“It depends on what it is.”
Mention the word “Combine” with reference to professional football and most fans (even some media) have only one inclination – INDY. Yes, the word “Combine” has come to represent that freezing week in downtown Indianapolis, where the ENTIRE football world descends upon the “Hoosier” state to push, pull, poke, prod and otherwise punish the entering player pool.
“Combine” congers up NFL.network and Under Armor gear, showcasing Lucas Oil Stadium and “bloviating” draft pundits. Newly hired coaches walk around in their newly issued team gear and scouts cram into the local “establishments” for a late night release from the day’s long events.
The book (or list) of Genesis
But as a General Manager, “Combine” had an entirely different meaning. Separate from the common association with the National Invitational Camp, Inc., “Combine” was to me first and foremost National Football Scouting, Inc.
One of two “talent combines” in the National Football League (the other BLESTO; Bears, Lions, Eagles, Steelers talent organization), NFS was the “genesis” of all our scouting efforts. When I first entered into the League in 1992, Denver was yet to be a member. The following season was a transition from the Dallas Cowboy way of business at Dove Valley, to that of the Buffalo Bills (Bob Ferguson). The Broncos jumped into NFS with both feet.
There are upwards of 10,000 draft eligible players at every level of collegiate football each season. Of course less than 10% are even queried from that group as potential draft prospects and of that number the overall percentage is reduced to about 3.5% (350 players). In the midst of all the names, numbers, heights, weights and speeds, someone has the daunting task of identifying who the clubs should set their sights on as scouts head out in the fall. Enter NFS.
The sum of the parts
Led by Executive Director Jeff Foster, National Football Scouting, Inc. (NFS) has become the premier scouting agency in all of professional football. Theirs is the task of “whittling” down the “wanna be’s” from the legitimate prospects. Foster has done a masterful job of managing the requirements of anywhere from 16 to 19 clubs, while maintaining the standards and integrity of a single scouting organization. Each member club has the option to insert one of its own scouts into the process or join in lieu of insertion.
For years NFS was comprised a veteran scouts with seasons of experience on their resumes, now the “Combine” has become more of a training ground for GM’s and Personnel Directors to insert young first-timers for OJT. It’s put a strain on the continuity of the evaluations, but the product has still been superb.
“To be or not to be”
It’s usually a debate when new front office management comes into a club as to whether they should maintain membership or go independent. The recent influence of the New England Patriots in Kansas City and Atlanta, as well as Denver, has taken three former steadfast members out of NFS. The “Patriot Way” has been to go at it on their own, though something tells me they’re not without their own copy of “the list”. So valuable is this starting point that agents have been known to pay as much as $10,000 for a peek. Members of the media have inadvertently (or on purpose) printed the confidential information as their own. Wonder where they got that from?
“The List” was at one time as valuable as the “launch codes” during the Cold War.
But in all seriousness, the staff at National Football Scouting, Inc. provides their members with a complete and thorough evaluation (including contact info & personal data). Their database affords compatibility to download scores of statistics and measurables. The scouts are NFL trained and club affiliated, and though their evaluations are centered in the much broader scope of “NFL ready”, there is still much to be taken from their overall analysis. In fact with the information available through NFS, a club could conceivably do away with its entire Scouting Department.
But they never will. At the club level scouting is still to “egocentric” and “closed door” to ever to allow an outside opinion lead the path of any NFL War Room. So NFS will just continue to be the “scouting department” of the Scouting Departments around the League. And if some General Manager or Personnel Director tells you he doesn’t have “the list”, just ask him where the safe is that he keeps the “launch codes”.