|ESPN.com: NFL Draft 2007||[Print without images]|
For the NFL's draft scouting combine, however, the versatile Wrotto need not debate his mode of perambulation."I've definitely got to run," said Wrotto, a four-year starter for the Yellow Jackets who is a talented but still developing prospect (NFL scouts project him as an offensive tackle). "There are a lot of guys here who maybe have the luxury of not [running the 40-yard sprint] or doing some of the other [drills]. They can get by on reputation. But I'm not one of those guys." Fact is, most of the 326 draft prospects who began arriving here Wednesday evening for the annual combine workouts aren't, either. Still, the personal debate over whether to run for the assembled scouts, and over how ambitious a player needs to be in the on-field drills, remains a key question for most prospects invited to participate in the combine. You think politicians with an eye on the presidency agonize over whether to run for the nation's highest office? There are players who come to the combine, uncertain over whether to run or not, and who all but sweat blood over the decision.
Indeed, there are probably some players who have been rewarded for pushing beyond their initial reluctance, and taking part in drills. Many high-profile prospects have drawn praise from scouts for leaving ego and apprehension behind, letting the competitive juices take over, and putting on a show for the talent evaluators.In 1989, for instance, Deion Sanders decided at the last minute to run on an RCA Dome surface that was considerably slower than it is now. Without breaking a sweat in warm-ups, Sanders exploded out of his sprinter's stance, clocked a combine-record 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and kept running, even as scouts gave him a standing ovation. There have been similar circumstances for top-shelf players, but not many. Players who arrive here rated as a top-10 prospect prefer to depart the same way and, for many, that means maintaining the status quo by doing as little as possible without flat-out offending scouts. The reality for a lot of players, who tend to heed the advice of their agents more than the wisdom offered by the scouts, is that the four days spent at the combine can be a period that is fraught with potential pitfalls. That mind-set has even begun to creep in among some of the personnel executives who, after years of cajoling prospects, have given up the battle. For those scouts, the most important component of the combine is the physical examination and the personal interviews with players. The physical part of the evaluation can be done at a player's pro day workout on campus. Increasingly, that is where prospects prefer to fully audition, because they feel they have more control over some of the variables. Football players are consummate creatures of habit and draft prospects like familiarity with their environment. And waiting to work out on a pro day affords a player more time to prepare for the perusal of scouts. Not every prospect, however, can afford to wait.
"A lot of this is about doing whatever it takes to impress them," said Boise State tight end Derek Schouman, a middle- to late-round prospect. "You know, do something to catch their eye, to stand out from the crowd. To me, that means doing whatever they ask, even if it's running through a brick wall." Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.