What it takes to evaluate the NFL’s future stars
As part of the scouting and evaluation process, future NFL players will often participate in a series of position-level drills overseen by team scouts and other league personnel. The NFL’s Scouting Combine is one place where these drills occur, along with club pro days and other league events, including the NFL’s International Combine and HBCU Combine.
At the 2021 International Combine held at London’s Tottenham Hotspur stadium, NFL Football Operations staff experimented with new drills designed to more effectively align with NFL game player movement and mechanics during NFL games. For instance, an example of this drill modification would be drills for offensive linemen and linebackers that include 45-degree angle movements, actions that were previously uncaptured for those two position groups at the Scouting Combine. As a basis for capturing player movement, the league used an algorithm from a 2019 winning Big Data Bowl paper, as outlined here.
Below are several videos showcasing the newly implemented drills.
New Offensive Line Drill: 45-Degree Sprint
Players start with one knee down, then sprint at a 45-degree angle past a cone 10 yards away. This drill is replicated on each side.
New Offensive Line Drill: Pull Drill with 45-Degree Finish
Players start with one knee down, then pull and turn upfield through a cone 10 yards away. This drill is replicated on each side.
New Defensive Line Drill: Hurdle/Sprint/Cut on Demand
Players start with one knee down, then shuffle laterally over three bags, sprint forward, and finish by sprinting back through the starting cone.
New Linebacker Drill: Drop/Shuffle/Sprint
Players start with one knee down, then mimic a pass play by dropping back at a 45-degree angle, shuffling five yards, and finishing by catching a ball and sprinting through a cone.
New Wide Receiver Route: Crossing Pattern
Players start by running a crossing pattern before catching a ball and sprinting downfield.
In NFL games, crossing patterns represent 11% of all receiver routes, but were previously not tested at the combine. In London, these routes were tested at a depth of 18 yards.