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The NFL Scouting Combine: An Overview

It’s NFL Combine time again; relevant to our LSU interests due to the fact that the Tigers sent a whopping 13 players (including every underclassmen) to this year’s happening, the most in school history.

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

In the next few days/weeks, we'll try to break down LSU's draft participants and their potential destinations as best as we can, and the next few days in Indianapolis should begin to clear up the picture a little. But it's always important to bring up the fact that the combine is only a small piece of all this whole talent-evaluation puzzle.

Every year the combine either gets hyper-inflated or overly dismissed by people for any number of reasons. "Eh these drills don't matter, show me the what the guy did on film!" or "ZOMG [insert player] ran a 4.3 he's gonna be the best ever!" or, the always Humanoid favorite "WHY ARE ALL OF THE LSU PLAYERS NOT WINNING EVERY DRILL WE DON'T DEVELOP PLAYERS FIRE TOMMY MOFFITT NOW!" Yes, that does get said by a few lone idiots.

Here are a few important things to remember:

  • Game film will always be the first thing that tells a draft prospect's story. When scouts are trying to figure out if somebody can play football at an NFL level, they don't care about his recruiting hype, his pre- or post-season accolades -- even statistics can be secondary in some cases. They're going to watch his tape and judge everything from that. "The eye in the sky don't lie," as local NFL analyst Mike DeTillier is fond of saying. Scouts can look at it and see things we don't, including, sometimes, why a player might be a lot better, or a lot worse, than his accolades indicate. That being said...
  • Workouts DO matter. They help to answer some of the questions that film poses. Worried about whether a cornerback has the burst to close on a receiver's break? His 20-yard splits in the 40 can help. Likewise, if you're wondering whether or not a receiver has the burst off of the line to separate from NFL-caliber corners. With big-play NFL running backs becoming more and more of a rarity, the agility drills can say a lot about whether there was more to a back than what he showed in college, where the style of offense and surrounding talent can greatly affect production. Stevan Ridley is a great example of that -- he was never a great 40 runner, but did exceptionally well in the agility drills for a back his size and wound up a third-round choice. The bench press can help you if you're wondering whether an offensive lineman has the upper body strength to push around the type of monsters that live on NFL defensive lines. And for those defensive linemen, flexibility is so important. Yeah, there are a lot of legendary workout-warrior washouts, but there are also guys like Jason Pierre-Paul, Nnamdi Asomugha, Joey Galloway, Chris Johnson and Torrey Smith, each of whom showed that they had unrealized potential through these workouts. Again, the whole picture matters, and these drills are a piece.
  • This is a job interview. These players are going to face the press, general managers, training staff and NFL PR people, and teams will be watching how they handle everything. When Jeff Ireland asked Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute, he was likely trying to gauge how Bryant would respond to such a hostile line of questioning. While that's an incredibly extreme case, more and more companies are crafting interview questions to evoke specific behavioral responses like this.
  • There's also the comprehensive medical exam, which is obviously key when it comes to the wear-n-tear of a 3-5 year college career. Joint cartilage, partial ligament/tendon damage, these are all things college players power through in their careers, but NFL teams are going to want to know what's under the hood when it comes to six- and seven-figure investments.
  • If there's one thing to ignore (sadly, few will), it's probably the Wonderlic test. Irrelevant? No, but probably near the bottom of things that will play a real role in these players' evaluations. Scouts and personnel people will gauge a player's intelligence (and make no mistake -- their concerns begin and end with how well a player will pick up a playbook) from interviews and conversations with his college coaches. At this point, the test only really serves as media fodder in terms of the strategic leaks of low scores. Which are almost always tied to clubs trying to affect one another's draft boards, or even agents trying to sting a player that didn't pick them (or a fellow agent that is doing better than they like to see). At times, I almost wonder why more agents don't have their players skip it to avoid the embarrassment that Mo Claiborne endured last year.