Want to do better at your next football combine? Learn EXACTLY what you need to work on.
“No matter what football skill you want to learn, the pattern is always the same: See the whole thing. Break it down to its simplest elements. Put it back together. Repeat.” Coach Jackson
“4.99?” Deshaun asked incredulously.
“4.99.” The overweight man with the hat said looking at the electronic time.
Deshaun a senior high school defensive back from Oklahoma could not believe the 4.99 40 yard dash time.
Tulsa University had come to a couple of games his senior year to recruit one of his friends on the team. The assistant coach had pulled him aside after the game and said very good things about how Deshaun had played.
The coach had said that he wanted to see a recent 40 yard dash time. If the time was “good enough” they could talk more about Deshaun lining up for the Golden Hurricane.
At the high school combine in Oklahoma City Deshaun was expecting to run a sub 4.6 40 yard dash.
Instead of that sub 4.6, he had ran a 4.99.
He was crushed.
If you are a football player who has been trying to have a big test day at a football combine chances are you have run into these issues.
* You did not know what coaches and scouts were exactly looking for at your specific position.
* You did not have the resources to specifically train for the combine tests.
* You did not have the time to specifically prepare for the combine tests.
* You did not know how to mentally and physically prepare so you can be at peak performance on combine day.
In this article we are going to look at what coaches and scouts are looking for at your specific position. This is crucial knowledge you can apply to your preparation because you know exactly what physical skills to prioritize, train, and improve.
Whenever you’re training your body for something, you’re always detraining it for something else. Because of this you need to prepare in a way that will help you get the exact combine test result that you want.
Key Performance Indicator’s are the foundation of football scouting. The words used for various KPI’s form a common language that helps everyone — from NFL general managers to coaches to ESPN — to describe a football player’s physical skill stack as they see it.
All combine general athleticism and positional drills are intended to display one or more athletic qualities. These physical skills are all displayed on the football field but the importance of each skill varies by position.
Wide receivers and defensive backs need to be able to stretch the field with top-end speed. Because of this scouts place a premium on top-end speed.
Running backs need more short burst and acceleration. Lineman need bend and upper and lower body explosiveness.
Playing football at an elite level requires that players display strong numbers in all of the combine tests but it is important for all coaches and athletes to know what coaches and scouts are prioritizing and what physical skills will have the biggest impact on game day.
In this article we are going to breakdown all of the different physical skills that make up a football combine. At the Playmaker Project we are HUGE believers in skill stacking. A skill stack is a set of complementary skills that make you unique and marketable to a particular team.
1) CAN HE BEND
In the football world, low man wins describes the role leverage plays in one-on-one physical combat. This concept generally refers to a player’s pad level relative to the ground, but proper body angles do not want to be sacrificed to get to that low pad level.
Bend is a word referring to a player who has the ankle, knee, and hip range of motion required to drop pad level and cut to change directions. The player must also be able to extend and force out from a bent position.
When evaluating lineman, scouts refer to knee benders and waist benders to describe where a player’s bend comes from. Knee benders are the players who exhibit proper bend, although this bend primarily from ankle range of motion. A waist bender athlete often has restricted ankle dorsiflexion and cannot achieve the shin angle he needs to drop his hips.
The player then commonly tries to drop his pad level by hinging at the hips, causing him to produce force from suboptimal joint angles.
Range of motion restrictions at the ankle and hip can also potentially present a long-term knee injury risk.
Although assessments like the Functional Movement Score can help determine a player’s “Bend Score” this KPI is a little bit more nuanced because how a player moves when playing ball might or might not reflect that score. Habits are Habits.
Scouts assess bend when they watch positional drills and the pro agility (5-10-5) drill. They are looking specifically to see where the athlete’s bend comes from and whether they are joint range of motion restrictions that could have a negative impact on performance at the next level.
2) UPPER-BODY STRENGTH
This physical skill is most important for the front seven on defense, tight ends and offensive and defensive lineman. Players must be able to initiate and resist physical challenges by producing immense upper body force.
3) LOWER-BODY STRENGTH
Although there are no direct lower body strength assessments at most combines and pro days, several drills and tests provide indirect measurements.
The vertical jump and standing broad jump showcase an athlete’s power vertically and horizontally. The broad jump is NFL strength and conditioning coaches favorite measurement of an athlete’s athleticism.
The reason for this is that you cannot hack the broad jump and a high broad jump number correlates well with a high vertical jump, a fast ten yard sprint and Game Day speed.
4) CHANGE OF DIRECTION
For most positions, each play during a game requires movement in all three planes of motion.
The three planes of motion are the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes.
- Sagittal Plane: Cuts the body into left and right halves. Forward and backward movements.
- Frontal Plane: Cuts the body into front and back halves. Side-to-side movements.
- Transverse Plane: Cuts the body into top and bottom halves.
Note: At Fast Twitch U. we are big believers in physical training that involves all three planes of motion. This prepares players for their sport and reduces chance of injury.
Players must be able to accelerate and decelerate in the frontal planes, and they often use transverse plane movements in transition back into acceleration.
Coaches and scouts often pay close attention not only to the times players get on change of direction tests but also to the movement strategies athletes use in the drills.
Change of direction is closely associated with bend and acceleration. Athletes must have the strength and joint ranges to create optimized joint angles during all kind of forward, backward, and lateral movements.
It is mission critical that players have the ability to accelerate from each change of direction at an elite speed.
5) LOWER-BODY EXPLOSIVENESS
Lower-Body Explosiveness is a KPI for all positions. Lineman and tight ends need more strength, and skill position players need more speed but lower-body explosiveness in an indicator of both.
The vertical jump, broad jump and 20-yard split in the 40 yard dash are all effective lower-body explosiveness metrics.
6) TOP-END SPEED
Coaches and scouts want to see how well all players accelerate. For wide receivers and defensive backs, the ability to transition quickly into top-end speed is vital to on field success.
During the combine the best ways to measure top-end speed during the second half of the 40 yard dash.
Although 40 yard dash times are a big time metric for all position groups, several position groups (especially linebackers and defensive lineman are judged more for their 10 and 20 yard splits in the 40 yard dash.
During a game these players rarely need to cover a long distance, so coaches and scouts are more concerned with their ability to pick up speed quickly over a shorter distance.
7) CURVILINEAR SPEED
Change of direction requires deceleration and reacceleration in multiple planes of motion. This is compared to acceleration and top-end speed which refer to straight ahead sprinting. Curvilinear speed, however is the ability to turn a corner while maintaining or gaining speed.
Curvilinear speed is important for tight ends and wide receivers, because several passing routes require a tight turn while sprinting instead of decelerating, cutting and reaccelerating.
Edge rushers also must display curvilinear speed because beating an offensive tackle on a speed rush (especially from an outside alignment) requires the rusher to quickly turn a corner and close in on the quarterback. The hoop drill is a classic drill used to improve curvilinear speed at all levels.
Several positional drills display curvilinear running, but the L-drill is the most common combine assessment for this drill.
8) ACCELERATION BURST
The ability to display a burst in acceleration correlates strongly with lower-body explosiveness. This is best demonstrated in the vertical jump and the broad jump. However there are more variables involved in an acceleration burst.
The athlete must be able to apply great amounts of force over short period of time using optimized joint angles.
To accelerate at an elite level the player must exhibit the 4 Ps: posture, position, placement, and patterning. Some players can jump out of the gym but still lack the skill to properly burst out of a stance or a change of direction.
To display this KPI at an elite level the player must combine lower-body explosiveness with proficient technique.
9) SMALL-SPACE ATHLETICISM
Small space athleticism describes a player’s ability to move within a 5 to 10 yard box. This is mission critical for most positions. For lineman, football coaches like to describe short-area quickness as the ability to operate in a phone booth with excellent footwork.
Quarterback’s also need to display small-space athleticism to sense pressure, climb the pocket and/or avoid a sack.
While most field-base combine drills involve small-space athleticism, it is best displayed in drills like the pro agility (5-10-5) and L-drill.
10) KPI’s BY POSITION
Each key performance indicator is valuable to players, but the point of making them keys is to prioritize what’s most important to that specific player. This is determined by understanding the needs of their specific position and by understanding their current limiting factor.
The goal of this article was to provide you with an insider perspective of what coaches and scouts are looking for at your specific position. This is crucial knowledge you can apply to your preparation because you know exactly what physical skills to prioritize, train, and improve.
Coaches and scouts often cross a player’s name off the list if he does not meet or exceed the physical skill benchmarks at his position. These evaluators have a firm grasp of what numbers each athlete should achieve to be successful at the next level.
It is important that all combine tests are just skills that can be improved through systematic training. If you are an athlete who wants to systematically improve your combine skills then you probably want to look into joining us at Fast Twitch U.
The Best online combine prep program in the World.
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With Love and Respect,
Mentee to Legendary Speed Coach Remi Korchemny
N.A.S.E Certified Speed and Explosion Specialist.
M. Ed (Human Potential)
M. I.L (International Leadership and Coaching)