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Combine Provides Valuable Info

Posted Feb 22, 2014

Why do teams invest so much time and effort into the NFL Scouting Combine even if no pads are worn, no hits are made and no real football is involved? There is much value in one of the true “happenings” of the year …

What happens at the NFL Scouting Combine? You know the routine by now: Players are weighed, measured, poked and prodded, given physicals and are then taken through the mental gymnastics by each team and then, of course, perform speed, agility and football-related drills in front of scouts and stopwatches and every bit of scrutiny from the viewing public.

It matters. It sure does. Specially, here is where it matters most …

THE INTERVIEW

Teams are permitted to interview as many as 60 players for 15 minutes each in the days the Combine goes on, and the questions and answers are taken very seriously. Players are well prepared for these conversations, having rehearsed with their handlers – agents, business managers, etc. – for many weeks. Most of the players, in fact, have been training physically and mentally since the end of the football season. Some of the players leave school and go to Florida or Arizona to train and get ready for the grind of the pre-draft process.

Consider it the ultimate job interview. And if a player screws up in the 15 minutes in front of any team, there is reason to worry. If a player comes across the wrong way to a team, he is likely to have his grade lowered. This is speed dating, and coaches and personnel people want to gain a favorable first impression.

So the interview is critical. Players have practiced this many times. There is no reason to come across as anything other than positive, eager to do anything a team needs him to do and intelligent. Players are asked about past mistakes they’ve made – discovered when teams perform background checks on them – and are expected to answer honestly.  Otherwise, red flags are raised.

THE PHYSICAL

Teams send out their full arsenal of athletic trainers and doctors and look into every player’s physical history and current condition. Players are photographed and their bodies are analyzed. They are given looked at thoroughly by teams and their athletic training staff.

Players are measured by height and weight across the board, so teams have a comparative baseline from which to analyze position groups. If you want bigger players, you know exact heights and weights and hand sizes and head circumference and all of that data that teams value so much.

Any player coming off an injury, and most of them are, with varying degrees of severity, are not going to be drafted by a team unless that team is absolutely convinced the injuries are healing the right way and that the player is in good standing.

It matters. All of the time spent in front of the team’s doctors and athletic trainers matter.

THE DRILLS

DeSean Jackson was one of the stars of the 2008 Combine in the pass-catching drills. He showed remarkable quickness and burst in and out of his routes and caught just about everything thrown his way. He battled some character question marks that ultimately bumped him down to a second-round draft pick, but his skills on the field were of a first-round player, so the Eagles made themselves a great pick taking Jackson in Round 2 that year.

The three-cone drill, the routes the players run, the 40-yard dash time, the number of reps performed lifting 225 pounds – all of that goes into the equation. It’s part of the evaluation of every player. How much the Combine affects draft positioning is part of each team’s preference, but it certainly matters.

Do teams fall in love with “workout warriors?” Some do. We’ve seen it here over the years, most notably when Ray Rhodes drafted Boston College defensive end Mike Mamula in 1995. Mamula, who had been extremely productive on the field, boosted his draft status with an eye-popping athletic performance at the Combine and the Eagles traded up into the top 10 of the draft to take him. The pick was scrutinized forever. Mamula had a solid career with the Eagles and he was productive, but it would have taken multiple Pro Bowl seasons to live up to the hype and the selection in the top 10 of the first round.

THE INTANGIBLES

There is more to the Combine, of course. Players meet the media and are asked tough questions in huge group settings. Every player is watched constantly as his demeanor and social-interaction skills are judged. How he carries himself is important. Geez, everything matters here.

The NFL Scouting Combine is a unique professional experience. It gives every team a chance to judge players in an apples-to-apples environment, and everything goes. Hairstyles, clothing choices, eating habits … it all makes a difference.

The world is watching Indianapolis through Tuesday. The players are under the microscope, with their NFL futures at stake.

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