National Football Scouting (“NFS”) is the organization that runs the Combine. During the Combine selection process, a six-member selection committee will vote on each draft-eligible player on their master list. If a player receives a unanimous six “yes” votes, then he receives a Combine invite. If a player receives five “yes” votes, then he goes on the “bubble” list. If a player receives four or fewer “yes” votes, then he does not receive a Combine invite. The initial round of Combine invitations go out in late December/early January and are e-mailed to players who have either completed their seasons or finished playing in their bowl games. About 65 Combine invitations are withheld from the initial round to account for underclassmen who declare for the draft in mid-January. Once the early entry list has been finalized, it is then received and reviewed by NFS and a second round of Combine invitations goes out toward the end of January. This second round is comprised of underclassmen and seniors on the “bubble” list who receive the requisite six “yes” votes when the selection committee reconvenes and votes again.
When I first started in the business, I made the mistake of thinking more is more when it came to Combine training. I thought that the more time my client had to train, the faster he would run, the higher he would jump and the more reps he would bench at his pre-draft workout. I learned the flawed logic behind that way of thinking very quickly. One of my first non-Notre Dame clients was a defensive end from Duke named Phillip Alexander. Duke ended their season early with no bowl game invite so Phillip began training during the week of Thanksgiving. Phillip trained intensively for nearly 14 consecutive weeks before participating in his pro day workout at Duke that March. Despite over 3 full months of training, Phillip didn’t test or perform anywhere near what he was capable. His legs felt dead as he labored through the workout and his heavy breathing caused him to bend over in exhaustion several times during his positional drills. In his defense, Phillip came down with a nasty chest cold a couple days before his pro day, but I believe that too was the result of a compromised immune system from a body worn-down and beaten up from excessive training. Once you get beyond a certain training threshold (typically 8 weeks), the law of diminishing marginal returns inevitably kicks in. In fact, as was the case with Phillip, too much training can actually undermine and even detract from optimal athletic performance. With all the training in the world, you are not going to take a 4.7 player and turn him into a 4.4 player. The human genetic code simply cannot be manipulated in that manner.
The purpose of Combine training is to teach and familiarize players with the various Combine tests including the pro agility and 3 cone, tweak and refine running technique and starts (which may help shave a tenth off a forty time), coach players on position-specific drills and train players – in the weight room and on the treadmill – to show up for the biggest job interview of their lives fit, in shape and in excellent cardiovascular condition.
As illustrated by the proliferation of Combine training facilities over the past decade, players and agents have become all too obsessed with the almighty Combine invite. However, getting invited to Indy does not guarantee anything except for an opportunity to work out for and interview with NFL teams in one convenient location. Contrary to popular belief, a Combine invite is not an indicator of a player’s draftworthiness or future NFL success. The numbers do not lie. There are approximately 325 players invited to the Combine. Approximately 40 non-Combine invitees are drafted every year. Since there are 255 total picks in the NFL Draft, this means that 215 Combine invitees are drafted by NFL teams. Well, if only 215 Combine invitees get drafted, what happens to the remaining 110 invitees? The answer is that they either go the undrafted free agent route or are waiting at home for the phone to ring. The harsh reality of the Combine is that 1 out of every 3 players in Indy will not be drafted by an NFL team.
After the Combine, every NFL team is allotted up to thirty official pre-draft visits. Pre-draft visits are typically reserved for first-round players for whom a team wants to perform additional due diligence (due to the value of the pick), players with off-the-field character or health issues that a team wants to fully vet and players who were not invited to the Combine, but had stellar pro day workouts. The importance of the pre-draft visit to the latter group cannot be underestimated. Since an NFL team will not draft a player without a full medical on file, pro day workout warriors are flown in primarily to be evaluated by a team’s medical personnel. I’ve had clients in the past wonder why, despite being a Combine invitee and one of the top players at their position, they received only one pre-draft visit. The answer is straightforward. If your client is a kid with no off-the-field issues who tested well at the Combine, checked out clean medically and received glowing reviews from his school’s coaching staff, an NFL team is going to save its pre-draft visit for another player for whom more due diligence needs to be performed.
At the end of the day, the Combine is a whirlwind experience jam packed with impromptu NFL meetings, media dinners and client counseling. It is a place where unlikely dreams are made and tenuous hopes are dashed. Over the past few years, the Combine has grown in popularity and scale to become a media event to rival the NFL Draft and Super Bowl. Yet despite the ever-present laser-sharp focus ingrained in NFL personnel, agents and players, there is an underlying sense of fun and a “go with the flow” mentality that pervades the festivities.
You can always expect the unexpected in Indy. Every year, the second floor of the Omni is transformed into a carnival-like atmosphere with booths and suites for a wide array of vendors vying for the attention (and endorsements) of these future professionals. You’ll have footwear and apparel companies such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, sport supplement companies such as Muscle Pharm and even custom clothiers such as Astor & Black staking their claims to valuable parcels of real estate on the Omni mezzanine. Players and agents can be seen with goodie bags of samples and free gear as they hop from station to station checking out the wares of these modern-day, gridiron traders. Several years ago, it just so happened that the Indiana Home Schooling Association had scheduled their annual convention during the same weekend as the NFL Scouting Combine. The hallways of the Indiana Convention Center were teeming with NFL personnel hustling to attend on-field workouts and player interviews all the while juking and dodging Mennonite and Amish women scrambling to attend their next workshop. It was a fantastic spectacle of the most unlikely juxtaposition. As I navigated the hallways, all I could do was take in my surroundings, smile and thank God for being part of the show.
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