INDIANAPOLIS — Big changes are coming to the NFL scouting combine this year.
There will be more eyeballs on the league’s annual gathering of top college talent but fewer assistant coaches watching those prospects run through drills that have been tailored by position and more accurately mimic what they’ll be doing in the NFL.
The Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Rams, two teams that missed the playoffs last season, are leaving their assistants behind this year, figuring their staffs can watch the on-field drills on broadcasts and review taped interviews without having to fly to Indianapolis.
The decisions save upwards of $50,000 per team, but at what cost?
Rams coach Sean McVay has two new coordinators concocting schemes and zeroing in on targets in free agency and the draft, so he’s expected to pop into Indy for just one day before returning to LA to continue chasing the NFC champion 49ers and resurgent Seahawks.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio will stay in town longer, but he also is leaving much of his staff behind in what could foster a new trend into the NFL — or prove a big blunder depending on how this change plays out.
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, for one, isn’t a big fan of the Rams and Broncos not bringing their full staffs and personnel departments.
“The one thing that’s interesting, I’ve read all these stories about people leaving personnel at home and coaches not coming to the combine. And I don’t know how I feel about that because I think when you get a chance to be around the players, as many opportunities as you can get a chance to be around them and be in the room with them when you interview them, I think there’s value in that,” Jeremiah said.
“Now, if you want to go back and watch the workouts at home or you want to go finish your interviews, if you’re a corners coach or a receivers coach, I should say, and you finish up all the receiver interviews, and you don’t want to stay in the building to watch the workout, I understand that because you can watch it all on tape. But I think it’s a lost opportunity if you’re a coach and you don’t get a chance to be in the room to be around these players. It’s just another point of contact that I think can really help you.”
Jeremiah likes some of the other changes coming to the combine, like the new drills for the players and moving those drills later in the day to prime time.
Every year, the top 300 or so football prospects converge on Indianapolis for medical evaluations, measurements, interviews and position drills in front of all 32 teams — or at least those who want to watch.
This year’s group is loaded at wide receiver and not as deep at edge rusher, tight end and linebacker as it’s been in the last few years. The quarterback class again is strong, led by national champion Joe Burrow with big questions looming over Tua Tagovailoa’s health.
The combine rivals the Super Bowl for the largest gathering of general managers, coaches, pro personnel departments, players and agents.
Oftentimes teams capitalize on this to lay the groundwork for free agency that comes a couple of weeks after the combine.
This year, downtown bars and restaurants should be quieter as many of the on-field drills move from morning and afternoon into prime time.
The NFL Network will broadcast 26 hours of live on-field drills Thursday through Sunday, beginning with quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends from 4-11 p.m. ET Thursday. That will be followed by running backs, O-linemen and special teams Friday and defensive linemen and linebackers Saturday. The coverage concludes Sunday with five hours of defensive backs drills.
“I’m excited about it,” Jeremiah said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be good for television because we’re going to get more eyeballs, and it will draw more attention to the event. I know talking to buddies around the league, they’re just kind of skeptical. They just want to see how it comes together. It’s all new to them. So I think you’ll have a better feel for how they like it after we get through the week.”
Sixteen new position-specific drills are coming to the combine with 10 old ones being eliminated as the league incorporates some of the skill sets that colleges players are bringing to the NFL nowadays.
For example, end zone fade routes have been added for quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends with the toe tap drill eliminated, and running backs have to run routes and catch quick passes.
“It’s been long overdue to have our evaluation tools match where the game is,” Jeremiah said. “I’m encouraged by that. I think it’s going to be a fun part of the combine. It’s going to be refreshing to see some of these new drills.”
Things will start off strong Tuesday when tight ends, quarterbacks and wide receivers meet with the media in the morning, followed by general managers and coaches.
Looming over the combine is the league’s labor situation.
On Tuesday, the players union will meet with league negotiators at the scouting combine. The union’s executive committee voted last week to recommend rejecting terms of the new collective bargaining agreement that NFL owners approved. Objections to an expanded regular season are the main stumbling block to player approval. The current labor accord lasts through the 2020 season.