INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL’s offseason lasted all of 16 days. Now thousands of personnel — executives, coaches, scouts, agents, media, and 330 draft hopefuls — will descend upon Indianapolis this week for the annual NFL Scouting Combine.
The once-obscure predraft event now is a big deal, with more than 1,000 media members providing round-the-clock analysis and the NFL providing live footage of on-field drills.
Everyone knows that the prospects run the 40-yard dash and undergo psychological testing in the form of the Wonderlic test. But those two aspects are only a minor part of the overall combine experience. It’s really a four-day grind for the players, who get tugged and pulled on by several dozen doctors, get grilled in private interviews by team representatives, and have to perform on-field drills with thousands of eyes watching their every move.
Here’s what really goes on at the combine:
■ All draft-eligible prospects are reviewed by a committee of various NFL executives and the directors of the National and BLESTO scouting services, and those players receiving enough votes are invited to the combine. The NFL executives can rotate on a yearly basis and remain anonymous.
This year, 332 athletes were invited. There are usually around 255 draft spots (depending on compensatory picks), and about 20-30 non-invitees get drafted as well, meaning around 100 or so combine invitees will not get drafted.
■ The players are sorted by position and arrive on different days. The first group arrived Tuesday: offensive linemen, running backs, and specialists. The second group arrives Wednesday: quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends. The third group arrives Thursday: defensive linemen and linebackers. And the fourth group arrives Friday: cornerbacks and safeties.
■ The first day entails arrival in Indianapolis, registration (including the signing of waivers to authorize health-care providers and to release college medical results to the NFL) a head-to-toe physical exam, orientation, and the beginning of team interviews.
The medical exam is similar to a general physical and is usually conducted in a large ballroom, with one doctor present from each of the 32 teams. The doctors will often pair up, and each prospect will visit one pairing for his physical. All of the doctors agree to share their findings, making the medical grades fairly consistent.
The players are also tested for recreational and performance-enhancing drugs, and a positive test will enter a player into the NFL’s drug program before they even enter the league.
■ The second day involves measurements, press conferences, interviews with teams, and more medical examinations. The Day 2 medical exam is more comprehensive, and is without question the most important aspect of the combine.
The 32 team medical staffs are split into six groups, and are usually not paired with division rivals. Each group gets its own examination room, and the players get examined in each of the six rooms by all the head team physicians (usually orthopedic surgeons) plus their associates and specialists.
(The Patriots doctors are teamed with the Colts, Browns, Rams, and Vikings.)
“If a player’s got an ACL tear, there literally could be 32 different opinions,” said Dr. David Chao, who attended 19 combines as the Chargers physician. “Medical grades [the general physical] are much more consistent, because they’re all hearing it from the same source. The orthopedic test, one team can pass him and another team can fail him.”
Each team has the ability to order X-rays or other further examinations for a player, and the results can vary per team. The combine uses the Indiana University Health hospital system.
“It can be anything — MRIs, additional X-rays,” said Jeff Foster, president of National Football Scouting, which runs the combine. “There’s nothing off limits in terms of what they can order.”
■ The one-on-one interviews are arguably the second-most important aspect of the combine. The rules allow teams to conduct 60 private interviews during the week, plus a specific time for informal interviews with scouts and assistant coaches.
Each prospect is given a card with his name and position, and is handed his card each morning with his daily schedule, which includes his medical testing and interview schedule, which generally occur between 6 and 11 p.m. Combine organizers assign the interviews, and players do not know with which team they are meeting until they arrive in the interview room. Official interviews can last up to 15 minutes.
Each team is given a hotel suite to conduct the interviews. The front office executives and top members of the coaching staff are usually involved. Some teams will simply talk to the prospect in a living room setting, while some will break out a dry-erase board to test football aptitude, and others will review game film with the prospect.
For most top executives and head coaches, the combine is their first introduction to the prospects.
“We’re just getting started in the scouting process,” said a player agent. “Most of these GMs didn’t know these kids until two weeks ago.”
Unlike the Senior Bowl, where players and agents have informal meetings at hotels and restaurants, such run-ins are rare at the combine, where both the teams and the players have tighter schedules.
■ The third day entails a meeting with the NFL Players Association, psychological testing (the Wonderlic), the bench press, and more official interviews.
■ The fourth day is for on-field workouts — run the 40, 20-yard shuttle, and three-cone drill, perform the broad and vertical jumps, and do specific position drills in front of dozens of scouts and coaches. The prospects head home at the end of the day.