NFL Scouting Combine
The NFL Scouting Combine is a week-long showcase occurring every February at Lucas Oil Stadium (and formerly at the RCA Dome until 2008) in Indianapolis, where college football players perform physical and mental tests in front of National Football League coaches, general managers, and scouts. With increasing interest in the NFL Draft, the scouting combine has grown in scope and significance, allowing personnel directors to evaluate upcoming prospects in a standardized setting. Its origins have evolved from the National, BLESTO, and Quadra Scouting organizations in 1977 to the media event it has become today.
Athletes attend by invitation only. Implications of one's performance during the combine can affect perception, draft status, salary, and ultimately career. The draft has popularized the term "workout warrior," whereby an athlete's "draft stock" is increased based on superior measurable qualities such as size, speed, and strength, despite having an average or sub-par college career. The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine occurred from February 19–25, 2014.
Tex Schramm, the president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys from 1960 to 1989, proposed to the NFL competition committee a centralization of the evaluation process for NFL teams. Prior to 1982, teams had to schedule individual visits with players to run them through drills and tests. The National Invitational Camp (NIC) was first held in Tampa, Florida, in 1982. It was originated by National Football Scouting, Inc. as a means for member organizations to look at NFL Draft prospects. For non-member teams, two other camps were created and used from 1982–1984. The National Invitational Camp was renamed the NFL Scouting Combine following the merger of the three camps in 1985 to cut the cost of running the extra camps. The NIC was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1984 before the merger. It was held in Arizona in 1985 and once again in New Orleans in 1986 before permanently moving to Indianapolis in 1987.
Tests and evaluations
- 40-yard dash
- Bench press (225 lb repetitions)
- Vertical jump
- Broad jump
- 20 yard shuttle
- 3 cone drill
- 60-yard shuttle
- Position-specific drills
- Interviews — each team is allowed 60 interviews in 15-minute intervals
- Physical measurements
- Injury evaluation
- Drug screen
- The Cybex test
- The Wonderlic Test
Sports writers question whether these tests have any relationship with future NFL performance. Empirical research conducted by Brian D. Lyons, Brian J. Hoffman, John W. Michel, and Kevin J. Williams (2011) found that the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle, and 3 cone drill tests have limited validity in predicting future NFL performance. In fact, the Lyons et al. (2011) study suggests that a prospect's past performance in college is a better indicator of future NFL performance than the aforementioned physical ability tests.
Bench press records
At the NFL Combine, bench press is used as a test of strength and stamina, in which athletes lift 225 pounds (102 kg) as many times as possible. Since 1999, only fourteen men at the combine have managed to achieve more than 40 "reps" (repetitions).
- 51 reps: Justin Ernest (1999)
- 49 reps: Stephen Paea (2011)
- 45 reps: Mike Kudla (2006), and Mitch Petrus (2010)
- 44 reps: Brodrick Bunkley (2006), Jeff Owens (2010), and Dontari Poe (2012)
- 43 reps: Scott Young (2005)
- 42 reps: Isaac Sopoaga (2004), Brock Lesnar (2004), Tank Tyler (2007), Russell Bodine (2014)
- 41 reps: Igor Olshansky (2004), Terna Nande (2006), and David Molk (2012)
The NFL's first scouting organization, LESTO (Lions, Eagles and Steelers Talent Organization), was started in 1963 by the teams mentioned in its name with headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It became BLESTO when the Bears joined the following year and BLESTO-V when the Vikings came on board later in the decade; by 1971 the Bills, Colts and Dolphins had joined and the group was known as BLESTO-VIII. It is now known simply as BLESTO despite the fact that the Bears and Eagles are no longer members. The group's offices stayed in Pittsburgh until 2007 when the headquarters moved to Jacksonville, Florida, with support offices remaining in Pittsburgh.
CEPO (Central Eastern Personnel Organization), formed in 1964, was a joint venture of the Colts, Browns, Packers and Cardinals. Its name was changed to United Scouting after the Falcons, Giants and Redskins joined, then to National Football Scouting in 1983 to avoid confusion with the United States Football League, which began operations that year. National Football Scouting is now known simply as The National.
Another scouting organization formed in 1964 was Troika, launched by the Cowboys, Rams and 49ers. It was renamed Quadra when the Saints joined in 1967. Quadra no longer exists; its former members now all belong to The National.
As of the 2008 season, eighteen franchises participate in The National (Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tennessee Titans), with eight served by BLESTO (Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Washington Redskins). Each of the six non-affiliated teams (Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, and Oakland Raiders) relies on its in-house scouting staffs.
In a typical year, there are about 335 invited players. About 250 invitations are sent before bowl games are completed to those who have completed their seasons. However, underclassmen have until mid-January to confirm their draft status. Invitations are made to those receiving supermajority support from the selection committee.
The Combine however is not without its critics. Sports writer Steve Silverman explains, in an article he wrote, what happened to Terrell Suggs in 2003. Suggs was a star player for Arizona State but when Suggs ran a slow 4.83 40 he was downgraded. Later, he became a star player for the Ravens. Doug Tatum of Times-Picayune argues that it is unlikely players will be asked to run a 40-yard dash again during their career. Silverman says that the best way to scout is to simply watch them play. Others think the value in the 40 depends on the position; Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout and an analyst on the NFL Network says "The position where the 40 holds the most weight is cornerback. If you're a receiver who runs a 4.6 like (Anquan) Boldin, but you have short-area quickness and strong hands, the 40 isn't a big deal. But if you're a cornerback who runs a 4.6 and you're facing a receiver who runs a 4.4, it doesn't matter how good your ball skills are."
The NFL Scouting Combine was first shown on television in 2004. Media and cameras were historically prohibited, but with the launch of NFL Network on November 4, 2003, six installments of one-hour shows to recap the day's events aired in February 2004. NFL Network has exclusive access to the Scouting Combine, whereas ESPN, a competitor network, does not. NFL Network aired two hours of combine workouts for each workout day in 2005, 26 total hours of coverage in 2006, 27 hours in 2007, and 25 hours in 2009. It began airing over 30 hours of Combine coverage starting in 2010, which received 5.24 million viewers.
Beginning in 2011, a series of eleven regional combines for players not invited to the main Scouting Combine, as well as other free agents, were held in eight cities (Los Angeles, Houston, Baltimore, Tampa, East Rutherford, Chicago, Atlanta, and Cleveland) from January to March. The best players from these regional combines are invited to the NFL Super Regional Combine at Ford Field in Detroit in late March.
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