The NFL Combine is one of the main events that can make or break a prospects stock. For the casual fan, we can comprehend the 40 yard sprint or the bench press, mostly because we've likely run a "sprint race" or benched at some point in our lives. We have some perspective how impressive (or not impressive) theses numbers are.
But in reality, they may be two of the lesser important numbers to look at, while things like a prospects "10 yard split", broad jump, or "3-Cone" drill could say drastically more about a prospect.
Here's what to watch out for in each drill as the NFL Combine approaches.
10 (and 20) Yard Split
This might be one of the most telling and unfortunately most forgotten numbers of the entire NFL Combine. While the 40 time is the "sexy" time, only the running back/wide receiver position would ever run 40 yards straight, and even those two positions rarely get that 40 yard space without contact. The 10 yard split shows the explosiveness off the snap from a 3 point stance for the offensive/defensive lineman, which is basically the only valuable part of the drill for those positions. As for the position players, being able to quickly get to a players top speed is crucial for receivers exploding to their first cut, while defensive backs need that explosiveness after they flip their hips and run.
40 Yard Time
The 40 time does have some merit in terms of value for all position. Obviously for the position players, it's a testament to raw speed, something that really is essential to play in the NFL and can not be overlooked. However, for the other positions, you can get more out of watching how these prospects actually run: Is it smooth? Is there wasted motion? Do the prospects times drastically drop off after the 20 yard times? Those are really what to get out of the 40 time.
For all linemen, impressing the bench press is a must for the offensive and defensive linemen, and an impressive showing for any other position is notable because it shows dedication to the weight room as well as raw power and strength. Also to keep in mind, prospects with longer arms will generally do less because of the weight to push the farther distance.
The vertical jump is the best indicator of lower body strength, and it's a more practical football-related test of that lower body strength than a squat is for the linemen and linebackers. While it also shows the same lower body explosiveness for receivers and defensive backs, it's an essential skill set that showcases in air ball skills and the ability to get vertical.
As with most combine tests (as you've probably noticed), the broad jump once again tests for explosiveness. Its standing still, only using legs to drive you body forward in the air. The most important aspect of the drill, however, is that the player needs to stick the landing with balance for it to count. This explosion-to-balance combination is crucial for pass rushers and bigger bodied receivers to control their length/weight and balance while using their strength.
3 Cone/"L" Drill
The "L" drill is a test of two main aspects that are crucial for almost any position: Change of direction without losing balance, and continuing to accelerate through cuts/turns. The drill basically is a five yard sprint, then a sharp cut right, followed by a five yard sprint to the next perpendicular cone, where the runner loops around, accelerate to the middle cone, and then cut back to the starting point. This is beneficial to see how well a position player can cut without wasted steps and without losing any burst, while also showing how a pass rusher can stay low and balanced while staying smooth and powerful in the rushes.
The short shuttle is simply exploding five yards to the right, then explode ten yards back to the left, and finish back to the original starting point. The lateral quickness aspect of the drill is obviously important to positional players, showcasing balance and decisive steps while utilizing their quickness. For the bigger linebackers and linemen, it's more about the ability to not slow down but more just plant and bend ability for these bigger athletes.
Other Numbers to Note:
-Hand size (for QB, WR, OL, and DL)
-Arm length/wingspan (for WRs, OL, and any outliers at other positions)
-Wonderlic Scores (for all positions, especially QBs, looking for outlier numbers)
-Flexibility ratings (not given out to public, but useful for NFL teams to test athletic upside)
Position Drills to Note:
-Passing drill for QBs (focusing on vertical control, drop quickness to release)
-Vertical pass catching for WRs (see depth perception, ability to finish deep catches)
-Gauntlet drill for WRs (evaluate quick body direction change, reliability in hands)
-Kick slide drill for OL (especially for OTs, see if they can get depth and stay balanced)
-Rip/Swim Bag Exchange for DL (see if DL can stay in athletic position, transitioning between bags)
-Coverage drops for LBs (see how each linebacker opens initially, shuffles, and flips hips)
-Vertical coverage for DBs (see jump timing, ability to stay tight on WRs, hands and ball skills)