The NFL Combine’s Scope and Span
By BJ Bennett
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What is often lost in the minutiae of measurements are qualities that the NFL Combine absolutely tests for, but cannot quantify.
Comparing and contrasting prospects, from varying backgrounds, with wide-ranging skills, is an incredibly-meticulous process. Factors like system and scheme, coaching and competition, can often blur the lines of measure. College football and the NFL are clearly different games; the transition between the two, far less so. Simply put, the NFL Combine is a fixed variable. While the sample size in Indianapolis is incredibly small, the results, though dramaticized, are part of the framing process.
Unlike pro days and all-star showcases, this week brings all of the perceived top draft prospects together in one structured environment. The controlled setting allows for results to be streamlined and, therefore, processed uniformly. Collectively, the eyes of many create an intense local focus. In some ways, the stage, correspondingly, is as important as the actors themselves.
What is often lost in the minutiae of measurements are qualities that the NFL Combine absolutely tests for, but cannot quantify: traits like confidence, persistence and poise.
Arguably more than at any time in the tenure of a top college player, the scene in Indianapolis takes prospects out of their comfort zones, pairing them with those who they are directly competing with and before those who they are directly auditioning for. Though drills like the forty yard dash and bench press don't have a true in-game application, the concept of performing under the bright lights, with money potentially on the line, absolutely does. Yes, combine results are overvalued; the sentiment, however, is the first step towards a new beginning.
"It's 50-50," explained former Florida and Tennessee Titans tight end Ben Troupe, on having the right mindset versus the right result. "You want to be able to nail them both, though."
Workouts serve as fluid circuit training for even the most accomplished of participants. While fans and media may focus more on one specific activity over another, teams compile considerable amounts of data in an attempt to construct a detailed on-site baseline of physical capacities. Research is done under the pretense of pressure, the idea of performances dramatically influencing draft slotting.
"My arms felt like spaghetti," laughed former Georgia and Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jeff Owens after a near-record 44 repetitions of 225 pounds in 2010. "But I couldn't show it. There was still more to do."
The process takes the entire pre-draft season and condenses it into a few mere days; being able to absorb that rush in stride may ultimately prove to be an athlete's greatest fluidity.
Conviction, at the NFL Combine, can't just be limited to one's on-field abilities. Interactions with team representatives can be invaluable. Prospects, we sometimes forget, are people, a reality future employers are well-aware of. As teams look for a potential face-of-the-franchise or a next leader in the locker room, question-and-answer sessions can play a critical role in a comprehensive draft profile.
Headlines are almost always made in workouts; headway is quite frequently made in conversation.
"It's always about the interviews. Guys can make or break their draft stock in an interview," explained veteran scout Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan.
In conjunction with what prospects have already done, current opportunities can result in future chances.
Evaluations, at the combine, are constant. As many professional careers are set to begin, the first steps, in many ways, are being taken in Indianapolis.