02/26/2013 12:35 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2013

The NFL Draft Combine: The Super Bowl of NFL Scouting -- How Do Players Prepare?

The Super Bowl of NFL Draft Scouting-the NFL Draft Scouting Combine is
about to convening this week (February 23-26) and it can
dramatically alter the draft status of aspiring players. Several
hundred college seniors and juniors who have declared for the draft
are invited to Indianapolis for days of testing. Every NFL scout,
Director of Player Personnel, assistant and head coach, team
executives, and many owners have assembled from across the nation to
assess whether a potential draftee can help their team.

National print and electronic media now covers this process like a
mini-Super Bowl. The NFL Network carries nonstop programming.
When I began representing NFL players in 1975, the NFL Draft was held
at the end of January. Players would be scouted primarily on their
college careers. There were several All-Star Games, which were held
earlier. At the East-West Shrine Game in Palo Alto and the Senior Bowl
in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Hula Bowl in Honolulu scouts had a
week to view players at practice and in the game. They could interact
with the players outside of practice. They would then compile a "draft
board," which rated all players numerically, both by positions and overall.
And then they drafted. The process has changed dramatically. Now the
draft is held in late April. The second season of scouting has become
almost as determinative of draft status as the player's performance in college.

This is because the NFL Draft is a projection of how a player will
perform over his next 10 years, not a merit badge issued for
conspicuous college performance. This "second season" commences with
numerous All-Star Games, the scouting combine follows it, and players
will later be seen again on campus at pro scouting days. Player
ratings can rise or fall throughout this process. There are no rules
as to what a player is obligated to participate in during scouting. It
is the player's choice whether to play in an All-Star Game, perform at
the combine or participate in pro scouting day on campus. This is
where the agent plays a critical part in helping shape the approach.
Until 1997, players prepared themselves for the testing. Most players
used their school trainers for conditioning and their college coaches
to sharpen their skills. That year I received a call from an athlete's
father who said they were very interested in hiring our firm but
wanted to know about my training program. "I don't have a training
program" I replied. "Over the period from 1989-2005 I represented the
very first player picked in the first round of the draft six out of
seven years, and they all trained themselves with help of team
trainers, weight coaches and position coaches. Clearly it worked
because, they were the very first player picked in the country".

The father told me that a competitive agency had a sophisticated
training program and my lack of one caused them to choose the other
agent. And a new era of training players began. Now there are dozens
of training facilities across the country specializing in preparing
athletes for the scouting combine. The players live at or near the
complex for a period after the season until they depart for the
combine. These groups do an incredible job of turning a weary and
beaten post-season player into performance machines. They put players
on nutrition programs and train them for speed, skill, flexibility
and strength. They also worked to rehabilitate athletes injured during
their college season. There are position specific coaches; a
quarterback will have someone working with him on technique and
passing. We had Ben Roethlisberger trained by Doug Hix and mentored by
Steve Clarkson. Warren Moon was an invaluable mentor. An agent and
the trainer need to access team scouting reports, be aware of the
criticisms of a player, and design a program to show his skills off.
They need to carefully monitor the training progress of the player so
they can select the best forums for display of talent.

The combine commences with a series of physicals conducted by doctors.
The players are weighed and measured. The players endure so many tests
on their limbs that I use to joke that if they were not injured prior
to the week, they will be after the physicals. Players are tested for
banned substances. They are given an IQ test. The Wonderlic was replaced this year by a new test. Back in 1999 our client Akili Smith
had taken the test on campus. He allegedly scored a nine. So we had him tutored
by someone who prepared college students for the SAT -- he scored a 27.
They need to be prepared to be interviewed by the massive press corps
present. Then physical testing begins. The basic tests are a 40-yard
dash, bench-pressing 225 pounds, a vertical leap, horizontal leap, and
lateral movement drills. For the skill positions and many others, it's
the 40 time that has the capacity to create meteoric movement in draft
position. The NFL treasures speed. Sometimes I wonder if they care
whether a fast wide receiver can catch or not-as long as he runs a
4.3. This is where speed coaching can have a dynamic effect. Our speed
coaches divided the distance into quartiles. In 2000 we had the
fastest player at the combine who had been taught a technique of
counting his steps. Focusing on the "start" can shave time.

The players are invited to one-on-one sessions with coaches and team
executives, which give teams the chance to evaluate character and
temperament up close and personal. We used a retired NFL executive to
prepare the players for the questions. We would videotape the player
so he could see how he presented. Teams are placing large at-risk
signing bonus in the hands of draftees and want to insure they won't
have extraneous issues. Teams want to see how players spontaneously
react to certain queries.

The position-specific displays are last. Lineman are worked out
one-on-one and put through a series of drills. Quarterbacks can throw
to receivers. Since the entire scouting fraternity is present, someone
who performs in a spectacular fashion can draw universal attention.
Poor performances are also noted. Players have been put through a
rigorous schedule that has them fatigued. This is why some players
eschew the combine drills and choose to do testing on their own
campus, or throw to their own receivers on their own friendly campus.
The teams are disappointed with players that will not do drills or
specific position performances. Nothing can elevate a players' status
more than dramatic performance at the combine. But many are injured
and not ready.

Why does all this matter? Players are competing with each other to be
rated as highly as possible and drafted as early as possible. Signing
bonuses are most heavily concentrated at the top of the first round
and decline after that. A difference in 30 draft slots can mean
millions of guaranteed dollars in a sport with a high rate of injury.
Players selected in the first round are virtually guaranteed to have a
roster spot for the next several years. They carry the prestige of
draft position with them. The tension and pressure is ratcheted high
this week -- the great performers will become fixtures in the NFL for
years to come.