What is "The Combine?"
It's an invite-only event featuring over 300 college players who will participate in a series of events testing physical ability, mental acumen and endurance. Scouts and front office personnel of all 32 NFL teams will be on hand to watch the players work out, run, jump and do various football drills. Teams can also set up 15 minute interviews with individual players to talk to them and ask them questions.
When is the Combine?
It will officially begin Tuesday, Feb. 17, but workouts do not begin until Friday, Feb. 20, when the specialists, offensive linemen and tight ends take the field for individual drills. On Saturday, the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers work out, followed by the defensive linemen and linebackers on Sunday. The defensive backs finish off the workouts on Monday.
Where is the Combine?
It is held in Indianapolis every year, presumably due to its bad weather in February and non-exciting surroundings helping the participants stay focused and not encounter any issues while there. Just kidding. Indianapolis is a wonderful town, and the host of the Combine since 1987. It's now at Lucas Oil Field, where previously it was held at the Hoosier Dome.
So what do participants do at the Combine?
As far as the individual workouts go, the participants will engage in the 40-yard dash, bench press (225 pound repetitions), vertical jump, broad jump, 20 yard shuttle, 3 cone drill, 60-yard shuttle, position-specific drills, interviews (each team is allowed 60 interviews in 15-minute intervals), physical measurements, injury evaluation, the Cybex test, the Wonderlic Test and a drug screening.
Are any of these things voluntary?
I believe all of them are, but actively skipping the drug test probably isn't a smart idea. At some point, draft-eligible players have to take a drug test. Steelers fans may remember offensive tackle Mike Adams failing his drug test, reportedly at the Combine. While that information is supposed to be kept confidential, there is always a story or two alleging a failed test each year. Ex-Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer reportedly tested positive while at the Combine as well.
Why would a player choose to not participate in any of the drills?
Some are coming off injuries or surgery, and don't feel they will perform at their best. Steelers' second round draft pick Stephon Tuitt did not work out at the Combine last year for that reason. Some are still working on certain things, and don't feel they will go through certain drills at their best. Others may feel their stock is at such a point they can only lose ground by running or throwing at the Combine. Some will remember Jarvis Jones electing not to participate in the Combine, choosing instead to go through drills at his pro day at the University of Georgia. Jones was thought to be a top 10 pick, but a less-than-spectacular showing at his pro day while electing to skip all drills at the Combine could have contributed to him falling to the 17th overall spot. This gets us into whether the drills matter. Baltimore's Terrell Suggs also ran slowly at the Combine, and he's had an excellent career.
Well, do any of these drills really matter?
Many will argue one cannot measure the talent level of a player, either positively or negatively, based on what he's doing in Spandex during Combine drills. Others will say speed, agility, strength and explosive power are core essentials to the game of football. The answer rests in context. The drills they're performing are concentrated versions of common football movement, or they're demonstrating a general feat of athletic ability. Taken on their own and at face value, they represent exactly what they suggest they do; Player A can run 40 yards in a relatively short amount of time, while Player B can bench press 225 times very few times compared to his peers. Scouts can use those physical measurements to help give them a better perspective of the player while watching him play the game on film. More than that, getting the opportunity to speak with players is a core requirement, considering the amount of money a team will invest in these players. More simply put, the drills matter but they do not and should not define a player, either positively or negatively.
Boil it down for me, what am I going to see during the Combine?
You're going to see a lot of potential NFL players running around in Spedo suits in kind of a sterile, quiet and mostly empty stadium. You'll get a huge amount of Oohhs and Aahhs on social media regarding the 40-time of this player and the broad jump of that player. If you really enjoy the technical aspect of the game, it's fun to watch. The coach-types enjoy seeing how the drills are executed, how each player performs those drills in concert with how they test out in comparison to their peers in workouts. Ultimately, you'll see a lot of hyper-evaluation from a lot of people who tend to focus on the trees, not the forest. Just keep in mind, scouts are using Combine measurements to help bolster what they see on film. A good, recent example is wide receiver Mike Evans. People wondered about his athleticism, which sometimes can be hard to fully gauge on film. He showed up at the Combine, tested very well in all areas, and ended up being a top 10 pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With bigger receivers, it can be difficult sometimes to tell how fast he's moving, so the fact he ran a 4.52 40-yard dash gave scouts confidence he was able to run very well for a guy his size. Many expected him to be in the 4.6 range, which likely would have landed him outside the top 10.
Why does this matter for the Steelers?
Like every team, they get an opportunity to evaluate the individual traits of the players they've been scouting, in some cases, for the last few years. It adds to the reports they filed after the season and after the Senior Bowl. It gives them the opportunity to talk to some of the players they otherwise may not visit with at respective pro days, and gives them updated injury reports. The Steelers are not likely to draft a player simply on his Combine results alone (although 2014 third round pick Dri Archer's 4.28 40-time likely caught their attention), but they usually speak with the players they'll eventually take with their first few picks while at the Combine.