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The NFL Combine Scores and Why They Matter

Article Written by David Klemic

Originally Published on March 28th,. 2024


A lot of people may not know this, but the NFL Combine was not even really owned by

the NFL. The NFL hired a 3 private research companies to help them evaluate the ability of a

college athlete to make it to the NFL level thru objective data.


The scores that have gotten the most attention have been the physical quality scores,

but the Wonderlic score (which is basically like an IQ test) and the Interviews are just as big a

factor in an athletes ability to interact with the coaching staffs and get an opportunity to really

let their personality show. In many cases the athletes are asked to defend themselves to some off the field mistakes that may have made and this is their opportunity to defend themselves.


I know this much about the NFL combine because in 2001 I was invited to participate. The invite also came with a plane ticket to Indianapolis and pretty much means that your on your way to becoming an NFL football player. They only invite about 300 athletes each year to the event, and between the amount of people who are drafted and get picked up as undrafted free agents, there are going to be nearly 400 college athletes invited to NFL training camps each year. Therefore, the NFL combine invite is basically your golden ticket to the final show if you compare it to America’s Got Talent!


The first thing you do when you finally get to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis is check in with all 32 NFL

teams and interview with each coaching staff of the teams that are interested in you. After that, all of those teams' doctors basically take turns poking and prod ding everything that has ever been added to your medical reports.


After getting your teeth checked, you walk around in your shorts and a shirt with a number on it, not

even your name! At the NFL Combine in 2001 I was WO24, which meant "WideOut" and 24 out of I

believe 35 wide receivers invited that year. It's even objective data when you walk around in your shirt, which was wild to experience.


My experience was really important for an athlete like me because although I was highly

successful and scored a nation leading amount of touchdowns in my career, I played at a smaller

school. Because of this, I wasn’t compared apples to apples with some of the other big time college

programs. The standardized numbers of the combine was the way that the NFL decided they could level the

playing field before the draft and watch me compete with the big time college program athletes.


The marquee scores are the 40 yard dash, but there are a dozen other tests that are

more important per your position. They then go through a bunch of field work exercises to see

how you can catch the ball, concentrate, throw, block, jump and some just to compete.


Overall it isn’t fun. It feels like a track meet where you are just biting you nails and nervous all day. I know this because I ran track all my life, including in college and even in a pro meet once called the

"New Balance Invitational" in Boston MA. The NFL Combine had the same exact type of feeling so I was very comfortable there, but there were many athletes that were freaking out and felt super nervous for a couple days!


The point of me telling the story of my own experience participating at the Combine is because my entire career as a sports performance coach was predicated on this experience. It had come to my attention how important objective data was to coaching staffs in the NFL because if you look at it from their eyes, they are about to make a huge financial investment into a young college athlete. This process really helps them make their final decision. For example, before you buy a car, wouldn’t you want to try driving it first.? Well the teams get to conceptually attempt a 'try it before you buy it' type of thing.


Once I fully understood the importance of this process thanks to participating in it, I've come to realize how impactful that experience has prepared me for my career. Thanks to attending the Combine, I got an early-on sight to the need of an emerging world of sports performance, and dedicated my professional life after the NFL to helping athletes improve these test scores.

During my pre-Combine training with Chip Smith Performance Systems in Atlanta, GA, I got to

workout in the same groups as some of the NFL’s best players. This included Champ Bailey,

Brian Urlacher, and dozens of Heisman Trophy winners. All people looking to either improve

there objective scores for the combine or keep their numbers the same throughout their NFL

career to prove that they haven’t lost a step to teams looking to pay them less for their new

contracts.


Chip Smith is a brilliant coach and is known as the “Godfather of Sports Performance in America.” He was the first to use many of the machines that take human error out of testing that are commonplace to use to this day. Some of the testing equipment Chip utilized before they became the norm included using laser timing instead of hand held timing, electric JUST JUMP mat testing instead of the jump, and the swing test called a 'Vertex.'


I decided to take this concept even further to use a system in my own facility called 'TRAZER', which instantly quantifies biomechanics movement. So not only does the system provide the test score, but it also demonstrates the efficiency of movement as well! I am obsessed with this machine and have found data from it that has changed the way that not only I coach, but other coaches with injured athletes across our count approach coaching as well.


While the NFL Combine and it's objective process has made some people famous over the years, it has also made it's fair share of players' infamous. There are many athletes that have lost a lot of money due to having poor performances. Vontaze Burfict is a prime example of this, a player who was was a projected 1st round draft pick heading into the Combine. However, his off the field issues and lackluster test scores caused him to go undrafted, a difference that cost him millions of dollars.


In my opinion, the combine is a very important process for evaluating talent. Not so much to see if a player is draftable, as that talent will show on the field. However, its an effective way for teams to decide how they rank you amongst your peers. This is hard to do when players are never really on a level playing field because of the differing competition levels during their time in college, especially when you consider the amount of TV exposure with big teams and their players and the lack thereof for smaller school athletes. At the end of the day, the NFL is nothing more than a really big fancy business. They are all about protecting and evaluating their investments, so can you blame them for wanting to check out said investments before making the decision to invest millions of dollars into them? And for the football obsessed people like me it's just one more part of the big drama soap opera that we get to spend time gossiping about!





David Klemic,

Former NFL Wide Receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs & Founder of the Klemic Performance Method

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