An NFL Combine is not some new brand of farm equipment. It's an annual event that takes place in Indianapolis where the next ‘crop' of prospective NFL players gather and show off their talents and abilities for hundreds of NFL executives, scouts and coaches in preparation for April's NFL draft.
Some people refer to the combine as a ‘meat market', as the players are stripped to their under shorts and prodded by doctors, asked hundreds of questions in various psychological profiles and are asked to run agility drills, lift weights and more.
In recent years, several former members of the Iowa football program have performed well at the combine, so much so that players that travel to Indianapolis from the University of Iowa are starting to turn heads before they step onto the field at the RCA Dome, where the event takes place.
"Many NFL scouts and personnel men believe that Iowa is one of the top 10 schools in the entire country as far as coaching talent that was not recruited as being upper echelon players," said Lane Adkins, NFL expert for The Insiders network at www.nfldraft.theinsiders.com.
"Iowa is able to take guys that come into their program that might be undersized as far as body development and work them into football players."
Players that fit that mold are Matt Bowen, Derek Pagel, Dallas Clark, Bruce Nelson, Robert Gallery and several other players who were lightly regarded as high school seniors but after spending four or five years at Iowa, they worked themselves into the NFL.
"Iowa's workout regimen is great, and the names that you mentioned are examples of that, including Gallery this year. That is a testament to just how good this Iowa program really is." Adkins said.
Iowa's reputation as a ‘football factory' in the eyes of many NFL scouts and experts, combined with the impeccable reputation of the Hawkeye coaching staff and strength and conditioning program, is actually giving players who come to the combine with ‘Iowa' associated with their name a bit of advantage, Adkins feels.
"Sure it does. It's something that sticks in the back of your head. Many of the teams and scouts have a very good relationship with the guys at Iowa, so that is a bonus."
"Just knowing that the majority of the kids and the talent that has come out of that school, they are in very good physical condition and they are well coached; so when you have a team that is weighing their options, many times it will fall to the Iowa guy because he has been in their program and has had the great coaching."
Another aspect that is helping Iowa's football players get a leg up on the competition of being drafted is how the Iowa coaching staff and athletic department has embraced the NFL community during the course of the evaluation process.
"They are very accommodating, very cordial and willing to take the time to teach their kids about this side of their football careers." Adkins said. "What we end up finding out in the long run, is that the Iowa coaching staff and the athletic department are very solid, very thorough and very knowledgeable; and if a scout has questions concerning any Iowa kid or is looking for a piece of film, they have it and they are more than willing to share it with you."
Not all players who set foot on the college football gridiron will have NFL careers. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them will not.
In the end, there is very little that separates some of the players who get drafted and the ones that don't make the final cut.
Right now, the NFL feels that the University of Iowa football program is providing that ‘extra' edge, as has been evidenced on recent draft days and will likely be the case again this year.
The most Iowa players taken in one NFL draft in the top seven rounds, which is how many rounds the NFL currently uses, is five, and that happened last year.
Three of those players: Clark, Nelson and Pagel, were former walkons, and it's believe that the 2003 NFL draft was the first draft in history where three former walkons from the same football program were selected.
Iowa has had seven players drafted in the first seven rounds in back to back draft's one two other occasions: 1986-86 and 1986-87.
At the conclusion of this year's NFL draft, that two-year number will likely be eclipsed.
Robert Gallery seems like a lock to be taken with one of the top five overall picks, making him the highest Hawkeye draft pick since Randy Duncan went #1 overall in 1959 to the Green Bay Packers.
Other Hawkeyes that seem likely to be selected in the draft are Bob Sanders, Fred Russell and Nate Kaeding. Mo Brown also has a shot at being drafted and Jared Clauss also worked out at the combine. Howard Hodges has been working hard to impress NFL scouts in the hopes that he will hear his name called in April.
At the least, Iowa is looking to add four more players to the draft, which would give them a total of nine players selected over the past two years, including at least seven in the top five rounds, if not more.
Lane Adkins gives us his expert opinion on some of the Hawkeyes who will likely hear their name called in this year's draft.
Gallery had an outstanding workout in Indianapolis. He interviewed well and solidified his place in the upcoming draft. A solid technician, Gallery has better than average upper-body strength, but needs to work on his lower body. Moves effortlessly from right to left in pass-protection, has very quick hands and extends well. Very good pass-blocker and potentially an even better run-blocker. Has the frame to add mass without hindering his significant mobility advantage (quickness). Very great and refreshing attitude entering the league, very personable, and extremely well coached by Kirk Ferentz. One of the top five players in the draft and could very well be the first player selected.
Gallery has the physical ability and all of the tools to become one of the top five left tackles in the game. He is definitely the safest pick in this draft. Many teams are interested, and his upside is tremendous.
(NOTE: Gallery put up more than 30 repetitions of the NFL's 225-pound bench press test, but several of them were no counted due to their being ruled non-technical, meaning not locking the arms or bouncing the bar off the chest. But Gallery ran a sub 5.0 forty-yard dash and continued to blow the NFL people away with his agility and personality.)
Russell is a player that you either love or have no interest in. Tremendous quickness and better than average speed, Russell could land in the NFL as a kick-return specialist in 2004. Until Russell can prove that his stature (5-7, 195) and questionable hands for the increasingly important third-down type running back will not hinder him, he will struggle to see playing time on a regular basis early in his career.
From what I have been told and what I saw personally, I am still skeptical of his hands, even though he did practice well at Indianapolis. At the present time, he is a guy that is somewhere in the middle of the draft. He may be higher for a team who is enamored with him, but right now he is a middle of the draft guy.
(NOTE: Russell ran the 2nd fastest 40-yard dash time of any of the running backs that worked out at Indianapolis, a 4.45. He also performed extremely well in the pass catching drills and put up 21 reps of 225-pounds on the bench press test, which is a good number for a running back and even better considering his size.)
Bob Sanders is definitely a kid on the rise. Small stature (5-8) originally was believed to be an issue for NFL teams, but those concerns are no longer present. Plays bigger than his size and runs extremely well, times at 4.35 at the combine, which has led numerous teams to potentially look at Sanders as a cornerback in some circumstances. A very aggressive strong-safety, Sanders is a physical-hitting type player that at times is over-aggressive, causing him to bite on pump-fakes and play-action. Sanders will need to contain this aggressive nature. A solid second-round draft selection according to the majority of team scouts in attendance in Indianapolis.
I have spoken with personnel guys from three teams who have said that he is the type of guy, that if everything falls into place, he could go somewhere in the second round. Realistically, he may go in the third, but the second is a possibility with him. (Special teams impact in first year)
(NOTE: Like Gallery, Sanders had a few bench reps that were disqualified, but he posted a 41.5-inch vertical leap, the best among all safeties at the combine. His broad jump of 10'8" was also the best at his position.)
Adkin's comments on Jared Clauss: "I heard that some of the teams in attendance liked him and others did not."
On Mo Brown: "From what I was told from two separate teams is that they feel that his hands are questionable, but they like his size and that he runs better than they expected. He could be a guy that pops up somewhere at the end of the draft."
Adkins also feels that Nate Kaeding will be the first kicker drafted, although draft projections for Kaeding as are high as the third round and as low as the seventh round. "I would be absolutely shocked if he went undrafted," Adkins said.
As for some current Hawkeyes that NFL personnel have their eyes on, Adkins named Iowa's dynamic linebacker duo of Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway.
"Right now, the linebackers are going to be the focal point for Iowa. They have one of the best defenses in the Big Ten heading into next year. That team will be very defense oriented, and there are some teams that are going to keep an eye on their linebackers. They are already drawing a lot of interest." Adkins said.
The NFL Draft will take place on April 24th and 25th and will be televised by ESPN.
This story appeared in the April issue of Hawkeye Nation, the Magazine.