Each of the 32 teams at the Scouting Combine here in Indianapolis are allotted 60 formal interviews with the 300-plus prospects gathered at Lucas Oil Stadium. Those 15-minute meet-and-greets are one part information-gathering, one part job interview and one part subterfuge.
During his session with reporters on Friday, Packers general manager Ted Thompson explained the process.
"In the 60 formal interviews that we have, John Dorsey, our director of college scouting, kind of introduces everybody," Thompson said in a hallway outside the enormous media room. "Our area (scouts) touch in on some appropriate questions that we want to bring up. In terms of that, we try to leave the last 6 or 7 minutes of the interview for the position coach and coordinators to talk a little bit. I'm usually just outside or in the back of the room and I try to talk to them a little bit before and after as they're going to their next interview, because they're a little bit more relaxed."
Part of the interviews are about football. Thompson, for instance, says he shows those players a video of some plays from that player's career. Players are expected to go to a markerboard and explain what his role would be if X, X and X happens on a particular play. Of course, teams ask personal questions. One cornerback, San Jose State's Coye Francies, said one team asked if he had ever been in a gang.
"The best you can, you're trying to get to know someone in 15 minutes and be willing to invest a draft pick and a large amount of money in that player," Thompson said. "This isn't the first time we've seen these guys, except for the juniors, because most of the seniors, we already interviewed at the Senior Bowl or the East-West Game or things like that. But, there are questions in one's past that come up that we try to ferret out the best that we can."
Colts general manager Bill Polian on Sunday said he hires psychological experts who try to go beyond the words to figure out a player's personality. But, he added, "that's just one snippet of time," so more often than not, these short interviews won't make or break a player for his team.
The Packers don't hire a psychologist, though Thompson does rely on former long snapper Rob Davis, the team's director of player programs, whose office is located just outside the Packers' locker room.
"I think he's got a very good grasp of people," Thompson said. "I wanted him to just to talk to them afterward. I'm not going to talk to him after each interview, but once we get back to Green Bay, I'll sit down one day and get his impressions."
Just like players practice at speed academies so they can post a fast 40-yard time, most prospects are well-versed in the interview process so they don't say something stupid or act immature during the biggest job interview of their life.
"Guys are coached up pretty good when they get here," Thompson said. "Most of them are not going to be jerks. Even if they are a jerk, they're not going to be a jerk here. That's one of the things that we talk to him the night before. I talked to a group the other day. I said, ‘Look, everybody who's here works for another team, so why would you want to make somebody mad by being a jerk?'"
Despite that shortcoming, most teams see enormous value in those 15-minute chats.
"To me, it's the most important part of what we're doing here over the course of this week," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Just getting to know these young men before you bring them into your program, knowing what they are all about, and really just understanding how important a football career is to them. What they want out of the next eight to 10 years means a lot to me."
Beyond the 60 interviews, teams are allowed informal contact with players. Teams must send in their list to the NFL two weeks before the Combine so the league can organize the 1,800-plus interview requests. On occasion, Thompson said, he'll wish he would have added a different player to his list.
"That's the reason why I kind of hang out in the hallway, because I talk to guys as they walk by," he said.
A high percentage of the interviews are with juniors. The seniors have been scouted all season and most likely interviewed already. The juniors declared for the draft only recently, so teams struggle to learn as much as they can about those players before the draft in two months.
From simply talking to players after their interview sessions, Packer Report found a 5-to-1 ratio of defensive players to offensive players on the Packers' interview lists. That must be prefaced by saying we didn't get to talk to every prospect, and not every prospect knew who was on his list (their schedules told them to be in a certain room at a certain time but didn't say which team was in what room). Plus, there's some subterfuge in the process, too.
"Sometimes, people try to gain some insight as to the people that you're interviewing," Thompson said. "Sometimes, we have guys who we're very interested in, sometimes we have guys that maybe we're not so interested in. Are we fooling anybody? Probably not."
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.