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Pro Days: What are teams looking for, and how should we view them?

On-campus workouts the next phase of the draft process

NFL Combine - Day 6
K’Von Wallace of Clemson runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The 2020 NFL Combine is in the books, but next up for these prospects and talent evaluators is the Pro Day circuit. What exactly is that and what value does it have?

First off, the most important thing from the Combine is the medicals. Every team doctor was in Indianapolis to poke and prod next year’s rookie class. All of that medical information is shared between the teams, but every team interprets it differently. At a Pro Day, medical doesn’t come into the equation. However, there is a medical recheck in Indianapolis down the road for certain invited players that the league needs more information on concerning their rehab and healing.

Also, at a Pro Day, such events as the vertical jump, broad jump, and bench press are the same as at the Combine. There is no advantage or disadvantage to doing these on your “Home turf” and that holds for the agility drills as well, although the surface at each college certainly isn’t the same as Lucas Oil Field.

That being said, the tracks these prospects run on are often extremely different than the field turf used for all the 40-yard dash participants at the Combine. Not to mention this year, these players won’t be asked to run late at night at their Pro Day like most were in Indianapolis. At a Pro Day, you can be assured that the draftable prospect wasn’t woken up early and dragged around all day will little time to himself or to relax.

NFL teams have been doing this a long time and they, of course, realize that many college tracks are faster and yield better times than the one at the Combine. Some tracks are slower. This is accounted for within each NFL building and factored into the overall scouting process, but still, it is apples to oranges when comparing times run at the Combine vs. any Pro Day.

Not to mention, some Pro Days take place outdoors where factors like wind make a big difference in a final time that comes down to a hundredth of a second. Running with the wind at your back vs. into the wind can drastically change what ends up showing up on the stopwatch.

Those who ran well at the Combine often won’t run the 40-yard dash again in their lives. Good for them. Those that ran poorly can try again on a more familiar surface and with more advantageous surroundings. And then some players decided to skip running at the Combine and will put all their eggs in their Pro Day basket. Also, some of the players like those from LSU or Clemson, whose seasons went later than others and had to play more grueling late-season games, often chose to sit the Combine out to get their bodies properly ready to perform at its peak.

There are also some tricks here. First off, players change their body composition and weight during this entire process. Some put on weight to look good at the Combine weigh-in and then drop weight to run faster at their Pro Day. The scouts weigh each player in at every event, but you get the idea. Prospects and the people helping prepare them aren’t dumb and do everything possible to get the best numbers written in pen on the player’s final evaluation.

Lastly, and this mostly applies to quarterbacks, Pro Days are scripted. They are scripted by the player, not the league. These quarterbacks are going to handpick the pass catchers in attendance. Unlike the Combine, they are not going to throw to receivers they just met. Often, they will have their favorite targets from college, which only makes sense. Now back to the scripted part of this conversation. A quarterback prospect might lay out a script where he decides to throw 50 passes. Well, he is going to not only make those throws in the order he decides, but this passer also isn’t going to attempt many, if any, throws on routes that he feels uncomfortable with. He is going to show you what he wants to show you.

The other benefit that quarterbacks have at their Pro Day is that they are not throwing next to those they are competing against. One of the beauties of the Combine is, in an assembly line fashion, evaluators get to watch quarterback after quarterback, one after another, attempt the same throws in the same conditions. That is truly comparing apples to apples.

So, in the end, Pro Days are not given the same attention by fans and draftniks as the Combine. That makes perfect sense and the NFL talent evaluators have to be very careful with how they interpret these events. While there certainly is much to take away from every Pro Day, just remember, that it isn’t a direct corollary to what was asked of players in Indianapolis just a little while back.