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NFL Combine Guide: How players need to perform on defense

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

From part one, NFL Scouting Combine Guide: Offense

Basically, the higher the percentile, the more athletically gifted the athlete is. With what I found, I colored the top row text white to show the important NFL Combine tests and made the background blue if it was important for Pro Day tests. The black boxes represent the range at which teams look for on each test. If the box is longer, it shows that the test isn’t as important. But if it is shifted up, then is shows importance.

Here’s what I found for defensive players.

Defensive Tackle

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Defensive tackles come in all shapes and sizes. They could be 6'5" and 330 pounds or 6'1" and 280 pounds. In the end, there are a few things that each player needs to have. For the nose tackle position, you need to be big and play with leverage. That would mean height, weight, bench press, arm length and wingspan tests all come into play. For the defensive tackle position, it depends on the coach. But overall, speed, agility, and arm length all come into play. A great example of the DT position would be Aaron Donald who while undersized at 285 pounds, was in the 90% range except for vertical (80%), hand (60%), arm (50%), and wingspan (40%).

Defensive End

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Well, here is a shocker for everyone who believes that a defensive end needs to be 6'5" and 270 pounds. The average size of a defensive end that was drafted from 1999-2015 was 6'3" and 260 pounds. To be a 3-4 defensive end, a player needs to have size and strength. So if you are looking for one, keep an eye on weight and bench. For a 4-3 defensive end, a player should have speed and be athletic. That means that all speed tests and jumping tests should be watched. And for every single defensive end, watch for hand size, arm length, and wingspan. Even our very own Jacquies Smith averaged in the 50% range.

Outside Linebacker

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An outside linebacker's job is to either rush the passer or play coverage. In both instances, they need to have closing speed, strength to tackle players, and explosiveness to get around the edge. To look for that, scouts focus on the bench press, vertical jump, 3cone, and 20 (ET) yard split. While no one is perfect, Kwon Alexander performed at roughly at the 70% range. Most linebackers do not perform that well unless they are pure rush passers.

Inside Linebacker

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When I saw the data for inside linebackers, I was surprised. They are the only position that only cares about straight end speed and strength. The biggest thing that I see is that scouts focus on is height, 20 (ET) yard split, 10 (ET) yard split, and bench press. That way the inside linebackers can handle the run extremely well and deal with offensive line blocking down field.


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To be a cornerback in the NFL, you don't have to be tall or strong, but speed and agility is necessity. From the looks of it, we are in a transitional period for the cornerback position. Many teams are looking for taller cornerbacks but that isn't reflected on the data but what they do on the field is. That means a lot of press coverage to deal with slower 10 yard splits but the agility to turn and run. Alterraun Verner performed in the 80-90% range in the 20 yard split,10 yard split, and the 3cone test.

Strong Safety

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At strong safety, a lot of the time you're playing in the box to stop the run. A player would need size to hold up under the rigors of tackling, the closing speed to tackle the player, and the explosiveness to change direction if needed. To search for those three skills, the 20 and 10 yard split, the vertical, and weight are the best options to find a good strong safety.

Free Safety

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The free safety position requires players to run a lot, handle the jump ball, and intercept everything that comes their way. Like the inside linebacker position, the tests scouts use to find good Free Safeties are easy to see. They look at height, 40 and 10 yard splits, and hand size. Even free-agent-to-be Eric Berry performed on average in the 90% range. That, along with production, is why he was chosen so high


At the NFL Scouting Combine this week, general managers, head coaches, scouts, and players are all looking for the best times of each position. Players back out of test they are not ready for all the time. And while these tests are only part of choosing an NFL player, they are important. The articles I have provided show what teams look for and how you, yes you, can also look for players like the pros.