Mike Maycock was skeptical. He had a hard time believing many people would tune in when NFL Network did its first live coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine in 2005.
His worst fears then were reinforced by his father, a former college offensive line coach.
"We did four hours of the offensive line," Mayock said. "After we were done, I called my dad and said, 'What do you think?' He said he turned it off after five minutes. I thought to myself, 'If my father, who coaches the offensive line isn't interested, we've got no shot.'"
History has shown that not only did the combine find an audience, it has become one of the most popular telecasts on NFL Network. This week, NFL Network will descend on Indianapolis with a 21-person team of hosts, reporters and analysts to provide wall-to-wall reporting of the combine. Beginning at 9 a.m. ET from Friday through Monday, it will air live coverage of position workouts for the prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft.
For the 13th year, the combine will end with host Rich Eisen's annual 40-yard dash in his suit and cleats. 'Run Rich Run' will benefit the NFL PLAY 60 relationship with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Last year, Eisen set a personal best with a 5.94 in the 40.
Mayock will be more focused on the 40 times of the top players. Looking back, he can see why the combine has grown in popularity with fans.
"In my mind, there are three reasons," Mayock said. "NFL fans want to get a jump start on next season. What does your team need? The fantasy players can't wait to get started.
"College football fans are amazingly loyal. They want to see how their guys compete against the other guys around the country.
"Because there's no helmet and pads, it humanizes these kids a little bit. You get a look at their faces, see their reaction. You could see how intense it is."
Indeed, Mayock says the combine is a rigorous week for the players. Prior to the drills on the field, they have several long days of extensive medical evaluations and in-depth interviews with teams.
"These guys are being poked and prodded for four days," Mayock said. "You have to be on top of your game from every perspective. They all feel the pressure. They know what it is at stake here."
The on-field drills then give the scouts and draft evaluators like Mayock a chance to see how a player's various physical abilities match up with they have seen from games in college. It provides them with important insights into their speed, agility and strength.
"If I watch a wide receiver on tape and think he's a 4.65 (in the 40), and he does a 4.45 in the combine, I have to go back and say, 'Did I miss how fast he was, or was it just track speed?" Mayock said.
For some players, the combine is a confirmation that a player will be a top pick. Mayock recalled Calvin Johnson wasn't going to run at the 2007 combine. However, his competitive juices got flowing after seeing other receivers run the 40-yard dash. He borrowed a pair of shoes and ran a 4.3. The Georgia Tech product was second pick by Detroit in the draft.
The flip side, Mayock said, was Joe Haden. A top defensive back from Florida, he ran a poor 40 in the combine.
"I pulled him aside and said, 'You know you're faster than that,'" Mayock said. "He cleaned it up at his pro day and ran a 4.4. The point being that Joe is a good reason for a kid to work out at the combine. If you don't like what you did there, you get a second bite of the apple in your pro day. If you do like what you did, you don't have to run the 40 again."
This week, Mayock is looking forward to getting a deeper perspective of this year's draft class. He said he wants to see how the quarterbacks "spin it in person" in passing drills.
Mayock thinks it will be fun to watch the drills of solid running back class that features LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook, and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey.
Mayock, though, says the combine also is about shining a spotlight on the lesser-known players who have a chance to move up on draft boards this week. He points to Lorenzo Jerome, a safety from St. Francis. He had two interceptions and a forced fumble in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January.
"We were going, 'Who is this guy?'" Mayock said. "Then you watch his tape, and you see he can play. But I don't know how fast he is. I am anxious to see what he does at the combine."