The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine started this week and I am really in amazement of the production it now presents. There are so many differences in the way the Combine was run, in comparison to how I remember it.
Let's start with the athlete swag and gear used to work out. Under Armour sponsors the athletes' workout uniforms; I remember I had regular Russell kelly-grey sweat suits, red t-shirts with the NFL logo and the blue shorty-shorts that came to only mid-thigh. The high-tech material and fit of the new workout gear weighs next to nothing and dri-fit spandex moves with the player's body like it is a part of their skin.
I was a 300-pound O-lineman, so air drag and track shoes didn't matter to my 40-yard dash, but it does for a player like Donte "Action" Jackson out of LSU, who is trying to break the sub-4.2 in the 40.
These new athletes run their 40 in track shoes like Olympic sprinters. I remember I ran the 40 in some New Balance running sneakers. I'm sure with the high-tech gear and preparation, I could have really put up some good numbers at the Combine, but my numbers were average.
Athletes are prepped today for the physical and mental gymnastics. The only real test I remember being stressed was the Wonderlic. I wasn't sent to a workout facility to concentrate on Combine-specific workouts. I stayed at Kansas State and worked out with my team strength and conditioning staff at the school. I maintained my diet at the KSU training table and splurged on fast food with my newfound money from agents trying to recruit me to represent me in contract negotiations.
Now, athletes are taken through strenuous interviewing sessions implemented by their agents. Agents send the athletes to training facilities that force-feed them football 24/7. Their diets are maintained, body fat measured. They go through sleep studies and interviewing classes, which help for when teams question everything under the sun to see whether they'll get a good return on the athlete. Yes, a good return, because these athletes are investments. These companies, i.e. teams, invest millions of dollars into these athletes.
Back in a time that now seems like the Stone Age, there wasn't 24-hour coverage of sports, let alone the NFL Combine. The results for these athletes is now instantaneous. Back in 1995, we didn't know what our results were until later in the week. The O-linemen worked out on Friday and I walked around bragging back at KSU that I ran a 5.10 in the 40-yard dash, put up 26 reps on bench press (225 pounds) and a 32-inch vertical. All those results ... WRONG! I ran an electronic time of 5.24 in the 40 with 20 reps on the bench and a 30-inch vertical.
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So folks, long story short, the amount of information and visibility these new athletes have to navigate is tremendous. Mentally, physically and emotionally, players have to be tougher to deal with this theatre that is now the modern day NFL Combine.