The NFL Scouting Combine was originally designed to bring players to a common spot and get the medical evaluations done, rather than have players travel all over the country visiting teams. Over time, the combine has grown into some form of a football/athletic ability skills testing and it can lead to some very interesting decisions about personnel.
Here are 10 things to keep in mind as the combine unfolds this weekend:
1. Beware of drills in shorts
When you watch the combine on NFL Network, you will see players run around in shorts, move in and out of cones, slap bags, roll on the ground and simulate football moves. It's not football and it does very little to convince most NFL coaches that they learned anything about the football skills of these prospects. I do find it revealing, however, that you can see the desire to compete when the players go through the drills.
2. My explosion quotient
I do like to take a few of the measurables and combine the results to get an idea of an athlete's explosiveness. A football game is really a series of 65 explosions for players on both sides of the line of scrimmage, especially up front where players make violent contact on every play. Take a look at the results of the vertical jump, the standing broad jump and the bench press. Add the three results together and see if the player you like breaks the number 70. For example a 36-inch vertical, an 11-foot long jump and 30 reps on the bench equals a 77 score. That guy is explosive.
3. Look for big discrepancies
It's not uncommon to see a running back that was advertised throughout the college season as being 6-feet tall to measure in at 5-foot-10 at the combine. It is not going to hurt his stock that much. However, if an offensive left tackle that was supposed to be 6-5 measures in at 6-3, he is headed to guard. A quarterback rumored to be 6-3 that measures at 6-1 has a problem. An offensive tackle or a defensive end with short arms is going to have a red flag next to his name because certain traits like arm length are critical when comparing the player to former draft picks. A good college quarterback with small hands is going to be bumped down on some draft boards.
4. Medical surprises
Every player is going to take the same physical exam multiple times. Why all the overlap, you ask? Well, it has been my experience that a number of players fly through three or four physical exams with a clean bill of health and then all of a sudden the fifth team of doctors catches a problem that clearly affects a player's draft status. I will try to keep you up to date on any medical surprises that arise at the combine. Anyone who gets flagged by the doctors will be back for a medical re-check before the draft.
5. Listen to Mike Mayock
No one is more prepared for the combine coverage than Mike Mayock of NFL Network. Mike studies these players year-round and he has a critical eye for the combine process. Watch him on NFL Network or visit NFL.com and you will be better prepared for the personnel decisions that are made.
6. Beware the workout warrior
Inevitably, there will be a few athletes who had average college production but knock the ball out of the park when it comes to the combine. If you start hearing all kinds of buzz surrounding guys that run really fast or lift incredible amounts of weight, go check out their college production. If it is minimal, then you could be looking at a workout warrior. For the older fans, you will appreciate this as the "Mike Mamula Award." Mamula, you may recall, was a defensive end from Boston College who became a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995 based almost completely on his combine performance - a performance that did not translate into a successful NFL career.
7. Don't blow it off
I will never understand when an athlete comes to Indianapolis already aware that he is not the top prospect -- or even a top three prospect -- at his position and elects to not work out. Nothing bothers an NFL GM more than a middle-of-the-pack guy who stands up and says, "I will work at my pro day." This year, Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford can't work for legitimate (injury) reasons, but the rest of the top QB candidates, other than Tony Pike of Cincinnati, have all passed on throwing at the combine.
Somewhere along the line, players have to show they are not afraid to compete.
As for the projected top picks, defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy say they will do everything asked of them, which separates them from the guys hiding from the coaches and scouts. Keep a check on the athletes who fail to work out or cut their workout short because they struggled.
8. Some will move up
I was with the New York Jets in 1995 when a small-college defensive end named Hugh Douglas attacked the combine. Two months later, in our final draft meetings, his aggressive behavior at the combine was a factor in our decision to make him a first-round pick. Players will move up this weekend when they look a coach in the eye during team interviews and say, "I will be doing everything while I'm in Indy."
The Lucas Oil Stadium surface is fast and players from speed positions like wide receiver, cornerback and running back can not only jump up in their position group, but jump over other positions. For example, Clemson running back C.J. Spiller is thought of as a player who could be drafted somewhere between No. 9 and No. 15 in the first round. If he pops a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, he's headed to the top 6-8 - which also means someone is moving down.
9. The (Sirius) interview process
I will be in Lucas Oil Stadium Friday through Sunday with my Sirius NFL radio show, interviewing many of the draft-eligible players. I interviewed close to 1,000 players in my years as a team personnel executive, and I will try to drill down with each and every player to see if they love football and have a knowledge of the game. There isn't much worse than a dumb player that doesn't have great passion for the game.
One year, I asked a potential first-round player what he would do with his first paycheck. He said he was going to buy a gold sports car. He couldn't wait to live the life of a star. Problem was, he never became a star. Instead of hitting a big second contract, he is now out of football.
10. Underclassmen surprise
Juniors are a very important part of the combine. Most college scouts never had the chance to study the underclassmen as much as they researched seniors. The underclassmen were not permitted to participate in any of the all-star games and a lot less is known about them. This draft could break the record for underclassmen drafted in the first round with upwards of 17 that could be taken. There is a much bigger fact-finding mission with the 53 youngsters that elected to leave school early for the draft. Spend a little extra time on every one of the guys who came out early, because I know the clubs will do the same.