Every year, hundreds of prospects run, jump and lift in front of NFL scouts and GMs at the NFL Combine. But what are those team officials watching for in each drill? Here’s a look at each of the major drills at the Combine, as well as what they test for.
The most hyped event of the Combine, the 40-yard dash primarily measures how quickly someone can run 40 yards downfield. That’s all well and good for receivers, defensive backs and running backs - all positions in which 40-yard downfield sprints are common - but there’s more to it than pure speed. Teams also use two splits within the dash - at 10 yards and 20 yards - in addition to the official 40-yard time.
10-yard split: This measures short-area explosion. It can show how quickly a player can get out of his stance, and often is used for both offensive and defensive linemen (since first-step quickness is more important than downfield speed). It also works for skill positions such as wide receivers to show an ability to quickly get off the line of scrimmage.
20-yard split: This helps measure acceleration. The quicker you’re able to reach - and maintain - your top speed, the quicker your 20-yard split will be. This is important for wide receivers, running backs, tight ends and defensive backs.
Combine record: John Ross, 2017 (4.22 seconds)
The bench press is another fairly straightforward test: prospects must bench 225 pounds as many times as they can. It’s a measurement of both strength and endurance. The more reps a player can do, the better their stamina. Often, you’ll hear about prospects with longer arms having trouble posting a high number of reps. Such prospects have a longer way to go to bring the rack up and down, so they’re more prone to tire out quicker.
Combine record: Stephen Paea, 2011 (49 reps)
The vertical jump measure’s a player’s leaping ability as well as overall lower-body strength. Before the prospect jumps, an official measures the player’s reach while standing flat-footed. The prospect then leaps up and touches the highest marker that he can. The distance between the player’s reach and the last flag hit is his vertical jump.
Combine record: Donald Washington, 2009, and Chris Conley, 2015 (45 inches)
The broad jump also tests lower-body strength and explosion by testing how far a player can jump horizontally from a standstill. Prospects also have to demonstrate good balance and body control by sticking the landing.
Combine record: Byron Jones, 2015 (12 feet, 3 inches)
As its name suggests, the three-cone drill consists of three cones in the shape of an L, five yards apart from one another. The prospect starts at the first cone - the top of the L - then runs to the second cone and back to the start. Then he turns around, runs around the second cone and weaves around the third, then follows the same route back to the finish. This test measures agility and high-speed change of direction, and is a crucial part of the evaluation process for running backs, receivers and cornerbacks - all positions where lateral cutting, route running and/or open-field quickness are important. It’s also good for measuring a pass-rusher’s ability to bend the edge when getting after the quarterback.
Combine record: Jeffrey Maehl, 2011 (6.42 seconds)
The 20-yard shuttle follows a 5-10-5 format. Two cones are placed 10 yards apart, with the prospect beginning the drill in between them. When the drill starts, the player runs five yards to the first cone, turns around, runs 10 yards to the second cone, then turns around again and runs back to the middle of the course. This drill measures acceleration, lateral quickness, short-area explosiveness and the ability to stop on a dime - all important traits for running backs, receivers, pass-rushers and defensive backs.
Combine record: Jason Allen, 2006, and Brandin Cooks, 2014 (3.81 seconds)
Run by non-linemen, the 60-yard shuttle tests for many of the same things as the 20-yard shuttle, but also helps measure endurance. The setup for this is different than its 20-yard counterpart - this time, there are three cones set in a straight line at five-yard intervals. When the drill starts, the prospect runs to the five-yard cone, then turns around and heads back to the start. Then they run out to the 10-yard cone and back, followed by the 15-yard cone and back.
Combine record: Shelton Gibson, 2017 (10.71 seconds)