Getting to the NFL from the college ranks is tough enough.
Getting there without being invited to the annual NFL Scouting Combine is even tougher. Former Southeastern Conference players Richard Kent and Gerald Rivers didn't get a chance to show what they could do at the combine in Indianapolis in February, but they're where they are today -- Kent, of Vanderbilt, with the San Diego Chargers and Rivers, of Ole Miss, with the St. Louis Rams -- in part due to their performance at NFL Regional Combines.
"The regional combines are gaining in popularity with NFL teams," NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "Every team receives a copy of the testing numbers, but more and more teams are beginning to send their own scouts to these workouts."
The NFL held nine combines from January to April, and 42 of the best players at those events were invited to the 2013 NFL Super Regional Combine in Dallas a couple of weeks prior to the draft. Kent and Rivers were two of the qualifiers for the super regional. Kent attended a regional combine in Seattle on March 23-24, and Rivers attended in Baltimore at the same time. A total of 69 players who participated in regional combines are currently on NFL rosters as training camps begin.
Rivers needed the regional combines as a proving ground in the worst way, given that he didn't play for the Rebels last season because he was academically ineligible. Kent did plenty for the Commodores, averaging 44.9 yards per punt and pinning 22 of 59 attempts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
While Kent and Rivers went undrafted, four players who attended a regional combine were selected in the draft. Tarleton (Texas) State LB Rufus Johnson was picked in the sixth round by the Saints, and Massachusetts RB Michael Cox (New York Giants), USF QB B.J. Daniels (49ers) and UCF S Kemal Ishmael (Falcons) were seventh-round selections.
Among other regional combine participants on NFL rosters are Fresno State WR Rashad Evans (Falcons), BYU LB Uona Kaveinga (Broncos), Rice WR Sam McGuffie (Raiders), Wisconsin DE Louis Nzegwu (Panthers) and Memphis S Cannon Smith (Rams), who began his career at Miami (Fla.) as a quarterback. Smith's father, Fred, is CEO of Federal Express and part of the Washington Redskins' ownership group.
Earlier this year, NFL clubs signed players from all nine 2013 regional combines, and 29 teams currently have at least one regional combine participant on the roster. There currently are 118 players on rosters with regional combine experience.