The 2022 NFL Scouting Combine is here!
Well, it’s actually been here for a little while now. The Combine actually started on Tuesday with the quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end groups arriving at Indianapolis. Today actually marks the final day of their Combine experience, as the on-field workouts cap a week of medical exams, individual meetings, and media availabilities.
While those are vitally important to the draft process — well, the medical exams and the interviews with teams are, anyway — it’s the on-field workouts that get everyone out here excited.
The New York Giants have plenty to watch today, as they look to rebuild their offense.
Today, we start off with the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends.
TV: NFL Network
Streaming: NFL.com, NFL mobile app, Sling, Hulu + Live TV, fuboTV, YouTube TV
Time: 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
How to watch the combine
There’s no one way to watch the on-field workouts at the Scouting Combine. If you want to watch ridiculously athletes doing ridiculously athletic things, go right ahead — That’s not an insignificant part of why I love the Combine. It’s just cool to see people on the ragged edge of human capacity go out and perform.
But I also thought I’d give some insight into just what I’m watching for in each of the position groups.
If we’re being honest, the overwhelming bulk of evaluating quarterbacks needs to be done in the film room and, if you’re an NFL GM, on the white board with the prospect.
What happens on the field at the Combine is really only seasoning for the meat of the evaluation. That said, there are some things to watch on the field that can fine tune a quarterback scouting report.
Overall athleticism is becoming more important for the QB position in the modern NFL. The ability to move in the pocket, extend plays, and threaten defenses with their legs are traits all QBs need nowadays.
So if with that in mind, the numbers that matter the most for a quarterback are:
- 3-cone drill
- 40-yard dash
- Vertical leap
- Broad jump
As a whole, those can give us a way to quantify a quarterback’s general athleticism — his agility, mobility, and ability to generate power. Quickness, agility, and long speed are obviously important for mobility in the backfield. A quarterback’s ability to generate power with his lower body can give us some kind of insight into how well he can generate power from the ground up to drive throws.
This is where things get more interesting for passers.
We shouldn’t get too caught up in how many passes are caught (or not, as the case may be). This is the first time many of these QBs will be seeing many of the receivers, and there’s basically no relationship built up.
Instead, we should look at how accurate and precise the quarterback is, and how he delivers the ball based on the situation. Does he put the ball where the receiver can catch it and get both feet down on a sideline throw? Does he force the receiver to make a circus catch with the pass high and behind him on a slant? Is he able to throw with touch on underneath passes? Does he have the arm strength to drive the ball on vertical passes, and can he do so without sacrificing accuracy? Does he show anticipation in releasing an accurate pass before the receiver even makes his break?
These are all traits we can see on tape, but the combine gives us a chance to remove the variables that can impact what we see in a game. Again, this is checking boxes and not the place to form the foundation of an evaluation.
The mechanics of a throw are important as well, but it’s also important to remember that everyone’s mechanics are a little bit different. After all, Philip Rivers had a long and incredibly successful career with one of the weirdest throwing motions ever, while Josh Rosen had an absolutely textbook motion.
Raw athleticism matters much more when it comes to the guys catching the passes. It still isn’t the end-all for the position — *cough*cough* Cooper Kupp — but having the raw tools in the toolbox definitely factors into the evaluation.
Wide receivers are one of the few positions (along with defensive backs) where all of the numbers matter and can give us insight.
A receiver’s raw speed in the 40 is obviously important, as is his ability to move quickly in a short area (3-cone drill) and explode out of his cuts (short-shuttle). As with the quarterbacks, the vertical and broad jumps can tell us just how powerful a prospect’s lower body is. Even upper body strength is important for defeating press coverage at the line of scrimmage or fighting through contact at the catch point.
Position specific drills
Obviously, the route running portion of the workout is important for receivers. The ability to run a full route tree, and execute those routes well, can lead to early success for a rookie.
While we focus a lot on athleticism, the ability to put that athleticism to use on the field is key. Pass interference rules give a significant advantage to receivers at the NFL level, and being able to use their routes to gain separation maximizes those advantages and are a big reason why receivers are so valuable to modern offenses.
Can the receiver sink his hips, lower his center of gravity, and change directions suddenly and fluidly? Or does he need a bunch of choppy steps to slow down before changing direction? Does he cut sharply and accurately, or are his routes rounded and generally sloppy? Does he have the body control to make difficult catches around the sideline? Can he locate, track, and adjust to the ball in flight — that can be the difference between a game-changing play and a missed opportunity on a vertical pass.
And I want to take a minute to talk about “The Gauntlet” in particular. The Gauntlet drill sees a receiver run across the field, catching a series of passes thrown from quarterbacks on both sides of the receiver. The goal is to catch — and quickly drop — every pass while running a line at full speed.
Many view the gauntlet as something of a sideshow, but I believe there’s value there. Receivers who are able to complete it well pick up the ball in flight very quickly, adjust even more quickly, and are natural “hands” catchers. They’re also able to maintain a line running at full speed without drifting, which speaks to their ability to run a route precisely despite everything going on around them.
The tight end position has gotten to be incredibly varied. The fact that Levine Toilolo and Darren Waller both play the same position should tell you all you need to know about how many different skills teams could be looking for from that position.
As such, raw athleticism is really a function of how a tight end is used.
“Hybrid” tight ends, who function more as industrial-sized receivers, obviously value athleticism much more highly than blocking tight ends.
Athleticism is important for all tight ends. Even players who are primarily blockers still need to be able to pass certain thresholds for athleticism. Tight ends who only ever block and can’t run aren’t threats in the passing game. That’s a clue to the defense as to what the play will be, and it’s also one less player they really need to worry about.
That said, Hybrid tight ends — such as Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely — need to perform well in all of the drills. They really are receivers first and use their blend of size and athleticism to create mismatches in the passing game. Sure, they block some and teams want them to be stout enough to not be liabilities there.
However, being able to out-run linebackers and being able to get separation on safeties — while still being too big for most defensive backs to bully — is their stock in trade.
Blocking tight ends, however, can get away with just being “good enough” athletes. It’s okay if a tight end only runs a mediocre 40 yard dash if he’s never running more than 10 yards downfield as a check-down option. Though for them, good 10-yard splits and jumps are important for revealing lower-body explosiveness.
Position specific drills
As with the receivers, route running is obviously important for tight ends in the modern game, and for much the same reasons. We’re also looking for tight ends who are natural “hands” catchers. Guys who catch the ball with good technique, extend their arms to pluck the ball out of the air, and don’t let it into their chests, are better able to maximize their size advantage. They’re also much more reliable receivers in traffic, short-yardage, or red zone situations.
The area where tight ends depart from receivers is in the blocking drills.
While tight ends have become an integral part of NFL passing offense, run blocking and pass protection are still important.
The blocking drills show which players are able to attack blockers with good technique. Low hip and pad levels, hands position inside defenders’ shoulders, thumbs up with elbows tight to the body, and then uncoil the hips and extend to drive defenders.
It gets to be pretty obvious pretty quickly which tight ends didn’t do much blocking in college and which have upside to do so in the NFL.
Likewise, the blocking drills are often done out of 3-point stances. The 3-point stance is increasingly uncommon for tight ends in many college offenses, but being able to play out that stance allows a tight end to give his offense more options. Many college tight ends appear uncomfortable playing out of 3-point stances, and the ones with experience definitely stand out.