Drilling Ain’t Easy: Which Combine Drills Matter Most for Each Position Group

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Running back Corey Clement goes through workout drills during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Photo Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The National Football League’s 2019 Draft Combine is upon us. NFL teams are heading to Indianapolis, IN to set up at Lucas Oil Stadium for the league’s version of a meat market. Prospects will be lined up, examined, measured, and tested to get a better understanding of what they will look like on fall Sundays, Mondays, and the occasional Thursday. Rather than look at each and every drill being conducted this week, today we take a look at each position group, and discuss which two hold the most weight in evaluations.

Quarterbacks

3-5-5-7 Step Drops/Throws

As it sounds, the quarterback will be asked to complete multiple drop-backs after taking the snap under center. At the top of the drop-back, the quarterback will then throw to the designated receiver. The drill tests the footwork of the prospect in a functional fashion, while also showing how comfortable he may be with the differing depths. It is no secret that many spread quarterbacks are under a microscope due to the rarity of needing to execute a proper drop-back. As a result, this drill allows quarterbacks like Dwayne Haskins and Drew Locke to demonstrate their understanding of the timing and spacing needed to complete the drop-back.

Wonderlic Test

The Wonderlic gets talked about nearly as much as a player’s 40 time. The test is used across the world to test a prospect’s aptitude for learning and problem-solving. There has been numerous discussions regarding the predicting power of the test, with some saying it primarily shows a person’s ability to take a timed test. The Wonderlic consists of 50 questions and has a 12 minute time limit. The highest recorded score ever recorded was a perfect 50, posted by former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver/punter, Pat McInally. Interestingly enough, in later interviews, McInally stated he was told by the organization that his draft stock dropped because of the perfect score. He explained that teams worried that high intelligence meant clashes with coaches

Running Backs/Fullbacks

Find the Ball

Ten to fifteen years ago this wouldn’t have made the list. However, modern offenses put an emphasis on the running back playing a major part in the passing game. This drill starts with the player off to the side with his back facing the quarterback. At the start, he will run to his right toward the cone and attempt to catch the football at the midway point. He will then sprint back the other way while attempting to avoid a coach set up in front of him. The drill is designed to test the fluidity of movement in a pass catching situation. In a time where runners also need to be pass catchers, this is a solid drill which provides insight into the versatility of a player.

40 Yard Dash

This is the equivalent of the home run derby. For decades, the 40-yard dash has been must-see television for draft junkies and scouting departments. The name says it all. Players line up at one end, await word, then get down to the finish line as quickly as possible. Running backs can climb draft boards with a great time, or plummet if it’s too slow. A sub-4.55 time is something to look for here.

Offensive Line

Pass Pro Mirror Drill

Similar to what it sounds like, the offensive lineman will line up opposite a defensive player. Two cones set the boundaries. At go, the defender will move side to side attempting to find an opening. The offensive lineman must match the defender and prevent an opening for the defender, without using his hands. Quick feet and solid recovery skills are important.

3-Cone Drill

The strength of an offensive lineman is always important. However, a lineman without good footwork or lateral movement will often struggle. The cone drill shows lateral quickness and quick burst. A big guy better have quick feet to compete in the modern NFL.

*Bench Press

Can a player ever be considered too strong? Of course not, Larry Allen was one of the greatest offensive lineman and he was terrifyingly strong. Still, functional strength means more than knowing how to lift weights.

Tight Ends

Block Explosion

The best tight ends in the league can hurt opposing defenses in the passing game. They are positional nightmares who create mismatches all over the field. However, the best tight ends can also hold their own in the blocking department. Arm extension, a solid first punch, and proper leg drive are all key elements of successful blocking. A receiving threat with blocking ability means less time on the sidelines.

40 Yard Dash

If you get the ball, someone wants to know how fast you are. A slow tight end might as well be a converted offensive tackle. Anything slower than 4.7 seconds here and it likely means a late round pick unless the tape or production screams out.

Wide Receivers

Wide Out Routes

The position isn’t just about speed. While important, overall speed means nothing if a receiver struggles to run routes. This drill tests the crispness of routes and puts an emphasis on how smooth and quick a player gets out of each break. For smaller receivers, excelling at route running provides a major boost.

40 Yard Dash

Speed is a weapon. It is the difference between a seven yard gain on an in-cut, or a 75-yard plus house call. John Ross rode a sizzling time to a first round draft selection. Who stakes their claim this year?

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*Vertical Jump

If speed isn’t in your toolkit, having the ability to get up and make a play is important. A solid vertical jump and some good hands definitely helps to make up the difference. It is also good fodder to discuss who could dunk a basketball.

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Defensive Line/Edge

Punch and Hand Shiver

The lineman punches the gloves with both hands before tossing the dummy to the ground. Each participant will move through the dummies from right to left. The drill showcases the punch used by each player and tests their ability to quickly adjust in their pursuit angles.

3-Cone

As previously discussed for offensive linemen, the cone drill will test short area burst and quickness, while also showing off a player’s ability to change direction quickly. For defensive linemen, it also tests a player’s bend coming around a tight corner.

*Bench Press

Strength is helpful, especially against larger linemen. While not the most important drill, a good showing (25 or more reps) can definitely help a player move up a few spots.

Linebackers

4 Bag Agility Drill

A linebacker needs to be able to move across the line of scrimmage, avoid the wash, and power through blockers to make tackles. This drill is the best way to test that ability without using other players to run interference. Participants will move laterally to weave through step-over dummies to both his left then right before speeding toward a designated area. Typically the main focus is on the footwork and quickness with which a player can get into position and break down before entering the dummy section.

Shuttle Run

The participant runs five yards to his right, touches the line, sprints 10 yards to the left, touches the line, before finally sprinting past the finish line five yards away. This is a test on lateral quickness and explosiveness. A key caveat here is the player is responsible for any slips on the surface. As a result, it is imperative the player maintain body control to avoid losing too much momentum during direction changes.

*40 Yard Dash

Linebackers are often asked to play in space and cover talented running backs and tight ends on passing plays. The ability to stay with the receiver downfield is nearly as important as the ability to shed a block. The 40-yard dash isn’t the perfect way to measure this ability, but it does hint to a player athletic enough to run down the field.

Secondary

Back Pedal, Weave, 90 Degree & Catch Drill

Think of the types of movements a defensive back will need to perform over the course of a game. This drill encompasses all of them. The player begins in a back pedal before weaving to the left and right. This must take place while the player is in their back pedal. The drill director will then signal a throw to one side and the player will break towards the spot, catch the football, then speed past the director. Whether in man or zone coverage, the ability to move diagonally in a back pedal then break towards the football can make a corner go from average, to great. Added bonus for ball skills as catches equal interceptions.

40 Yard Dash

This is pretty self-explanatory. Secondary players are primarily there to cover opposing receivers. While it is useful to have great short area quickness, to cover the top receivers in the league, defenders need some speed. Some of the fastest times in this drill are held by cornerbacks. Speed in defensive backs show up on game day as the ability to close on the football as well as get back into position after an initial slip or missed read. If a secondary player with length can post a sub-4.5 time, that’s the difference between a fourth round grade and a second round grade.

Players Make Plays

At the end of the day, the combine does not answer the question of whether a player will succeed in the NFL. It is a great place for players to make an impact on their draft stock, but pro days and private workouts can do just as much good for a player. The combine should be another brush used to paint the picture of what a player can do. It is no more important than his game film or college stat line. Each brush gets us closer to the finished product. The combine is exciting, it is fun and ultimately a great conversation piece. Let’s remember that these are young men who are taking another step in their audition to play the sport at the highest level, and get paid handsomely in the process. The next week will be a sight to behold. One more thing to remember, Jerry Rice once ran a near 4.99 40 in college. He turned out okay in the NFL.

– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Cardinals. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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