Birth of the Combine
By Gil Brandt
NFL.com Senior Analyst
Do you remember Nolan Cromwell, the defensive back/special teams ace who played for the Los Angeles Rams from 1977-87? As we prepare to cover the 2007 NFL Scouting Combine, we can all thank Cromwell for getting the process started in the first place. Let's explain…
Before 1977, there was no organized "combine" -- each NFL team would bring in college prospects for interviews and medical evaluations. There were no workouts -- the medical evaluation was really the key component.
Well, Cromwell was a hot prospect out of Kansas -- problem is, he tore up his knee midway through his senior year. So when it came time for evaluations, Cromwell made the rounds like all the other prospects. He came to the Dallas Cowboys' complex following an overnight flight from Seattle. Dallas was probably the 11th team he was meeting with, so when he ran into Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm in the elevator, he had 10 different sets of X-rays tucked under his arm.
Cromwell ended up being drafted in the second round by the Rams and making it to four Pro Bowls, but his pre-draft endeavor had another impact on NFL history.
After he saw Cromwell in that elevator with those X-rays, Schramm just shook his head and said, "There's got to be a better way."
And since Schramm was on the NFL's Competition Committee, he worked to find that better way. A year later, there were actually three plans in place to have combined evaluations. BLESTO and United (now known as National) were two groups that had a roster of teams coming together. A third group consisted of the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco ***** and Oakland Raiders.
Our group had a two-day event in which players were brought in on a Friday and put through the physical evaluation process -- of course, it wasn't nearly as comprehensive as it is today. After finishing up the physicals on Saturday morning, they spent about two hours putting players through workouts. By workouts, we're talking about the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, long jump, hop-step-and-jump. It was very limited compared to what it's grown into.
Eventually, the league was able to further "combine" its efforts in the evaluation process. In 1982, the National Invitational Camp -- better known as the NFL Scouting Combine -- was held in Tampa, Fla., and attended by 163 players. After stints in New Orleans and Phoenix, the Scouting Combine moved to Indianapolis in 1987 and has been there ever since. And the number of prospects in attendance has risen to well over 300.
How has the process changed since the early days? If Nolan Cromwell were a prospect this year, all of his workouts and evaluations would be on one disk, for any of the 32 NFL clubs to study. He would have X-rays taken at the Combine -- along with MRIs and countless other physical tests -- and that information would be available to all the teams. One-stop shopping.
Of course, NFL teams these days can never be too thorough, so after the Combine there will be college pro days and club visits. But the Combine remains an invaluable resource leading up to the draft.
Re: Birth of the Combine
Funny, I thought Cromwell went to Nebraska.