Ohio State RB Chris Wells had a strong showing in several drills at the NFL Scouting Combine
Hundreds of prospective NFL players have filtered in and out of Indianapolis over the last week to take their turns in front of league talent evaluators.
The NFL Scouting Combine, which began last Wednesday and wraps on Tuesday, gives these would-be draft picks an opportunity to prove what their capable of, right then and there, to every team in the league.
Just as important to those teams, however, is finding out what a prospect will be capable of doing a year and two years from now. Or what he might not be capable of doing, thanks to potential injury issues.
For example, a wide receiver with clutch hands and blazing speed but a history of knee ailments will need to dispel any concerns about that knee as surely as he'll need to run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.
And just as every team has its entire scouting department at the combine, every club's medical staff gets a week-long trip to Indy, too. That's one of the most important, if far less publicized advantages of the combine. Teams get that critical medical information first-hand, and it's easier to believe one's own eyes than a series of outside reports.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Director of College Scouting Dennis Hickey – who gets an annual trip to Indianapolis and has seen countless players run through the same assortment of drills and tests – considers the medical evaluations an essential part of the experience.
"One of the most important things we gather during the combine is medical information on the players, especially the juniors who we hadn't seen in person yet," said Hickey. "Getting verified reports on those players is crucial, especially from our own doctors and trainers. We find out if there are any issues we need to look at any further. Considering how much of an investment teams are going to make in these players, it's very important that they can first give them a clean bill of health."
The Buccaneers are also extremely interested in getting a personal feel for each player's mental makeup, something they do in the evenings at the hotel in which the prospects are housed. On the first floor of the hotel, each team commandeers a room, puts its flag up in the front window and ushers players in and out throughout the evening hours.
Typically, a team's representatives – say, Hickey, General Manager Mark Dominik, Head Coach Raheem Morris and a few others – will spend three hours conducting a string of 12 rapid-fire, 15-minute interviews. Just as the Bucs want to ensure that they are investing in a physically-sound prospect, they also want to feel confident that they will like the person they are bringing into the family.
Of course, the physical workouts are valued, too, though they essentially fill in the evaluations that have been formed through months or years of watching the players' game tapes. The young men run 40-yard dashes, test their "hops" in the vertical leap, dash back and forth in shuttle drills, and so on. A strong overall workout can help a player improve or cement his draft status, though a subpar workout won't wipe away any good feelings a team has about a prospect.
Who has done well in this year's on-field workouts in Indy? NFL.com posts the top 10 finishes in seven different drills, a series of lists that is close to being complete as the week of workouts nears its end. There you can find that Ohio State star back Chris "Beanie" Wells ran a 4.59 40 that ranked 10th among the backs but also had the best broad jump (10'8'') and was tied for sixth with 25 bench-press reps.
You will also see an amazing amount of speed at the receiver position on that list. Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey ran one of the fastest 40 times of this decade but he was followed closely by Arizona's Mike Wallace (4.33), Abilene Christian's Johnny Knox (4.34) and Penn State's Deon Butler (4.38).
You can also find on these lists the offensive lineman who looked strongest in the bench press drill (Texas Tech's Louis Vasquez), which defensive lineman weaved through the three-cone drill fastest (Cincinnati's Connor Barwin), which linebacker had the most spring in his step in the vertical leap (a three-way tie between Wake Forest's Aaron Curry, California's Zack Follett and Ohio State's Marcus Freeman), and much more.
Buccaneer scouts found these things out, too, over the last week, and that was helpful in their overall preparations for the upcoming draft. Perhaps more important, though, were the evaluations that took place away from the field, in the medical stations and the hotel meeting rooms. It's all part of the overall picture, and that picture got a lot clearer during the last week in Indianapolis.