While an individual player’s vertical jump varies a lot by body type and position, the average for an NFL player is 35 inches. 
Receivers, running backs, cornerbacks, and safeties tend to have the highest vertical leaps, while linemen and quarterbacks have the lowest. 
My name is David, and one of the reasons my playing career ended in high school was my dreadful vertical leap. Being 6’4” isn’t that useful if you can’t jump over a deck of cards. But since my early retirement, I’ve closely followed the NFL along with some time as an assistant coach at the middle school level.
While not the most important athletic component in football, a player’s vertical leap can be an important indicator of other important abilities like explosiveness and leg strength. In this article, we’ll dig a little deeper into the wide range of leaping verticals in the NFL and examine the careers of those with the biggest recorded vertical leaps in league history.
- The average vertical leap in the NFL is 35 inches.
- There’s a lot of variation in a vertical leap across positions with running backs, receivers, cornerbacks, and safeties generally having the largest.
- Safety Gerald Sensabaugh has the biggest recorded vertical leap in NFL combine history at 46 inches.
When is a Player’s Vertical Jump Measured?
Players have their vertical jump measured before the draft at the NFL combine. This is an invitation-only event, and how a player performs in drills like the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, and other drills can have a big effect on where they’ll be drafted.
The combine uses a tall pole with a series of 14-inch prongs attached. 
When struck, these prongs swivel, allowing scouts to accurately measure how high a player can jump.
The player doesn’t get a running start but instead crouches and explodes upwards to reach the highest prong possible. Like most tests at the combine, draft prospects are not in pads or helmets, so it’s fair to assume their combine numbers will be somewhat inflated compared to in-game performance.
How Much Does Vertical Jump Matter?
One of the aspects of football I love is the wide spectrum of body types, skill sets, and athletic thresholds that are needed to be a successful team. How much should a team care about a left tackle’s 40-yard dash time? Probably not very much, they’re not running in a straight line very often. Hall of Famer and analyst Gil Brandt compiled a useful chart showing the minimum target test results scouts are looking for at the combine.
While a left tackle isn’t leaping straight up in the air very often, a vertical jump can still be an indicator of other skill sets, such as explosiveness and leg strength. If a lineman has a vertical jump below the 30” baseline, it likely means he doesn’t have the physical makeup to keep up with NFL-caliber athletes.
Receivers, running backs, cornerbacks, safeties, and outside linebackers have the highest vertical leap standards according to Brandt at 36 inches.
While vertical leap serves as an indicator for other athletic components, receivers and cornerbacks are likely to use their vertical leap in games to contest or catch jump balls.
Some receivers have made whole careers out of being able to outjump defenders and catch what is commonly referred to as “50-50 balls.” Randy Moss turned it into the NFL’s version of a basketball player being dunked on, and ESPN parlayed it into a segment called, “You got Mossed.”
Read more: WHO IS THE FASTEST RUNNING BACK OF ALL TIME?
Who Has the Highest Vertical Jump in NFL History?
The record for the highest recorded jump was set in 2005 by safety Gerald Sensabaugh with a vertical leap of 46 inches. 
That same year, linebacker Cameron Wake also broke the previous record with a jump of 45.5 inches. 
Despite their record-setting performances, a huge vertical leap wasn’t enough to skyrocket either player up the team’s draft boards.
Sensabaugh was chosen in the fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars and played in the NFL for eight seasons. 
He was a starter for five of those seasons, recording 14 career interceptions but was never selected to a Pro Bowl. 
Meanwhile, Cameron Wake wasn’t even drafted! Instead, Wake took his talents to the Canadian Football League where he dominated in 2007 and 2008 for the British Columbia Lions, recording 39 sacks. 
This caught the eye of the Miami Dolphins who signed him in 2009. 
Wake went on to have a fantastic career, notching 100.5 sacks and being named to four All-Pro teams. 
Unlike basketball, a big vertical jump is not a golden ticket to a successful football career. But it does serve as a critical indicator of other athletic abilities and is a functional tool for receivers and cornerbacks. Who doesn’t love seeing a receiver leap over the top of a defender and out-muscle him for the ball on a back-shoulder fade?
How much stock do you take in a player’s vertical leap when you’re evaluating players or watching to combine? Do you think it’ll change going forward? Let us know in the comments below.