By Rachel Terrill, Player Engagement Insider
While NFL free agency is in full swing, hopeful college football players throughout the country hope they did enough at the NFL Scouting Combine to secure a future in the league.
To say the stakes were high at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine may be an understatement. For the select young men in attendance, the Combine was the final round of their ultimate job interview. It may have been their last chance to make their NFL dream a reality.
Their physical and mental toughness were tested. Bodies were measured and intelligence was analyzed. In a matter of a few days, their football fates were sealed. But it may have just been a few seconds that made the biggest difference for them.
Let’s try something. Close your eyes and count from one to five. No pressure, just count to five and then open your eyes again. Those five seconds didn’t likely change your life. But imagine that for those five brief seconds, instead of sitting in front of your screen, you were at the NFL Combine running the 40-yard dash. Hundreds of stopwatches started and stopped. In person and on their televisions, thousands of eyes watched you in anticipation to see if your legs would propel you a tenth of a second faster than the next player’s legs propelled him. Your career defined in an instant.
The average NFL career for all NFL players is just 3.4 seasons. The average NFL career for a first round draft pick is 9.3 seasons. Tenths of a second can be the difference between a few seasons and nine seasons. Tenths of a second can mean the difference of millions of dollars in a player’s bank account. Tenths of a second can mean that a player is looking for a different job next fall while his competitors are playing in the NFL.
While the 40-yard dash was only one part of how a player is evaluated it was certainly the highlight of the week for spectators. Other physical tests included the bench press, vertical jump and broad jump, change of direction shuttles, and various position-specific football drills.
The combine was a test of physical ability but it was also a test of mental ability. One-on-one interviews with coaches and scouts gave teams the opportunity to get to know how players think. Teams peeled back the layers of potential draft picks to see what kind of person they might be adding to their rosters. Players were given hypothetical situations to see how they handled themselves. Questions varied widely from what kind of animal a player might want to be to what scheme he would run in a game-day scenario.
NFL personnel also took the opportunity to impart their wisdom on the young men. Mo Kelly, vice president of Player Engagement for the Seattle Seahawks asked his potential players if they might have someone moving with them to Seattle. His advice to the young players: “Do not let anyone move with you unless they are enrolled in school or they have a job.” He explained that the burden of taking care of others who are lonely in a new city can make it even harder for new NFL players to excel in their careers.
Although many of the NFL hopefuls spent all off-season training for the combine, all were still learning how to be their best. Those who were most prepared knew that beyond just physical training, being an elite athlete means eating well, sleeping well, and getting mentally fit.
In a moment that defined their future, the 40-yard dash took just about five seconds - and for some of these NFL hopefuls, those five seconds changed it all.
With the NFL Scouting Combine in the rear view mirror, players will now wait until the NFL Draft to learn their future in football.