The combine has come and gone. Teams now know almost all of the personal information they deem necessary to make and informed decision on whether they should draft a player. All of the medical evaluation is over and preliminary interviews have passed, but there is still more to do.
For players who didn’t run at the combine (like myself) either due to preference or lingering injuries, Pro Day will be their shot to showcase their physical talents for the first time. It will allow the teams to gain concrete numbers for the all of the timed events and watch them move in person.
For the players who ran at the combine, it is an opportunity to rerun a portion of the tests to improve their times or participate in the position drills. The position drills at Pro Day are physically demanding. There are only a few players at every position (sometimes only one) who are working out. This leaves very short recovery windows and forces players to perform when fatigued. The event concludes after four to five hours and leaves the players mentally and physically exhausted. It will be the last time they will have to workout for the entire NFL.
It will not be the last time they will work out for NFL teams. Now begins the highly specialized portion of the evaluations. After Pro Day, teams have a narrowed their list of players they are considering drafting. It is at this stage they are able to fly to the prospects school and put them through an individualized workout.
The workout will consist of more field position drills, but also classroom board work and film study. Each team does it a little differently, but they generally always ask about your school’s scheme and have players walk them through an installation of an offensive play or a defense. Then the coach will throw on some of their game film and explain their terminology and what is happening. Throughout this process they will be quizzing players to challenge their retention and how well they understand the game.
It’s tough and time consuming. Some of the film sessions last over two hours combined with another 90 minutes of on field position drills. Some players may be forced through it with five or six teams. But it is a small price to pay to drive up your draft stock.
Contrary to the personal workouts, the team visits are not at all physically intensive. Players will fly to their prospective suitors for an intense round of meetings. NFL rules prohibit teams from working out players when they bring them in to their facilities. The main purpose of these visits is for teams to further evaluate their prospects medically and personally. On many of my visits I spent the majority of time with the team psychiatrist, trainers and doctor. With a multimillion dollar investment and draft pick looming, teams want to make sure they have turned over every stone imaginable. NFL front offices hate surprises.
The visits are often boring and scheduled adjacent to each other. High profile players will fly into Nashville on Wednesday evening to meet with the Titans the following day. Thursday night they will be back at the airport flying to Cleveland for a similar routine. Those trips are the easy ones. It is the west coast swings through multiple time zones that really challenge the player mentally. Some of the guys are still trying to graduate before chasing their NFL dream, let alone trying to maintain conditioning levels while on the road. It’s a long and grueling process, meeting coach after coach, GM after GM and staying in hotel after hotel, but it is a necessity.
Pro Days, individual workouts and team visits are all the final part of the evaluation process leading into the draft. It is imperative that both the teams and prospects answer any questions they may have prior to the draft. Prospects must assure teams they are the right player for their organization and teams must make certain they understand the type of person they are drafting. All off of the field issues must be understood or resolved. If they are not, teams will draft a Johnny Manziel or passing on a Randy Moss.