NFL Combine Measurables Explained, Part II: Running Backs and Wide Receivers

Rueben Randle high points the ball for a touchdown - Maddie Meyer

Day 2 of the on-field part of the NFL combine brings out two positions where athleticism is at a premium.

Yesterday we got a look at the big guys. Today we get into the positions where athleticism is at an absolute premium. So, without further ado, let's get to it:

Running Backs

Height, Weight, Arm Length, & Hand Span

Height and weight don't matter much for running backs. I don't recall the exact quote, but I remember Bill Parcells saying that he hated scouting the running back position because there is no prototype. Effective running backs come in all shapes and sizes.

Arm Length: This is another one that doesn't matter too much for running backs. Long limbs gives defenders targets near the line of scrimmage. However, for running backs that could also be considered receiving threats, long arms do make for a larger catch radius. Also, longer arms could help them in pass protection.

Hand Span: Hand size is important for running backs. First and foremost, big, powerful hands make it easier to grip the ball and improve ball security. Likewise, big hands make it easier to catch the ball.

Measurable Events

40 Yard Dash: Running backs are one of the positions where the 40 matters. Not only does the 10 yard split (the time it takes the prospect to cover the first 10 yards) help to show the prospect's explosiveness, a fast 40 can help to separate the ever sought-after home run threats from the pack

Vertical & Broad Jump: Two more drills that can help to measure a prospect's lower body explosiveness. Strong leaping numbers illustrate how explosive a back can be in a short area. That's the power to break tackles or to explode through a hole after making a cut

3-Cone Drill & Short Shuttle: These two drills will help to show how well a running back can start, stop, and change direction. Backs will have to show that they have the lower body flexibility to cut at speed and are able to play fast but under control.

Position Drills

Off Tackle Reaction: This drill simulates a running back picking his way through the trash at the line of scrimmage, and then reacting and making a cut depending on direction from a coach. The backs have to show that they have quick feet to not trip, then be able to make the correct read and cut at speed.

Cone Weave: For this drill the running backs get the ball then need to weave their way through a series of cones. This drill shows which backs are able to sink their hips and bend their knees and ankles to make sharp cuts at speed.

Receiving Drills: Pretty self explanatory, the running backs run routes similar to what they will be asked to run out of the backfield in the NFL. This is a chance for running backs to show whether or not they are natural pass catchers.

How it all ties together

Running back is a position where guys have to be athletic. A guy can be big, but he isn't going to last long in the league if he can't run and cut. Successful running backs don't need to be burners, turning 4.3 second 40's. A term we're going to hear a lot this weekend is "Quicker Than Fast" and that is reserved for guys who lack that extra "Road Runner" gear, but have a great burst and acceleration.

The read option and spread offenses that have taken over college football, stretching out and slowing defenses down, and making reads easier. Scouts and GM's need to see that running backs have the vision to see what defenses are doing and the ability to make fast, difficult cuts. Likewise, the receiving drills give prospects who might not have been receiving options in college (such as Auburn's Tre Mason), a chance to show that they can catch the ball.

Wide Receivers

Height, Weight, Arm Length, & Hand Span

Height & Weight: Like running backs, good receivers come in all shapes and sizes. However, the different body types can have different roles. Outside receivers tend towards being both bigger and smaller, to create mismatches and as much separation down the field as possible. Slot receivers tend to be shorter and smaller, so they can make sharp cuts over the middle to create separation in tight areas.

Arm Length: Long arms mean a big catch radius. If a receiver with long arms can pluck the ball out of the air, that makes him that much more difficult for teams to defend.

Hand Span: Hand size is vitally important for receivers. They need to be sure handed to be able to fight for the ball or hang on to it if they get hit. Also, big hands combined with long arms make difficult catches

Measurable Events

40 Yard Dash: Like the the running back position, there is a premium on athleticism at wide receiver. A receiver with blazing speed is something all defenses have to respect, and all offenses covet.

3-Cone Drill & Short Shuttle: Again, like the running back position, this drill is going to highlight or expose players' ability to start, stop, and change direction. Receivers need to show that they can have the flexibility to make hard, fast cuts and explode out of their breaks (while remaining under control).

Broad and Vertical Jumps: Receivers don't need quite the same level of lower-body explosiveness that running backs do, however being able to out-jump defenders is an incredible advantage all over the field. Also, having the power to fight through jams is obviously a plus.

Position Drills

The Gauntlet: This is the same drill as the tight ends run. Scouts want to see if receivers can pick up the ball quickly and snatch it out of the air. Also, it's good to see if a player gets flustered if they miss a catch.

Toe Tap Drill: This is the Amani Toomer special. Teams want to see if receivers can make the tough catch going out of bounds. Receivers will have to show that they have the coordination to get both feet down in bounds while securing the ball.

Over The Shoulder Catch: In this drill the QB's (try to) drop the ball over the receiver's outside shoulder. The receiver has to turn his head and locate the ball at the last second, then adjust to make the catch.

Route Tree: The receivers run a complete route tree while catching passes thrown by the quarterbacks. The receivers need to show that they can run the routes correctly, make sharp cuts, and be decisive.

How It All Ties Together

The Combine is important for receivers. They need to show that they are athletes as well as football players. However receivers can get by on their agility and quickness. They can create separation with sharp cuts and get a step on defenders with quickness, and get yards after the catch even if they aren't speedsters (Victor Cruz leaps to mind).

That being said, few things scare defensive coordinators like a legitimately fast receiver who can blow the top off a defense. The measurable part of the combine gives under-the-radar prospects, who might not have been the feature of their offense or who didn't receive national attention, a chance to get scouts' attention

Few college receivers play in pro-style offenses, so not many come into the NFL with a complete route tree. The route tree part of the wide receivers' workout gives them a chance to show that they can be NFL receivers. They also show which receivers have the ability to track the ball, the body control to adjust to it, and which ones are natural hands catchers.

Next up: Defensive Line and Linebackes.

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