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Combine focus: Player interviews

Matt Williamson is a former college and NFL scout and is current co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio.

Everyone understands that athletic testing is spotlighted at the NFL Combine and that is what viewers tune it to watch. Those numbers are greatly scrutinized for better or worse. Those tests, along with the drill work these prospects do in Indianapolis, are obviously valuable and are a piece of the puzzle when scouting players.

But there is also a lot going on behind the scenes that fans have no access to, nor should they. Many will tell you that the medical evaluations and interview process are every bit as important as what these players do on the field. That is half true in my opinion. The medical evaluations are the most important piece of Combine puzzle overall, but I think the importance of the interview process can be little overblown.

When I was scouting for the Browns, I sat in a few of these interviews. One particular interview stands out to me. A player, who was a top prospect and went on to be drafted in the Top 10 that year, was leaving the room, a very experienced scout sprung on him with the quick-hitting question, "Super Bowl or Pro Bowl?". The prospect immediately smiled big and replied without giving it much thought, "Pro Bowl". Wrong answer.

The process hasn't changed immensely since those days, but starting this year, teams can interview only 45 players rather than 60. Each team puts in a request for the players they want to speak with while they are together in Indianapolis. There is a set time of 15 minutes to conduct these interviews and then the players are abruptly shuffled to their next team for another 15-minute session. Think of an assembly line.

When the player walks in, he often sees a small room filled with NFL folks from that respective team. Who each team puts in that room varies a great deal, but there might the position coach, the special teams coach, a coordinator, that area scout, the head coach, the general manager or whomever. 

The prospect and team associates greet one another and get comfortable. That takes a minute or two presumably. The team can then take the conversation any way they want. They can ask the player about a time he got in trouble off the field. They can put him on the white board and talk Xs and Os. They can ask him about a particular play in a particular game. They can keep it real broad and just ask him about his college or Combine experience. They can ask him about a particular hardship he had to deal with.

Or they can go rouge and pull something very unexpected. There certainly is value to seeing how a player handles a question he isn't comfortable with or did not expect.

With the exception of the latter, a good agent has prepped his client and gives him a very good idea of what to expect during those 15 minutes. The agent should conduct mock interviews in a similar fashion as to a lawyer prepping a witness. Of course, it doesn't always go smoothly, but a player should feel comfortable and prepared when he sits down with each and every team. So how much real and true information is gathered that teams didn't already know in such a short amount of time?

There is value, but by no means does it compare to the medical knowledge learned at the Combine. When evaluating the person, what is far more important is all the background work the area scout did on this player by asking people at his school (not just football people) about this young man. Then there are background checks that can extremely extensive. Teams will fly players in and spend the day with them late in the draft process. They will find out a great deal about what makes each prospect tick and should get a pretty good grasp of his fundamental core values and his personality overall. Just don't think that can be grasped entirely from a brief 15-minute conversation though.

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