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Lawlor: Why The Combine Really Matters

Posted Feb 26, 2017

The NFL Scouting Combine takes place this week in Indianapolis. Fans think of the 40-yard dash, the bench press, or maybe positional drills when they hear about the Combine. Those are important elements, but they aren't the real keys to success in the days ahead.

The Combine was created in the 1970s for a very specific reason. There was a player named Nolan Cromwell who was a star at Kansas. NFL teams were very interested in him, but Cromwell had injury concerns. He flew from team to team so they could check him out. Teams realized there had to be a way to centralize this process. Get all of the NFL teams and the key prospects in one place at the same time. Teams want to do thorough medical checks as well as interview the players to start to get to know them off the field. That led to the creation of the Scouting Combine.

Physicals and interviews are the vital components.

We know the Eagles want to upgrade the receiver position. Mike Williams was a star for Clemson and has a chance to be a top-20 pick. He suffered a neck injury in 2015 that cost him virtually the entire season. Teams are going to want to get detailed X-rays and scans of his neck to make sure there aren't any long-term concerns. Williams played just fine in 2016 and I saw him take some big hits to his upper body, but the NFL wants players who can last for years. John Ross was an explosive receiver for the Washington Huskies. He has elite speed. He also has a history of knee injuries. Teams are going to check him out very thoroughly to make sure his knees can hold up in the NFL.

Most college players suit up for 12 or 13 games in a season. They have a short period of practices in the spring (March or April) and then several weeks of practice in August. The NCAA puts limits on how much players can practice during the season. You also have to factor in depth. College teams have 90 or more players on them. That means a lot of guys play in a game. There is a heavy rotation of players who get snaps.

Life in the NFL is different.

There are four preseason games and 16 regular season games. If you're on a good team, there could be as many as four playoff games. It is possible for a player to be in 24 total games in a season. That is twice as many as a college season. There are minicamps, passing camps, and Training Camp. That is a lot of wear and tear. You can see why teams are so thorough when they give physicals to a player and examine old injuries.

The interviews are also critical. Scouts have been visiting schools and doing research on players for the past six to eight months. This is the first time the coaches get to meet some of these players. Teams do get to do interviews at the Senior Bowl, but that is just 100 players. The Combine has more than 300 prospects every year. Teams get to choose 60 players who they want to meet with.

You have to understand that the Eagles had a list of more than 1,000 players to check out when this process all began last summer. The final draft board will have somewhere between 100 and 150 names on it. A lot of that is finding the best players, but part of that is selecting the right guys. Personalities matter when you are part of a team. Terrell Owens' personality is keeping him out of the Hall of Fame right now. Doug Pederson is in his second year as head coach. He is trying to build the Eagles into the kind of team he wants.

One of my favorite Combine interview stories happened a few years ago. An underclassmen told the team he was meeting with that he left college early for the NFL to help his family. He told them his mother needed financial help and he was trying to do the right thing for her. Sounds good, right? The team had done its research and knew this wasn't completely true. They asked him why he had gotten an advance from his agent and already bought a flashy sports car. The prospect was silent, surprised that the team knew about that. Teams aren't looking for angels, but they do want players they can trust and who are going to do the right thing more often than not.

With all 32 teams in one city, the Scouting Combine also provides an arena for trade talks to begin. The Eagles made key trades with the Titans and Dolphins last year. The seeds for both deals were planted in Indy. We don't know if the Eagles will pull off any moves this year, but you can bet Howie Roseman will be talking to other teams about potential deals.

The Eagles' draft board is already in place. It won't change substantially based on what happens in Indy, but it will be affected. Physicals, interviews, and, yes, even the on-field results will cause players to be moved up or down. If any players receive bad medical reports, they could be dropped substantially or taken off the board altogether.

It is important that the Eagles find the right players this year. Adding Carson Wentz last year was a huge move, but the challenge now is to surround him with talent. Getting the right quarterback is critical, but football is a team game. One player isn't enough.

Just look at the Colts. Andrew Luck is a franchise quarterback. That organization has been unable to build around him. They haven't had a good offensive line in Luck's five years. They haven't finished in the top 20 in rushing. They haven't had a top-10 defense. The Colts go as far as Luck takes them.

The Eagles have some good pieces around Wentz. The offensive line was good when Lane Johnson was there. The team went 5-1 with Johnson in the lineup and probably should have been 6-0. The running game was in the top 10 for much of the season and finished 11th in the league. That is even more impressive when you consider that the Eagles had some injuries in the backfield and weren't feeding the ball to a star runner. The defense was outstanding for part of the season, and has the potential to be very good in 2017.

The Eagles get a chance this week to learn more about the top prospects in the upcoming draft. This will help them identify which players they should target and which guys they should avoid.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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