KANSAS CITY, Mo. – An essential part of the draft-evaluation process kicks off Tuesday with the NFL Scouting Combine, which runs through Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
A total of 332 draft-eligible players are scheduled to go through a variety of events – including medical and psychological evaluations, team interviews (formal and informal), measurements and position drills – in front of prospective employers.
“It’s kind of the first opportunity we have as a complete organization to come down and look at all the players,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said at the 2015 Combine. “The scouts have been out beating the bushes and evaluating these guys, and so they obviously have a better understanding of them than the coaches do.
“The coaches now have an opportunity to come down and watch them run around a little bit. And then most of all, and probably most important, is an opportunity to talk to them.”
While each Combine event carries significance and televised workouts command the spotlight, Reid’s last point on getting to know players shouldn’t be overlooked, especially in a formal setting.
An organization can have unlimited informal interactions at the Combine, much like at the Senior Bowl when team representatives talk to players after practices.
The official meeting, however, requires a selection process because a team is allocated a maximum of 60 formal interviews in 15-minute increments.
Some NFL media members tend to scoff at other reporters’ line of questioning with players when it comes to the interview process.
But there is value in attempting to discover who sat down in a formal setting with the Chiefs to gain insight on what the team is potentially thinking based on Reid’s and general manager John Dorsey’s track record since they arrived in 2013.
Four of the Chiefs’ first five picks in the 2015 NFL Draft – cornerback Marcus Peters, center Mitch Morse, wide receiver Chris Conley and inside linebacker Ramik Wilson – disclosed in post-selection conference calls they met with the Chiefs at the Combine.
Wilson, in particular, first revealed during a Combine media session he was scheduled to have a formal interview with the Chiefs.
Outside linebacker Dee Ford, cornerback Phillip Gaines and offensive lineman Zach Fulton said during their respective post-selection conference calls in 2014 they met with the Chiefs in Indianapolis. Tight end Travis Kelce revealed in 2013 he sat down with Reid at the Combine.
While the Chiefs obviously can’t draft every player formally interviewed, the team can use information obtained from the meetings in the future.
Offensive lineman Laurence Gibson, for example, entered the league as a seventh-round pick out of Virginia Tech with the Dallas Cowboys in 2015.
The Cowboys released Gibson before the start of the regular season and he ultimately signed with the Chiefs practice squad based on a comfort level drawn from an interaction at the Combine.
“The Chiefs were the only team I had an official interview with, one of the 15-minute interviews,” Gibson said in a recent telephone interview.
Meanwhile, teams around the league have numerous tools to utilize to build draft boards, including Pro Day workouts and predraft visits.
The week spent in Indianapolis is just one part of the process to become familiar with a player, but don’t easily disregard formal interviews when it comes to the Chiefs.
The Combine is one of the few NFL events during the course of a calendar year where general managers, team executives, coaches and agents are in close proximity, an important consideration surrounding the start of free agency.
Teams often spend the week in Indianapolis to have exploratory talks with the agents representing players whose contracts expire at the start of the new league calendar year, which begins on March 9.
The Chiefs have 14 players eligible to become unrestricted free agents: Safety Eric Berry, inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, cornerback Sean Smith, guard Jeff Allen, defensive end Jaye Howard, quarterback Chase Daniel, offensive tackle Donald Stephenson, wide receiver Jason Avant, safety Husain Abdullah, safety Tyvon Branch, defensive end Mike DeVito, outside linebacker Frank Zombo, cornerback Jamell Fleming and outside linebacker Dezman Moses.
The Combine affords an opportunity for team beat writers to have access to general managers and head coaches.
And in most cases around the league, the Combine marks the first such access for reporters since the end of the regular season if a team didn’t advance to the postseason.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid recently underwent knee replacement surgery and will not attend the Combine while he recovers in Kansas City.
General manager John Dorsey, however, will be present.
Dorsey is scheduled to hold a press conference during the week in the main media room, which is televised live on the NFL Network. He traditionally holds a separate session with Chiefs beat writers in the hallway after the main press conference.
The media will also have numerous opportunities to interview draft prospects throughout the week-long event.
Participation in the Combine doesn’t guarantee a player will be drafted, but some players not invited to Indianapolis will hear their names called during the NFL Draft.
The Chiefs offer examples of that approach the past three years with the selections of tight end James O’Shaughnessy and linebacker D.J. Alexander in 2015, offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif in 2014, and center Eric Kush and defensive lineman Mike Catapano in 2013.
Kush and Catapano are no longer with the Chiefs.
Kansas State is represented by fullback Glenn Gronkowski and offensive lineman Cody Whitehair. NFLDraftScout.com and CBS Sports rank both players as the No. 1 prospect at their respective position. Gronkowski projects as a fourth- or fifth-round pick, while Whitehair projects as a first- or second-round pick.
Missouri is represented by center Evan Boehm, inside linebacker Kentrell Brothers and guard Connor McGovern. NFLDraftScout.com and CBS Sports project Boehm as a fifth-round pick, Brothers as a second-round pick and McGovern as a fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Kansas has no players invited to Indianapolis. The Jayhawks sent linebacker Ben Heeney, cornerback Jacorey Shepherd and punter Trevor Pardula to the Combine in 2015.
The full schedule, courtesy of NFLCombine.net: