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NFL Combine Drills 101: What Each Drill Measures

NFL Combine Drills 101: What Each Drill Measures

The NFL Combine consists of several timed/scored physical drills that are designed to measure the various physical attributes of NFL prospects.  Each drill measures different player abilities with sometimes enough overlap to confirm or call into question high or low scores in other drills.  The combine attempts to measure speed, short area quickness (burst), lateral agility, upper body strength, lower body strength, explosiveness and other physical attributes through standardized physical drills.  The drills are completed by players wearing track and field outfits as opposed to football pads and equipment, which has lead some scouts to nickname the combine “The Underwear Olympics.”  When comparing scores and times amongst players of the same position, it is important to consider the context of how large the players are.  When comparing players in general, remember that there are different standards for good scores for different positions.

The Forty Yard Dash as it’s name implies, involves a player running 40 yards as fast as possible.  The clock starts on first movement, so players do not need to react to a gun.  The forty yard dash simply measures sprinting speed over a Forty Yard distance and warrants little other explanation.  Often the first 10 yards of the forty time are considered the most important – depending on position – as it helps to illustrate how quickly a player can accelerate to his full speed which can be more important than how fast he runs the next thirty yards.  This is referred to as a “10 yard split.”  A 20-yard split may also be used to measure how well a player can sustain his initial burst.  The 40 yard dash should also be taken in the context of the size of a given player.  A 6’4″ 220 lb player who runs a 4.40 is more impressive than a 5’9 170 lb player with the same forty time.

The Bench Press measures pure upper body strength and endurance.  The NFL Combine version of the test involves the players bench pressing a 225lb barbell for as many reps as they can, until failure.  The Bench Press score is listed as number of reps, which refers simply to the number of times the player was able to lift the 225lb weight.  Like 40 time, the context of player size and position should also be taken into consideration when comparing Bench Press numbers.   A 25 rep bench press score by a 350 lb lineman with is much less impressive than a 25 rep bench press score by a 225  lb wide receiver.

The Vertical Leap measures explosiveness and lower body strength.  The drill is conducted simply by having the player leap from a stationary position and attempt to touch plastic flags at the top of a pole.  Each player is given two opportunities to jump, with the highest point achieved counted as the measurement.  Vertical leap translates nicely into a measure of how quickly an athlete can explode off the line of scrimmage from a motionless position.  Vertical leap can also be used to confirm a fast 40 yard dash time or 10 yard split, as it involves many of the same muscle groups as sprinting.  Like other drills, high vertical leap scores by heavier players are, relatively speaking, more impressive than their lighter counterparts.

The Broad Jump is another drill that measures an athletes lower body strength and explosiveness, but is also a good measure of balance.  The drill is conducted with players standing behind a line with their feet and shoulders square to that line and in a stationary position.  The player is allowed to swing their arms (while maintaining balance) and jumps forward with both feet to land as far as possible from the starting line.  The athlete must show balance on the landing of the broad jump, as scores in which the athlete does not “stick the landing” are not counted.

The Three-Cone Drill measures many things including lateral quickness and change of direction ability, flexibility and body control and a bit of agility and speed.  The drill involves 3 cones placed in a right-triangle formation with the cones placed 5 yards apart, forming the legs of the triangle.  The athlete is asked to start from a 3-point stance and must react to a command to begin the drill.  The player runs from the start to the first cone where he must touch the line, and then returns to the start where he must touch the line again.  After the second line touch at the start, the athlete must run around the outside of the first cone, weave back inside and run around the second cone and then backtrack his steps to the finish line.  The player is given two attempts at the 3-cone drill, one starting from each direction.  This drill is a good measurement of skill-position change of direction explosiveness, but also a good measure of hip flexibility in pass rushers to show that they can bend sufficiently to get around the edge.

The 20-Yard Shuttle Drill is also known as the “5-10-5 drill,” the “pro agility shuttle” or the “short shuttle” drill.  This drill measures short-area quickness, agility, flexibility and the speed at which a prospect can change  direction.  In addition to flexibility and athleticism, this drill gives scouts an idea of how well a prospect can sink their hips, keep a low center of gravity, and move laterally.  This drill consists of three cones being placed 5 yards apart, with the player starting at the middle cone.  The athlete begins the drill in response to a verbal “Go” queue, and chooses a direction to turn and run 5 yards to the cone.  The player must touch the line, and then turns and runs to the other cone that is now 10 yards away.  The player touches the line at the opposite cone, turns and runs the remaining 5 yards back to the original starting position.  The time recorded is the total time taken to run between the cones in this manner.   Athletes are given three opportunities to complete the drill, with the best time being recorded as their score.

The 60-Yard Shuttle Drill is also known as the “long shuttle” and is named for the total number of yards covered during the drill.  The long shuttle measures speed, short area quickness, and the ability to change direction while sprinting at full speed.  The drill consists of a starting line with three cones being placed 5, 10 and 15 yards from the starting line.  The athlete must touch the line at each turn, and runs from the start to the 5 yard cone and back to the start (10 yards), to the 10 yard cone and back to the start (20 yards), and to the 15 yard cone and back to the start (30 yards).  The sixty-yard shuttle is typically run by cover linebackers and defensive backs and offensive skill positions including tight end, but quarterbacks and offensive/defensive linemen typically do not participate in this drill.

Body measurements (Height, Weight, Hand Size, Arm Length) simply measure the size of an athlete’s body.  These measurements are often important to give context on how athletic a player really is, as well as show whether or not a player is of sufficient size for his position.  Height is usually considered most frequently when evaluating QBs, WRs, and CBs with Weight being more important when looking at Defensive Tackles.  Arm Length is used primarily when evaluating Offensive and Defensive lineman, and Hand Size is often cited as an important metric for Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers.

The Cognitive Tests feature a Wonderlic test and a 60-minute aptitude test.  The Wonderlic is a basic cognitive ability test consisting of 50 multiple-choice questions that must be answered within 12 minutes, with the score being the number of questions answered correctly within that period of time.  According to Wonderlic, Inc. a score of 20 indicates average intelligence and a score of 10 indicates at least a basic level of literacy.  The Wonderlic test is controversial in terms of it’s usefulness in determining actual intelligence, especially in the context of NFL football.  Wonderlic scores are not officially reported by the NFL, but usually leak out to media during draft coverage.  Little is known about the new cognitive aptitude test that the NFL introduced in 2013.  It is known to be 60 minutes long and “impossible to study for,” and held in a fairly high level of confidentiality.  It is speculated that the aptitude test is a hybrid of a personality test and an intelligence test, possibly helping teams evaluate whether a player is a fit for their coaching styles.  Scores for the aptitude test have been rumored to be shared with only a few executives per team to maximize the security of that information.

What separates players by combine scores is not only the score itself, but typically what position they play.  The size of the player, as mentioned above, is also a good indicator of how athletic a player is, as it’s more difficult to be fast when you are also big and tall.  Context is always important when evaluating players based on combine data, but the combine does put players on an even playing field by standardizing the drills and measurements taken.



NFL Combine To Supplement Wonderlic With New Apitude Test

NFL Combine To Supplement Wonderlic With New Apitude Test

The 2013 NFL Combine will feature a new and improved non-physical aptitude test.  Prior to 2013, the NFL issued a controversial Wonderlic exam to players to asses non-physical aptitude.  In an effort to improve on the controversial practice – the results of which were declared confidential in 2008 – the NFL Combine will supplement the Wonderlic with additional testing.’s Albert Breer acquired the following memo describing the changes to the Wonderlic:

At this year’s combine we will introduce a new and expanded player assessment tool designed to offer a much more robust and comprehensive assessment of a player’s non-physical capabilities, aptitudes, and strengths. This tool was developed by Harold Goldstein, Professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Baruch College, City University of NY. Professor Goldstein is an expert in industrial psychology who has designed employment tests in a variety of other industries and has worked closely with Cyrus Mehri of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.

The assessment tool being introduced at the Combine is not intended to displace anything currently in use or substitute for other tests that are given either at the Combine or by the clubs themselves. Rather, this new test measures a wide range of competencies, including learning styles, motivation, decision-making skills, responding to pressure or unexpected stimuli, and core intellect. It was developed after detailed discussions with current and former league executives, including Ernie Accorsi, Thomas Dimitroff, John Elway, and Jerry Reese, and was reviewed by members of the general managers Advisory Committee.

This is an exciting innovation that brings updated best practices from corporate America to the NFL football operations. By giving clubs new and more relevant information, it offers additional information to supplement your decision-making in the draft. One of the most interesting aspects is that new information on player learning styles can potentially help our coaches’ work more effectively with young players.

We look forward to reviewing and receiving your feedback later this year and incorporating it into future versions of this assessment tool.


In working with Psychologists, the NFL is clearly making an effort to improve the amount of information that teams have access to regarding potential draft selections.  The Wonderlic was often criticized as a sole means of judging the cognitive ability of a player, so there was certainly room for improvement in this area.  The new aptitude test is reported to differ from the Wonderlic in that it is meant to judge specific cognitive strengths and weaknesses, rather than overall cognitive ability.

The NFL has also announced that this new aptitude test will be administered in a classroom, much like the Wonderlic.  Also like the Wonderlic, the results will be confidential.  To further protect confidentiality, Steve Wyche of has reported that the results will only be shared with “one or two” team executives.  Wyche also reports that the test will be 60 minutes long, and that there will be “no way” players will be able to study or prepare for the test.  The NFL will work with psychologists to grade the tests, and the results may help to provide teams with a better idea of whether a player will fit into their organizations culture and with a particular coaching style.

From an NFL Combine Results perspective, we will have to wait and see what sort of information is released.  From what we can gather, it sounds like the new aptitude test is somewhat of a hybrid between a personality test and an intelligence test that gauges different types of intelligence.  If the test is effective, that information will likely be very valuable to NFL teams and possibly researchers as well.


No Such Thing As An Official 40 Yard Dash Time

No Such Thing As An Official 40 Yard Dash Time
40 Yard Line

When evaluating and comparing player speed based on 40 yard dash times, it is important to keep in mind that the 40 yard dash time recorded at scouting combine and pro day events is not truly “official” as in completely correct.  Timing methods vary, but most involve at least one manual process performed by a human and thus prone to error.  In addition to being slightly inaccurate because of human involvement, there is not an established standard on how 40 yard dash times at the NFL Combine are reported.

A popular belief held by many casual NFL fans is that players at the NFL Combine run the forty yard dash once, it is timed electronically, and since it was timed electronically then that 40 time can be regarded as official.  All of these are misconceptions.  The facts below describe in detail how the process of recording a 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine really works:

  1. Each participant is given 2 attempts at the 40 yard dash and is timed with 3 different stopwatches on each run, however only one of those stopwatches is “electronic.”
  2.  The electronic timing is not fully electronic.  The stopwatch is started by a human, and it is important to understand that it is started by human hands on the first movement of the 40 yard dash participant.  That means that there is always room for human error, though less than if it were fully hand-timed.
  3. Since each player runs the 40 twice, there would be no single “official” time even if only the electronic times are used.

You may notice that different sources of NFL Scouting Combine data report slightly different 40 yard dash times.  For example, the website combine data reports different 40 times than NFL Combine Results, which are both different from other sources providing 40 yard dash times.   This discrepancy is because of the differences in how 40 yard dash times are reported.

The fact that each participant has 6 “officially” recorded 40 times (4 manual, 2 electronic) explains why reports of 40 times vary depending on which scouts you ask.  Some scouts may use an average of all 6 times and report that.  Other scouts may use an average of only the 2 electronic times, throw out the fastest and slowest time and average the remaining 4, or use a more complex method of coming to a single number.  The point is that most scouts use different methods of arriving at a single 40 time, and that is responsible for the discrepancy amongst “official” 40 yard dash times.

As a result of all of these factors, it is very difficult to establish a consensus “official” 40 yard dash time for a particular player or for the sake of NFL Combine all-time records.  NFL Combine Results believes that the most important thing for the sake of accurate comparison is to consistently use the same method of determining a single 40 time, and it is also our opinion that the best method of reaching a single 40 yard dash time is to take the average of the two electronic times as they are the most likely to be the most accurate.


Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test

Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test

The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test™ is used at the NFL Combine as a basic measure of a players ability to learn and solve problems.   The test is composed of basic math, logic, vocabulary and English problems.  The Wonderlic is comprised of 50 questions that must be completed within 12 minutes.  Sample questions from Wonderlic exams can be found here, here, here, and here.  Scores range from 50 (perfect score) to 0 (no questions answered correctly).  A score of 20 represents average intelligence, or an IQ of around 100.  Punter and Harvard Graduate Pat McInally is rumored to have scored a 50.

A list of the top Wonderlic scores can be found here.


Sample Wonderlic Exam From NFL Combine

Sample Wonderlic Exam From NFL Combine

You have 5 minutes to complete the 20 question Sample.


1.) Lemonade sells for 17 cents per cup.  What will 6 cups cost?


2.) What comes next in the following sequence:

29     28     26     23     19     ?


3.) RESENT, RECENT – Do these words:

a)      have similar meanings

b)      have contradictory meanings

c)      mean neither the same nor opposite


4.) The seventh month of the year is:

a)      July

b)      August

c)      October

d)     September

e)      May


5.) Which of the figures in the following drawing is most different from the others?


6.)  A car travels 60 yards in ¼ of a second.  At this speed, how many yards will the car travel in 5 seconds?


7.) “The boy plays basketball.  All basketball players wear shoes.  The boy wears shoes.”  Assume the first two statements are true.  The final statement is:

a)      True

b)      False

c)      Not Certain


8.)  A girl is 14 years old and her brother is twice as old.  When the girl is 21 years old, how old will her brother be?


9.) Which letter is missing from the group below?


10.)   How many of the five pairs of items listed below are exact duplicates?


11.)  The hours of daylight and darkness in October are nearest equal to the hours of daylight and darkness in:

a)      June

b)      March

c)      May

d)     February

e)      April


12.)  “Chris said hello to Steve.  Steve said hello to Laura.  Chris did not say hello to Laura.”  Assume the first two statements are true.  The final statement is:

a)      True

b)      False

c)      Not Certain


13.)  Three investors form a partnership and agree to divide profits equally.  Investor X invests $6,000, Investor Y invests $3,500, Investor Z invests $2,500.  If the profits are $4,500, how much less does Investor X receive than if the profits were divided in proportion to the amount invested?


14.)  If thread sells for $.10 per foot, how many feet of thread can you buy with $1.30?


15.)  Which of the following numbers represents the smallest amount?

a)      14

b)      7

c)      .33

d)     31

e)      9


16.)  In printing an article of 48,000 words, a printer decides to use two sizes of type. Using the larger type, a printed page contains 1,800 words. Using smaller type, a page contains 2,400 words. The article is allotted 21 full pages in a magazine. How many pages must be in smaller type?


17.) PRINCIPAL, PRINCIPLE – Do these words:

a)      have similar meanings

b)      have contradictory meanings

c)      mean neither the same nor opposite


18.) In a typical city in the Southern Hemisphere, which of the following months sees the most snowfall?

a)      January

b)      February

c)      November

d)     July

e)      December


19.)  What number comes next in the following sequence?

256      64        16        4          1          ¼         ?


20.)  Which of the following numbers is least like the others?



 * Wonderlic is a trademark of Wonderlic, INC.  All sample questions are unofficial.






Answer Key:

  1. $1.02
  2. 14
  3. C
  4. A
  5. D
  6. 1200 yards
  7. A
  8. 35 years old
  9. F
  10. 1
  11. February
  12. C
  13. $750 less
  14. 13 feet
  15. C
  16. 17 pages
  17. C
  18. D
  19. 1/16
  20. 18 (it is even)