The entire NFL world will gather in Indianapolis beginning on Tuesday for the annual NFL scouting combine, the first official step toward the 2018 NFL draft. More than 300 players have been invited to be poked, prodded and probed by coaches, GMs, scouts, doctors and executives from every NFL team.
And yes, despite all the film of all these players, what happens over the next week could absolutely affect the draft.
So knowing how important this annual meat market is, here's a closer look at the drills and evaluations each player will go through as they are shuttled from Lucas Oil Stadium to the Indiana Convention Center to local hospitals and various meeting rooms in hotels. It's a long, arduous process that most players have been preparing for since their last college game:
Beyond the "measurable" drills, each player will be asked to show off some of their position-specific skills. Some are obvious -- the quarterbacks throw, the receivers run routes and catch passes, and the kickers and punters kick. Others are drills designed to mimic football skills, such as the defensive back 'W' drill, where they run forward and back pedal in five-yard bursts, making the shape of a 'W'
There are drills for every position and they are scattered throughout the week. Position coaches watch these drills perhaps more intently compared to the "measurable" drills.
To many, this is the most important part of the combine. It's the first chance for teams to really see the condition of players, based on everything from basic medical evaluations to (in some cases) X-rays, MRIs and other tests. Teams want to know everything from how an injured player is healing to what the player's collegiate doctors may have missed before they invest a draft pick and money in a player.
And for some players, this is just the start. If a new injury is discovered, or if an old injury is still healing, players could be asked to return to Indianapolis in April for a medical re-check, too.
A standard, NFL-style drug test is administered to every player by the league and teams are informed of the results. Obviously teams want to know if a player has a drug problem, given the league rules and potential for discipline.
But over the years, many NFL people have become less concerned with the idea of a player using drugs, and more concerned with the sheer stupidity of a player getting caught. Some consider this an "IQ test" because players know they'll be tested at the combine and have had months to get and stay clean.
One of the most controversial parts of the combine, players take a 50-question test in 12 minutes that is supposed to be a gauge of critical thinking and problem-solving ability. It's also basically a test of IQ and general intelligence.
It is controversial, though. Not everyone views the test as an accurate reading of someone's intelligence, and a 2005 study showed no real correlation between a Wonderlic score and a player's success in the NFL. It's also controversial because while the NFL does not officially release the scores, they often have a way of leaking out, which can be very embarrassing for players that score ridiculously low.
The highest score possible is a 50, and only one player is known to have hit the perfect score at the combine: Pat McInally, a punter and receiver out of Harvard in 1975 (he was a fifth-round pick of the Bengals that year). Another Harvard grad, former Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, scored a 48 in 2005 (before he was a seventh-round pick of the Rams).
The worst-ever score? Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne scored a 4 but was still picked sixth overall by the Cowboys in 2012.
While representatives from teams will find plenty of time throughout the week to corner prospects and ask them a few questions, there are limits on "official" interviews, all of which take place at the nearby Crowne Plaza Hotel. Each team is allowed to bring in 60 players for a 15-minute private session during the week.
This is where players are often asked crazy questions that don't seem to have anything to do with football (at least by some teams). No topic is safe, from a player's personal life to his family situation to incidents he may have had in school. Some teams view it as a chance to knock a player off balance and see how he responds to pressure. Others see it as a test of character or a way to gauge how he responds to criticism. Some use it as a form of psychological evaluation.
For others, it's simpler -- perhaps just a get-to-know-you session to get a feel for the player. And some teams try to judge the players' football knowledge. Quarterbacks in particular might be asked to break down a play on a whiteboard in front of the room, or they'll get a 15-minute crash course in an offensive concept. Often players are shown video from random plays during their college career and asked to explain what they were doing.
It really could be anything. The GM, the head coach and a position coach or a coordinator usually conduct the interviews, but scouts, other executives and even a psychologist might be in the room. For some teams, and for some players, an owner might sit in, too.
These are not nearly as important as the team interviews, but for any prospects with anything controversial in their past, NFL teams are watching how they handle themselves. It's particularly important for quarterbacks. Many eyes were on players like Cam Newton, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel when they faced semi-tough questions from the national media, all live on television. Teams want to know those players -- especially quarterbacks who often are the face of their franchise -- can handle the heat without melting down.