The NFL Scouting Combine has become a major event on the sporting calendar. Once only attended by scouts, player personnel staff and coaches, the Combine is covered by all types of media from national TV outlets, to team websites and everything in-between.
As the event has transitioned from a closed-doors mystery, Oakland Raiders Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Joe Gomes has transitioned from training athletes to prepare for the Combine to helping General Manager Reggie McKenzie and the Silver and Black evaluate prospects at the Combine.
As former Dallas Cowboys player personnel executive and current NFL Media analyst Gil Brandt and his contemporaries showed foresight and insight in creating the Combine as we know it today, Gomes says it was unique vision that led to the creation of Combine-specific training facilities and programs.
"I think it's a unique vision, ultimately that's what it comes down to, when you look at not just the players themselves but also the agents, if you're able to invest in yourself to prepare yourself for no different than any type of job interview, you should do that. You should do your due diligence on what is going to be expected of you," Gomes said. "No different than different levels of selection in the military. There's certain physical requirements, you need to be at a baseline to get into that organization or that unit. The better prepared you are the better chance you have at being successful. If you can wrap that in an almost brand marketing campaign for yourself, then you can be attractive to not just one guy who needs this position in particular, but also other teams that maybe not necessarily aware of how good you are or how good you could be."
According to Gomes, once a player's collegiate career ends, one of the best things an athlete can do is prepare for the Combine's unique experience, not just the specific drills.
"It's a unique and interesting situation for all the guys, often it depends where they're coming from, and when their season finished, some of them may have still some academic requirements, typically the top prospects will go to one of a number of specialized training facilities that's really set up to help them perform as best as possible at the Combine," Gomes said. "There's two aspects of that. A lot of stock sometimes gets put on the physical pieces, that's where you can get a lot of good gains, in terms of preparing themselves, not just to be as physically ready as possible, but the programs that do a really good job prepare them for the experience."
That is one often overlooked aspect of the Combine. Not only are these athletes tested from a physical standpoint, but it is also an intense job interview environment that places emotional and mental stress on the prospects. Not dealing with an interview with a team well could have as much impact on Draft stock as a bad 40-yard dash time.
"Physically they may perform well, but if they're not necessarily prepared for the experience and the intense scrutiny that they're under, that can be daunting for a guy that's not ready for it," Gomes said. "He may have had a good and great successful career in college but it's an intense process. Coming from Athlete's Performance, now EXOS, what made them stand out, from the moment the guys arrived from the airport to go to the Combine to the moment they got on the plane to come back, every aspect of that experience they were prepared for."
Gomes, who spent nine years at EXOS, says that Combine-specific preparation programs serve to strengthen weaknesses and shore up deficiencies.
"It comes down to specificity, so you're looking at not just the specificity of the drills and the tests, but also where they're deficient, it's not just what we need to prepare for but can we also identify a physical or limiting factors that we need to address," Gomes said. "It could be a range of motion or flexibility thing that's limiting their ability to be stable and develop strength and then develop power to be able to express that on the field. A good solid program will not only prepare you for what you have to do, but also fully evaluate you on what your limiting factors are in order to help you best prepare."
As much as the NFL Combine has helped many players' Draft stock rise, the NFL Combine is rife with cautionary tales such as Mike Mamula and Vernon Gholston. According to Gomes, there is one sure-fire way to guard against drafting the combine workout champions.
"The bottom line is the tape doesn't lie. If they have a good history of expressing those physical attributes on the field and making plays, then you're going to see that transfer," Gomes said. "The flip side of that coin is where you've got a guy that is can be skillful but you know he's underdeveloped physically, if you can then add physical attributes to him that's going to be a guy you want to invest in."
Gomes, who has had a hand in training the likes of Vontae Davis, Brian Orakpo, Jonathan Stewart, Matt Ryan et al, is uniquely qualified in helping the Raiders evaluate prospects at the Combine.
Players begin arriving in Indianapolis Tuesday with on-field drills getting underway Friday.