By Jonathan Tamari The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — The 40-yard dash times, recorded to the hundredth of a second, get the most attention, followed probably by the bench-press repetition count.
Even the less-heralded three-cone drill and shuttle run will get some NFL Network airtime.
But some of the most influential events this week at the NFL scouting combine will come behind the scenes in Indianapolis, where fans and cameras aren’t watching.
“The interview process out there is just as important as the running and jumping and the agility,” said Harold C. Lewis, an agent who will have several players at the combine. “This is a job interview. … Teams want certain kinds of people around their employees, their athletes and coaches, and their fans.”
The Eagles use interviews to probe any questions about a player’s character, intelligence, and ability to learn, general manager Howie Roseman said.
The combine also gives the team a chance to have its doctors examine prospects before it invests millions of dollars and a sizable stake in the Eagles’ future.
“The most important part of the combine is the medical part of it,” Roseman said. “If you have guys that you rate very highly and your doctors tell you they have longevity issues, that’s going to affect where you take them.”
The biggest combine workout stars can improve their standing by rounds, earning millions in the process as they move up draft charts. But many teams have learned to be cautious about combine results, preferring to focus on players’ on-field production rather than their performance in track-and-field style tests.
“We’ll try to stick to where our board is now,” Roseman said last week in advance of the combine.
“What we really try to do is, as much as we can, keep it based on the play from August to December,” and the previous season, Roseman said. “This is the time of year where it could play mind games on you, because you get into the all-star games, and you get into the combine and you meet with these guys, and you have to be in a position where you have to stick to your beliefs on how they play, the background they come from, as opposed to guys who flash.”
The Eagles infamously made Mike Mamula the seventh overall pick in 1995 based on his stellar workouts, and he never lived up to that lofty choice.
Teams should use the combine to make sure players’ athletic ability matches what they have seen in games, said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock.
“Teams that do the best drafting on a consistent basis are the teams that understand the blend,” Mayock said. “What the combine should be is a cross check against what you’ve already seen on tape. When a fast guy runs slow or a slow guy runs fast, now you’ve got to figure out why.”
Did the player “manufacture” speed for the combine, or is he truly faster than you first thought?
“The bottom line to me is that each component in this process has to be taken on its own merits, and it can’t be the leader of the process,” Mayock said. “The leader always has to be the college production and the tape.”
Roseman expressed a similar belief, noting that the interviews and medical exams supplement reviews of game play.
“The more you can meet them, the more you can be around them,” he said, “the more you can complete that picture.”