The importance of the NFL Scouting Combine has not changed since 1982. Every year, the main focus is directed at the medical exams, workouts, interviews and psychological testing. But the NIC (National Invitational Camp), better known as the Scouting Combine, has come full circle since I started in the business back in 1995 with the Carolina Panthers.
Just a few years ago, the Combine was held in the RCA Dome, located in downtown Indianapolis. Just a few years after the Colts won the Super Bowl, plans for a stadium were voted on by the people and was passed. The fans watched the explosion of the RCA Dome and the creation of Lucas Oil Stadium (the home that Peyton Manning built) and one of the best convention centers in the United States.
The main creation for the yearly combine was not prospect workouts, but the medical exams. It established one location, supported by hospitals and medical centers, where all 32 teams could meet and have the prospects go through a rigorous 24 hours of medical testing which includes, x-rays of their neck, spine and hips, CT scanning, checking their hearing, eyesight and vital organs, and handing over urine and stool samples. The workouts remain secondary.
What has really remained the status quo throughout the years is the workout segment of the combine. When it comes to comparing past players to the present prospects, the combine data must remain the same in order to have a true comparison. This is called combine history. Making changes to the standard testing of the standing broad jump, vertical jump and the drills that measure burst, change of direction and acceleration like the three-cone and short shuttles was not an option.
How players are measured in the way of height, weight, arm and hand remains the same, but one addition was made last year: wing span. A measurement of a player’s arms stretched out opposite of each other, measuring from fingertip, across the chest to the opposite fingertips.
The interview process allows all teams the chance to interview players one-on-one by scouts, coaches and front-office personnel, and has changed greatly from when I was an area scout. It was once a very dysfunctional situation of in-fighting among the 32 teams to talk to a prospect, with scouts arguing and combine prospects standing there in shock from the NFL personnel behavior, and even an occasional fist fight broke out as well. Today the interview process is a well-oiled machine.
Clubs are required to submit an interview list of 60 names to the director of the NIC. This list remains confidential and allows each club some time with the prospect in private rooms. Each team has the opportunity to ask personal questions, gather background information, gauge the player’s football acumen and how quickly they process football information based off black board assignments. These private meetings involve the head coach, general manager, college scouting directors, coordinators and position coaches.
While not all teams take advantage of interviewing the full limit of 60 players, the process is now extremely organized. In the private sessions, each team is allotted 15 minutes. After 13 minutes have passed, a first horn sounds, signaling two minutes remaining in the interview session. At the 15-minute mark, the second horn sounds and the player is ushered out, and they are free to move to the next scheduled appointment. In the train station which is attached to the team hotel, a secondary interview station is set-up for the team’s assistant coaches and scouts to interview all the combine attendees (300-plus draft prospects) regardless if they are on the requested 60 interview listing. Again, the same 15-minute time frame applies to the train station interviews, and the horn system as well.
The major change within the combine was the inception of the NFL Network. On Nov. 4, 2003, NFL owners made an investment for the future, creating their own cable channel. This creation cost the owners a 100 million-dollar investment to fund the network’s operations. It was only a few years later that the NFLN focused its attention on the yearly combine, allowing for the fans to see what was once a private event for coaches, scouts and personnel men, the biggest NFL event after the Super Bowl, that leads into the yearly draft, allowing the NFL special programming that no other sports station could cover.
The NFLN brings nightly coverage and insight on positional workouts, bench press and drills, also includes player interviews and allows them the opportunity to learn more about the draft prospects beyond the school’s team jersey number and statistics.
As technology seems to change by the minute, the NFLN has brought “Focus Camera” technology to their fans. A high-speed camera that allows moving targets to stay in the camera frame longer, highlighting the smallest details, this technology allows for tremendous presence in the coverage of the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, standing broad jump, three-cone, short shuttle and positional drills.
Also new a few years ago, was the “Simulcam Camera,” which provides in-depth comparison and analysis of the position, style, speed and trajectory of competitors through the use of background recognition and camera-matching technology. The Simulcam system is a key contributor to NFL Network’s 40-yard dash coverage, in the comparison of the strides of multiple prospects at once.
Partnered with the NFLN to help put on this fantastic event is Under Armour, one of the three top sporting goods apparel manufactures. They also outfit all 300-plus prospects from head to toe in workout gear, shoes and sweats for the combine.
And again this year will bring another change of events. The NFL will allow 250 fans into Lucas Oil Stadium for a large portion of the Combine. The selected fans along with media members will be allowed to watch the quarterbacks and receivers work out on Sunday, Feb. 26.
Jeff Foster, the president of National Football Scouting service and director of NIC, said, “They’ve been asking us to put fans in the stands for the last four years. Obviously this is important to the NFL, so we’re excited to partner with them on the opportunity.”
This is the first step to a full-blown fan event that will lead into the draft and the NFL fan, college coaches and all the draftniks out there, will pay to see this event live, very soon. The NFL is trying to gauge the interest of its fan base, in order to create another major offseason NFL football event. I witnessed the transformation over 15 years, and there are many more changes to come.