Draft 'process' continues with changed Combine

Draft 'process' continues with changed Combine
February 20, 2013, 10:45 am
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When I first started going to the NFL Scouting Combine, which this year runs from Feb. 20-26, the NFL didn’t want me there. Or any media, for that matter.

A handful of reporters, all from the print side of the business back then, hung out in the small Crowne Plaza hotel lobby and intercepted (or tried to intercept) a player or coach or GM or scout who happened to pass through the lobby on their ways to or from workouts in the RCA Dome or in the bowels of the hotel, which was beyond “off limits.” You’d stand a better chance of slipping a firearm past TSA now than a reporter past lobby security then.

The “problem” was that those running the weekend operated from a premise that this was pure NFL and team personnel didn’t want to be interfered with during player meetings or whatever; that belonged a few weeks earlier at the Senior Bowl.

There were perhaps a couple dozen ink-stained wretches working the lobby. The players weren’t wearing nametags or other identification. More than once a player stopped to talk with the media, you joined the group and had someone next to you mutter, “Who is this?” Sometimes you knew, sometimes you didn’t.

Now one NFL-affiliated media outlet is sending 24 staffers alone and upwards of 700 reporters, more than twice as many media as players.

Selected media members have been brought in to watch workouts, and that has been expanded to a day, now two, in which fans are brought in to watch the workouts, which are broadcast on NFL Network.

And the players are announced as they come into the Media Center for interviews, along with which of multiple podiums or interview tables they will be at, all happening at the Lucas Oil Stadium.

The NFL realized a few years ago that this was a platinum chance to be on the front of some sports broadcasts or pages in late February, well after the Super Bowl “end” of the NFL year.

What it means

The importance of the Combine has been over-stated and under-stated over its years. Boston College defensive end Mike Mamula came to Indianapolis for the 1995 Combine and buried the needle in drills to the point where the Philadelphia Eagles made him the No. 7-overall pick of that year’s draft.

When Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.36 sec. and shot up draft boards to 43rd overall because of it, despite a total of 49 receptions over three college seasons.

Drew Brees fell to the second round of the 2001 draft in part because he showed up at the Combine and measured less than six feet tall.

The real point of the Combine, however, isn’t size or speed. Pro Days at colleges and universities have provided do-over’s for players posting poor Combine performances in the 40 or how many times you can bench-press 225 pounds.

The value of the Combine for teams is in the medical evaluations that can be conducted by their doctors and trainers.

But be in no doubt: Combine peed matters, especially at certain positions.

“Corners and wideouts are the two most critical /’speed positions,’” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, “and all the teams are waiting to see what guys run….”

Discussing one prospect, Mayock spoke fluent “Combine:” “If he runs sub‑4.5 (40), I think he's going to be a top-10 pick.”

And there you have the mindset of a large segment of the player population at the Combine.

The progression

The results of scouting during the previous college season, or more than one, form the base of player evaluation. All-star games like the Senior Bowl are a second step for upper-classmen.

The Combine is a third, with its medical-evaluation opportunities in addition to one-on-one interview session with prospects.

Over the next 4-6 weeks, Pro Days at players’ college fields will be fourth up-close chances for evaluations. Last will come visits to team facilities in the final run-up to the draft, for a selected group of prospects.

“[If] you've got a guy all of a sudden that runs slower than you expect or faster than you expect,” Mayock said, “you have to go back and watch his tape.”

All part of the draft process.