Graduation season is upon us and though it is an exciting time, the question of what is to follow becomes a stress trigger for many. Seniors are frantically preparing cover letters, perfecting resumes and practicing their interview skills in hopes of starting their journey in their chosen profession. This past weekend, roughly 300 college football players from around the nation gained a chance to interview for their ultimate career goal: to play for the NFL.
Each February, the National Football League puts on a week-long event to assess top college athletes through a series of physical and mental tests in preparation for the draft. This event is called the NFL Scouting Combine and takes place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. NFL coaches, general managers and scouts all gather here to evaluate the players’ performances, as the results will have major impacts on their draft status, salary and overall future as a professional football player.
The combine has historically been known to be overlooked by fans. The player’s performance there, however, has gradually become more important to the public as it is now broadcasted on prime-time television. With a widening audience, it’s important to understand the nuances of what in many ways is a predraft interview.
In order to attend this event, an athlete must be formally invited by the league. There is a designated committee within the league that casts votes on each athlete, and if the athlete acquires a majority vote they receive an invitation to attend the evaluation process. It is here that the athletes have a valuable opportunity to impress coaches and scouts, and prove themselves as a top prospect.
When the athletes have arrived they begin with medical evaluations before starting various tests designed to demonstrate their athleticism and knowledge of the game. They undergo drug screening, injury evaluation, an intelligence test and the collection of physical measurements. All 32 teams in the NFL are allowed to administer 15-minute interviews with athletes of their choice to test the players’ football acumen and assess their temperament.
Once they finish the first round of tests they move onto the physical events. Some of the main events are the 40-yard dash, bench press and vertical jump. The combination of all the physical tests demonstrates the level of athleticism the player possesses — the more elite the athleticism the more their draft stock rises.
Typically, the 40-yard dash is the event people tune in to as it shows one of the most important qualities coaches are after in football: speed. The bench press showcases raw strength and endurance, an athlete benches a 225-pound bar as many times as they can. It is important to the coaches to see that the athlete can not only demonstrate raw power, but that they can do it regardless if it is the first or fourth quarter. A player’s ability to jump demonstrates explosive athleticism with the lower body strength to enable that jump.
While offensive linemen and pass rushers are rarely put in a position where they need to run 40 yards, and quarterbacks scarcely tackle other players, having them participate in all events makes the athletes that have skills that surpass the expectations of their position stand out.
Though the combine is a measure many take into consideration when evaluating athletes before the draft, players are not required to attend, in fact in some cases it is in their best interest not to. Many players use the combine as a way to better their draft status, but if you are already a top prospect you could risk degrading an already impressive standing.
This year, a top overall prospect going into the combine was Derrick Brown, a defensive tackle from Auburn. His performances were below average, even coming in dead last in the three-cone drill for his position. Though his previous season’s tapes provide proof that he is capable of professional-grade performances, these results could raise questions that lead to his draft position being lower than precombine projections.
The combine is not always the best predictor for the success of a player’s career. When Tom Brady went to the combine in 2000, he had the second-worst 40-yard dash among the other quarterbacks. Drew Brees is another example of an underwhelming combine performance. Despite their poor performances in the combine, both quarterbacks have had impressive record-setting careers in the NFL.
There are also athletes who had impressive performances at the combine that did not reflect their later careers. Vernon Gholston was picked sixth overall in the first round of the 2008 draft and signed with the New York Jets. In the three seasons he was with them, he recorded no sacks and only started in five games. In addition, 35-45 players on average are drafted into the NFL even though they were not invited to attend the combine.
Though attending the combine is not essential to have an NFL career, the vast majority of NFL players did attend, and some of today’s most elite players had impressive performances there. Aaron Donald, Von Miller, J.J. Watt, Odell Beckham Jr. and Deshaun Watson are just a few of today’s NFL stars that dominated the combine and ensured their NFL career prospects.
Mara Redican covers field hockey. Contact her at [email protected].