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Scouting The 2011 NFL Combine: The Testing


Continuing on with my last post, Scouting The 2011 NFL Combine: The Arrival, I thought it would be appropriate to go over the examination ritual for the Combine. As soon as the prospects arrive, they will begin testing. The prospects are divided into four groups. Each group arrives staggered one day apart and each will fulfill their testing in four day segments. The first day will consist of a Drug Screen Urinalysis, Pre-Exam (medical) and X-Rays. Then they will go through an Orientation and on to the Interviews. Day 2 is when body measurements are taken along with the Wonderlic Test, Psych Tests and any other Exams. Interviews are continued and the media has their chance to talk to the current group of players. On Day 3, the players attend an NFLPA meeting, Psych Tests are continued more time for Interviews is set aside and some of the Workouts begin. The final day is Workout Day. The players go though the timed trials, stations (Bench Press, Vertical and Broad Jump)and positional skill drills. Then they pack up and get ready for Departure. After the jump, I will fill you in on the tests used for evaluating these players.

Urine test

Just about anyone seeking employment these days must endure a urinalysis for Drug screening. At the Combine, the NFL tests incoming players to identify any substances deemed illegal by League definitions. Those substances include marijuana, cocaine and any performance-enhancing drugs listed in the NFL Drug Policy

You could say that this is the Pre-Test for the Wonderlic. If a player fails this test, he is too stupid to take the Intelligence test.

Physical Exams

The sequence of physical exams is the essential element of the combine. Each prospect will take a number of physicals many times, with a different set of team doctors each time. The doctors will be searching for previously unknown injuries as well as any lingering effects of known rehabilitated injuries. Players will be sent for X-rays and MRIs, and then scheduled for more exams later this spring.

There is an interesting part of this section that I unearthed and would like to share with you. The NFL has a partnership with a company called Intelemage.
They use an intelligent medical image software that allows the physicians and trainers to view all the medical data, including imagery, in a secure web-based portal in real-time during the Combine. Talk about advancements. Each team can access data from anywhere, at anytime, all in a single application.

The Cybex Test

Injury Evaluations are the next stop for each prospect after the Physical. Named for the company that makes the machine, Cybex International, the Cybex is an Isokinetic Test used to accurately measure muscle function, strength, flexibility and range of movement at different rates of exercise. The results can mean the difference in where a player is taken in the draft if they've had any recent or past injuries. The player is connected to a hydraulic or electromagnetic machine that collects and computes information into figures that are analyzed by experts and coaches. The Test measures muscle strength by applying constant resistance over a range of motion and speed. You move your muscles in repetitive motions quickly and as powerfully as possible, and resistance is applied by a machine. The Cybex gauges strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and activity readiness in a player. It also measures how much someone has recovered from an injury. Here is a sample of one of the tests:

Team Interviews

All NFL teams get the opportunity to interview up to 60 prospects attending the Combine in 15-minute intervals. The interviews take place in the player hotel, and usually contain questions about a player's character, mental aptitude, their play recognition skills and football Intelligence (FBI). The Interview process begins on the first day the players arrive in Indianapolis. To ensure that the interviews are done in an timely manner, the teams are asked to submit the names of the players they want to interview a few weeks before the Combine starts. In this way, the staff of the Combine can schedule each player’s interview. In many circumstances, team scouts have already interviewed the prospects they are interested in at the College All-Star games. The Combine, though, is the first time that clubs are "face to face" with the underclassmen in the draft. So many of those 60 interviews are used on the underclassmen. If a club is going to make an investment in a player, you can be sure that they will do their due diligence and thoroughly investigate a future investment. The Interview can be crucial for players with questionable concerns, such as a drug history or run-ins with the law. A Poll of scouts considers 15 high profile players whose interviews will greatly affect their draft position.

They are:

  • Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
  • Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
  • Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton
  • Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
  • A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
  • Greg Little, WR, North Carolina
  • Jake Locker, QB, Washington
  • Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
  • Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
  • Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
  • Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh
  • Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
  • Tyron Smith, OT, USC
  • Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
  • Titus Young, WR, Boise State

The Wonderlic Test

Though the test is very rarely completed, the Wonderlic is typically regarded as a good way to measure a player's intelligence. The version taken at the Combine takes 12 minutes and contains 50 questions. It is also designed so most prospects do not finish in time. This test has been given to prospective players in the National Football League since the 1970s. The NFL average is 19. Pat McInally (P/WR from Harvard) is the only football player to record a confirmed perfect score. In 2006, Texas quarterback Vince Young became the talk of the National Football Scouting combine when he scored a 6 on the Wonderlic intelligence test. A score of 6 is low for any player but especially so for a quarterback. Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino scored a 15 and John Elway scored a 30. Here is a sample test from WalterFootball.

40-yard dash

The 40-yard dash is the high point of the Combine. It's all about speed, explosion and fast times. From a three-point stance, each player is timed from a static start at 10, 20 and 40-yard intervals under the most ideal conditions (indoors on AstroTurf). This is the most media hyped event of Combine Week. Some teams like the Oakland Raiders vastly overvalue it, while some other teams such as the New England Patriots don't place premium value on it. Technically the 40 was devised to test the speed of the athlete, but some argue that it is flawed because the players aren't in pads. This is the prime argument regarding "straight line" and "football" speed. It is also an unfortunate fact that a player's 40 time can drastically impact his draft stock. A few tenths of a second can plummet a WR's draft stock or it could boost them up a few rounds. While this trial is particularly meaningful for the skill positions (RB, WR and DB), linebackers and defensive ends have seen their stock elevate because of exceptional 40 times. Note: If you can run a good 40 time, Al Davis is looking for a few good men.
The 40 yard dash all started to determine how fast a player could cover the average distance of a punt. So basically this was a tryout for Special Team's Gunners. Now it has turned into the most important drill for many NFL prospects. The 10-yard time is especially important for offensive and defensive linemen because they usually don't run farther than that during a play. Players get hand-held times (by scouts using stopwatches) and electronic times (recorded by a machine using a beam).
Although top-end speed might be important for some positions than looking at the 10-yard and 20-yard splits, the split times are good indicators of a quick first step, something every coach wants to see in all his players.

Bench Press

The Bench Press is a test of strength and endurance. The players do as many repetitions of 225 lbs as they can, simple as that. Anyone can do a max one time, but what this test shows, is how often the athlete frequented his college weight room for the last 3-5 years. This test is important primarily to the offensive and defensive linemen. However, prospects can hurt their stock with a poor showing. The highest number of bench reps at the Combine was 42, in 2007. Each position player will participate in this test of strength. Quarterbacks and wide receivers are exempt from the test. There is one catch; the player has to lower it to his chest each time to count as a legitimate repetition.

Vertical Jump

The Vertical jump is all about lower-body explosion and power. To measure the Vertical, a player stands flat-footed in front of pole with a multitude of plastic flags sticking out. His reach is measured from the ground to the tip of his fingers with a telescopic ruler. The pole is lowered to that height. The player then jumps straight up and hits as many plastic flags as he can. The flags, spaced half an inch apart, rotate when hit. That gives the event judge a reading of the height the player jumped. This test accurately displays a prospect's explosiveness, which is relevant not only for receivers and defensive backs for jump balls, but also by offensive and defensive linemen to move or gain leverage against their opponents.

In order for the Vertical Jump to help a player's stock, he must also do well in the Broad jump. The combination of these two events will show he is athletic and doing well in just one of the two probably wont help much.

Broad Jump

The Broad Jump tests an athlete's lower-body explosion and lower-body strength. The athlete starts out with a stance balanced and then he explodes out as far as he can. It is a test of explosion and balance, because he also has to land without moving. This is a true assessment of leg strength. Distance is measured from the line to where his heels land. The players who do well in this event are explosive and teams love explosive players. This drill is most important to positions that use lower body strength to gain an advantage like Running Backs, Linemen, and Linebackers. The broad jump is the best test for lower body strength, leg explosion, quickness and lateral burst

3 Cone Drill

The 3 cone drill tests an athlete's speed, quickness, flexibility, change of direction and body control. It is the newest addition to the NFL scouting combine, replacing the "4 Cone" or "Box" drill. Each prospect will be timed by seconds in how fast they can sprint ten yards around  three cones. Anything 6.6 or below is considered a great time for the drill. The 3-cone drill tells about a player’s explosion and how he adjusts out on the field.

Here's how it's done: Three cones are set up in a triangle or L shape, with each cone 5 yards apart. The player starts in a 3-point stance at the first cone. The whistle blows and the player sprints 5 yards ahead to the first cone, reaches down and touches a white line and then sprints back to the starting cone. At the starting cone, he reaches down and touches a white line, then heads back to the second cone. This time, he runs around the outside of the second cone, and cuts right to the third cone. He runs a circle around the third cone from the inside to the outside, then runs around the second cone before returning to the first cone.

The shuttles and the 3-cone drill display the athleticism crucial to being a quality football player. The speed of the game at the pro level is such that fluid lateral movement and the ability to quickly change direction are critical. In some cases, good times in this drill can trump poor 40 times when it comes to how coaches view certain prospects. Last year, Tim Tebow had a 6.6 time, setting a combine record for a QB. Don't believe me? Just watch this:

20 and 60-Yard Shuttles

While not as highly regarded a test as the 40 yard dash, it is still an important barometer used by NFL personnel to compare players. The 20 yard shuttle tests lateral speed and coordination. The player starts in a three point stance, straddling a yard line facing the sideline. When the whistle blows, the player runs 5 yards to one side, touching the yard line. He then sprints 10 yards in the other direction and again touches the yard line, at which point he sprints back to the yard line he started from. This is one of the most underrated tests at the combine. The 20 yard shuttle is a test of speed, explosion, and changing of directions. Technique is also important here. Each prospect will be timed by seconds in how fast they can go 5 yards to their left, then 10 back to the right, and finishing 5 yards to their left in one straight line.

The 60 yard shuttle is basically the same drill as the 20 yard shuttle. The only difference is that instead of running 5 yards, 10 yards then 5 yards, the player runs 10 yards to one side, then back 20 yards and then 10 yards to the starting point, for a total of six touches. This drill is probably the best test of endurance and conditioning in the entire combine.

Position Specific Drills

Probably the best way to test a player’s ability to play a position is to run them through trials specifically designed for that position. Coaches and Scouts typically run the players through specific drills, taking note as to their performance. These drills are typically overlooked (by the media) for some of the more appealing drills, like the 40 yard dash and bench press. The Quarterbacks throw, the Running Backs run, the Linebackers are put through reactionary and lateral movement drills. Offensive Linemen play against one another and the same with Defensive Linemen. These drills are just attempts to put the players in a comfortable state and to see what applicable football skills they actually posses. For instance, the Defensive Backs must show their ability to turn their hips and run back on a ball. Similarly, Wide Receivers run through their route trees, catching the football in different situations. And even though the TV media doesn't place much attention to these drills, they can be invaluable to scouts and therefore the teams.

That ends the list of testing procedures for the Combine. Tomorrow, I will get into the numbers to look for, in Scouting The 2011 NFL Combine: The Numbers. I hope this helps educate you and enhance the Combine experience for you.

Go Broncos!