If you’ve been an avid watcher of the NFL Scouting Combine, then you’re going to notice something is off in 2020.
Not only is the event being moved to primetime (instead of morning/afternoon), but there will be brand new drills to keep track of. And this isn’t a small change. The NFL Combine has added 16 new drills while removing 10, and changed some things about existing drills.
Jeff Foster is the president of NFL Scouting Inc., which is the company that runs the combine. Speaking to Sports Illustrated, Foster explained the process behind changing the drills. He said he spoke with five general managers who held conference calls to discuss what to change.
“The majority of the combine drills are antiquated and have limited relevance,” a veteran scout told SI. “If we want to evolve, sure, there will be a gap of time without the ability to compare current to past, but we need to focus more on the future.”
Some of the changes to existing drills include simply adding a timer. According to SI, drills like the gauntlet, and the W drill will now be timed.
“The idea is to make it more competitive for the group of players,” Foster told SI. “See if that data helps us as an evaluation, and also make it more exciting for the fans and on TV.”
So just what are these new drills? We’ll break them down below by position, with help from NFL.com’s descriptions.
NFL COMBINE: Schedule | Participants | Measurements
End zone fade
The fade route will be added to routes thrown from quarterbacks to receivers. This will be a 10-yard route to the right side of the end zone. The fade route is a controversial play because many view it as a waste of time. The Ringer wrote an article explaining why “The Fade Route Is Garbage.” Despite many critics, teams still like using this play in red zone situations, so it makes sense why it was added to the combine.
Timed smoke route
As SI describes it, the smoke route “is a short route, a one-step hitch that is popular in run pass option plays which are now a staple of NFL offenses.” The drill will be quarterbacks throwing two passes to a receiver using this route. The QB will throw one route on each side of the field consecutively. This drill will be timed from the quarterback’s hands to the receiver’s hands.
Duce Staley drill
You probably recognize the name as the former Eagles running back. Per NFL.com, this drill involves a running back “lining up behind a horizontal step-over bag that is part of three bags laid to form a cross. The running back will step over the bag in front of him, then laterally over the perpendicular bag, then backward over the other horizontal bag before repeating the path in the opposite direction. Coaches lined up eight yards away holding pop-up dummies will move in coordinated fashion, creating a hole for the running back to identify before exploding through it.”
Basically this drill tests a running back’s ability to use his eyes downfield while also dealing with the physical obstacles in front of him.
This drill is pretty simple, and anyone who has played Madden 20 has probably used one of these routes before. We included an image of what the play looks like in Madden below. With the league utilizing running backs in the passing game more, it makes sense why they’d add in drills that focus on a back’s ability to catch the ball. Essentially this drill is just making running backs run the angle route, and testing how well they perform.
Eliminated: Pitch and cone drill, find the ball drill
These two drills will no longer be a part of the combine testing for running backs.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
End zone fade
We described this event in the quarterback section. Same thing, but in addition to testing out quarterbacks it will also test the players receiving the ball.
Eliminated: Toe tap drill
The toe tap drill, where receivers would run to the sideline and try to keep their feet in-bounds, is no longer part of the combine.
Per NFL.com: “Player lines up at set point between middle of two cones roughly six yards apart and slides laterally left and right based on coach’s direction.”
The NFL Combine has had similar mirror drills for offensive linemen in the past. Below is video from 2010 of what that drill looks like.
But this year will have coaches in that role instead of a defensive player acting as the “rabbit.” Foster told SI, “The rabbit doesn’t typically make those movements any other time, so why would we have him do it then? And then we have him turn around and do the drill, that is not reflective of today’s game.”
From NFL.com: “Player will set in pass protection position, then release and sprint toward first coach holding blocking shield 15 yards wide of starting point to simulate engage and release action of a screening lineman. If the first coach steps upfield, player must adjust direction and advance to second coach, at whom he will break down and engage. If first coach remains stationary, player will break down and engage him.”
According to SI, this drill was added “so evaluators can see [the offensive linemen’s] speed in blocking on screen plays.”
Run and club
From NFL.com: “Five stand-up bags are in a vertical line, five yards apart, with the final bag including “arms”. The defender will fire out of a three-point stance and run through the bags, clubbing the first with his right arm, spinning on the second bag, clubbing the third bag with his left arm, ripping through the fourth bag and flattening downhill to slap bag with arms to simulate a strip.”
This sounds like a very intense drill for defensive linemen, but basically it will allow them to showcase a number of abilities. It will allow them to show their strength with clubbing on each earm, and their agility with how well they can spin on the second bag. Then it shows the physicality with the final flattening of the fourth bag.
Run the hoop
From NFL.com: “Two pass-rush hoops are laid on the ground two yards apart, forming a figure eight. Two towels are inside the hoops, one in each. The player lines up at a start cone (to right of hoops) in a three-point stance, fires off at movement of a ball on a stick (simulating snap), runs around the first hoop, picks up the towel with his left hand, crosses to the second hoop and drops the towel, continues around the second hoop, picks up the towel with the right hand and crosses back to the first hoop and drops the towel before finishing through the start cone.”
SI adds this drill is common at pro days and that this will be timed drill at the combine.
The video below is not a replica of this drill, but if you’re new to defensive line drills it can help paint a picture of what to expect.
Eliminated: Stack and shed drill
The Run and Club drill kind of fills the need of this, so that’s likely why it was removed.
Shuffle, sprint, change of direction
Per NFL.com, defenders will “start in a two-point stance five to seven yards outside the hash before shuffling across the field. He’ll then open his hips and sprint on the coach’s command, then change direction on command and finish with a catch of a thrown football.”
The NFL Combine has held a similar drill in the past, so it sounds like they just tweaked some of the details of this one.
Short zone breaks
Per NFL.com, this drill involves three different route reactions.
Eliminated: Pass drop
The two new drills are essentially different versions of the pass drop, so that’s why it was removed.
The line drill is essentially the video we shared in the linebacker section. Players will back pedal, open their hips when the coach gives direction, back pedal again, and again open their hips on command and finishes with the ball being thrown at them.
Teryl Austin drill
Named after the Steelers secondary coach. NFL.com says this drill is broken down into two parts.
Part 1: Player backpedals 5 yards, breaks downhill on a 45-degree angle, catch a ball
Part 2: Player backpedals 5 yards, open at 90 degrees and run to the first coach and break down, then plant and turn around (180 degrees) to run toward a second coach and catch a ball from thrown by a QB before reaching the second coach
From NFL.com: “The player will back pedal five yards and then break at a 45 degree angle on the coach’s signal. Once he reaches the cone, the player will plant, open his hips and run back five yards with his eyes on the coach. On the coach’s signal, the player will break toward a coach at a 45 degree angle and catch a thrown ball.”
If you’ve watched this drill in the past, then you’ve seen it performed by receivers (video below). This is the same drill, but will now feature cornerbacks as well. Also, this drill will now be timed.
Eliminated: Close and Speed Turn, Pedal and Hip Turn
Similarly to other eliminated drills for defensive players, the new drills added essentially go over the same things.
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