NFL Combine: Events that Matter Most

Updated: March 3rd 2018

The NFL Combine events start up this week and not too soon it is for us football fanatics.  Players will compete in a diverse group of events testing strength, speed, quickness, and agility among other traits.  It would be great if players displayed tremendous all-around athleticism translating to superb well rounded players, but very few large athletes excel in every event like a Julio Jones or David Johnson.  The large majority of players coming into the NFL will not be dominating focal point wide receivers and tremendous all-around backs succeeding in all areas of the run and pass game. Most athletes will go on to play more specialized roles based on their unique abilities and strengths.

So which of these of these athletic events are we most interested in?  The answer, as usual, is that it depends.  I focus on athletic events which have translated to increased odds of success for a variety of players with different projected roles in the NFL.  This is not to say these events are any kind of guarantee of success or that they are even the most important quality for a player.  The athletic profile is just one more component of a player’s evaluation.


You mainly are allowed to ignore the athletic combine events for quarterbacks.  Accuracy, decision making, anticipation, defense recognition, and read progression are among the most important quarterback traits.  None of those show up at the combine. You surely want your quarterback possessing enough arm strength to make all the necessary throws from the pocket but velocity, by itself, has not translated to effective QB play over the years.  Likewise, few quarterbacks have maintained long careers primarily on their athletic ability.  It will be fun watching Lamar Jackson tear up the running drills and Josh Allen could smash the throw velocity record, but these are not metrics high on the list for successful quarterbacks.

Running Backs

The Space Back – Archetype:  LeSean McCoy

Events we most care about: 3 Cone Drill, 20 yard Shuttle

These players usually come in on the smaller size of NFL backs.  They consistently win by avoiding defenders with above average agility.  The lateral quickness drills are of prime importance here.  This group also dominates the passing down specialists and, in general, makes up the better receivers out of the backfield.  Dion Lewis, Theo Riddick, and Gio Bernard make up a small sample of other players in this grouping.

Compact Tackle Breaker – Archetype:  Marshawn Lynch

Events we most care about: Vertical Jump, Broad Jump

Here we come to the maulers who tend to be good creating yardage by breaking tackles with consistent leg drive.  Lower body explosion drills show off leg strength paramount to these players.  These are backs who perform well in the box.  While also generally on the short side, they typically weigh in on the heavier side giving a lower center of gravity making them hard to bring down.  Kareem Hunt and Jay Ajayi are a couple of other recent examples in this category who have had success in the league.

Two-Down Power Back

Events we most care about:  40-yard dash

The NFL is moving to more diverse backs who are capable pass catchers but there are still roles for bigger backs who can absorb the punishment of weekly 20-touch workloads.  I am primarily watching the 230 lb+ backs in this category like a Carlos Hyde.  These players do not need to be speed demons but I avoid the very slow backs in my fantasy drafts.

Wide Receiver

Slot Receiver – Archetype:  Julian Edelman

Events we most care about: 3 Cone Drill, 20 yard Shuttle

Start/stop quickness is the name of the game here.  The ability to effortlessly get in and out of breaks providing quick and easy passes for a quarterback defines much of a slot receivers’ success.  This trait also helps maximize missed tackles after the catch producing larger gains.  While we usually think of the smaller players in the slot role, high agility helps the bigger slot players like Cooper Kupp as the NFL evolves at the position moving receivers around the formation.

Deep Threat – Archetype:  Mike Wallace

Events we most care about: 40-yard dash, Vertical Jump, Broad Jump

The ability to make big plays from the wide receiver position will always be a valuable commodity to NFL teams.  Stretching a defense vertically helps spread the defense and opens up throwing lanes for underneath receivers.  High-end speed is nearly an absolute must for the smaller vertical threat to threaten defenses.  Leaping ability becomes a bigger factor for larger receivers who depend less on speed and more on high-pointing deep passes.

Tight Ends

Events we most care about: All of them

There have been few consistent upper-level fantasy options at tight end over recent years but the large majority of them who have existed usually exhibit great overall athleticism.  Gates, Gronk, Kelce, and Graham are a few examples of tight ends possessing the great size, strength, and power to dominate at the position.

In recent years, coaches have evolved utilizing smaller tight ends with more specialized receiving roles relying less on their blocking ability.  The “move” tight ends such as Delanie Walker and Jordan Reed carved out big roles in the passing game relying more on speed and agility to win routes.

Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller