Behind the combine curtain matters more

Rick Spielman (Greg Smith/USA Today)

The speed and strength numbers will be televised at the NFL Scouting Combine over the next week, but it's what goes on behind the scenes that matters most to NFL decision-makers, including Vikings GM Rick Spielman.

While the times in the 40-yard dash and repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press will be broadcast and recorded, behind the scenes are the more important issues for NFL scouting departments.

Yes, speed, strength and agility at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis matter to football evaluators over the next week, but it's another trio of analysis – interviews, medical reports and psychological analysis – that means more over the next week to the decisions makers.

The NFL is introducing a new psychological test this year in addition to the decades-long execution of the Wonderlic test. The idea is that the new Player Assessment Tool "is supposed to provide teams with an idea of whether a player will get along with teammates, make it to meetings on time and put in the effort to take his skills from good to great," according to USA Today.

It likely won't make much of a difference in the Vikings' evaluation. They have given their own test to draft prospects for years and have two psychologists to help guide their line of questioning and make educated judgment calls on how truthful or forthcoming a prospect is while being interviewed.

"I brought that process here when I came here," said Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. "I think it's part of the total picture. That's why you have to interview these guys, and the red flags that do show up, you try to address. If something from the psychological profiling came up, you address it with that player, and you kind of make your own determination, too. It's kind of an instinct and an experience factor that goes into that decision. It's a tool. It's not a be-all end-all."

The same is true with the medical exams, which can be even more taxing on players – in some cases it is an all-day affair for players that create concern among scouting staffs. That process already started for the players that were in Indianapolis Wednesday.

"Medicals are the whole thing. If our doctors – and, again, I have the utmost confidence in our training staff and our doctors and I would stack them up against anyone in the NFL – but if they are sitting there telling me we can't take a player because of a medical, I'm going to listen to them. I think I know everything, but I didn't have my M.D. degree hanging up in my office. I need to trust their judgment, and if they say this guy is a medical fail for us, then that's what we go with. That's one area where I won't say, ‘No, we're still going to take this guy.'"

However, a medical fail from one team may be an opportunity for another. The Vikings took advantage of that situation in 2007. Before the draft, rumors started to swirl that Adrian Peterson's broken collarbone might require a screw and he might not be able to play at the beginning of his rookie season.

On talent alone, Peterson was widely considered one of the three best players in the draft, but he slid to the Vikings at No. 7 overall and they were more than happy to select him. Their medical evaluation showed no such long-term concerns with his collarbone and they were proven right.

In addition to the medical exams like magnetic resonance imaging tests, blood work and X-rays, teams are also allowed to have their doctors examine players individually, allowing one team's trash to potentially become another team's treasure.

Spielman said last week that no players were given the team's "red dot" yet, which means the Vikings won't draft them, but some prospects were "teetering" on that designation.

The interviews will be especially important for players like former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and dozens of others that have some explaining to do, whether it is on legal or personal issues. By now, agents have had at least a month to work with their clients on interview skills, but Spielman still believes he can get prospects out of their comfort zone during the interview process (teams are allowed up to 60 formal interviews of 15 minutes each, and they often talk to players informally outside of the scheduled interview time).

"We try to do it where we can get that guard down and focus on ways to really get to know the kid and take some of that polish off," Spielman said. "There's ways, I think, that we've come up with that we can do that."

The Vikings had to alter their methods at the Senior Bowl when organizers of that all-star game changed their interview policies, but the Vikings still managed to talk to all of the participants there, which helps them focus on other players this week at the combine.

The next week will bring a barrage of numbers from the more than 300 prospect invited to the combine, but what goes on behind the scenes in Indianapolis is just as important – and oftentimes more important – than what is being televised.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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