For an NFL Draft prospect, training for the pros can be equivalent to an Army boot camp.
After declaring their intent to enter the draft, top prospects pack their bags and depart for high-performance training facilities, where they join their fellow players for six weeks of rigorous training to prepare for the biggest job interview of their young careers: the NFL Combine.
Their pre-draft workouts can be the catalyst that propels a prospect up a team’s draft board. Example: fringe first-round prospect Brandin Cooks runs the fastest 40-Yard Dash among wide receivers and lands in the first round of the draft when the New Orleans Saints trade up and select him with the 20th overall pick.
Cooks is one of many prospects who made the most of his pre-draft workouts. So what are the go-to exercises and drills for these top-tier prospects?
60-Yard Shuttle Run
Who’s doing it: DE Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans (1st overall)
Why he does it: Clowney is a once-in-a-generation talent who possesses a rare combination of speed and size. To take full advantage of his exceptional physical tools, the No. 1 pick performs Shuttle Runs to improve his conditioning so he can stay on the field and excel as an every-down player.
How to do it: Start on the goal line in an athletic stance facing the sideline. Turn and sprint to the 5-yard line. Decelerate, drop your hips, turn your shoulders toward the sideline and touch the line with your right hand. Turn and sprint back to the goal line. Drop your hips and touch the line with your left hand. Repeat shuttle pattern, sprinting to the 10-yard line and returning to the goal line and then to the 15-yard line and sprinting through the goal line to complete the drill.
Who’s doing it: WR Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (4th overall)
Why he does it: Sled Pulls train Watkins to put force into the ground behind his body, enabling him to explode off the line of scrimmage and accelerate forward with maximum velocity.
How to do it: Start with your body positioned at a 45-degree forward lean. Push through the ground with your back foot and drive forward into a sprint. Driving your arms forward and back, continue sprinting for specified distance.
Sets/Distance: 4×20 yards
Who’s doing it: OT Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans (11th overall)
Why he does it: This exercise develops Lewan’s explosive power in his hips, which is key for driving through defenders at the point of contact when blocking.
How to do it: Assume an athletic stance using a wide grip on the barbell. Starting with the bar near mid-thigh level, fully extend your hips, knees and ankles to explode upward. Forcefully shrug your traps while keeping your arms straight and elbows locked. Pull the bar up, keeping it close to your chest. Drop under the bar and catch it overhead. Return to start position and repeat for specified reps.
Single-Arm Cable Row
Who’s doing it: LB Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers (15th overall)
Why he does it: Despite his athletic freakishness, Shazier lacked ideal size and bulk coming out of Ohio State. Upper-body strengthening exercises like the Single-Arm Row helped him add bulk to his 230-pound frame. He reported to the NFL Combine at 237 pounds and erased any concerns regarding his size.
How to do it: Assume a quarter-squat stance with your left hand holding the cable attachment. Keep your core tight and pull the cable to your chest. Return to start position and repeat for specified reps. Perform a set with your right arm.
Who’s doing it: OT Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys (16th overall)
Why he does it: Injury prevention plus shoulder strength: the Shrug strengthens the muscles that protect the shoulder joint. Strong shoulders enable Martin to extend his arms and deliver a powerful punch to jar a pass rusher.
How to do it: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms straight at your sides. Shrug your shoulders, hold for one count and return to start position. Repeat for specified reps.
Who’s doing it: LB C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens (17th overall)
Why he does it: Mosley is one of the most instinctive linebackers in the 2014 draft class. His sideline-to-sideline speed and change-of-direction ability are honed with the Hurdle Step-Over, which is a prime exercise for enhancing hip flexibility.
How to do it: Set up five hurdles in a row positioned approximately a foot apart. Step over the hurdles, leading with your left leg while maintaining a tall posture. Repeat pattern for each hurdle. Perform next Step-Over, leading with your right leg.
Sets/Reps: 2×5 each leg
Who’s doing it: WR Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints (20th overall)
Why he does it: Kneeling Pull-Downs, performed on a Keiser air resistance machine, were part of a metabolic conditioning circuit performed at the end of Cooks’ workout. They enhanced his conditioning and packed more muscle onto his 189-pound frame.
How to do it: Assume kneeling position and grip handles of Keiser machine cables. Perform Pull-Downs in a fast, controlled manner for as many reps as possible for specified duration.
Sets/Duration: 2×30 seconds
Who’s doing it: LB Trent Murphy, Washington Redskins (2nd round, 47th overall)
Why he does it: The Power Squat builds lower-body explosion and strength. For a linebacker like Murphy, the NCAA leader in sacks in 2013, lower-body explosiveness is critical for rushing the edge and getting to the quarterback.
How to do it: Assume athletic stance with the barbell on your back and your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. Keeping your back straight and your knees behind your toes, sink your hips back and slowly lower into squat position. Hold for one count and extend your hips and knees to explosively drive up and out of squat position. Repeat for specified reps.
Barbell Box Lunge
Who’s doing it: RB Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (2nd round, 57th overall)
Why he does it: The Barbell Box Lunge is ideal for enhancing stride length, building lower-body strength and improving single-leg stability, all crucial attributes for a running back.
How to do it: With a barbell on your upper back, assume an athletic stance in front of an 18-inch plyo box. Step onto the box with your right foot and explosively drive your body up. Drive your left knee up until your thigh is parallel to the ground. Bend your right knee and hip to lower your left leg to the ground to return to start position. Perform the next rep stepping up with your left leg and driving your right knee. Repeat in alternating fashion for specified reps.
Sets/Reps: 3×3-4 each leg
Ab Wheel Rollout
Who does it: RB Terrance West, Cleveland Browns (3rd round, 94th overall)
Why he does it: West boosted his draft stock by running the 40-Yard Dash in 4.54 seconds, a solid time for a 225-pound back. His fast 40 was powered by core-strengthening exercises like the Ab Wheel Rollout. A strong and stable core helped him transfer energy more efficiently from the ground and through his lower-body muscles when running the 40.
How to do it: Stand tall and engage your glutes and core. Keep your back straight throughout the movement.