Monday concluded the annual NFL combine, where draft eligible players work out, run, meet with teams, and undergo extensive medical testing. Think of it as a job interview with a potential employer after they have your application. The non-physical portion typically accounts for about 20% to 30% of the “interview,” with the physical portion accounting for the rest. Game film gets teams’ attention, but teams want to see how you prepare for a test—when you know the answers and how you handle one on one interaction. Football is a team sport, but individual action is crucial to success. Finding bigger, stronger, smarter players is a good thing. And exposure—good and bad—is a positive for both teams and athletes.
The Combine helps teams and players see differences when prospects are neck-and-neck. It is not hard to see why Dexter Lawrence plays defensive tackle and Joey Bosa plays defensive end. But teams are scheme-specific and prefer bigger or smaller players at certain positions. You will hear things like, scheme fits and flexibility, 3-down players, core special teams’ player—these are ways teams say, “Player A is a better for us than player B.” And teams have star players under contract, so 1st and 2nd day guys at certain positions do not make sense for teams. The Dallas Cowboys, NY Giants and LA Rams, for example, will not select running backs in the first two rounds.
The Combine has come a long way from the days when people like Bill Parcells would mock it with “Underwear Olympics” comments. Players like Bosa, who are recovering from injury, use it as a showcase, others like UMass wide receiver Andy Isabella, a coming out party. Teams also downgrade guys who are out of shape, unprepared, or have extreme weight changes. The NFL views eight weeks as an eternity and players can make or lose millions in that time. Like the game itself, so much of this weekend is about mental as physical.
My message to fans and teams is the same here. The combine is part of the selection process, but nobody got tackled, blocked, or sacked. This is not football. It is football preparation and testing. We have all seen guys who play great in practice and are DUDS in games. But it is good to see some guys who have been great in actual games look great in Indy, while a small school guy like Isabella get some props. It’s also cool to see why a smaller guy like Chase Winovich or Devin Bush is good. Combine the combine, take the information and tape and draw your own conclusions. But always remember this: The best quarterback workout at the combine the last 20 years? JaMarcus Russell. The worst? Tom Brady. Players play.