For many, the NFL Scouting Combine—which kicked off yesterday with Media Day—marks the official beginning of the NFL Draft season. If you don’t watch NCAA college football, as many fans in the UK do not, the combine is the first chance many people will get to see future NFL stars in action. The NFL Scouting Combine has no real analogue in British sports, so here is a primer for NFL fans in the UK;
What is The NFL Scouting Combine?
The Scouting Combine is an invitation event featuring most of the top NFL draft prospects. The event takes place over the course of a week, and is a major NFL media event.
The bulk of the week is made up of a series of skills drills designed to showcase the athleticism of the player in certain measurable ways.
It also includes a chance for NFL owners, coaches, managers and scouts to sit down face-to-face with their top targets, and assess the character of the players off the field.
Finally, it includes a series of tests, including the Wonderlic Cognative Ability test, the Cybex fitness examination and the first of many drug screening tests the players will face over their NFL career.
Why is This Event A Big Deal?
Put simply, because it occurs during a down period in the NFL offseason. These sort of tests and evaluations go on all year. NFL Scouts will have watched many of these players since they entered college. Teams will already have a very good idea about whom they are targeting before the combine.
However, the combine comes at a time where there is very little else but draft evaluation going on for teams. It is the first time that senior executives, head and position coaches and owners will have had a chance to get out into the field and assess these players for themselves, and not in report or film form.
Additionally, since the advent of the NFL Network, it has been a major way to keep up interest in football during the offseason, and this has seen it transformed into a major media event, complete with wall-to-wall coverage and analysis, press conferences and meet-and-greets.
What Drills are Included in The Combine?
The combine features a range of drills. Not every player will take part in every test.
40 Yard Dash: The 40 yard dash is a timed event. Players run 40 yards, from a standing start, in the fastest time possible.
A good 40 yard dash time can see a players draft stock rocket, while a poor performance here can set him back significantly. Players at skill positions would aim for a sub 4.5 second dash, with records at around 4.24 seconds.
The idea behind the 40 yard dash is that it simulates the average distance of a punt, and gives coaches an idea of the amount of hang time they need a punter to deliver.
Bench Press (225 lbs): This test is what you would imagine. Players aim to prove their upper body strength by doing as many bench press reps as they can. The weight is set at 225 lbs, regardless of position, and therefore the number of reps can vary wildly.
The top performers here are usually offensive and defensive linemen, who would aim for 35 reps, with the best of whom would topping 40 reps.
Vertical Jump: This is also largely what you would imagine. Players attempt the highest possible vertical jump. The jump is from a stand still, and is measured to the tip of the athletes outstretched fingers.
This is more useful in evaluating receivers and defensive backs, but can also be beneficial for anyone who is used on special teams in kick or punt blocking, or even among linemen attempting to disrupt a quarterback’s throwing lanes. Top performers may approach 40 inches, with a rare few even reaching 45.
Broad Jump (Standing long jump): This anachronistic event is a throwback to the old style of long jump. Unlike the modern long jump, the broad jump takes place from standstill.
Although many have questioned what, if anything, this has to do with football, scouts insist that it is valuable in evaluating a player’s ability to explode from perfectly still to peak performance in a split second. This is key, for example, for a pass rusher, or wide receiver, among others.
A top performance here would likely approach 11′, with the current record sitting at 11’7″. For comparison, the world record, when this even was retired from the Olympics was around 11’4″.
Three Cone Drill: This drill is a measure of fluidity, ability to change direction and agility of an athlete.
As explained by Wikipedia “Three cones are placed five yards apart from each other forming a right angle. The athlete starts with one hand down on the ground and runs to the middle cone and touches it. The athlete then reverses direction back to the starting cone and touches it. The athlete reverses direction again but this time runs around the outside of the middle cone on the way to the far cone running around it in figure eight fashion on his way back around the outside of the middle cone and finally finishing back at the starting cone. The total distance traveled is about 30 yards. Athletes are timed for this whole procedure.”
Top performers here would hope to clock a time of around 6.5 seconds.
20-Yard Shuttle: This test is designed to measure lateral agility and explosiveness of a player, as well as their ability to change direction.
The drill sees players start at the centre of a 10-yard track. They will take off and run five yards to their weakest side, before running ten yards to the opposite end of the track, and returning to the starting point. Players start with their hand on the ground and must touch the line with their hand at either end of the track.
A sub 4-second performance would be considered excellent in this drill.
This is similar to the 20 yard variety, but sees players run a 5 yards, touching down, and back to the starting line, then 10 and finally 15 yards.
Whereas the short shuttle is about lateral agility and quickness, the 60 yard shuttle is more about stamina and recovery.
A 11 second circuit here would be the benchmark for top performers, with the record set at 10.75 seconds.
Position Drills: In addition to these standard drills, players may also take part in position specific drills. These largely just recreate in-game scenarios and help scouts address issues with technique in a controlled environment which may not be obvious in live game situations.
Is The Combine Useful?
Undoubtedly, the combine has some real value for scouts, coaches and executives, in that it allows them to see players up close and personal.
However many have questioned the drills value as an evaluative tool in the NFL, suggesting that it has no real correlation to NFL success. This is concerning given the value that coaches and scouts seem to attach to it.
In particular, events like the 40 yard dash, perhaps the most highly valued event in the combine, have no corollary in live play, yet can make a huge difference to a players overall draft position. For example, Terrell Suggs was a stud throughout his college career, and was widely tipped as one of the top five picks prior to the combine.
During the combine, Suggs ran a 4.83 40 yard dash, a slow time for a player of his position, and many teams significantly downgraded him as a result. Many did not even view him as a first round prospect on the basis of that one time alone.
When the Ravens selected him with the tenth overall pick that year, the general consensus was that they had “reached”, and taken him much too early. Of course, Suggs was as dominant in the NFL as he had been in college, and his slow 40 yard dash time a mere blip. But it does raise serious questions about the process?
Should I Watch The NFL Combine?
Although it may not have a lot to do with football as we know it, the combine is still a fun event to watch, and does let you see many of the players who will feature big in the Draft in May.
It may be your first glance at your teams new starting quarterback, or all-star linebacker, so it is worth watching if you have the time.
Today, we start with Offensive linemen, Tight Ends and Special Teamers. The rest of the schedule is as follows:
» Saturday, Feb. 22: Tight ends, offensive linemen, special teams
» Sunday, Feb. 23: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
» Monday, Feb. 24: Defensive linemen, linebackers
» Tuesday, Feb. 25: Defensive backs
How Do I Watch The Combine?
The combine coverage on NFL Network starts at 9:00 AM (ET) daily on NFL Network, which is available via NFL Gamepass in the UK. The combine takes place in Indianapolis, Indiana, which is 5 hours behind the UK.
Limited coverage is also available via the NFL.com/Live site. This will lack a lot of the analysis available on NFL Network, but is free, and will allow you to see all the performances. They have two cameras inside the arena.
Is There Any British Interest in The Combine?
Unfortunately not this year. In 2013, there were several players with close ties to the UK taking part, including Menelik Watson, who was drafted by the Oakland Raiders, and Track and Field star Lawrence Okoye, who was signed by the San Francisco 49ers.
In 2014, however, there are no British born players expected to be drafted. As the popularity of American Football spreads in the UK, and more young people watch it, we are likely to see an influx of British talent at these sorts of events, but as of yet, we are still under represented here.