Unless you’ve been under a rock the past couple of days you probably already knew that all of the NFL elite have gathered in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Underwear Olympics, that rite of spring passage for approximately 330 of the best NCAA football players who have been invited to demonstrate their physical abilities and go through the NFL version of speed dating.
In 1982 the Dallas Cowboys’ president and general manager Tex Schramm proposed a centralized event where team personnel directors could evaluate incoming talent in a standardized setting. The first National Invitational Camp (NFL scouting combine) was actually held right here in Tampa Bay in 1982.
The combine itself first made its way to television in 2004 on the NFL network, which had launched in November the year before. That first year the television coverage consisted of six (6) one-hour segments of a review of the events of that day.
As late as 2010, that coverage consisted of thirty (30) hours of television coverage during combine week with a viewership of 5.24 million households.
Many have questioned the validity of the paces these young players are put through inside of Lucas Oil Stadium. There are both positive and negative stories that have played out during this week of peacocking. There is the story of the Arizona State standout player in 2003 who ran a slow (4.83) 40-yard dash, lowering his draft value. Turns out that fifteen (15) years later the Ravens are all right with having had Terrell Suggs drop to them at #10 that year.
Then there are the stories like that of Dontari Poe, defensive lineman for the Carolina Panthers. Initially forecasted as a second-round prospect in the 2012 draft, Poe put on an “epic workout performance” according to ESPN’s Todd McShay, who afterwards projected him to go as high as #11 to the Kansas City Chiefs. NFL.com draft analyst and current Raiders general manager Mike Mayock upgraded Poe from #3 to #1 in his defensive tackle positional ratings. At 346 pounds, Poe ran a 4.98 40-yard dash, impressing all in attendance.
These days the top players usually have pro days, which give them more of a controlled environment to impress potential suitors. Which, ironically enough, is the opposite reason for the combine in the first place, to demonstrate talents in a standardized setting. Some players choose not to participate at the combine, choosing to wait for those pro days instead. This also seems to add to the intrigue each year.
The NFL combine can be very sterile at times but so dramatic at others. With teams looking at game film from live games to really evaluate players, there generally aren’t too many surprises in Indianapolis. But there are those sleepers. The players who will run a quick 40, bench press 225 pounds a crazy amount of times, or just catch the eye of a team personnel employee who will go back to the team and report. Mostly there are a bunch of dudes walking around in underwear. Some quite flattering, others not so much.
Whether this annual event is as important as draft analysts, the NFL Network, and teams themselves let on doesn’t seem as important as the fact that we eat up every bit of it and wouldn’t have it any other way.