For NFL-crazed fans, the NFL Scouting Combine has become an Oasis of football in the dry, barren desert of the off-season. In this week's fireside chat with Colts Authority writers, we'll discuss the 2014 Combine, which kicks off Saturday.
The questions for this week's panel: "The NFL combine is this week, if you were Ryan Grigson, what is the most important characteristic you'd be looking for in a prospect?"
"If you were conducting a player interview, what is the one question you'd ask every player?"
Our answers after the jump, yours in the comment section.
I think the interviews are by far the most important things at the combine, but when we look at physical drills, I'd say things like the three-cone drill are most important. I want to see quickness and explosion out of players rather than straight line speed or just pure strength. Of all of the drills at the combine, that's the one that I'd put the most stock in. Every player needs to be able to change direction quickly and explode through small spaces.
Question: What is the most important trait that correlates to success at your position?
I'd ask this for a number of reasons. The question lends itself to several plausible, interesting answers. All in all, I'm looking for thoughtful answers that show that the player has some workable knowledge of the game. I'll take smart players over athletic freaks every day of the week. I want to hear a player eloquate why he is successful, or, alternatively, what he wants to improve on.
I would ask every prospect "What is the most important thing in your life?" I think that's a great way to find guys with the right attitude. I remember hearing that Tony Dungy said while interviewing for the Colts job that football wasn't the most important thing in his life and that he was occasionally going to come in late because he'd be taking his kids to school. I always found that admirable.
If a guy says "football" or something like "being the best" is the most important thing to him, it can be a warning sign that he doesn't have his priorities in line. Guys who make football their whole identities often wind up like John Boyett last year, because when injuries happen, they don't have anything to fall back on (I can't say for sure that that's what happened with Boyett, but it seems plausible). I prefer well-rounded types who love the game and will work hard, but also care about their families and have outside lives. Building the team around those guys helps form a culture of accountability.
If I was a GM, I'd be loading up on 'game' speed. I want players who are quick in the cone drills and would be prioritizing agility and burst over straight-line speed or strength. Players can always get bigger, and most do. What's hard to do is improve quickness. There's an element to playing quick which depends on comfort and familiarity with the scheme, but for the most part, speed is speed. If a guy has great acceleration, he'll be a difference maker.
I'd ask the player to self-scout as if he were an opposing coach. What would he tell another player about how to beat him?
Great players will have more than one great quality, of course. They won't simply be defined by their speed, quickness or strength, so it's hard to select just one. Still, I was the one who asked the question, so I should probably make an attempt to answer it.
If we're talking physical attributes/characteristics, I want speed. Speed kills, as they say, and if I were running a team I would never have enough of it. As Nate alluded to earlier, you can help a player grow (literally and figuratively) in other areas, but with speed, you either have it or you don't.
But if we're talking the entire package and not just physical attributes, I'd have to say intelligence. First, I'm going to be this guy's boss, which means I'm going to be spending a fair amount of time with him. I don't like dumb people – and I like talking to dumb people even less – so surrounding myself with smart people seems like the best way for me to have a happy work environment. Outside of that, I think a superior intellect – which, in this context, I would define as a combination of common sense, ability to understand and grasp the concepts we're teaching them and the playbooks we're installing, and an ability to think on your feet – can overcome deficiencies in other aspects of the player's makeup.
As for one question I'd like to ask a player, I really like Nate's answer, but I won't cheat, and instead I'll say: I really like what Jon Gruden does with his quarterback camp, and I'd probably ask a player – regardless of position – some Xs and Os questions to test not only their knowledge of the playbook, but their ability to process the information they've been given and adapt it to specific situations.
It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific trait as most important. I like good 40-times for wide receivers and defensive backs, good three cone drill times for linebackers, and big time bench press numbers for the guys in the trenches – no weak linemen, please.
All players have deficiencies of some type, especially in the later rounds of the draft. So, another thing I like to see is for those shortcomings to be in teachable areas. For example, a wide receiver with blazing speed can learn to run better routes, but a guy who can’t run, can’t jump, or is afflicted with chronic butterfingers may have hit his ceiling long ago.
However, the single most important trait for an NFL player may be selflessness. No matter how stunning their measurables, a willingness to buy heavily into the personal sacrifice-laden, team-above-all-else culture of the NFL can mean the difference between a promising player who almost sticks on the roster and a valuable, long-term contributor.
As far as a question to ask every player, the football subject matter would tend to vary by position.So, I might ask each one to describe his best and worst non-football moments to help me gain some insight into what’s truly important to each potential draftee.
The 40 yard dash is particularly overvalued, but the short shuttle and bench press are important for me. Short area quickness can be more important than running quickly in a straight line, as it closer to mimicking the athletic abilities needed on game day. With the bench press, I feel it's certainly important for offensive linemen to demonstrate their strength, which is needed in the trenches. Some player have more functional strength that doesn't particularly show up in the bench press, but it's still a huge part of the process for linemen.
I would ask what their toughest adversity has been during their career and how they overcame it.