NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Just over three weeks separate the upcoming Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. and the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 17-23 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.
The foundation of the combine is the set of six measurable drills that each player participates in – the 40-yard dash, 225-pound bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill and shuttle run.
In addition, each position group – QB, RB, WR/TE, OL, DL, LB and DB – will go through a series of position specific drills led by various NFL coaches. Last year Titans wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson helped lead the receiver drills.
"We want to see guys continue to progress," said Titans Director of College Scouting Blake Beddingfield "We're seeing guys in stages – in the fall during the college season, early January for the all-star games, and now in February in the combine. Is the process wearing on them or are they picking up steam? Are they feeling confident about stepping into the NFL? Are they improving? The positive trend is what we're looking for."
The testing can be a daunting task since there's a lot crammed into one weekend. With more than 300 players participating, each player gets limited reps with thousands of eyes and a national television audience critiquing throughout.
It's not uncommon for players to press, causing poor throws, dropped balls or general mistakes. Others thrive, climb rankings and ultimately earn a higher spot in the draft. The results of these drills can stick with players until draft day and beyond, regardless of their performance.
That was the case with running back Bishop Sankey, one of the combine stars from a year ago.
Sankey's 6.75 second three-cone drill and four-second time on the shuttle run ranked first among running backs. His 26 reps on the bench press ranked second and his 10-foot 6-inch broad jump was tied for fourth.
"Bishop was a guy who was a very productive player at Washington," Beddingfield said of the top running back taken in 2014's draft. "He could do all three phases – catch the ball out of the backfield, block, and run the ball. When he went to the combine, his athletic traits showed out. To show it not only in game film but translate it to the athletic events at the combine was great to see."
The second part of the combine is a psychological evaluation that every player will take known as the Wonderlic Test, a 12-minute, 50-question exam that has been used in the NFL since the 1970's.
The final piece of the combine is the interview process. Unlike the Senior Bowl, teams are held to strict guidelines regarding the interviews. Each of the 32 teams are allowed to speak with no more than 60 players for precisely 15 minutes each.
Titans Online is on location at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, where head coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Ruston Webster addressed the media. (Photos: Gary Glenn, AP)
Many of the 60 players will already be familiar with Beddingfield and Tennessee's personnel department from prior interactions and interviews. That means the discussion moves from introductions and perfunctory information to establishing rapport.
"Now they're starting to get the opportunity to get comfortable with us," said Beddingfield before tabbing Chance Warmack as a player in recent memory who showed well during the interview process. "We want to see if they're comfortable enough with us to let their guard down and let us get to know them. That's a good thing."
Entry into the scouting combine is by invite only, with a vast majority of players accepting the invitation when offered. Some will opt to not partake in the combine. Injuries will keep a few players out, while others will strategically avoid the combine.
Beddingfield heeded a warning to those who decline.
"Most of these guys have a competitive nature," he said before issuing a challenge. "If you're good, go show you're good. If you're fast, go run fast. Go prove it. If you don't go, you're just giving other players a chance to jump you in the draft."