Talent evaluation in the NFL has gone from individual player workouts on college campuses to a nationally televised event in a stadium. I am talking, of course, about the NFL Scouting Combine, which is taking place March 1-7 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Here are five things you need to know about the event also known as the "Underwear Olympics."
1. Teams evaluated talent individually before the Combine
The first Combine was not held until 1982 and before then, teams scheduled time with players individually to evaluate them. For example, San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh was at Clemson in 1979 scouting quarterback Steve Fuller and asked his roommate, Dwight Clark, to catch passes. Walsh was impressed with the receiver's abilities and took him in the 10th round of that year's draft. If that chance encounter does not happen, "The Catch" does not take place and Clark's jersey number certainly isn't retired by the 49ers. Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm proposed eliminating chance and going for efficiency with an NFL Combine and it has been a pre-draft staple for nearly 40 years.
2. Indianapolis has been the host city since 1987
NFL franchises belonged to different scouting organizations so multiple combines were held from 1982 to '84. The first consolidated combine was held in Tempe, Arizona, in 1985, followed by New Orleans in '86, and then Indianapolis in '87. Indy has been the home ever since with its Midwest location and indoor facilities. Lucas Oil Stadium is connected to numerous hotels and restaurants so players and coaches can focus on the Combine without ever leaving the complex.
3. Legends are born at the Combine
The combine has seven drills and the record-holders for each, but legends have resulted from these feats even if they're no longer in the record books. Chris Johnson wowed scouts with a record time of 4.24 in the 40-yard dash in 2008, but John Ross broke that record in '17 at 4.22 with a run so intense that he strained his calves at the end of it. The stories from the stopwatch era (all drills are now electronically timed) have become even more mythicized. Bo Jackson recorded a time of 4.12 seconds in the 1986 Combine and Deion Sanders blew scouts away with a 4.27 time in '89.
4. There are still busts
The Combine popularized the term "workout warrior" and success in the drills does not always translate to on-field success. The first example of this was Mike Mamula who practiced the drills repeatedly before the 1995 Combine and went from being a good Boston College defensive end to a top-10 pick thanks to his performance. The Philadelphia Eagles traded with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to take him with the seventh pick. The Bucs then used that traded pick to take future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and then drafted fellow Canton enshrinee Derrick Brooks later in the round. Mamula had a solid six-season career, but his Combine performance set expectations that he was never able to meet. Numerous players over the years have suffered the same fate.
5. Television coverage
If you like to watch people work out, but don't want to be that creepy guy at the gym, the Combine has you covered. After not holding the Combine last year due to the pandemic, fans are being welcomed back to observe the on-field drills in person at Lucas Oil Stadium (March 3-6) and the NFL Network will offer live coverage as well.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.