Combine Preparation – Building the Perfect Beast

More than just a “workout”

National Invitational Camp, NFL Combine, INDY Combine, The Combine.  What was once a “sub component” of draft preparation has now become a circled date on the NFL’s calendar of annual events.

There was a time when only a glancing eye was turned towards Indianapolis the middle of February.  But with the advent of its own TV Network and the need for 24/7 programming, the NFL has flipped what was once a “scouting workout” being televised, into a “televised workout” being scouted.

Gone are the days when coaches and scouts disappeared into the “Crossroads of America” for “A week of doing who knows what?”  This is “PRIME TIME” as Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com wrote this past February;

As if we needed any more evidence that the NFL is more popular than ever, the league today issued a press release touting all-time high ratings for the Scouting Combine on NFL Network.

A total of 6.6 million viewers watched the Combine on NFL Network this year, a 27 percent increase over the 5.2 million viewers last year. On Sunday, when the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers were working out, an average of more than 400,000 people were watching at any given time.

Big Business

Make no mistake, this annual gathering is not big, but rather HUGE business.  The Chamber of Commerce of Indianapolis recognizes the financial impact of all 32 NFL clubs; their staff, coaches and personnel, along with the hoards of media, agents, players and fans descending for a week upon the shops, restaurants and hotels of the downtown Entertainment District.  Why do you think they’ve fought so hard to keep the event out of Miami, Dallas or Los Angeles?

Agents lobby long and hard to ensure their players are one of the some 350 invitees of the selection committee.  Exclusion is like being “voted off the island” and pundits immediately begin to place those “outsider” prospects into the 7th round or undrafted free agent status.

Crash course makeover

An entire “cottage industry” has spun off the medicals, interviews and on field workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.  People with no affiliation or experience in pro football have created entire sub-careers surrounding combine preparation.  Former coaches, scouts and administrators have left the game and leveraged their knowledge of INDY to help agents with combine preparation.

In the recruiting process of elite athletes, agents are now EXPECTED to supply combine preparation through personal training for “fitness and drills”.  They hire tutors on the finer points of taking the Wonderlic Test, a common measurement of so-called “intelligence” by NFL clubs.  They are coached on the interview process; not only how to answer specific questions, but also tips on annunciation, body language and eye contact.  Some go as far as to visit the local tanning booth for a quick “bake” or “spray on” before their combine picture (wearing only official Under Armor workout shorts) is taken.

Agents understand they can be hired and fired over the course of the combine preparation process.  Remember, the draft is still two months away.  A bad showing and the blame falls somewhere.

What’s it worth?

The bigger question is, “What are we doing?”.  The original intent of the NFL Combine was to bring all the top prospects to one centralized location for a thorough physical using the “combined” medical resources of all 32 teams.  Since then, as a result of all the pre-draft hype, no chance is taken, no stone left unturned to ensure total combine preparation.

And what are the coaches and scouts ultimately seeing?  Is this an accurate representation of the player that caught a scout’s eye back in September or October?  Or is this rather a fabricated “placard of a player” hoping to dupe teams into drafting them higher than their actual worth?

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