2011 NFL Scouting Combine Preview
By: Ian Kenyon
February 23, 2011
NFL Scouting Combine
Every year approximately 300 of college football's top prospects make their way to Indianapolis, Ind. to compete at the NFL scouting combine. It serves as a week-long job interview and gives scouts the opportunity to size up each player while allowing prospects the ability to disprove or confirm questions surrounding him. This year's combine begins on Wednesday, February 23 and ends on Tuesday, March 1. There are 330 players scheduled to attend this year's combine. To understand all of the numbers that will be spit out over the next week, everyone first needs to understand what each drill is and what they measure. Each year, fans seem to focus on the 40 yard dash; however, there is much more to the NFL combine than a 40 yard sprint. There is a weigh-in, six athletic drills, an intelligence test, individual interviews, and position drills.

NFL's Meat Market
The first thing that players go through will be the weigh-in, commonly referred to as the NFL's meat market as each player is half-naked and carefully dissected in a room with hundreds of NFL coaches and scouts. There are five areas that all players are measured: height, weight, arm length, hand size and wingspan. Height and weight are rather self-explanatory. Scouts mostly want to confirm the players' size compared to listed heights and weights throughout the year. Scouts also want to see how each player has kept himself in shape since the season ended, and if a player has added muscle or fat to his frame. Players are almost fully exposed, wearing only compression shorts so that scouts can see how each player carries his weight. Everyone carries weight differently and 300 pounds may look very bad on one player while another looks strong and muscular at 315 pounds. The next measurement that is looked at is arm length. Arm length is very important for offensive and defensive linemen. Players with short arms may have difficulty getting off or sustaining blocks. Long arms allow a player to extend further, giving him an advantage while blocking or disengaging. Anything over 34" is considered as long arms and anything under 33" is in the "shorter than ideal" range. On the down side, the longer the arm the more difficult it can be to excel in the bench press. Fortunately, these guys are football players and not weight lifters. Scouts also measure hand size, which is done by measuring the length of an outstretched hand from the end of the thumb to the end of the pinky finger. This is very important for quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. A larger hand makes it easier to both catch and control the football. A small hand makes it more difficult to secure the ball and players are heavily scrutinized if their hand size is not up to NFL standards. Last year, USC left tackle Charles Brown had the largest hands at 11⅜ inches while Kansas State wide receiver Brandon Banks had the smallest hands at 8¼ inches. The last measurement taken is wingspan, which is the length from the tip of the middle finger on the left hand to the tip of the middle finger on the right hand, with two outstretched arms. This is important for wide receivers and cornerbacks who need to go up and get the football at its highest point. A long wingspan makes it easier to make those plays.

After the weigh-in is completed, the players go through six physical workouts:

40-Yard Dash
40-yard dash -- "The 40-yard dash is the marquee event at the combine. It's kind of like the 100-meters at the Olympics: It's all about speed, explosion and watching skilled athletes run great times. These athletes are timed at 10, 20 and 40-yard intervals. What the scouts are looking for is an explosion from a static start."[1] The 40-yard dash is most important for running backs, wide receivers, cornerbacks, and safeties. Last year, Clemson wide receiver Jacoby Ford had the fastest 40 yard dash at the combine with a time of 4.28 seconds while Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody had the slowest time at 5.72 seconds. The 10-yard split measures explosion off the block and gives scouts an idea of how fast a guy is in short areas. This time is very important to offensive and defensive linemen since both don't usually run more than ten yards on a given play. Imagine a defensive lineman in a three point stance exploding into the backfield and it is very similar to a sprinter coming off the block for his first ten yards. Last year, Jacoby Ford also had the fastest ten yard split at the combine with a time of 1.45 seconds and Terrence Cody had the slowest time at 1.96 seconds. The 20-yard split is measured to see if a player continues to build speed after his first ten yards and gives an idea of a player's long speed. This drill is important for running backs and linebackers who need to continue to build speed after they accelerate.

Bench Press
Bench press -- "The bench press is a test of strength -- 225 pounds, as many reps as the athlete can get. What the NFL scouts are also looking for is endurance. Anybody can do a max one time, but what the bench press tells the pro scouts is how often the athlete frequented his college weight room for the last 3-5 years."[2] The bench press is most important for offensive and defensive linemen as it measures their brute strength. Last year, Arkansas offensive lineman Mitch Petrus had the most reps of 225 lbs. with 45 while Kansas State cornerback Joshua Moore had the fewest with only two reps.

Vertical Jump
Vertical jump -- "The vertical jump is all about lower-body explosion and power. The athlete stands flat-footed and they measure his reach. It is important to accurately measure the reach, because the differential between the reach and the flag the athlete touches is his vertical jump measurement."[3] The vertical jump is most important for wide receivers and cornerbacks. Scouts want to see if a receiver or cornerback will be able to go up and get the ball at its highest point. Last year, Fresno State cornerback A.J. Jefferson had the highest vertical at 44".

Broad jump -- "The broad jump is like being in gym class back in junior high school. Basically, it is testing 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 tests explosion and balance, because he has to land without moving."[4] This test is very important for running backs, linebackers, and both offensive and defensive linemen. The lower body explosion that is displayed in the broad jump is similar to when a player engages at the line of scrimmage. Last year, Virginia cornerback Chris Cook had the longest broad jump with a distance of 11 feet.

Three-Cone Drill
Three-cone drill -- "The 3-cone drill tests an athlete's ability to change directions at a high speed. Three cones in an L-shape. He starts from the starting line, goes 5 yards to the first cone and back. Then, he turns, runs around the second cone, runs a weave around the third cone, which is the high point of the L, changes directions, comes back around that second cone and finishes."[5] This is perhaps one of the most underrated drills of the entire event as it somewhat mimics actual in-game scenarios. Players in the NFL typically aren't running 40 yards in a straight line; instead, they are taking indirect routes toward the football or toward the end zone. The three cone drill is most important for receivers and cornerbacks to understand how well a player does getting in and out of his cuts. Last year, Louisville wide receiver Scott Long had the quickest three-cone drill time with a time of 6.45 seconds.

Shuttle Run
Shuttle run -- "The short shuttle is the first of the cone drills. It is known as the 5-10-5. What it tests is the athlete's lateral quickness and explosion in short areas. The athlete starts in the three-point stance, explodes out 5 yards to his right, touches the line, goes back 10 yards to his left, left hand touches the line, pivot, and he turns 5 more yards and finishes."[6] This is known as the 20-yard shuttle and it is most important for running backs, wide receivers, linebackers and cornerbacks. One of the most important traits for skill position players to have is the ability to shake a defender in the open field and this drill helps give scouts an idea of how quick a player's feet are. Last year, A.J. Jefferson also had the quickest 20-yard shuttle, running it in 4.00 seconds. There is also a 60-yard shuttle, which is set up the same as the 20-yard shuttle, except at different intervals. Rather than 5-10-5, it is set up as 10-20-10. Scouts pay especially close to these numbers because it is perhaps the most grueling drill of the entire week. It is a great indicator of conditioning and overall health.

Wonderlic -- The Wonderlic test is a general aptitude test that is meant to measure intelligence. It is a 12 minute test consisting of 50 questions. Getting ten questions correct is considered "literate." This exam is most important to quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Both positions require a player to be intelligent, and, not coincidentally these positions average the highest scores. According to Paul Zimmerman's The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football, offensive tackles average a score of 26, the highest of all positions, and centers are second with an average score of 25. Quarterbacks come in third, averaging a score of 24. Sideline Scouting's webmaster, Craig Vanderkam, took the Wonderlic test last year and had a respectable score of 34. When asked about the test, he explained, "The questions range in difficulty, and time does come into play. That's really the worst part, you just have to record your answers and move on. There's no time to second guess yourself or spend too much time on one question or it'll hurt your overall score." The validity of its usage in the NFL has been under constant scrutiny. Some studies have shown no correlation between wonderlic score and NFL success. For example, Ryan Fitzpatrick scored a 48 in 2005 and Dan Marino scored a 15 in 1983.

Myron Rolle
Perhaps even more important than the actual numbers that players put up during their athletic drills is the interview process. One of the best things about the combine for NFL teams is having all of these athletes in one spot at the same time and being able to speak with whomever they would like. Teams are allowed to submit a list of players that they would like to interview for a maximum of 15 minutes each. These teams have a general idea of their draft board at this time and have done plenty of scouting to understand each player's question marks. With only 15 minutes to cross-examine a player, the questions asked are typically harsh and asked to gauge a player's response. A great example of this from last year is former Florida State safety Myron Rolle. Rolle had spent the previous year at Oxford University studying as a Rhodes Scholar, an incredible achievement, but also missed the 2009 season at Florida State. A Tampa Bay Buccaneers employee asked Rolle during their interview how it felt to "desert his team" by going to Oxford. The answers that these players come up with during the interviews are crucial to their draft stock. At this time last year, Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen was a consensus top ten pick by most analysts. But at the combine when teams questioned him one-on-one, there was a lot of criticism of his tendency to blame problems on teammates and never take responsibility for his own mistakes. The perception that he has a poor attitude undoubtedly had an effect on his fall to the second round, where he was taken by the Carolina Panthers.

B.J. Raji
Players are also subject to three medical examinations: an injury evaluation, a drug screening and the cybex test. The injury evaluation can consist of many things, but commonly, x-rays are taken to check on previous injuries and make sure that players are recovering properly. The drug test is standard procedure and teams are mostly looking to check for cocaine or marijuana usage along with performance enhancing drugs. A few players who have failed the drug test at the combine in the past include Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin and former Detroit Lions wide receiver (#2 overall selection) Charles Rogers. Considering the drug testing is mandatory at the combine, an explanation is definitely needed when prospects test positive. The cybex test looks at the joint movement of each prospect and is a good way to double check prospects who have had serious injuries in the past.

The final workouts that players participate in are the position drills. These can range from one-on-one drills between cornerbacks and receivers to individual passing drills for quarterbacks. NFL scouts want to see how players react in actual football scenarios rather than just looking at a measuring stick. One of the more popular drills is called "the gauntlet." In this drill, a receiver runs in a straight line across the field and catches five passes from quarterbacks, with each throw alternating on opposite sides. The guantlet gives scouts the ability to see how a player plucks the ball on the run and how quickly a receiver can redirect himself to focus on the football while at full speed. Each position has their own individual drills for scouts to get a feel for how the players do in game-like scenarios.

Mike Mamula
All of these drills, workouts, tests, and interviews combined can have a profound effect on a player's draft stock. A good week can vault a player to the top of the board while a bad week can drop somebody off completely. Perhaps the best known example of a player dominating the combine and shooting up to the first round is former Boston College linebacker Mike Mamula, who was taken in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, seventh overall. Prior to the combine, he was thought to be more of a mid-round prospect. His dominant performance included a 4.58-40, 26 reps of 225 pounds, and, reportedly, a 49 on his Wonderlic test. However, Mamula had a less than stellar career in the NFL and has served as an example for the past 15 years that teams need to look further than just the numbers that players put up in Indianapolis to evaluate NFL potential.

Maurice Clarett
On the opposite side, players who endure a bad week can be hurt severely and are many times publicly scrutinized for their performance. Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett entered the 2005 NFL combine with high hopes. Clarett led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a National Championship in 2002, then was dismissed from Ohio State and missed the 2003 season. He challenged the NFL's rule that a player must be three years out of high school to enter the NFL draft and lost, forcing him to miss the 2004 season as well. Finally, in 2005, he got his chance to enter the NFL Draft and show scouts the talent that had them salivating during his freshman year at Ohio State. Unfortunately for Clarett, he ran a 4.72 and 4.84 in the 40-yard dash, the slowest of all running backs present. He declared the 40-times "humbling" and refused to participate in any other workouts in Indianapolis. Once thought of as a sure-fire first round pick, Clarett fell to the bottom of the third round before being selected by the Denver Broncos, 101st overall.

These types of fluctuations happen every year, so now we'll turn our attention to this year's crop of athletes and take a look at who may be the beneficiaries or victims of the 2011 NFL Scouting combine. There are players who will rise up draft boards or remain near the top by putting on a show during the physical tests:

Running Backs -- Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray may not run the fastest time in the 40 but is a fantastic overall athlete. He should post good numbers in every workout and continue to climb after having a solid week in Mobile last month.

Torrey Smith
Wide Receivers -- Maryland's Torrey Smith is likely to run between a 4.30 and 4.40 and has good height at 6-1. Already a late first or early second round prospect, he can really solidify himself a spot in the first round with a good 40 time. This site already has him mocked at #14 to St. Louis and that could really gain momentum after the combine... Troy's Jerrel Jernigan is one of the best slot receiver candidates in this draft and a nightmare to stop in the open field. He's going to run one of the best times in a class full of fast wide receivers. He missed the Senior Bowl due to injury but can make up ground with a good time... Abilene Christian's Edmund Gates is Todd McShay's pick to run the fastest 40-time at the combine. If he does, don't be surprised if Gates creeps up into that second to third round range... Ricardo Lockette is my pick to run the fastest at the combine. A relative unknown to casual football fans, Lockette is blazing fast. He's a small school guy from Fort Valley State but with his speed and size (listed at 6-2, 212), people will start to notice him this week... Georgia's A.J. Green has been the number one receiver on most boards all year and he should solidify that position this week. He's got great size and should run a respectable 40-time... Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin isn't the most polished receiver, but he has incredible physical tools that will be on display. He's a huge target at 6-5 and is expected to run a 40-yard dash in the 4.35-4.45 range along with being one of the best leapers in this class.

Offensive Line -- Colorado's Nate Solder is the best athlete out of the offensive line class. Nobody has established themselves as the top tackle in this draft and five different names are being tossed around by draft analysts to take the top spot. Solder's athleticism (reportedly a 4.88-40 and 32" vertical at 6-8, 314) will be on full display and could separate him from the other tackle prospects in Indianapolis.

Robert Quinn
Defensive Line -- North Carolina's Robert Quinn missed the entire 2010 season as one of several players suspended in the infamous agent scandal, but he is an absolute monster as an athlete. Had he played this year, he could have been the favorite to be taken number one overall. Expect Quinn to put up terrific triangle numbers and establish himself as a top 15 selection... Allen Bailey is the definition of physical specimen. He is an imposing figure who should post great numbers across the board. Bailey is more of an athlete than football player at this point so this is the perfect stage for him to shoot up draft boards.

Linebackers -- In the past two years, Nevada's Dontay Moch has been unofficially timed between 4.19 and 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- and he's a 230 pound outside linebacker. He's a raw talent, but Moch should run the fastest time of all the linebackers.

Patrick Peterson
Cornerbacks -- LSU's Patrick Peterson is already the number one cornerback on most draft boards, but he should really shine at the combine. He's an elite athlete with a rare blend of size, speed, and flexibility... Miami (FL)'s DeMarcus Van Dyke will likely run the fastest 40-time of all the defensive backs. He's been working out with Torrey Smith and Smith tweeted recently that he expects Van Dyke to run the fastest time at the combine, even hinting it may be in the 4.2 range... New Mexico State's Davon House is another guy who didn't play at the Senior Bowl due to injury but has elite athleticism that should allow him to stand out at the combine.

Unfortunately, not all players will perform well and there will be players who disappoint at the combine.

Ryan Mallett
Quarterbacks -- Arkansas' Ryan Mallett has seen his stock plummet since the off-season started. Once thought of as a sure-fire top ten pick, it's now felt that he could fall to the second or third round. Physically, he should be fine at the combine, but the interview portion will be crucial. There have been rumors floating around of Mallet's alleged drug use and many feel he has Ryan Leaf written all over him.

Mark Ingram
Running Backs -- Alabama's Mark Ingram had a storied collegiate career -- a Heisman winner and a national champion -- and has long thought to be the number one running back in this class. But the one thing that Ingram does not possess is elite speed. Some of the other top runners have better combinations of size and speed, so this is the one stage that could see Ingram fall a bit. Don't be surprised if Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure runs a faster time than Ingram and moves to #1 RB on some draft boards... Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis and West Virginia's Noel Devine are all known as being more quick than fast, and all three are expected to weigh in at less than 190 pounds (with Devine being the lightest at around 160 pounds). The 40-yard dash will be critical to their draft stock; it's not often teams take a chance on a 190 pound running back with 4.55 speed early in the draft. The lone exception is Dexter McCluster, who was taken in the second round in 2010 after running a 4.58-40, but his ability to play WR and return kicks had a lot to do with that selection.

Titus Young
Wide Receivers -- Boise State's Titus Young blew up during Senior Bowl week and was constantly drawing comparisons to DeSean Jackson for his quickness in the open field. Jackson, however, has much better long speed and that will be revealed after Young runs the 40-yard dash. Expect Young to run between a 4.45 and 4.55 -- which is respectable -- though it would hurt his draft stock. He was starting to sneak into the early second round discussion and could fall to the third round when it's all said and done.

Ryan Kerrigan
Defensive Line -- Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan is a player who relies more on effort than pure athletic ability. He put on a show at the Senior Bowl, where he could show off his hard working spirit, but it's going to take a lot more than effort to put up good numbers at the combine. Kerrigan is a tweener DE/OLB and needs to show the athleticism to play both to maximize his draft stock.

While we have a pretty good idea what to expect out of most prospects, there are also a few that could really impact their draft status either way, good or bad.

Cameron Newton
Quarterbacks -- Auburn's Cameron Newton is the most polarizing player in this draft. The perceptions of him range from sure-fire top five pick to third rounder at best. He's the best athlete out of all the quarterbacks and can really separate himself from Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett with a good set of interviews. The interview process is going to be huge for Newton after the pay-to-play scandal surrounding his father, and many are concerned that he will not interview well. Newton told Sports Illustrated writer Peter King on Tuesday that he sees himself as a "football player, an entertainer, and an icon." You can be certain that will raise more than a few eyebrows and he will receive plenty of questions about it in Indianapolis.

DeAndre Brown
Wide Receivers -- Southern Mississippi's DeAndre Brown is the classic boom or bust prospect. Brown has every tool that scouts look for -- he's huge (6-6, 239), fast (reportedly runs in the 4.3-4.4 range), and can jump (estimated 40" vertical), so by all accounts he should be one of the biggest gainers at the combine. Unfortunately, along with being a physical specimen, Brown has been a bit of a headache at Southern Miss. He was arrested last summer at a pool party and got into verbal disputes with coaches during games this year. Those will be some of the pressing questions he'll be asked during interviews. But perhaps even more important than any of that, Brown has a long history of injuries and his medical evaluation will be very important. He needs to prove that he's fully recovered from all of the injuries he sustained in college to have a shot at going early in the draft... North Carolina's Greg Little is another one of the players from North Carolina who was suspended for the entire year. This is his first chance in over a year to show NFL scouts what he is as a prospect. At North Carolina, he was raw as a receiver prospect, converting from running back after the 2007 season. The position drills, along with his interviews, will be very important for him.

Weslye Saunders
Tight Ends -- South Carolina's Weslye Saunders has top five talent among the tight ends in this class but has so many red flags and might go undrafted. Saunders was suspended for his senior season and was actually originally declared ineligible for the draft after he didn't file his paperwork but that was later cited as miscommunication with the league and Saunders won an appeal to be included. If he does well in interviews there may be a team willing to take a chance on his talent in the late rounds.

Defensive Line -- Had North Carolina's Marvin Austin been able to play this season he might be in the first round discussion but will most likely come off the board on the second day. Austin passed his first offseason test at the East-West Shrine Game and could continue to gain momentum with a good combine.

Von Miller
Linebackers -- Texas A&M;'s Von Miller is a dominant pass rusher who most feel can play a similar role in a defense that Elvis Dumervil has played in Denver. Athletically, he's extremely gifted and he should run very well. However, he is a bit on the lighter side, weighing in at 237 pounds last month at the Senior Bowl. It will be key for him to show that he has added some weight and maintained his athletic ability.

Prince Amukamara
Cornerbacks -- Nebraska's Prince Amukamara has been criticized in recent weeks for perhaps not being the same athlete as Patrick Peterson or Jimmy Smith and there are concerns that Amukamara's best position is at safety. Many also feel that those concerns are a direct result of a weak safety class and trying to find a player to play the position early in the draft. Either way, some scouts feel that Amukamara doesn't have the deep speed and recovery speed to play cornerback at the NFL level. If he runs well, he can assert himself as one of the top two cornerbacks in the draft. But if he struggles, he could start to fall with these concerns verified.

Kyle Rudolph
Injury Notes -- Notre Dame TE Kyle Rudolph is coming off of a torn hamstring. He will not run at the combine... Boston College LB Mark Herzlich came back from Ewing's Sarcoma last season, a rare form of bone cancer... North Carolina LB Bruce Carter is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in November and will not participate in workouts... Eastern Washington RB Taiwan Jones has a long history of injuries and underwent surgery in December to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot. He will not run in Indianapolis... Villanova OG Benjamin Ijalana missed the Senior Bowl due to a double hernia surgery but is expected to be fully recovered by the start of the combine... North Carolina safety Deunta Williams fractured his right fibula in the Music City Bowl and is not ready to work out for teams. It is unclear as to whether or not Williams will be able to work out before the NFL Draft in April.

Blaine Gabbert
Other Notes[7] -- Agent Tom Condon confirms that Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert will not throw at the combine... According to Tony Softli of ESPN 101, "nagging soft-tissue injuries" have surfaced as a concern for Gabbert... Alabama QB Greg McElroy's injured throwing hand is expected to keep him from throwing at the combine as well as the Crimson Tide pro day on March 9... Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers (knee scope) will reportedly just lift at the combine later this week... Oregon State DT Stephen Paea (knee scope) will not run at the combine later this week... Tony Softli of ESPN 101 St. Louis reports that Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett did not declare for the 2010 NFL draft due to "heavy rumors" that he was addicted to drugs... Auburn QB Cameron Newton will participate fully in the NFL combine this week.

(February 23) -- The Sideline Scouting Draft Preview is over 300 pages of information filled with scouting reports, combine results, and a full seven round mock draft. Featured are nearly 300 scouting reports and over 500 players ranked! The Sideline Scouting staff has worked tirelessly to provide you with the most accurate NFL Draft information, and the culmination of that work is the Draft Preview, which has absolutely everything you will need to prepare yourself for the 2011 NFL Draft.
2011 Draft Preview »

*A.J. Green
WR, Georgia
*Nick Fairley
DT, Auburn
Von Miller
LB, Texas A&M;
*Da'Quan Bowers
DE, Clemson
*Cameron Newton
QB, Auburn
View Mock Draft »