Shortly after the end of the college football bowl season, approximately 250 draft-eligible players received invites to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis at the end of February. By the time the event rolls around, more than 300 young men will be on hand to showcase their talents for pro scouts, with an eye towards the 2012 NFL Draft in April.
And that's still not enough to ensure that every player with pro potential gets a chance to be seen. That's where the NFL Regional Combines come in.
For the first time, the NFL will supplement its main Combine with eight regional affairs spread across the country. One of those eight will be held in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' own backyard.
Seven of the eight regional combines will take place at NFL facilities, after the initial event takes place in Los Angeles this coming weekend. The opportunity for prospects in and around Florida, or those who wish to travel to the Bay area, will be held at One Buccaneer Place on Saturday, February 18, just a few days before the Bucs' talent evaluators will head to Indy for the main event.
There is always heavy overlap between the field of players who are invited to the main Combine, and the 250 or so who hear their names called on the subsequent draft weekend. In an average spring, roughly 210 or 215 of the players selected in the draft come from the pool of that year's main Combine participants.
Obviously, that means there are 35 or 40 slots to shoot for, even for those who don't get a main Combine invite, and of course there are hundreds of other incoming players who are signed as undrafted free agents immediately after the seventh round. "Pro Days" on college campuses in March and April give some uninvited players a chance to shine, as do individual workouts held by NFL teams. Still, it's possible for a player to slip through the evaluation cracks, and that's what potentially makes the Regional Combines valuable.
As opposed to the main Combine, which is by invitation only, players can register for the regional combines (and pay a fee). The events are essentially aimed at three groups of potential prospects: players who just finished their college careers and are draft eligible but did not receive a main Combine invite; players who finished their college careers in previous years but have not signed a pro contract at any point; and players with some pro experience who haven't been in the game for awhile.
The main draw for players who choose to attend any of the regional combines is a subsequent invite to the Super Regional Combine that will be held at Ford Field in Detroit on March 30-31. Such an invite will indicate significant interest from the league and will lead to additional workouts in front of a large group of NFL scouts. The Super Regional Combine will also be broadcast on the NFL Network, which will obviously broaden those players' exposure.
All regional combines will be videotaped, and the results will be distributed to all 32 NFL teams, so even the preliminary events will produce material that could catch the attraction of any given club, whether they have scouts at the event or not.
Players who attend the regional combines will be tested in many of the same ways one would be evaluated at the main event in Indianapolis. For most players, that includes drills such as the 40-yard dash, the short shuttle, the vertical leap and the 3-cone drill. Quarterbacks will be tested in the drop throw and pocket escape drills while running backs will take part in an off-tackle reaction drill. Other drills specific to the different positions will take place, and punters and kickers will be tested on separate days at the regional combines in Los Angeles and New York (February 26).
The seven teams playing host to a regional combine event this year are Tampa Bay, Houston, Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland and the New York Jets. For more information on the regional combines, click here for dates, registration directions and testimonials from former participants.
For the NFL and the regional combine participants, One Buccaneer Place is a perfect setting thanks to the Bay area's mild February weather and the well-manicured fields behind the Bucs' headquarters. For Tampa Bay's player personnel staff, the arrival of the regional combine carries basically the same advantage that the relocation of the East-West Shrine Game to St. Petersburg did this year. All 32 teams will benefit equally from the results of the workouts, but the scouting logistics are obviously easier for the Buccaneers' staff.
This February, the entrance to One Buc Place are going to be an open door to opportunity for some NFL hopefuls who might otherwise not have gotten a fair shot. Who knows? One day, one of those regional combine participants might even get his own locker inside the Buccaneers' facility.