The Draft Combine: NFL vs. NBA

The Draft Combine, depending on the sport, could be the most important days in an athlete’s life or a few slightly meaningful days that will have a minor impact on an athlete’s draft stock. The NBA and NFL both have combines where athletes display their measurables and athletic abilities. They run different drills, but these drills have the same purpose of measuring an athlete’s athletic abilities and limitations. Some athletes have more at stake at the combine than others. It depends on their skill set and questions surrounding their athletic abilities and health. Every athlete has their own unique experience, but there’s one thing universally agreed upon by NFL and NBA draft experts; the NFL Draft Combine has a greater impact on a player’s draft stock than the NBA Draft Combine.

The NFL Draft Combine and NBA Draft Combine have different drills that test the athletes’ overall athleticism. For NFL Draft prospects, they can perform in the 40-yard dash, bench press (225 pounds), vertical and broad jumps, 3 cone drill, 20 and 60-yard shuttles, and position-specific drills. The most popular combine drill is the 40-yard dash. This isn’t as important to scouts as it is to fans and the media, but it’s still a meaningful tool that measures straight-line speed. Each team has their own way of measuring the impact of these drills, and it usually depends on the position. For example, the bench press is more important for positions that require strength (offensive and defensive line) and the 3 cone drill is more important for positions that require change of direction (pass rushers and running backs). These drills aren’t more important than their game tape, but they do play a role in a player’s draft stock. Teams usually have benchmark numbers that they are looking for prospects to hit. They’ll usually have an idea of how athletic a player looks on tape, and will try to match that up with their testing times. If their times and play speed don’t match up, then the team will have to try and make a determination why they’re more or less athletic on tape.


Position drills are usually the most important drills unless a player shows a certain athletic limitation that a testing time can confirm or disprove. For example, this year Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams was seen as a top tier prospect, but teams were worried about his deep speed. He decided not to run the 40-yard dash at the combine, which was a giant red flag to teams. But he ran at his pro day and put up a decent time (pro day times are usually faster for a number of reasons). This alleviated some concerns that he wouldn’t be able to separate at the next level. He wound up being the seventh pick in the draft. There are many examples every year of players that raise or lower their draft stock at the combine. That’s why it’s rare for players to skip the combine, which has become commonplace for top prospects at the NBA Draft Combine.

The NBA Draft Combine is a completely different animal. The drills include a ¾ court sprint, bench press (185 pounds), standard and max vertical jump, reactive shuttle run, and lane agility drill. These drills are done to measure speed, strength, power, and lateral agility. Scouts do put stock in these testing numbers, but not at the same magnitude as NFL scouts. Teams usually want players to reach a certain benchmark number at each drill depending on their size and position. They’ll have a good idea of how players will test based on their tape. There will be players that raise and lower their draft stock at the combine, but the majority of players are already locked into a draft range.


The most important event at the combine for most players is the five-on-five. This allows players to showcase their abilities on the court in a game setting. Most top prospects do not participate in this event, but most non-lottery prospects play to try and improve their draft stock. Every year a few players improve their draft stock because of their stellar play in the five-on-five event. For many players, this is their chance to show teams that they should be drafted.

Unlike the NFL Draft Combine, the best NBA Draft prospects skip the combine. In this year’s combine, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jonathan Isaac, Jayson Tatum, Dennis Smith Jr., Malik Monk, and Lauri Markkanen were among the players not in attendance. They are all projected to be lottery picks, so they deemed it unwise to risk injury or a poor performance hurting their draft stock. Kevin Durant recently stated that top draft prospects should skip the combine. He attended in 2007 and wasn’t able to do a single rep at the bench press. This may have been part of the reason that he was drafted second behind draft bust Greg Oden. It was likely a poor decision for Durant to attend the combine. If a top NFL Draft prospect skipped the combine, he would be ridiculed and fall in the draft due to poor judgment and a lack of competitive juices.

The NFL and NBA put on a draft combine to give players a chance of improving their draft stock and teams a chance of evaluating prospects. This is a valuable opportunity for everyone to see these prospects test their athleticism. The NFL Draft Combine gets a lot more notoriety than the NBA Draft Combine, and has a lot more influence on players’ draft stocks. Every year multiple NFL prospects lose millions of dollars because of poor testing numbers. Since the NBA Draft is only two rounds (as opposed to seven), players don’t have to worry as much about falling in the draft and costing themselves money. They also don’t have as great of an opportunity to make themselves money by testing better than expected. That’s why the top NBA Draft prospects decide to stay home. These two combines are both important parts of the draft process, but they have extremely different levels of impact on draft prospects.

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