UK Football

Kentucky football at the NFL Combine: Five things to prepare you for this week’s action

Behind the scenes with Benny Snell on the flaming sledgehammer photo shoot

UK running back Benny Snell Jr. is featured on the cover of the Herald-Leader's 2018 college football preview section. See how photographers Alex Slitz and Mark Mahan put it all together.
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UK running back Benny Snell Jr. is featured on the cover of the Herald-Leader's 2018 college football preview section. See how photographers Alex Slitz and Mark Mahan put it all together.

More than 300 prospects with professional football dreams will look to improve their stock as the 2019 NFL Combine gets underway this week in Indianapolis.

Eight of those draft-hopefuls played for the University of Kentucky: linebacker Josh Allen, cornerback Derrick Baity, tight end C.J. Conrad, safety Mike Edwards, cornerback Lonnie Johnson, linebacker Jordan Jones, running back Benny Snell and safety Darius West are all scheduled to take part in this year’s annual NFL job fair, which includes event drills, interviews with teams and the famed Wonderlic test — an intelligence test used to measure prospective employees’ learning and problem-solving ability.

Here’s what you should know about the combine and how to keep up with it this week.

1. The history

Eight UK players may be the most ever in a single combine from the school.

It’s at least the most since 2001, when the university had six players participate (Derek Homer, Kenneth Grant, Eric Kelly, Quentin McCord, Marlon McCree and Omar Smith — Kelly, McCord and McCree were drafted). It’s as many participants as the program had in the last four years (four in 2015, two each in 2016 and 2017, and none in 2018 — the first goose egg since 2007). UK since 2000 has had 43 total combine participants (51 counting this year’s invitees).

Among Southeastern Conference schools, only Alabama (11), Georgia (nine) and Mississippi (nine) have more participants than UK is scheduled to have this year. Florida, Mississippi State and Texas A&M also had eight players invited.

2. The drills

Seven measurable drills are available to combine participants: 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle run and 60-yard shuttle run.

The 40-yard dash is probably the most oft-cited combine drill, particularly in regard to wide receivers, defensive backs and other “skill-position” players. It measures how quickly a player can run 40 yards. Seventeen players since the combine began using electronic timing in 1999 have ran the drill in 4.3 seconds or faster; John Ross, a former Washington star who now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals, ran the fastest recorded time, 4.22, at the 2017 combine.

Weight and height measurements also are taken from each player. Aaron Gibson (a 6-foot-6 offensive tackle out of Wisconsin) was the heaviest prospect ever at the combine, scaling at 386 pounds; he was drafted in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions but injuries cut his career short after five seasons. Kolton Miller, a 6-foot-9 offensive tackle drafted 15th overall last year by the Oakland Raiders, is the tallest player to participate since 2000 (he also set a record for offensive linemen with a 10-feet, 1-inch broad jump).

3. Impact

Speed is no guarantee of future NFL stardom: Derrick Locke ran a 4.37 in the 40 in 2011, the fastest time recorded by a UK player at the combine in the last 18 years. He briefly signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2011 but was waived less than a month later and never landed with another team.

On the other hand, Locke’s broad jump measurement was 118 — the median distance output by combine running backs from 2009 to 2013, per research by The Patriot-News from last February. That same research showed that running backs who went further in the broad jump were more likely to have longer NFL careers than those who failed to meet the average.

A series of articles by Bill Lotter of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective charted the significance, or lack thereof, of combine drills by measuring how certain events can predict NFL success by relating combine numbers (from 2000-2011) to the Approximate Value (a Pro Football Reference stat) of NFL players in their first three seasons (since the average career length of an NFL player is 3.3 years). The HSAC research suggested that, while NFL teams may over-value its importance, the 40-yard dash tends to be the most predictive across the most position groups; the bench press, which teams also put a lot of stock in, tends to be the least predictive. That same research suggested that combine drills might be a waste of time for wide receivers — performances in any event or body measurement showed no strong correlation to future NFL success.

4. Schedule

Players are paired into different groups by position and remain in Indianapolis for four days. The first day they register, undergo medical pre-exams and imaging and undergo orientation. The second day they’re measured and undergo more medical exams. Day three they’re subject to psychological testing, media questions, meetings with the NFL Players Association and their first drill — the bench press, which is conducted in front of a live audience of fans. The last day is reserved for position-specific drills open only to select media — the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, etc. Prospects over the course of their four days in Indianapolis also can field individual interviews with teams.

Running backs, offensive linemen and special teams players are the first group to arrive, with their final day of workouts scheduled for Friday. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends do on-field workouts on Saturday, defensive linemen and linebackers do so on Sunday and defensive backs will close the combine with their workouts on Monday.

Live coverage of all four on-field workout days will be available on the NFL Network. This year is also the first time that a national broadcast network — ABC — will have live, on-site coverage of the combine on its network; it will air a two-hour special focused on quarterback and wide receiver workouts beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday.

5. Who else?

Former Wildcats aren’t the only prospects with Kentucky ties to keep tabs on this week.

Damien Harris, a Madison Southern graduate, rushed for 3,477 yards and 25 touchdowns in his four years at Alabama. He has a positive prospect grade on NFL.com (a 5.8, or a chance to become an NFL starter) and has been praised for his versatility and size. NFL.com analysts Daniel Jeremiah and Lance Zierlein peg the Philadelphia Eagles as a team that might be watching Harris closely this week.

“The Eagles have fielded a patchwork corps of running backs lately, but Harris might be a steadier option if the team is OK with his level of explosiveness and creativity,” the pair wrote this month.

Wide receiver Jaylen Smith, who finished with 2,505 yards and 15 TDs in four seasons with Louisville, will also be at the combine. The 6-foot-2 prospect has “NFL backup or special teams potential,” according to NFL.com.

NFL Combine on TV

Thursday: 1 p.m. (NFL Network)

Friday: 9 a.m. (NFL Network)

Saturday: 10 a.m. (NFL Network), 1 p.m. (ABC-36)

Sunday: 9 a.m. (NFL Network)

Monday: 9 a.m. (NFL Network)

Josh Moore is a digital sports reporter who specializes in preps coverage. He’s in his fourth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore graduated with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English from the University of Kentucky in 2013.


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