NFL scouting jargon is so foreign and colorful you could claim bilingual status if you understand it.
Scouts developed this dialect to differentiate between a couple hundred guys who all run a 40 in under five seconds.
The following list will prepare you for some of the expressions you might encounter as the NFL Scouting Combine officially kicks off draft season.
(Feel free to apply fortune cookie rules by ending each phrase with “in bed” for added entertainment.)
3-technique: Refers to a defensive tackle that lines up in the “3 gap” between offensive guard and tackle most commonly in a 4-3 defense. Does not refer to the swingers you met in Cabo.
5-technique: Refers to a defensive end that lines up in the “5 gap” between the offensive tackle and tight end most commonly in a 4-3 defense. Does not refer to when the swingers you met in Cabo asked, “What if we invited the cabana boy?”
40 time: No, it doesn’t mean happy hour at the local frat house. It’s the result of one’s 40-yard dash, the most quoted and scrutinized measurable in football. Mine has never been recorded because everyone lost interest before I reached the finish line.
Ankle tackler: An unfavorable description of a defensive back’s poor tackling technique. See: Sandcastle, Leon.
Bird Dog: Describes a quarterback who stares down his receiver before passing, alerting the defense where the ball is going and giving them the advantage in coverage. Must be spoken with a southern accent to be authentic, the same way newscasters suddenly acquire an accent when pronouncing foreign names and places.
BJ: Stands for Broad Jump. A good one is usually between 10-11 feet. What did you think it meant?
Foot frequency: Measures stride, not the bandwidth of Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone.
Good bend: Defined as an offensive lineman with good form and flexibility. Great bend: Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.
High motor: A backhanded compliment for a guy with little or no physical advantages but tries really, really hard. This term was perfect for my match.com profile when I was single.
It factor: In the rare, Zen-like moments when draft pundits have run out of adjectives to describe whichever prospect they are currently gushing over, they surrender their eloquence and say, “He just has ‘it.’” It’s kinda like screaming “UNCLE!.”
Plays high: An undesirable label for players that don’t maintain a low center of gravity and are therefore more easily blocked or tackled. Also refers to everyone on the Broncos and Seahawks rosters.
Possession receiver: Derives a negative connotation for slower WRs with good hands. Also derives a negative connotation in a background check by prospective employers.
Shed and scrape: A positive attribute for linebackers that can avoid blockers and flow to the ball carrier. A negative attribute for dog groomers.
Skill position: In life, it’s the guy standing outside the hole with a tape measure telling the guy digging the hole to hurry it up. In football, it’s anyone directly responsible for scoring or preventing a score: QB, RB, WR, TE, CB, S, KR/PR. I would not recommend referring to a lineman or linebacker as “unskilled,” at least not to his face.
System player: Means an individual player padded his résumé due to a favorable scheme that emphasized his abilities. Does not mean a Don Juan on Xbox Live.
Throws in a phone booth: Describes a quarterback with sound passing mechanics who operates well in a tight pocket. Speaking of descriptions, good luck explaining what a phone booth is to your kids.
Tweener: A player who’s size or speed isn’t traditionally desirable for any particular position. Page 2 said it best: Describes a prospect just good enough to get a defensive coordinator fired.
VJ: Stands for Vertical Jump. The best are around 40 inches. Mine is around four inches…
War room: The nickname for the mysterious bomb shelters where front office personnel sequester themselves during the draft. If you’re still reading by fortune cookie rules—and why wouldn’t you be—remember what Pat Benatar said: love is a battlefield.
ZJ: If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.