NFL Combine: Explaining the physical tests, interview and pain-staking wait before the NFL Draft

NFL Total Access remember a record-breaking 2015 Combine

The NFL Scouting Combine kicks off on February 27 in Indianapolis and runs through until March 5. Decision-makers from all 32 teams will be in attendance as the next wave of stars do their best to impress and earn themselves a top draft spot.

It’s a fascinating time of the year. Players who shone in college – wearing pads and helmets – are dressed up in shorts and poked, prodded, measured and tested in every which way. They perform all sorts of lab experiments looking at athleticism, strength, speed and ‘smarts’, ahead of the NFL Draft at the end of April.

It’s immediately clear to see why the Combine is referred to as the ‘Underwear Olympics’. How do players prove themselves and what do they have to do? Let’s take a closer look at the process.

The physical

Beginning on Tuesday, players head to the hospital for medical ‘pre-exams’ and X-rays to determine whether or not everything is in order physically. For the most part, we don’t hear too much from these tests – you’d expect every college player entering the NFL to be in great shape. However, once in a while there are reports about a player with an issue that could cause them to fall in the draft.

The players are split into different groups – and therefore have different schedules – based on position, and the ‘measurements’ get underway on Wednesday. Heights, weights, wing spans and even hand sizes will be heavily scrutinized as each player looks to gain an edge in the draft process.

The athletics

Prospects are tested a number of different ways.

There’s the bench press – a pure test of strength as players lift 225 pounds as many times as they can – and a pair of jumps to test explosive ability (the ‘vertical’ and ‘broad’). The three-cone drill and shuttle runs test agility and how quickly players can change directions and accelerate.

On-field drills such as the ‘gauntlet’ – a wide receiver and tight end drill where a player starts at one side of the field and runs to other while catching balls from both sides in quick succession – are set up to see how these stars match up with their peers. Quarterbacks throw, linemen block, and defenders chase the ball in various ways designed to replicate gameplay.

And of course, there’s the main event: the 40-yard dash. It’s here that money is made, particularly for skill-position players. Last year, wide receiver John Ross propelled himself from fringe first-rounder to top-ten selection by getting from A to B in the fast time. He broke the 40-yard record with a stunning 4.22 second sprint.

Whether it’s right or wrong, the 40-yard dash seems to hold a lot of weight in the eyes of certain coaches and general managers, so it is the best way for this year’s ‘workout warriors’ to make names for themselves.

Not all of the action this week happens on the field, as NFL teams have the golden opportunity to see how a player operates on a day-to-day basis. Do they get along with everyone they come in contact with? How competitive are they? Is this the type of individual who fits the ethos of our organisation?

YouTubers 'The Lean Machines' and NFL star Stefon Diggs attempt the 2017 Combine

Over the week, players take part in the Wonderlic test – a cognitive ability/intelligence test – and spend time meeting with the media, while teams can also have a private session with them.

How do these interviews look? It differs from team to team, but teams could simply want to know how a player handles themselves under pressure. Can they discuss pro-level concepts and schemes or break down game film with ease?

The long wait

All of these factors make for a week-long interview where a slip up at any point could be costly.

However well or badly a player performs, it’ll be a long wait until the first day of the NFL Draft on April 26, which you can watch live on Sky Sports. For the majority of the players invited, they’ll have to wait even longer to find out their fates.

Scouting Combine on-field workouts by day:

Friday, March 2: Running backs, offensive lineman, place kickers and special teamers

Saturday, March 3: Quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends

Sunday, March 4: Defensive linebackers and linebackers

Monday, March 5: Defensive backs

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