Ever been to a job fair and felt overwhelmed by the amount of faces, stations, and brochure material on display? Imagine all that, plus a series of medical tests and psychological questionnaires. Being brought into a private room for questioning, then asked to complete various physical challenges inside a room with onlookers staring in through windows.
Oh, and you have to do a good portion of it wearing spandex.
This, essentially, is the NFL Scouting Combine, a week-long event originally intended to help teams share information-gathering costs by getting draft prospects together for testing and questioning in a single location.
In 1987, the first year the combine was held in Indianapolis, the windows of the Hoosier Dome were covered and results of the drills were secret. Fewer than 30 reporters attended. Since then, however, the combine — like so much of the NFL — has become a yearly spectacle.
This year’s iteration runs Tuesday to Monday inside Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention center. For the first time, the week-long event will be open to fans on a large scale. The NFL’s Combine Experience will occupy a 200,000 square foot chunk of the convention center and offer interactive games, virtual reality activities and retail shops to fans.
A set of 6,000 fans has also been chosen by lottery system to view certain drills and have access to media areas, where press conferences will be conducted throughout the week. For those following along at home, the whole thing is broadcast on NFL Network.
The NFL first experimented with public access in 2012, when a group of 250 fans were allowed to watch a handful of drills. That year, the combine generated $6 million in economic impact for the city of Indianapolis according to Visit Indy, the city’s tourism bureau.
This year, with an expected 20,000 hotel rooms booked, the economic impact is expected to hit $10 million, a 25 percent increase over last year with $2 million in new revenue from the Combine Experience.
All of that means much more for the NFL’s marketing gurus and for the City of Indianapolis than it does for the 332 prospects invited to this year’s event, who will spend most of their days in hospitals and conference rooms. Each prospect goes through a full slate of medical tests, including an MRI, bloodwork and several X-rays. Prospects also take multiple psychological tests and can be interviewed by teams that can conduct 15-minute private sessions with up to 60 prospects.
Prospects don’t begin physical testing until their third day, when they do the bench-press drill as well as more interviews with teams and with the media. The on-field workouts take place on each player’s last day in Indianapolis. The 40-yard-dash gets the most attention, but six measurable drills make up the baseline set of tests prospects undergo. There may be other, skill-based drills depending on position.
The Washington Redskins are in a strange situation this year. The team holds nine draft picks but, with the quarterback position up in the air due to Kirk Cousins’ contract situation, it’s hard to have a clear vision and set of goals for a roster-building event like the combine. With that in mind, here’s an outline of the week’s events written with an eye toward the Redskins’ needs and the drills that matter most for those position groups:
Groups 1-3: Special teams, offensive linemen, running backs.
These players arrive on Tuesday but won’t hit the field until Friday. The Redskins will likely draft an offensive lineman somewhere and they should pay attention to the running backs in case one falls in the draft. Jay Gruden has said that Robert Kelley is implanted as next year’s starter, but it seems unlikely that the team wouldn’t take an upgrade at a good value.
The bench press is most important for interior linemen. Players test how many reps at 225 lbs they can lift. The record? 51 reps, set by defensive tackle Justin Ernest in 1999, but anything pushing 40 is considered good. The broad jump and vertical jump also matter, as teams want strong lower bodies in the trenches.
The 40-yard dash can be important for running backs who rely on speed, but the 3-cone drill and shuttle run test agility, quick turn ability and explosion and more closely mimic actual football. Also pay attention to the vertical jump results for running backs — lower-body explosiveness translates well to a quick first step.
Groups 4-6: Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends.
These players arrive Wednesday, meet the media Friday, and get on the field Saturday. Interviews are critical for quarterbacks, and at least one will probably wow analysts with sheer charisma. Physically, teams will also get to see how much a player’s college fudged height and weight numbers. Could North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky lose a couple inches off his listed 6-foot-3-inch height? Gasp.
The wide receiver grouping is where the fast 40-yard dash times start showing up. Anything below 4.40 will generate tons of buzz. Straight-line speed is important for wideouts, as is vertical jump ability.
Groups 7-9: Defensive linemen and linebackers.
These are positions of need for the Redskins. They arrive Thursday and participate in most drills on Sunday.
The three-cone drill is important for pass-rushers who are asked to turn corners while accelerating to get after quarterbacks. Denver’s Von Miller completed the three-cone drill in 6.7 seconds in 2011, an elite time for a linebacker. The 20-yard shuttle run tests short-area speed and change of direction, making it important for many defensive position groups.
Groups 10-11: Defensive backs.
These players also could fill needs in Washington. The 40-yard dash probably matters most for cornerbacks, though there are plenty of examples of players who flunked the combine who went on to successful NFL careers — just ask Josh Norman, who ran a sluggish 4.66. Corners also tend to post the highest vertical jumps, with the best getting up around the 40-inch mark.
The defensive backs will participate in workouts on Monday, the last day of the combine. After that, everyone goes home and teams begin the work of piecing together bits of information, trying to find a few signals amid a whole bunch of noise.