The NFL’s annual Combine is scheduled to take place in little over a week and for the better part of the past two months, draft prospects across the country have been preparing diligently for sport’s ultimate job fair and interview process.
The Combine has emerged as one of the League’s premier events in the off season and NFL Network is front and center for every time tested and measured skill drill that clubs can throw at this year’s talent pool. The debate will rage on throughout the week and into the days leading up to the draft about how player helped or hurt his value on draft boards from Tampa to Seattle, San Diego to Buffalo.
Much is riding on how prospects present themselves both personally and athletically to the NFL’s decision makers. Top agent firms will spend tens of thousands of dollars preparing their hopeful clients for the 40 yard dash, bench press reps and vertical jump. They’ll bring in former players and coaches to tutor the finer points of professional football. They’ll practice the Wonderlic and go over significant interview questions that might put them in a bind if not answered properly.
So much of the Combine is about measurement and testing that you’ll see almost immediate results (though not necessarily official) on the screen as the player crosses over the finish line. Pundits and draft experts will be on hand to immediately give real time analysis on how a particular player just hurt or helped his chances with a highlighted performance.
Media will crowd the lobbies of local hotels and camp out in the press room for an opportunity to catch a rising star in a one on one situation. They’ll interview GM’s and Head Coaches, League Officials and Player Agents. Each trying to gain their own inside angle as to what a club might be thinking or who they might be targeting.
Pushed, poked, photographed, interrogated, tested and timed, these players will provide enough data for the outside world to pass judgment on whether or not they have what it takes to play in the National Football League. Yep, before they leave the Combine everyone will feel they have everything they need to place a draft value on the rising rookie class.
There’s a little thing that we ALL do on a daily basis that won’t go reported on NFL Network. It won’t be discussed at a press conference, or analyzed and dissected by Player Personnel men and Coaches. The results won’t be posted in the papers, magazines and websites that cover the annual Combine and NFL Draft. But this one thing will make a player fall off a draft board faster than a subpar 40, stumble in a skill drill or arrogant answer to an innocent question.
What is it? The process of peeing in a cup and submitting to the NFL’s Substance Abuse Testing Program. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will get a top prospect in faster trouble than failing this single test. Results aren’t normally reported back to the clubs for a number of days after the Combine. By then the on field portion of the evaluation has already been assimilated into the overall assessment of the player.
Changes in the procedural aspects of submitting a specimen have all but eliminated “cheating” on this test. This isn’t something that can be practiced leading up to the event. It’s either in the player or it isn’t.
Like late hits and horse collars, drugs and alcohol are no laughing matter for the NFL. They’ll swiftly pass down their sentence to the clubs with very little room for wiggle. It seems that marijuana, steroids and other habitual drug abuse have fallen off a bit, but alcohol use appears on the rise.
For all the effort, blood, sweat and tears that’s put into the preparation for the NFL Combine on the field, you’d think the players would have enough common sense to seize this unique opportunity and tend to their matters off the field as well. Some don’t.
As a result, you might not notice their quiet fall down the draft boards of 32 NFL teams with nary a word from the media and mock drafts. But rest assured, the cause was in the cup.