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The Combine Begins

Today is the official start of the NFL Combine. With no players taking the field, doing interviews or undergoing medical tests its easily the most boring day. With no news coming out of Indianapolis it feels appropriate to do a sort of introduction to the combine.

For those that don't know much about the combine it can be summarized simply as a yearly event where the NFL invites the majority of draft eligible players to come and be evaluated by all 32 of the NFL teams. Almost every invited player attends the combine, but a few either do not attend or show up to only do specific portions of the evaluation process. Usually, this is because the player is comfortable with their draft status and does not want to do anything that would cause a team to question that status. It also could simply be that the play is injured and cannot participate in the more physical portions. As I mentioned earlier there are 3 main evaluation events that a player can go through. The workout portion will see the player get on the field at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis and do time 40 yard sprints, a standing high jump, bench press and a variety of speed and agility drills. The medical evaluation will be done by team doctors and training with the most rigorously tested players usually being the ones that have an injury history. The medical evaluation consists of urinalysis, physical test and a psychological profile. The other part is the interview process. This could be described as speed dating NFL-style as teams get 15 minutes to talk with a player before a bell rings and they go to the next one.

Recently, two of the Chargers top personnel guys, John Spanos and Jimmy Raye, were interviewed on the radio by Darrin Smith. I actually got the speed dating thing from one of those interviews. One was also asked about how much of the scouting staff is on hand at the combine. For the Chargers, they basically send their entire scouting staff to the combine. Some teams don't want to influence their area scouts (the ones that do the scouting during the NCAA season) with the off-the-field evaluations, but the Chargers like to give their scouts every possible piece of information on a player. I would assume that it's also a way for scouts to cross-check each other. It was also emphasized how important the interview process is for the team. They do get to interview players from time to time during the season and at the Senior Bowl, but the combine just has so many players available for interview that they are able to get face-to-face time with so many more players. It was also mentioned that many of the non-Seniors at the combine will get a little more attention. Some of these players were not on the team's radar during the college season as they tend to focus on players that they know will be draft eligible, so the combine is a good chance to pick up some additional information on these guys.

In previous posts I've emphasized the 40 time at the combine. I do realize that in the grand scheme of things, it's not really that important. The only reason I talk about it is that from an outsider's perspective it's the only number that comes out of the combine that may actually have some predictive power when it comes to evaluating RBs. For everything else that comes out of the combine, us outsiders have to rely on rumors and innuendo to try to filter through to which players' stocks are going up and down. The teams themselves are mostly watching the workout drills to confirm or deny what their scouts saw. If their scouts said that this guy is lightning fast, then they'll want to confirm that with a 40 time. If they say he's really strong, then they'll want to see a great bench press. If a report said that the guy couldn't jump high, but he's above average on his standing jump, then they may want to look at some more game film on him.

Another aspect of the combine that gets some media hype is the Wonderlic test. This is a twelve-minute, fifty-question test where the players are challenged to answer a number of mathematical and logic-based questions. Many question the actual benefits of the test and the real reason the media hypes it up is mostly shock journalism. They want to find low scores to embarrass players and get people talking or they want to find high scores and then interview the guy to see how smart he really is. In my opinion, if they wanted to do an intelligence test for football players it should be based on playbooks or how to react to certain coverages or stuff like that. But, traditions are hard to break, so they keep doing the test.

As a sort of appendix to the main post, I want to include some ESPN Insider links to some Combine preview articles they put up. They break down each position's top prospects and highlight what is the main thing that scouts want to see from that player.


I think the position we are most curious about is RB, so I'll do a short summary of the players mentioned in that article.

C.J. Spiller 40-yard dash times, specifically, his 10- and 20-yard splits
Ryan Mathews short-area burst
Jahvid Best medical
Dexter McCluster A 40 time in the 4.4-second range
Jonathan Dwyer show up around 225 lbs and in good shape.
Montario Hardesty medical: knees
Joe McKnight 40-yard dash splits from 10 to 20 yards and 20 to 30
Toby Gerhart shuttle and three-cone drills