The official start of the NFL’s offseason is upon us. The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine starts this week from its home, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The yearly tradition of the combine has taken off recently with live TV coverage and social media’s fascination with every detail of this week.
Even with the increased eyes toward the combine, the core purpose is still the same. The first combine was held in 1982 as a way for teams to check medical information on the top NFL prospects. The current format of a single large combine began in 1985 and found a home in Indianapolis in 1987. It’s been there ever since.
So what’s it like to actually participate in the combine?
Well, the combine might last over a week, but it’s about three days long for each position group. You arrive late in the afternoon on the first day. The second and third days are from sun up, till past sundown. The fourth day, you work out on the field and are out by about noon. While we get to see the fourth day of action on our TVs, the bulk, and purpose of the combine happens on the second and third days.
Getting measured in front of a bunch of scouts is as awkward as you think
The second day, or first full day, is the big one. It’s the measurements and the medical testing. The athletes get down to their tights to get measured for height and weight. If you’re trying to gain weight, like a Kyler Murray, you’re chugging water, crushing food and protein bars for the last 24 hours trying to gain a few extra pounds.
If you’re on the heavier side and trying to cut weight, you’re also drinking water, not eating much, and trying to get everything out of your system. This was me. It felt like I didn’t eat for two days before the weigh-in. I left college at 340 pounds and I was advised to lose weight. I got down to 331 pounds for the combine, which in hindsight was a bad decision. It didn’t matter for my draft position and I went right back to 340.
However, what it did was make the Panthers think I can play at 330 and I had to cut massive amounts of weight my rookie season before the weigh-in.
Besides height and weight, your arms and hands get the measuring stick as well. You’re required to squat a few times so the scouts can see how you move. Oh yeah, this whole process is done in front of scouts from every team. It can be awkward, but it’s got to be done.
The medical check is the most nerve-racking part
After measurements, it’s time for medical checks. This is a LONG process. The teams split up into six different rooms and each player must take a turn in each room. The rooms are set up all the same way. There are tables arranged in a U formation for all the team doctors and trainers. The players sit on a table in the middle of the room.
Your anxiety level is going up as these doctors start the process. They poke, prod, maneuver, contort, and bend your body and limbs in every which direction. They are looking for anything that’s abnormal, or double-check what they see in your chart. One doctor was checking my left knee and mentioned he felt a ligament was just a tad loose and asked me about it. I had an MCL sprain my freshman season, missed almost no practice and zero games. I was amazed he noticed it during the test.
My “issue” was my back. I’m a big offensive lineman and had back surgery before my senior season. Even though I had zero setbacks in my rehab and played healthy my senior season, my back was still a concern. I had to answer multiple questions in each room about my back.
The “goal” for a player during this day was avoiding additional testing, i.e. the MRI tube. If a doctor feels you need additional testing, they will order a scan immediately. They order these liberally. There were players who had up to 6 MRIs and even 13 as Stanford alum Evan Moore told me earlier this week on my radio show. Yikes.
I ended up with one MRI on my back and it was ordered in the last room. I almost made it. The MRI tubes were either mobile, in the loading docks, or at the hospital. It just adds to your long day, as you are probably waiting longer than actually testing the entire day.
Interviews can go one of two ways — and sometimes that means trying to make a player cry
After all of that, you have interviews at night. There are two types of interviews. The ones we hear about most often are the 15-minute in-room interviews. Each player is allowed up to 15 of these over the course of the week. The more in-room interviews, the more likely you’re getting drafted higher. There’s just more interest.
For example, my brother Mitch had 12. He was drafted 37th overall. I had one. I was drafted 241st.
These interviews go one of two directions. There are the interviews that can cause a stir. Inappropriate questions get asked. Teams make the interviews stressful to see how the players will handle it. I’ve been curious about these style of interviews, so I asked my coaches about them. One coach, who won’t be named, told me his job was trying to make the player cry, however possible.
The other type of interview is exactly how you’d be interviewed for a regular job. They are cordial. They ask you to draw up plays. They show film of your season and ask you about certain plays. Each team uses these 15 minutes how they want.
While your formal interviews are limited to time and amount, the informal interviews are just barely limited to time. There’s a large convention center and every team has a table set up. At each table are front office personnel with their coaching staffs. When you enter the convention center, the teams start pulling you over to their tables. It can be chaos.
These interviews cover a wide range of things. Scouts handle the basics: Where did you grow up? Best college games. Worst college games. And then the big question. The one you’ve prepped for.
Why is the “do you love football” question so important for NFL decision makers?
The “do you love football?” question is asked at all times. We have prepped answers, even though most of us love the game anyway.
I used to question why front offices asked this question. Of course we love the game. Why would we play if we didn’t love it? Well, the older you get in the game and the more teammates you meet, you realize not everyone loves the games. They love the perks of the game but don’t love the process. Most of these players, even the supremely talented ones, will fizzle out if they don’t love it.
Secondly, this question is asked to the possible draft picks because front offices LOVE the game. They spend almost every waking hour thinking about the game. They work 12-18 hour days. They want, or better yet, expect their players to show dedication to the game. That’s why this question is so important for a team.
Here’s why the Wonderlic is still used
The third day at the combine, or second full day, is the day of bench press reps and all the mental testing, which some view as outdated now. Nonetheless, the players take the Wonderlic test along with a few other random tests. The Wonderlic is a 50-question test finished within 12 minutes. It’s not terribly difficult and it’s not quite a test for intelligence.
What it tests is processing. 50 questions in 720 seconds. That’s 14.4 seconds per question if you manage to answer all of them. That’s about the time you get at the line of scrimmage to process the play call, see the opposing unit, and the ball is snapped. That’s why the test is delivered.
So those are the first two jam-packed days of the NFL Combine. I’ll be back later in the week to discuss the on-field testing.