translating to the football field.”


This test is used to measure upper body strength (bench press strength, not functional strength)

Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:

1. Warm up at 185lb bench or pushups if desired

2. Keep both feet on the ground

3. Keep buttocks on the bench.

4. Fully extend arms on every repetition.

5. DO NOT bounce the bar off their chest

6. DO NOT short-arm the repetition.

7. Fouls will result in the deduction of a repetition

8. Director counts the player’s repetitions.

9. Total number of repetitions is recorded, minus deducted repetitions, if any

Target reps depend by position, but general rule of thumb: 25+ is above average, 15-25 is good, 15 or less is below average.

For many evaluators, the bench press is a chance to see prospects show off their strength, but the results mean very little. And it is tough to disagree considering the historical data. At last year’s NFL Combine, offensive lineman Cody Whitehair managed only 16 reps on the bench press, a shockingly low result and the worst number among all offensive linemen in attendance. However, his functional strength wasn’t an issue on tape and he showed that as a rookie for the Chicago Bears, grading as one of the best first-year players in the league.

Tight end Hunter Henry put the bar up only 13 times, which was the worst number among all tight ends last year. Yet, the former Arkansas product was the first tight end drafted and scored eight touchdowns as a rookie for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Scout’s Take: “If we forgot to do this drill at the Combine, no one would miss it. Overrated and useless. If a player has a low number of reps, he’s not a weight room guy. But we already knew that.”

–Dane Brugler is senior analyst of, published and operated by The Sports Xchange, in cooperation with