The NFL’s annual scouting combine gets underway in Indianapolis later today with 330 of the top prospects for the 2017 draft set to be poked, prodded and tested. And while the importance of the combine sometimes gets overstated, no question it is one of the key elements of the entire pre-draft process. How key? Last year, for example, 85% of the 253 players selected at the 2016 draft participated in some form in last February’s scouting combine. In fact, the number of players who attended the combine as a percentage of those who were ultimately actually drafted has been remarkably constant at around 85% over the past the past decade or so.
In addition, the vast majority of players taken in the early rounds of recent drafts have been combine participants, while almost all drafted players who had not been invited to the combine have been chosen in the later rounds. Last year, for example, every player selected in either the first or rounds of the 2016, and all but one in the third round, was at the combine last February. The previous year, every player taken on the both the first and second days of the draft was at the combine. For the record, that one non-combine invitee selected in the third round of the 2016 draft was Middle Tennessee SS Kevin Byard, who was actually the first player taken in the third round of last year’s draft with the 64th pick by the home-town Tennessee Titans.
In contrast, most of the players who ultimately drafted in 2016, but were not at the combine were chosen in the later rounds. Indeed, 31 of the 39 (or almost 80%) such players selected last spring were chosen in either the 6th or 7th rounds. However, even in the late rounds the majority of players drafted went to the combine. In 2016, for example, just over 60% of players selected in the 6th round were invited to the combine, while the figure was just under 60% for the final round. Again, these numbers have been remarkably consistent over the past five years or so.
However, simply getting an invite to the combine is hardly a guarantee that a player will ultimately being drafted, although it certainly is a good start. In fact historically, around 65% of players invited to the combine have ultimately been drafted, another figure that has been remarkably consistent in recent years. The percentage of players at the combine at different positions who end up being drafted varies significantly on a year-by-year basis such that it is really impossible to predict what will happen in any one particular year in that regard.
Of course, its no surprise that the vast majority of players who are ultimately drafted attend the combine as NFL teams have a major input into who gets invited to the combine and who isn’t. And its no surprise that teams want to see the players who they already have the highest grades on in Indianapolis.
And while the on-field testing including the 40-yard dash and positional drills get most of the headlines at the combine, much of the really important stuff actually takes place behind closed doors. In fact, the combine was originally organized to centralize pre-draft medical testing. Pre-combine, teams did their own medical checks with the result that players were subjected to x-rays by as many as 32 teams. As a result, some of them literally glowed at the end of the process. This year, the medical tests in Indianapolis have an extra importance as a number of top prospects go into the combine with health issues. Indeed, those with serious medical issues that will have to be addressed this week include LSU RB Leonard Fournette (ankle), Ohio State safety Malik Hooker (hip), Alabama MLB Reuben Foster (shoulder), Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk (hip), UCLA DE/OLB Takk McKinley (shoulder), and Washington WR John Ross (knee).
At the same time, all teams are allowed to interview up to 60 players for 15 minutes over the course of the week. These interviews are key because they may be the only time a prospect actually gets to meet and talk to the various general managers and/or head coaches. Certainly, these interviews are critical for players who have had off-field problems in the past, both legal and character-wise. They are also important because teams like to throw as much as they can at the players in these interviews to test how much information they can absorb in a short period of time because that’s pretty much what they will have to do once the get to the next level.