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O'Hara's Combine 101: What to look for

Draftkniks, start your stopwatches for this week's NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Call it the Indianapolis 322 – for the 322 draft-eligible players invited to participate in the annual talent showcase that gives scouts and personnel executives from all 32 teams a hands-on opportunity to time, weigh, measure, examine and interview them.

The Combine is only one part of the draft process, but it has become one of the highlight events leading up the draft, scheduled this year for April 28-30.

With so much information available, thanks to media reports and NFL Network's telecasts of the drills, fans can make their judgments on how prospects fare in the various drills.

With the assistance of a veteran NFL scout, to help fans, here is a breakdown of the individual drills, and how to rate performance within segments of the drills.

Note 1: This does not reflect in any way how the Detroit Lions rate the value of any drill, or its impact on any position group or individual player.

Note 2: In the case of the 40-yard dash in particular, this also comes with a warning for Combine viewers.

Aside from all that, enjoy the Combine. It's as close as any of us will come to being a scout.

Measurements: It seems pretty clear on why they're important, but it warrants explaining based on the misinformation that is inherent in the information age.

Example: Call our mythical prospect Bobby Backer from State U. He is listed in his school's media guide as a three-time all-conference linebacker who stands 6-3, weighs 245 pounds and was timed in 4.53 seconds for the 40-yard dash in spring practice.

Why not take the school's word and put the info on the book? Simple. A lot of those numbers are estimates that schools put out, and in some cases they're pure fabrication.

Players have a tendency to show up at the Combine shorter and heavier or lighter than their listed weight in college.

Every player at the Combine gets measured – including height, weight, arm length, hand size – and the measurements are done in shorts and bare feet. Why bare feet? One reason is to prevent players from curling their toes to add another eighth- or quarter-inch to their height.

Arm length: Important for all players, but especially for offensive tackles and pass-rushers. An offensive tackle with short arms is more vulnerable to a pass-rusher getting his hands on him, thus having a better chance to control him. When all things are equal, take the tackle with longer arms.

Hand size: Most important to players who handle the ball – quarterbacks, receivers, running backs. Bigger hands translate to better ability to handle the ball.

The 40: It's the benchmark drill in scouting, first introduced as a measuring tool by legendary Paul Brown. Brown used it to determine how fast a player could get downfield to cover punts – which usually landed in the range of 40 yards.

The 40-yard dash correlates and confirms what scouts see in a player on the field. In other words, is he actually as fast, or faster, than appears to the naked eye or on tape? And how does his speed compare to other players?

Within the 40 are times for 10 and 20 yards that can be a more important barometer than the 40 in rating offensive linemen because they reveal quickness and explosion within a short area.

Exceptions: Production cannot be discounted and sometimes overrides the 40 time.

  1. Pass-rusher Terrell Suggs ran what on the surface was a disappointing 4.92 40 at his individual workout in 2003. It did not prevent the Ravens from drafting Suggs 10th overall. Suggs has had six seasons of double digit sacks and has 106.5 for his career to rank seventh among active players.
  1. In 2013, center Travis Frederick of Wisconsin ran a lowly 5.58 40. However, the Cowboys took him in the first round, 31st overall, and got a two-time Pro Bowler.

Viewer warning: Running back Chris Johnson holds the 40 record with a time of 4.24 seconds, set in 2008 when he was drafted in the first round and 24th overall out of East Carolina.

Players have been shooting for the record ever since, and it increasingly has become a bigger part of the NFL Network telecasts.

In 2014, Tavon Austin came close – supposedly – with a time of 4.25 seconds that had draftniks and analysts buzzing. However, Austin's time was "unofficial." The official time that eventually came down was 4.34 seconds, still a terrific time but not close to Johnson's record.

Bottom line: enjoy the drama, but don't believe anything until the official times are posted.

Shuttles, 3-cone drill: Times alone aren't important. Players also can showcase quickness, balance, agility and body control.

Broad jump, vertical jump: Both show leg explosion, and they usually correlate to a player's 40-time. The faster the 40, the longer the jump.

Bench press: It's the standard drill to evaluate strength – how many times a player can bench 225 pounds.

The bench press no longer is the exclusive domain of linemen. Strength is important to all players, relative to position. For example, strong cornerbacks have an advantage in press coverage against weaker receivers.

Also, strength can translate to endurance and lessen shoulder injuries, which defensive backs are vulnerable to sustaining because of high-speed collisions with receivers and running backs.

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