Why NFL Players Can Jump So High

Over the last couple of weeks we have been discussing the importance of strength development in vertical jump training. While I am pretty sure nobody denies the value of strength training, the big questions have been about how much is appropriate versus how much jumping and explosive type work needs to be done.

One of the more interesting points raised by these discussions is the comparisons of NFL draft prospects vertical jump test results versus those of other sports, in particular, the NBA draft combine, and the implications of these results.

Now, there is no question that NFL combine vertical jump test results are superior to the NBA combine results, but does this necessarily mean that the training methods employed by these types of athletes are more valid? Personally, I think we are trying to compare apples and oranges and coming up with bananas.

So in this article I am going to explain why NFL draft prospects have higher standing vertical jumps than most sports and what this means for your own vertical jump training.

NFL Draft CombineNFL PLAYERS: Big, strong, fast!


You only need to take one look at the average NFL draft prospect to see how big and strong they are. These are after all the elite. Part of what makes these guys elite besides the obvious hard work is that many of them possess the genetic predisposition to excel at a sport where strength and power reign supreme

Such a genetic make up often involves among other things a naturally higher percentage of fast twitch fibers. This means that they are going to find it easier to get bigger, stronger, and more powerful than the average athlete, and also explains why so many of them are very strong AND very explosive.

The Value Placed On The Vertical Jump

Another reason NFL draft standing vertical jump numbers are so high is because NFL coaches and recruiters place a much higher level of significance on those combine results. Remember grid iron is a sport where fine motor skills are less important than other sports and physical speed, power and strength are of utmost concern.

With quite often the difference between getting drafted or not coming down to who has a few extra inches on their vertical (or extra reps on the bench, hundredths of a second in the 40 etc) it stands to reason that draft prospects will be working very hard just to master this test.

Compare that to say NBA players who are recruited much more for their skill, college performances, and height than their standing vertical jump and you can start to see why the NBA draft test results don't look so good – they simply don't need to.

standing vertical jumpStanding Vertical jump

Hard Work

While certainly some of the draft prospects have better genetics than others, none of them will have got to where they are by being lazy. Every one of them will have put in plenty of hard work to realize their potential.

Of course NBA players will have done the same too, but the demands of the sport of basketball mean that they will focus on much different areas.

Firstly, grid iron is very much a game of physical strength with a lot of hard hits, bone crunching tackling, heavy blocks, and generally a great deal of pushing and shoving to get to spots on the field.

When compared to basketball, there is a MUCH lower level of finesse and skill required and as such potential NFL players can afford to (and quite obviously should) spend significantly more time developing their bodies.

Now, if you compare that to the average NBA player, EVERY NBA player has to work on passing, dribbling, and of course shooting. Plus in the game of basketball you are not allowed to tackle a guy to the ground or you would be throw out and suspended.

Combine (no pun intended) the need for higher skill levels and a lower level of physical contact and you soon see why NBA draft guys don't tend to have the basic strength numbers of their NFL counterparts.

Scottie Pippen dunkSCOTTIE PIPPEN: Not as big or strong, but still awesome.


While I am not saying that all NFL draft candidates are taking steroids, it would also be naive to believe that in a game where success is highly correlated to speed, strength and muscular power, and where success has such large financial rewards, that some of those athletes aren't taking steroids.

What Does This Mean For The 'Average' Athlete

The obvious question to ask is what does this mean for your training? Are NFL training methods invalid for the average athlete? Hell no. In fact if I was training someone to increase their standing vertical jump I would probably follow an almost identical template to that used by Joe DeFranco with his guys (if it ain't broke don't fix it).

What sort of things you would expect these guys to be doing in their workouts? Firstly, when it comes to a pure standing vertical jump test, squat strength has a better carryover than for running tests. So I would focus on getting the athletes strength up.

But squatting isn't all that these guys do. Most guys who attend the NFL combine will be doing plenty of sprinting (particularly of the 40 yard variety), box jumping with weight vests, and other explosive movements such as medicine ball throws, and Olympic lifting, and any good program to increase a standing vertical would include these activities.

The standard approach for the average football player is to build a big strength base (usually starting early such as high school) and then once that is in place they start to focus on the explosive movements. In short they identify their areas of weakness and work on them until they are no longer weaknesses.

Which is exactly the approach you should be taking with your own training! Working on your weaknesses is THE QUICKEST WAY TO INCREASE YOUR VERTICAL JUMP.

This means if you are weak, then you need to get stronger, if you are slow you need to get faster, if you lack eccentric strength you need to include reactive strength drills, and if your jumping technique is poor, you need to spend time practicing. Vertical jump training isn't rocket science, it is about finding your weaknesses and working at them.

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The athletes who attend and excel at the NFL draft combine are pretty impressive. With most having standing vertical jump's in the high 30' and more than few into the 40's they clearly are onto something in the way they approach their training.

If a large standing vertical jump is your goal, then a program combining plenty of squatting and box jumping is going to be a pretty good approach regardless of your genetics. However if your sport requires more than just strength and power, you will need to modify your workouts to fit those needs.

Still, let's not take anything away from those guys. They are some of the biggest, strongest, and fastest athletes on the planet. I sure as hell wouldn't want to be tackled by any of them.

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