Everything you need to know for the 2010 NFL Combine

Prospects for the 2010 NFL Draft will have to endure the NFL’s version of a job fair including interviews, drills, and other tests at this year’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis (Chicago Bears WR Johnny Knox pictured from 2009)

The NFL’s biggest “workout session” called the NFL Combine takes center stage at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis from Wednesday February 24th to Tuesday March 2nd as potential draftees dreams can be made in 4.29 seconds (a very good forty-time in case you didn’t know).  It is hard to believe that the zany idea of former Dallas Cowboys draft guru Gil Brandt from over 30 years ago to gather all of the draft’s prospects in one place so every team could get an “equal” look together has come so far that it is now a major part of the yearly sports calendar. 

You can thank former University of Kansas option quarterback Nolan Cromwell for the madness as he was traveling from team to team in 1977 with the same information, giving the forward thinking Brandt the idea for the combine. How “huge” is this one-time anomaly event, well the NFL Network will broadcast over 26 live hours of coverage plus the NFL Combine even has its own website. There will also be a Super Bowl like “Radio Row” atmosphere at the Indianapolis Convention Center so media can provide fans with instant results.  No more “urban legend” results like Deion “Prime Time” Sanders running a “slow”, as he pontificated about it, 4.19 forty-yard dash in secrecy at the 1989 event.

The NFL Combine is part of the annual arduous four-month long “NFL job interview” process for college players to get to their dream destination of being drafted.  The job interview process has four distinctive parts – College Bowl Games, All-Star Games especially the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine, and Pro Days (private workouts) — that are all extremely important for building a powerful resume for potential players and a successful draft board for NFL personnel departments. 

The NFL Combine is such a big deal that approximately 600 NFL Draft evaluators including head coaches, general managers and scouts plus their “favorite” tag-a-longs, the media – almost 400 credentialed members of the media – will pack into the Lucas Oil Stadium to watch 327 college players do whatever is asked of them in shorts and tee shirts.   These poor kids will be stamped with their cattle number like “QB03″ and then they will be poked and prodded every which way to Sunday as they will be interviewed, examined, x-rayed, measured, run all over, made to jump, twisted, bent, interrogated on their past… you name it, all to enhance their spot in the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft in April.

With this year’s success of rookie difference-makers like Houston Texans LB Brian Cushing, Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, Washington Redskins pass rusher Brian Orakpo and others, the importance of building a competitive team through the draft is ever present throughout the NFL. Teams now have very high expectations for players selected in the first two rounds of the draft and want to get earlier returns on their large investments (i.e. No more redshirting in the NFL).  However the hoopla over the NFL Combine to me is borderline insanity as most scouts I talk to put more credence in regular season game tape, All-Star game performances, talking with college staffs, bowl games, and almost anything else over seeing guys tested at the combine in t-shirts and shorts. 

The biggest word of caution to fans and teams is to guard against the “love” factor at the NFL Combine as every year some team gets an “I gotta have him” attitude usually leading to draft day moves based solely on a player’s work at the NFL Combine (see Eagles 1995 first round draft pick and 7th overall pick DE Mike Mamula – moved up the board from a 2nd or 3rd round pick to a top ten pick mostly based on his high marks at the combine).    Agents representing these prized NFL recruits definitely know what is at stake at the NFL Combine as in recent years they are pulling their player clients off of college campuses to prep at pre-combine workout facilities. 

The reason for the intense preparation for the NFL Combine is plain and simple…MONEY in the form of rookie contracts — 2009 NFL Draft first overall selection Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford signed a rookie contract with the terms 6-years, $72 million of which $41.7 million was guaranteed.  This is high stakes poker at its best, so at pre-combine training camps in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Southern California, players are learning everything from interviewing skills, how to take the Wonderlic Test, explosive running techniques and pumping iron.

All that being said, statistics do show players need to at least attend the NFL Combine, especially early entrants in the draft since they don’t have the advantage of going to College All-Star games — in the 2006 Draft of the 330 players invited to the NFL Combine, 222 were drafted.  The NFL Combine is also a setting where the entire NFL’s traveling show (Head Coaches, Scouts, GM’s, media, etc) comes together in Indy allowing for “shop talk”.  As the scene is a continuation of the NFL’s convention like atmosphere that was started at the Senior Bowl and Super Bowl.   In the stands  are sure to hear veteran NFL personnel evaluators, like Miami Dolphins football czar Bill Parcels, talking about the impending Free Agency period (March 5th), franchised players (deadline of February 28th), the soon to be expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement (March 2011), an uncapped year in 2010, possible trades of disgruntled players or draft picks, and much more.

 The Players

There will be over 300 players throughout the four-day event with every position represented from Quarterback to Defensive End to Long Snapper.  Not all invitees will participate in all events and some may pick and choose or wait for their Pro Day to show their stuff — Thanks Agents!!  Unfortunately two of the bigger names in the 2010 NFL Draft, quarterbacks Tim Tebow (Florida) and Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) have chosen to only come to Indy to participate in interviews, the Wonderlic, and measurements, but not the on the field drills.

But some players who I will be interested in seeing their efforts are Central Michigan quarter back Dan LeFevour – QB11 (Needs to show better arm strength than at the Senior Bowl), USC RB Joe McKnight – RB18 (Will he workout, is he the top player in the 2010 running back class, and how is his character), Florida LB Brandon Spikes – LB30 (How is his character (off the field past), is he ready for the NFL) and Florida State safety Myron Rolle – DB42 (How much rust does the aspiring doctor have after being in Oxford, England for a year on a Rhodes Scholarship) .  Also it will great to see who is faster in the forty Clemson RB CJ Spiller (RB24), LSU returnman Trindon Holliday (ST02), Clemson WR Jacoby Ford (WO10) or some other speedster. 

Find the complete list of the players invited to the 2010 NFL Combine.

NFL Combine Events

 On the Field Drills

 “The Forty” – This is the glamour event of the combine, as guys want to show the world how fast they are.  The player starts from a three-point stance and runs 40 yards as fast as possible. The player is timed in 10, 20 and 40-yard increments, to gauge the player’s explosion and speed.  Now track speed is good, but “football speed” – ability to run fast while cutting or changing direction and catching the ball – is more important.  Too often guys go to speed camps and “manufacture speed” (see 2007 Draftee Washington State WR Jason Hill) causing scouts to take a harder look at their game film.

225-Pound Bench Press – This is the second most talked about event of the combine.  As everyone around Indy will be saying the same line as when I was in high school, “What can you bench??”  At the combine everyone except quarterbacks and wide receivers are required to show how many reps they can do at 225-pounds.  Of course this event is led by famous loud mouth Arizona Cardinals Strength and Conditioning Coach John Lott – “Come on Meat, HUP, HUP!!”  Remember that players with longer arms have a tougher time pumping out reps and shorter squat guys usually can do some damage in this event.  To show you the importance/non-importance of this event, the record holder former Ohio State DE/OLB Mike Kudla (45 reps in 2006) wasn’t even drafted.

Standing Vertical Jump – This event shows the explosiveness of players from a still position.  With the NFL passing game based a lot of times on jump balls, this event is of ought most importance to receivers and defensive backs.  From a flat-footed position the player jumps up and smacks at plastic flags on a pole.  When you watch this event think of explosive Niners’ Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, who had a position record of 42 inches at the 2006 combine.

Broad Jump – Another explosion drill.  From a standing position a player’s lower body strength is tested as they squat and jump forward as far as possible.  This event is usually led by the running backs and defensive backs. Jumps are measured from the starting point to the player’s back heel.

Three Cone Drill – This event is a test of a player’s speed, agility and cutting ability. Three cones are set up in an “L “shape (triangular format) with 5 yards between each of them. From a three-point stance at the first cone, on a coaches whistle the player has to sprint five yards ahead to the first cone then touch a white line – then sprint back to the starting cone touching a white line there – then running to the outside of the second cone – then cutting right to circle around the third cone – then finishing by running around the second cone and returning to the first cone.  This sounds exhausting just thinking about running this drill.

20-Yard Shuttle – This is an old fashioned test for most of us as you probably did this one in the Presidential Physical Fitness challenge…remember how much fun that was in fifth grade.  This drill tests speed, agility, and coordination. From a three point stance on a whistle a player runs 5 yards to one side touches the yard line – then runs ten yards in the other direction touches the line there and runs back to the original line.

60-Yard Shuttle – Same as the twenty-yard shuttle, but longer.   This time the player has to go 10 yards to a line then 5 yards back then 10 yards the other way then 20 yards back and finishes this time 10 yards to the starting point. This is an endurance monster, sorry Big Boys on the O-Line.

Position Drills – This is my favorite event at the combine, because NFL position coaches know what specific practice drills that the players that they coach will need to be good at, to succeed at the next level.  A couple position coaches from different NFL teams design ball motion drills usually around blocking dummies.  I love watching the D-Lineman practicing their rip moves and running full force at a blocking dummy.  Also watch for receivers running routes, quarterbacks being asked to throw the infamous out-pattern to the far sideline, and college defensive ends trying to make the transition to outside linebacker in the NFL trying to catch the ball – at the 2007 event a former NFL coach working for the NFL Network called several non-catchers “volleyball” players as passes bounced off their hands.

Off the Field Events

Measurements – Hey players do you want to feel like a piece of cattle.  As soon as players arrive in Indy they are given a cattle number (ex. QB03) and every player in attendance is measured head to foot with their height, weight, arm length, and hand size recorded.  And you thought that All-American offensive lineman was really 6′7 and 325 from his college game day program thought wrong, as he was only 6′4 ½ and weighed in at a sloppy 344.  Also the combine has a new piece of equip called the “Bod Pod” where players get in a space ship type machine and it measure s their body fat percentage.

NFL Team Interviews – Like any young person going from college to a job, players need to ace their interviews.  Teams know exactly what they want to ask when going after a player’s past in order to try and predict their future.  In the early years of the NFL Combine, the interview process used to be a mad scramble where teams would hoard players that they liked.  But now teams get about fifteen minutes to get to know a player with a limit of 60 players for each team. This usually occurs at the convention center or player hotel with every team looking to see what makes each player tick.  Remember “character” is the number one item on most teams list along with toughness, interests on and off the field, and intelligence (the Giants and Patriots are notorious for measuring a player’s understanding of the “game of football”).  At the 2009 NFL Combine, former Florida receiver Percy Harvin impressed the Minnesota Vikings by firmly answering some tough questions about his past.  The Vikings by doing their homework on Harvin at the Combine, went on to draft him with the 22nd pick of the first round and the former Gator went on to be named the 2009 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

NFLPA Meeting – This is a pre-cursor meeting to the NFL Rookie Symposium later in the summer.  The meeting serves as a welcome to the business of football for the crop of potential rookies and their agents.  The future of the NFL will learn all about their union including team reps, dues, health coverage, the collective bargaining agreement, and much more.  With potential labor strife hovering over the NFL in 2010, this year’s Combine invitees better be listening extra specially in these meetings.

The Wonderlic Test – The NFL is now calling this portion of the NFL Combine, psychological testing.  But I am not sure if there are any other brain tests other than the dreaded Wonderlic test.  The test is designed to measure a player’s I.Q. through a 50-question test administered in 23 minutes.  Most players are tired/uninterested when taking the test, which leads to a majority of guys not completing the test.  Some agents have started to have their clients cram for the test like the SAT coming out of high school, but at least you can take that test multiple times.  This is a one shot deal that many people put way too much emphasis on.  I can still hear all of the preposterous Vince Young test score reporting from 2006 — did you know that Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw both scored a 15 while forgettable former Rams quarterback Hugh Millen scored a 41.  Here is a sample question: “Paper clips sell for 23 cents per box. What will 4 boxes cost” — take all the time you need, because the only intelligence score that scouts should worried about is a player’s Football Intelligence (FBI). 

Injury Evaluations – Every player at the NFL Combine has to walk around with their x-rays and injury history.  Teams and their doctors will poke and check any little thing that doesn’t sound or look right.  This part of the combine has to be difficult, because players may even be scrutinized about a small injury from high school.  Back at the 2007 NFL Combine, former Louisville and current Raiders running back Michael Bush – severely broken leg his Senior season — had to put on a happy face even though he was subjected to answering question after question about the condition of his surgically repaired leg.

The Cybex Machine Test – This machine will work the heck out of a player’s knee, as they are strapped to basically a spring-loaded madman creation. The Cybex machine tests a player’s knee movement and flexibility. While this test seems like any other medical test, it can be the difference in being a Day 1 or 2 pick.

Drug Test – Everybody wants to make sure players are clean coming into the NFL.  So like any other new job a drug test is administered looking for illegal drugs including marijuana (allegedly Warren Sapp tested positive for weed at the 1995 combine), cocaine, and performance-enhancing drugs (Luis Castillo of the Chargers test positive for ‘roids at the 2005 combine, but still went in the first round).

2010 NFL Combine Group Schedules

Wednesday February 24 to Saturday February 27

Group 1 (Kickers, Punters, Long Snappers and O-line), Group 2 (O-line), and Group 3 (Tight Ends)

  • Wednesday February 24, 2010 — Travel to Indianapolis* ~ Registration ~ Hospital Pre-Exam & X-rays ~ Orientation ~ Interviews
  • Thursday February 25, 2010 — Measurements ~ Medical Examinations ~ Media ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Friday February 26, 2010 — NFLPA Meeting ~ Psychological Testing ~ *PK/ST Workout* ~ Interviews
  • Saturday February 27, 2010 — Workout (timing, stations, skill drills) ~ Departure from Indianapolis 

Thursday Feb 25 to Sunday February 28

Group 4 (Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers), Group 5 (Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers), and Group 6 (Running Backs)

  • Thursday February 25, 2010 — Travel to Indianapolis* ~ Registration ~ Hospital Pre-Exam & X-rays ~ Orientation ~ Interviews
  • Friday February 26, 2010 — Measurements ~ Medical Examinations ~ Media ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Saturday February 27, 2010 — NFLPA Meeting ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Sunday February 28, 2010 — Workout (timing, stations, skill drills) ~ Departure from Indianapolis

Friday February 26 to Monday March 1

Group 7 (Defensive Linemen), Group 8 (Defensive Linemen), and Group 9 (Linebackers)

  • Friday February 26, 2010 — Travel to Indianapolis* ~ Registration ~ Hospital Pre-Exam & X-rays ~ Orientation ~ Interviews
  • Saturday February 27, 2010 — Measurements ~ Medical Examinations ~ Media ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Sunday February 28, 2010 — NFLPA Meeting ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Monday March 1, 2010 — Workout (timing, stations, skill drills) ~ Departure from Indianapolis

Saturday February 27 to Tuesday March 2

Group 10 and Group 11 (Defensive Backs)

  • Saturday February 27, 2010 — Travel to Indianapolis* ~ Registration ~ Hospital Pre-Exam & X-rays ~ Orientation ~ Interviews
  • Sunday February 28, 2010 — Measurements ~ Medical Examinations ~ Media ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Monday March 1, 2010 — NFLPA Meeting ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Tuesday March 2, 2010 — Workout (timing, stations, skill drills) ~ Departure from Indianapolis

Top NFL Combine Event Records

Fastest NFL Combine 40-Yard Times  

4.19 – Deion Sanders (DB), Florida State – 1989 (Hand Timed)

4.24 – Chris Johnson (RB), East Carolina – 2008

4.24 – Rondel Melendez (WR), Eastern Kentucky – 1999

4.28 – Jerome Mathis, (WR), Hampton – 2005 (electronic)

4.29 – Fabian Washington, (CB), Nebraska – 2005

4.30 – Darrent Williams, (CB), Oklahoma State – 2005

4.30 – Yamon Figurs, (WR), Kansas State – 2007

4.30 – Darius Heyward-Bey (WR), Maryland – 2009

Most 225-Pound Bench Press Reps 

45 – Leif Larsen, (DT), Texas-El Paso – 2000

45 – Mike Kudla, (DE), Ohio State – 2006

44 – Brodrick Bunkley, (DT), Florida State – 2006

43 – Scott Young, (OG), BYU – 2005

42 – Isaac Sopoaga, (DT), Hawaii – 2004

Best Vertical Jump

46 – Gerald Sensabaugh, (FS), North Carolina – 2005

45 1/2 – Derek Wake, (OLB), Penn State – 2005

45 – Chris McKenzie, (CB), Arizona State – 2005

45 – Chris Chambers, (WR), Wisconsin – 2001

43 1/2 – Dustin Fox, (FS), Ohio State – 2005

43 1/2 – Kevin Kasper, (WR), Iowa – 2001

Fastest 10-Yard Times

1.43 – Aundrae Allison, (WR), East Carolina – 2007

1.43 – Eric Weddle, (SS), Utah – 2007

1.43 – Marcus McCauley, (CB), Fresno State – 2007

1.45 – Leon Hall, (CB), Michigan – 2007

1.46 – Colin Branch, (FS), Stanford – 2003

Fastest 20-Yard Shuttle Times  

3.73 – Kevin Kasper, (WR), Iowa – 2001

3.76 – Deion Branch, (WR), Louisville – 2002

3.78 – Dunta Robinson, (CB), South Carolina – 2004

3.82 – Dante’ Hall, (RB), Texas A&M – 2000

3.83 – Kevin Bentley, (OLB), Northwestern – 2002

Fastest Three Cone Drill Times

6.45 – Sedrick Curry, (CB), Texas A&M – 2000

6.48 – Rogers Beckett, (FS), Marshall – 2000

6.49 – Carlos Rogers, (CB), Auburn – 2005

6.50 – Leon Hall, (CB), Michigan – 2007

6.51 – Jon McGraw, (SS), Kansas State – 2002

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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