The NFL Combine is almost underway. Most of the attention will be paid to 40 times and gauntlet drills, but so much more is happening away from the cameras. And what does take place there is arguably more important. A driving force behind the creation of the Combine wasn’t just for athletic testing. It was an opportunity for teams to meet with top players at once and to get a better medical history, two things you wouldn’t be able to find out just watching them play in person or on game film.
Reflecting on his Combine experience to Steelers.com, Cam Heyward remembers what made Pittsburgh unique in the interview process.
“With the Steelers we got to write essays to see what we are all about,” he told Teresa Varley. “It’s really cool. It’s more than just the interview. It’s a great process. It’s an essay about myself, what I thought were important character traits, things that make me the person I am. To be able to do it that way you get to know the person better.”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard this anecdote before and didn’t know much about how the Pittsburgh Steelers conduct interviews at the Combine. Maybe the approach has changed or they mix it up every year but it seems like a smart approach to learning about the player and what they value.
For Heyward, the interview and medical process was critical to him. He was coming off an elbow injury suffered in the Sugar Bowl and unable to work out. He had to rely on the interview process to endear himself to teams. And then got poked and prodded by the doctors (“Everyone was pulling on my arm”, he would go on to say).
For many players, teams already have a good idea of the type of athlete you are. It’s rare that the numbers force a club to reevaluate their scouting report. But on character and medical, it’s basically a clean slate. And the Steelers have placed good character at the top of their list for several years, leading to an overall healthy amount of success in the first round, including selecting Heyward.