Think of the NFL Scouting Combine as a jumbo job interview. With multi-million-dollar contracts at stake for players and the fortunes of 32 franchises riding on properly evaluating prospects, athletes go through five days of evaluations that often outweigh everything they did on and off the field in their college careers.
Bo Jackson, Dwight Freeney, Calvin Johnson, and J.J. Watt and among recent players whose performances in Indianapolis boosted their stock.
Who gets invited to the NFL Scouting Combine?
All college seniors and any underclassmen who declare for the NFL draft are eligible to be considered for a spot in the NFL Scouting Combine, but the total group is limited to 335 athletes because of the extensive testing that takes place each year in Indianapolis.
The 32 teams supply lists of players that they have either already scouted or would like to evaluate in person to a committee of NFL player personnel department staffers, with teams rotating positions.
The lists that the teams supply are voted on by the committee members. The players receiving the most votes at each position are offered invitations to attend.
There aren’t quotas, so the number of players at each position can vary from year to year based upon nominations on each side of the ball submitted by the teams and trends in the sport, such as the increased interest in wide receivers and defensive backs as the passing game has become so prominent.
What’s the history of the combine?
Three different scouting services operated evaluation camps in the late 1970s. National Invitational Camp, the formal name for the current combine, began in 1982 with 163 players as NFL teams looked to standardize the testing and share the most accurate medical information.
All of the camps merged for combines in Phoenix in 1985, where winds badly skewed times in the 40-yard dash, and moved to New Orleans in 1986. The event found its permanent home in Indianapolis in 1987.
The NFL added regional combines in 2011 for players not invited to Indianapolis.
What happens at the combine?
Players will come to the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine in four waves beginning Feb. 23. Their first day consists of an orientation and an opportunity for interviews with interested teams.
The second day includes an examination at an area hospital and measurements so that teams will have more accurate data on heights and weights than what colleges provide on the websites and in game programs.
The third day in Indianapolis is consumed by physical exams and psychological testing and might provide the most important information that coaches, general managers, and scouts will gather. They’ve all seen film of the top players, but this gives them insight into whether past injuries pose a problem or if the player’s behavior raises concerns.
The invitees meet with representatives of the NFL players union, do more interviews with teams, and get tested in the bench press on the fourth day. Most of the remaining drills and on-field workouts take place on Day 5.
Although the bench press and 40-yard dash are staples of the testing, the on-field drills differ by position. Quarterbacks, tight ends, and wide receivers will be evaluated on end zone fade routes for the first time while the toe-tap drill for receivers has been eliminated.
Linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs will also be put through drills not previously used at the NFL Scouting Combine as the teams experiment with the way the evaluate physical skills.