The 40-yard dash has always been the most popular event at the combine, and while it's not nearly as important as we make it out to be, there's no arguing with historical data for certain positions. For example, according to a 10-year study of combine 40 times, only 1 percent of the safeties who ran 4.71 or slower went on to start for multiple years. One variable teams always measure with the 40 is the size-speed ratio. No position has a greater range of results than defensive ends, who weighed anywhere from 235 to 307 pounds at last year's combine. The chart below shows the most desirable times, the average combine times over the past five years, and the times that should raise a red flag for evaluators.
Everyone pays attention to wide receivers, tight ends and cornerbacks in the vertical jump, but I think this drill is more helpful judging the lower-body explosiveness of running backs and defensive ends. Those positions are about consistently creating power from the ground up. Just look at Cardinals RB David Johnson last year. Before he impressed with his power and versatility in the pros, Johnson posted a 41.5-inch vert at the 2015 combine, tied for third best among running backs over the past five years.
It's not a coincidence that all the positions listed below are on defense. Being an NFL defender is all about reaction: How quickly can you diagnose a play, come to a stop and explode toward the ball? And the 20-yard shuttle is all about a player's ability to control his body as he's changing directions. Last season, the Saints' Stephone Anthony did the short shuttle in 4.03 seconds, an outstanding time for an inside linebacker. In that case, those numbers made me watch his tape a little more, and it helped bolster his grade.
The broad jump is similar to the vertical jump in that it's most important for guys playing in the trenches, specifically offensive linemen. Remember when Eagles OT Lane Johnson blew up at the combine back in 2013? His broad jump was 118 inches. That's comparable to an above-average mark from a running back -- and he did it while weighing 303 pounds. Johnson's performance proved to scouts that he had the lower-body power to develop into an elite NFL O-lineman.
This drill is all about assessing a player's ability to bend, turn the corner and accelerate, so I like zeroing in on pass-rushers in the three-cone drill. The Broncos' Von Miller -- who has 60 career NFL sacks in 72 games and is coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance earlier this month -- completed the three-cone in 6.7 seconds back in 2011, tied for the third-best mark among linebackers over the past five years. And that confirmed what teams saw on tape: A freak athlete who wreaked havoc off the edge.
To test upper-body strength, players are asked to bench press 225 pounds as many times as possible. The results are an important indicator for the prospects who project as interior offensive and defensive linemen. For defensive tackles in particular, a 10-year study said none of the 24 players with less than 21 bench press reps went on to become three-year starters. Arm length is a factor here, too, as players with longer arms are at an inherent disadvantage, so it's not as important for offensive tackles or long-armed defensive ends.