Each year, collegiate stars and "everymen" flock to Indianapolis to participate in the dog and pony show skills and measurables showcase known as the NFL Scouting Combine. The event separates potential draft picks by position group and then has various NFL personnel measure them, weigh them, then run them through mental and physical aptitude tests in their undies. We assume the mental drills are done with clothes on, but they all are to see how their college skills translate to the pro game. There is always a lot of debate on the merits of that. How exactly does a 40-yard dash time in Speedo boxers translate into being able to covering or running the route tree when both players have a full assortment of pads on.
The term "Meat Market" is one of the more easily digestible descriptions of what the Combine appears to be to many onlookers.
We also have been blessed with the opportunity to watch Rich Eisen run the 40-yard dash in dress shoes. Can't wait for that one again.
Stat aficionados will quickly counter every argument against their validity with the caveat that raw stats don't exist in a vacuum. They admit the need to look at a measurable as one piece indicative of a larger picture, and that's exactly what the combine does for you. Not all college success translates to the NFL. Teams, in their never-ending requirement to be ahead of the curve, need to try and project these things. The sheer volume of college players and a 10-12 game schedule means you rarely get to evaluate the variables that are these kids against the same constant. The combine gives you a chance to say, when all things are even, how good of an athlete is this guy compared to his peers?
You'll see a lot of players make serious moves up and down big boards, and presumably team's draft boards, based on the results of these exercises. In truth, every one loves any action on the NFL calendar, but there is definitely something to be gleaned from most of the exercises, but not all.
Here's a look at the various tests and drills that the prospects participate in. Many times top-tier athletes, especially the upper echelon of quarterbacks, avoid some or all of the drills. It is often seen as a way of protecting themselves against damaging their current projected draft positioning. You can definitely do damage to your reputation with a poor showing in these drills.
--- 40-yard dash
--- Bench press (225lb repetitions)
--- Vertical jump
--- Broad jump
--- 20 yard shuttle
--- 3 cone drill
--- 60-yard shuttle
--- Position-specific drills
--- Interviews — each team is allowed 60 interviews in 15-minute intervals
--- Physical measurements
--- Injury evaluation
--- Drug screen
--- The Cybex test
--- The Wonderlic Test
Here's a list of all the players that have been invited to the Indianapolis combine.
Every NFL team sends their front offices to the combine and it serves a dual role. It's normally a full-fledged industry event. Agents of UFAs and RFAs flood the hotels and facilities for off-the-record meetings with club officials.
Most franchises use, primarily, one of two scouting organizations to pull preliminary information on prospects before the combine. These organizations used to host their own events. Per scout.com:
In 1963, Lesto scouting combine, became the first NFL organized scouting combine in football history. It consisted of three clubs (the Lions, Eagles and Steelers), with the final two letters standing for Talent and Organization. In 1964, the Chicago Bears joined the group, thus creating the name that forty-five years later still remains intact for the past 45 years.
The Cowboys, Rams and 49ers organized Troika combine in 64 and when the Saints joined the group, the name was again changed to Quadra. Baltimore Cleveland Green Bay and the St. Louis Cardinals formed CEPO and after they were joined by the Giants, Falcons and Redskins, the formed United Scouting.
United Scouting changed it's name to 'National' to, at that time, avoid confusion with the USFL. Current Blesto members include Detroit, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, NY Giants, Minnesota, Miami and Buffalo.
National members include; Arizona, Carolina, Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay, Kansas City, New Orleans, NY Jets, Philadelphia, St Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, San Diego, Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco and Houston. Baltimore, Indianapolis, Chicago, Oakland, New England, Cleveland and Washington have all chosen to remain independent, and as such rely on their own scouts and independent sources to do the preliminary foot work.
These services are vital to the preparation of team's initial draft boards. BLESTO and National Scouting rates players, and projects their draft stock as follows:
9.0 – 6.5 – Rd 1
6.4 – 6.0 – Rd 2
5.9 – 5.5 – Rd 3 – 4
5.4 – 5.0 – Rd 5 – 7
2.0 - Need more information
1.2 - Insufficient skills but recommended by staff
1.0 - Insufficient skills
0.0 - 1.19 – Rd 1
1.20 - 1.29 – Rd 2
1.30 - 1.39 – Rd 3
1.40 - 1.49 – Rd 4
1.50 - 1.59 – Rd 5
1.60 - 1.69 – Rd 6
1.70 - 1.79 – Rd 7
1.80 - 1.89 – Priority FA
2.00 - Free Agent
2.50 - Need more information
4.50 - Insufficient skills
A 1.38 grade would put the prospect at or near the bottom of the third round.
It's reported that these services are the entry level for the scouting profession, so all you draftniks, you know where to apply! Just make sure I get the referral bonus.
There are always some players that do not get an invite to a combine, but may still be on the radar for a 7th round pick or to be an undrafted free agent. NFLCombine.net authorizes a few other combine events that are available via this link here. Some stars to come from these combines (as advertised on the site) include WR Joe Horn, KR Michael Lewis and K Adam Vinatieri. These combines run through April, so it could be a great tool for those few players that cannot rely on the college campus Pro Days to get themselves on an NFL team's radar.