NFL Combine events explained – what each test measures

A brief primer on each NFL Combine event including what the test measures and what value constitutes a good score for various position groups.

Players from all over the country will begin arriving in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Combine on Tuesday. 330 players will work their way through a serious of tests, medial evaluations, and interviews.

While everyone is familiar with the 40-yard dash and the bench press, the rest of the tests tend to get confusing. While each is important to NFL teams, fans often struggle to piece together what they’re seeing in a drill with how it translates onto the field.

I wrote about all the different events  and what they measure a couple of years ago. Today I figured I’d pair that information with some common scores to help you get a feel for what is good for each event.

Think of these values as you would a 4.50 second 40-yard dash time. All data was collected by Zach Whitman of 3 Sigma Athlete.

3-cone – The cone drill tests a player’s ability to change direction at speed. It is especially useful for judging players who handle the ball, as well as defenders who will play in coverage.

For WRs and DBs a good time is anything under 7 seconds. RBs and LBs are hoping at stay under 7.1 seconds.

20 yard shuttle – The short shuttle tests lateral agility. Players must be able to change direction laterally at high speed. This is a skill useful for any football player.

Anything under 4.3 seconds is good, though elite WRs will sometimes run under 4.15.

60 yard shuttle – The long shuttle is much like the short shuttle, but the larger distances means higher speeds. The result is that it is a test of a players ability to start and stop with suddenness. Again, it is useful for all positions.

Since the 60 yard shuttle isn’t used in the SPARQ formula, I don’t have a lot of data on this one. It appears from the data I do that that a good time is anything under 10.85 seconds.

Bench press – Players lift a 225 pound bar as many times as possible. Obviously, this tests upper body strength, which makes it especially useful in evaluating linemen. All reps must be full range of motion, so add 1-2 reps for players with especially long arms.

While speed is mostly genetic, strength is something that can be considerably enhanced with work. This test is often used as a tool for evaluating a players work ethic. Guys who test poorly on the bench press clearly didn’t make a habit of hitting the weight room in college.

The Bench press results are extremely position specific. For defensive tackles and offensive lineman the goal is to get over 30 reps. 20 is the line for RBs, LBs, and DEs.

Broad jump – The standing broad jumps tests a players ability to generate power with the lower body. Again, it is useful for all positions.

Anything over 10 foot 3 inches is the mark of a good athlete, though weight must be accounted for. It is significantly harder for heavier athletes to jump as far, even if they are extremely athletic.

Vertical jump – This is one that is popular amongst draft analysis. Aside from the obvious usefulness for defensive backs and pass catchers, it also is a measurement of coordination. To do well in the vertical jump, a player’s back, hips and legs must be totally in sync.

This make the vertical jump semi-useful for judging linemen. Players with a really low vert are usually also relatively clumsy.

The cutoff for pass catchers and defensive backs is around 35 inches. Guys that jump in the 40s are special athletes. When using this as a coordination check for offensive linemen, you don’t want anyone who is jumping under 23 inches.

40 yard dash – The highlight of the combine is the 40 yard dash. It is also the least useful of all the workouts in terms of predicting NFL success.

Instead of looking at the time over the full 40 yard, keep an eye on the 10- and 20-yard splits. The acceleration required to score well there has a much higher correlation to NFL success than the top speed need to score well in the full 40.

For a WR or CB, 1.55 is good time for the 10-second split. For pass rushers the time is 1.68 seconds. For the big uglies on both sides of the ball 1.75 seconds is considered a good time.

Position drills – Each position group has their own unique drill. Quarterbacks hit receivers at varying distances. Linebackers shift between later movement to a backpedal to a sprint. These can be fun to watch, but they are typically for scouts and often don’t have a truly measurable outcome.

Hopefully all of that makes sense and helps to bring some perspective to the NFL Combine this week. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask.