The NFL draft is this coming weekend. It is a great day of the NFL offseason. It creates what one novelist called “the agony of hope.” Fans everywhere are doing mock drafts deciding between offensive lineman or defensive lineman. You hear scouts talk about rankings and grades. Front offices posture about whether they are interested in this guy from Georgia or that guy from Ohio State. The prospects themselves get an opportunity to transition from college football to the NFL stage.
When it comes to the NFL Draft, draft prospects get picked primarily based on their traits. One of the most important traits for an NFL scout is speed. One of the most important tests to showcase your speed is the 40-yard dash.
There’s money in the 40-yard dash. The higher a player is picked, the more money they will get from their first contract. It’s why the NFL pre-draft process is huge. Many prospects get invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis while others participate in Pro Day workouts. At these events, they have an opportunity to get timed and improve their draft stock to get picked higher.
Speed is even more valuable at specific positions:
• Wide receiver
• Running back
Every year you hear the stories about players “running” their way into the first round because of a good 40-yard dash time. One memorable instance of this was in 2009 when the Oakland Raiders drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey, 7th overall, largely due to his 40 time. The commentary was that it was a typical Al Davis (owner of the Raiders at the time) pick because it was his M.O. to reach for speed. It’s definitely tempting when a guy is running a 4.3-second forty-yard dash. Yet he’s not alone. It happens every year and teams do it all the time.
This year, Kalon Barnes, a defensive back from Baylor, ran a blistering 4.23, one of the fastest 40-yard dash times in combine history. It will be fun to see where the Texas native gets drafted.
It’s all about preparation. By failing to prepare, they are preparing to fall. No, not fail: fall. A poor showing can lead to a prospect “falling” in the draft. Every year there are players who are projected to go in the first round, but when they test slow, they end up dropping.
It’s such an important test that there are prospects who decline to run it. Sounds counterintuitive. Why would they do that? On one hand, it could be that they have confidence in their film. The eye in the sky don’t lie, and if they have good film, they don’t have to run.
They may also have good numbers elsewhere. Scouting combines and pro days also test:
• Vertical jump
• Broad jump
• Other measurables like height, weight, wingspan and hand size
However, the truth is also they know that a slow 40 time could have consequences. What we may think is fast, the NFL considers slow. Production at the collegiate level may be second-guessed by a pro team who thinks a player won’t be able to handle the speed of the game at the next level.
The truth is the player and his agent know the risk of testing slower than expected. Outside of guys who are recovering from injuries that legitimately prevent them from running, some guys don’t want to take the chance of registering a slow time. At the very least, they know that they won’t run fast enough to raise their draft stock.
I want to help you with three elements to getting ready for a combine or showcase. These are a few things I do when preparing players. This applies to every level, and the principles here apply to other sports.
First, I start with ‘the start’. Step one needs to be great! A slow start leads to a slow time. This happens when an athlete is bad out of their stance. They will have motion without movement. Wasted motion is wasted time. The stance itself needs to be right. A bad stance will lead to inefficiency. The stance for a 40 start isn’t a football stance; it’s a speed stance. If you have ever seen track blocks, you have an idea of what a good speed stance is.
The start is so important that you’ll see the number for the 10-yard split of a 40. That is, the time for the first ten yards of the drill. Scouts want to know what kind of acceleration an athlete has. There isn’t always a chance to get to top-end speed during a play, so teams want to know if a guy can get out quick and be fast early. One way we train this is with mini hurdles. Mini hurdles are a great tool that creates an emphasis on steps one and two and teaches kids to be fast early. I’ll want to cover the 40 start more in depth another day because it’s such an important element to successful testing.
Next, I make it clear that you better be in good condition. The reason for that is you don't know how long the event will be. You may do some drills, then sit around for what seems like forever until your next rep. Secondly, if you are having a particularly good day, more coaches may want to look at you more times. You may not know exactly when you’re going to test during the workout. Don't sabotage your opportunity by showing up out of shape. I have said before that there is no halftime adjustment for fatigue.
With the programming itself, we simply need to get fast. Getting reps at longer (relative to the 40) anaerobic distances is critical. To be very clear, this is the medium sprint range of high speed 60’s up to high speed 110’s, not aerobic running like 400’s or miles. One reason is the stride reps. I want my athletes to utilize longer sprints to practice the gait and polish the mechanics. More stride reps, more fine-tuning. Remember, mechanics produce efficiency and efficiency produces speed.
Another reason is again the conditioning element. When testing day arrives, you don't have to pull a hammy or hip flexor because the muscles weren’t ready for maximum effort. Get them adapted to high speed. This doesn’t necessarily mean extra volume. In the end, my job is to schedule the details of the training sessions with a keen eye on not overtraining. I don’t want a diminishing return. Quality over quantity is key.
I want to say good luck to all the prospects whose lives will be changed this weekend. No matter where they land, they’ve earned it. The work doesn’t end there, but it’s a special accomplishment that merits celebration. ESPN and NFL Network do a great job covering this event so sit back and relax and enjoy the weekend with family and friends.
To all the young kids watching, I hope you get inspired to keep working toward your dreams. Maybe one day that will be you.
Don’t forget, you may only have one moment, but you have every day to prepare.