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Steinberg: My inside look of NFL combine

February 20, 2014|By Leigh Steinberg

Saturday kicks off the Super Bowl of the NFL draft process in Indianapolis: the scouting combine.

This event draws every single NFL coach, executive, scout and director of player personnel who desire a personal view and opportunity to scrutinize several hundred of the top college prospects. Even some owners attend. The NFL Network, and ESPN to a lesser extent, actually televise some of the drills as they happen.

It is covered by massive amounts of print and electronic media. Performance at the combine can send a player soaring up the charts in draft position or plummeting downward.

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When I began working with players in 1975 the NFL Draft was held in January. The players were largely judged on their college performance supplemented by a few All-Star games.

Today, the second season of scouting which commences after team Bowl games has become as important and determinative in many cases as playing the games themselves. This is because the Draft projects a player's value in the NFL going forward, it is not a merit badge for conspicuous college achievement. Players have been getting special training for the last six weeks at a series of combine facilities around the country. They have been on nutrition, weight training and specific drill training working with trainers. Agents now pay for this training as part of their service.

The testing begins with measuring height, weight and receiving physicals. Many players are flying some distance and Indianapolis is cold, so they may not be at their best. Multiple doctors pull on joints and inspect the players. I used to joke that if a player was mildly injured coming in, after seven doctors pull on the same joint they are really injured.

The players are given an intelligence test, modified from the former Wonderlic.

Teams then conduct 20-minute interviews with prospects. They may have team executives and coaches taking part. Teams are trying to judge character, determination, and non-testable attitudes. The consequence of selecting a player who has off-the-field issues or non-compatibility with a team and their system is disastrous. If that player cannot fulfill his contract, the team is left with no player and dead cap room which prevents replacing him. Certain players are asked to do press conferences. Michael Sam and Johnny Manziel will be the stars of that show.

There are five basic combine physical tests.

1. The 40-yard dash.

2. Vertical leap.

3. Broad jump.

4. Lifting 225 pounds.

5. Three-cone lateral drill.

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