NFL Scouting Combine 2022: Key drills to watch, evaluating current draft class

Jaylon Thompson
USA TODAY Sports+

The stage is set for the next generation of NFL stars. The 32 teams will have representatives in-person, or virtually, this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Each organization enters Lucas Oil Stadium with the same goal: find their next franchise superstar.

The 2022 NFL Draft is a meat and potatoes draft. The talent runs deep in the trenches with multiple linemen projected as high selections.

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The group includes three stalwart offensive tackles in Evan Neal (Alabama), Ikem Ekwonu (NC State) and Charles Cross (Mississippi State). There are also four prime defensive ends.

Michigan teammates Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo headline the position alongside Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon) and Jermaine Johnson II (Florida State).

All seven players have a good chance to be selected top 10.

Oct 2, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA;  Michigan Wolverines defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) rushes the quarterback as Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Logan Bruss (60) blocks during the third quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The next tier is just as stacked with talent. Players like Jordan Davis (Georgia), Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa), George Karlaftis (Purdue) could be high-quality selections late in the first round.

WHAT TO KNOW: Get the latest information regarding the NFL Scouting Combine

This is a great year to build through the draft. It is eerily similar to 2013when 18 offensive and defensive linemen were first-round selections. In contrast, just one quarterback was taken among the first 32 picks.

The 2022 class has talented skill players, but it could be a down year at the quarterback position. The receivers and defensive backs are top-heavy while most running backs and linebackers could be Day 2 selections.

As a result, evaluators will be watching both linemen groups closely.

Here are four key drills to watch during the NFL Scouting Combine.

University of Akron defensive lineman Jamal Davis does the three-cone drill during the 2019 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

Three-Cone Drill (L Drill)

The three-cone drill is a staple at the NFL Scouting Combine. Also known as the L Drill, the workout tests a player’s ability to move with fluidity.

There are cones set five yards apart to create an “L-shape” on the field. A player begins in a three-point stance. They race to the middle cone and touch it. Next, they reverse back to touch the starting cone before sprinting toward the last cone.

Finally, a player will circle the last cone and sprint back to complete the drill.

The three-cone drill has garnered significant importance in recent years. Given the influx of mobile quarterbacks, defensive linemen must be able to change directions swiftly. NFL scouts utilize the three-cone drill to see how well they can do without losing top speed.

CSU’s Ty Sambrailo turned in one of the fastest times among offensive in the three-cone drill during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

It’s also important for interior linemen. Many NFL teams utilize “run, pass, option” (RPO) plays to generate offensive advantages. Most times, offensive linemen will pull around to create open rushing lanes.

The ability to quickly downshift into the hole and block blitzing linebackers is important. NFL scouts look for how well a player can shift their weight and get to the second level of the defense.

Timing is key for this drill. A good time could propel an NFL prospect up the draft board and into the first round. 

Mar 4, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross runs the 40 yard dash during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

40-yard dash

The NFL Scouting Combine is not complete without the 40-yard dash. It’s the ultimate talking point for many fans. Just look at the careers that it launched in recent years.

Remember NFL receiver John Ross?

Ross ran a 4.22 40-yard dash during the 2017 combine. He broke Chris Johnson's 40-yard dash record and his time still stands. 

How about Darius Heyward-Bey? The former wideout ran a 4.30 40-yard dash and topped out around 23.4 miles per hour.

Both receivers were moving fast. They vaulted their draft status into top-10 picks. Ross was selected ninth overall in 2017. Heyward-Bey was a surprise selection as the Oakland Raiders picked him seventh overall in 2009.

The 40-yard dash has always been a drill to watch. Players test their speed by sprinting 40 yards down the field.

However, teams are starting to not put less stock in the actual times.

These days, the key measuring stick is playing speed and Next GEN analytics. Still, keep an eye on the 40-yard dash and enjoy the fast times for fun.

Expect to see some freakish speed from guys this year. Especially offensive linemen that are now running 4.90 at 350 pounds.

Positional drills

Every year, there’s a medley of positional drills to watch. Quarterbacks showcase their arm talent with receivers. Defensive backs display their ball skills and pass rushers perform their array of moves.

A special workout to watch is a coverage drill. NFL coaches test players’ ability to drop in coverage and track the football in space.

Players start by backpedaling at the direction of the drill instructor. They follow the path of the football and are asked to track a pass thrown by a quarterback.

NFL scouts love the drill as it allows them to evaluate how well a player can flip their hips. It’s important in determining whether a defender can adjust to different offensive route concepts.

Another positional workout to watch is the blocking drills. These drills are important for both lineman groups. Offensive linemen are tested with their ability contain defenders that utilize a speed rush, bull rush or swim maneuver.

NFL scouts watch how well an offensive lineman can sink their hips and contain an emerging defender. It’s a key evaluation when determining schemes in which players can fit at the next level.

For edge rushers, a similar drill is important to test their speed and bend around the edge. It is all about leverage and getting into the backfield.

Watch how quickly players get off the line of scrimmage. A quick first step is often the key to a sack or quarterback pressure.

Quarterback drills

The last group to watch is the quarterbacks. Every NFL team wants to see how well each quarterback can work through progressions. The ability to work off their first option and scan the length of the field.

With many teams needing a new signal-caller, these drills will be important in separating the bunch this season. NFL scouts will be able to pinpoint the areas where each quarterback thrives.

For example, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert left a major impression at the 2020 combine. He showcased his entire arsenal and solidified his top-10 selection status.

Who will make a similar leap? Quarterbacks like Malik Willis (Liberty), Kenny Pickett (Pitt) and Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) each have a golden opportunity.

How well they can process information and execute on the field will tell a lot to NFL scouts. For that reason, the quarterback drills will be must-see to determine who is worthy of a first-round pick.