Scouting the Regional Combines

Would the hardware count for the Colts and Patriots be any different if it weren’t for the clutch kicks of Adam Vinatieri? He kicked a 48-yard field goal on the final play to give the New England Patriots their first Super Bowl victory, a 20–17 win over the Rams. Would someone else have missed it? “Mr. Clutch” has made a major impact in the outcome of several big games. He may have never found his way from S. Dakota State to the NFL without the help of Regional Scout Camps.

There are 333 players who got an invitation to the NFL Combine this year in Indianapolis. However, the invitation process is not an exact science, or even a fair process. Several players who should be there for a full evaluation are overlooked and rejected.

So what about those who fall through the cracks in the system? What do they do? Where do they go? Well now there is a legitimate option for those who won’t be getting a ticket to Indy on Feb 20th. The Regional Combines, now owned and operated by the NFL, gives players an opportunity to showcase their talent in front of every NFL team. There are about 200+ registrants in each regional combine.

Former agent/entrepreneur, Steve Austin, started the camps in 1989. He wanted to create a venue where scouts from the NFL, CFL, AFL, and other leagues can evaluate those who were left behind by the system. Thus, he created Scout Camp, which was a traveling audition for any and all who wanted to get in front of scouts. In the early days many scouts didn’t show up. Sometimes there were ten, others times there was just one. Scout Camp was a great tool for the CFL and the AFL but the NFL pulled very few players from the system.

Today, the Regional Combines did make an impact last season on the NFL landscape. Although there was not any Kurt Warner type finds, there were 87 players in 2012 that were signed by NFL teams, 4 of which were drafted in the sixth round. By the end of the 2012 season, 14 of the 87 players finished on 53 man rosters and another 14 finished on practice squads. Starting Rams’ kicker, Greg Zuerlien and punter, Johnny Hekker, were both by-products of the Regional Combine.

You won’t find a lot of NFL team scouts at the Regional Combine but you will find qualified individuals who know something about evaluating talent. I attended the Regional Combine in Orange County CA, last week (as media) and I was relieved to see familiar front office men such Dick Daniels (former Redskins top evaluator), John Beake (Broncos GM during the Elway era) and Mike Hagan (respected veteran scout with Cowboys, Redskins, Falcons and Broncos).

These evaluators huddle the evening after each Regional Combine and select those who are candidates for the Super Combine, which will be held in Dallas this year.

If you pay the $225 to participate in a Regional Combine, your goal is to get to the Super Combine on April 7th. The Super Combine is a replica of the Indianapolis Combine. Last year, 78 evaluators representing all 32 teams attended the Super Combine in Detroit last April. This year it will be held and Dallas and the expectations are that all 32 teams will send even more evaluators.

I wanted to see for myself if it’s a dependable tool for one of my clients (and potentially future clients) who surprisingly did not receive a Combine invitation. I have to say, that I was impressed with what I saw. It was well organized, it ran smoothly, the facility was of high quality; there were locker rooms, trainers, and competent coaches who ran the drills with authority. There was only one problem. There was very little in the way of talent. Most guys were too old, too slow and many undersized. Of the 200 plus participants, I saw about 5 or 6 from the offensive side of the ball that merited a closer look. I credit the patience of the evaluator who will have to painfully comb through about 3,000 want-to-be hopeful NFL players this year to find about 100 to 150 to invite for the main audition in Dallas.

So who should attend? A player in this year’s or last year’s draft class who did not get invited to the Combine in Indy. A player who was injured their senior year and fell off the scouting radar. Former HS football players who may have chose basketball over football in college. Small school players. Anyone with blazing speed at any position.

Agents do not want to be representing non-combine invites. However, every now and then a client gets snubbed. Last year, my RB client from WKU, Bobby Rainey, was snubbed by Indy. He ended up making the Ravens as an UFA and now has a Super Bowl ring. Ozzie Newsome called him a “Ray Rice clone”. Although I didn’t send him last year, he fits the profile of guys who should consider attending a regional.

I usually take on one calculated long shot each year mainly because I already know the player will at least get into camp and is already liked by a handful of scouts. But none of us want to make a business practice of it. But if you do have a client who was overlooked by the scouting system, I would encourage you to send him to a Regional Combine. There is actually no downside to it and it even acts as a good primer for the campus pro day. If he has any talent what so ever he will stick out like polar bear at a penguin convention and easily be a candidate for the Super Combine.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jack Bechta

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