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Players’ performances in the 40-yard dash and the bench press get lots of attention at the annual NFL Scouting Combine, but scouts and general managers have more pressing concerns. They want to know if anything turns up in the physicals and how prospects handle themselves in rapid-fire interviews.

Combine interviews are a barrage of questions

The NFL Scouting Combine is run on a tight schedule with players being brought to Indianapolis in waves for four days of medical testing, speed and strength testing, and interviews with NFL teams.

Tests such as the 40-yard dash are administered on the field at Lucus Oil Stadium and everyone sees the results. The interviews, however, are done privately and can reveal far more about a player. It amounts to speed-dating for seven-figure contracts.

Teams are interested in finding the next Patrick Mahomes or Peyton Manning. They’d prefer to stay away from a future Ryan Leaf or Johnny Manziel and will go so far as to bring a psychologist into the room to help get a feel for a player.

Each of the 32 NFL teams can schedule up to 45 interviews lasting no more than 18 minutes apiece at the 2020 testing site. That’s in addition to meetings that take place earlier in the year at the Senior Bowl or talks that are arranged in conjunction with players’ pro days on college campuses.

Everyone from champions like the Kansas City Chiefs to also-rans like the New York Jets will take different interview approaches. Players who’ve received team suspensions while in college might get pressed about the circumstances. Others are shown videos of mistakes they made on the field and are asked to explain them.

Other teams ask word problems to see how well players think on their feet. For instance, if it’s 6 p.m. on a sunny day, which direction do you have to face to see your shadow? It may sound silly, but teams want to know how the player reacts to the question as much as they care whether he answers correctly.

Strange questions at the NFL Scouting Combine

Players are sometimes caught by surprise during interviews. Texas Christian University defensive tackle Ross Blacklock was a victim this week of an unexpected line of questioning when the Raiders asked him about the 37 on-campus parking tickets he accumulated. Blacklock, an All-Big 12 selection last fall, was able to answer by confirming that he had paid all the fines.

If the Raiders knew about the 37 tickets, then they probably also knew that Blacklock had paid. Sometimes the goal is asking a question to which the team already knows the answer is to see if a player will lie to get out of a tight spot.

Other questions can be mind-numbingly stupid, and reporters speaking to players after the interviews have compiled the best of the worst from over the years. They include:

“Would you rather be a cat or a dog?”

“Are you afraid of clowns?”

“If you were trying to kill someone, would you use a gun or a knife?”

“When riding on a bus, do you sit behind the driver or on the other side of the aisle?

Some questions have sparked controversies

NFL teams will try prying into a prospect’s social life or financial situation while staying within the bounds of what’s legal to ask at the NFL Scouting Combine. Federal laws prohibit potential employers from asking about sexual orientation during job interviews, but it’s still been known to happen.

New Orleans Saints cornerback Eli Apple says he was asked at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine by an Atlanta Falcons coach whether he liked men. Despite a warning by the league, Washington Redskins running back Derrius Guice says he was hit with the same question two years later.

Other questions, such as asking a prospect if he finds his mother to be attractive, have come close to crossing the line.

The NFL came under criticism in 2010 when receiver Dez Bryant said he was asked if his mother was a prostitute during a pre-draft interview with the Miami Dolphins.

The Dallas Cowboys ended up taking Bryant four spots ahead of the Dolphins late in the first round, and Miami did not select a receiver anywhere in that draft.


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