The NFL Scouting Combine is an event that's seen significant changes over the years, not the least of which has been how big of a media spectacle it has become. Originally designed to be an exclusive event born from the idea of convenience, the Combine is now must-see TV for avid and even casual football fans alike.
When you think of the Combine, you think of the 40-yard dash and the vertical jump and position-specific drills conducted by actual NFL coaches. All of those aspects of the Combine are important, but perhaps the most valuable part of the Combine for NFL teams is what happens when the cameras are not around.
Part of the Combine regimen is the team interview process, where the players cycle through a series of interviews with NFL teams. Most of the interviews are conducted in the player hotel just a block or so away from Lucas Oil Stadium. Each team has a private room and then a list of players who are scheduled to visit. What transpires in those interviews has every bit as much impact on the NFL draft as a 40-yard dash time or impressive display on the bench press.
The task for NFL teams is to get to know the players on a personal level, and that's a challenge because player agents do such a thorough job of "coaching up" their clients to interview well. It's really no different than a typical job interview for a college graduate or someone else looking for work.
"It's just to get the kids to get their guard down and make them feel comfortable," Vikings GM Rick Spielman said of the interview process. "Knowing what you need to find out about that kid, you can kind of get into that area and get his guard down so he'll open up and discuss it freely. These guys are pretty polished up when they come into the room."
One illustration of how important these interviews are is the amount of time teams dedicate to the process. Again, the images most people see of the Combine are of coaches sitting in the stands and players running around cones. But coaches and scouts spend just as much, if not more, time in the interview rooms with players.
"We'll start on Friday and go through our last [interviews] on Monday evening," Spielman said. "As you would guess, we have pretty much every position coming through."
I've had the opportunity to see some of these interviews take place first-hand and I can attest to how critically teams look at them in the overall evaluation process. While a single interview that lasts 15 minutes in an Indianapolis hotel room won't necessarily make or break the average prospect, there's no doubt it's a key piece of the evaluation process for all 32 of the NFL teams.