The cleats were still warm as a feeding frenzy of sports news reporters quickly digested and revealed NFL Combine results for some of college football's biggest stars. There were surprises, such as Marcus Mariota's 40-yard-dash time of 4.52 seconds, and multiple 300-pound linemen with vertical jumps over 30 inches. But now that the initial stand-outs have been noted, the teams will delve deeper into the players' physical performances, appearance and, of course, countless hours of game film to select their draft choices. Media interest will taper off until draft day, and players will hope for the best with either a sigh of relief or bated breath. What they do just after the NFL Combine, however, may play a larger role in success than some suspect.
What's led them here is a rigorous training regimen that likely began last spring, at the latest. The strength training and field conditioning work continued throughout the summer and into training camp, throughout the season, bowl games and then in the weeks leading up to the Combine. Some players have been prepared by their collegiate strength and conditioning coaches, while others were directed to individual coaches or camps by their newly signed agents.
Now that they have completed the NFL Combine, a short rest is in order for most players, allowing them to recover physically and psychologically and/or heal mild injuries. Those who opted out of certain Combine tests or skill demonstrations will continue their training regimen for the opportunity to showcase themselves during "Pro Days" at select universities. The teams that have interest in looking at these players will send scouts to time the athletes in sprints or drills, or watch skill performances as a last chance to assess performance.
Regretfully, however, some players will stop training entirely after the Combine, believing they have accomplished all they need to accomplish and can relax until rookie camp in mid July. Even though very few will become first-round draft picks, a solid Combine performance may create a false sense of security that they're "in," and all training abruptly halts.
A college player's Combine performance and draft day signing do not guarantee a professional football career. Each team is already full of players who have made the roster, so you may be drafted and never make it past training camp. This is precisely why players should start a new cycle of training just after the Combine to properly prepare for professional football.
Provided they do make a team, they'll be surrounded by players who are faster, quicker, stronger and with more football experience overall. A four-month, post-Combine layoff from training can have a major impact, causing recently drafted collegiate players to lose a great deal of strength, fitness, speed and explosiveness, and possibly changing their body composition.
When I have provided Combine strength training to first-round draft choice defensive players, I always explain that they should continue to train. They will face guards who are 6'6," weigh 320 pounds, run the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds, squat 800 pounds and bench press 500. These guards are capable of inflicting much bodily damage when they pull around end on a play and target a defensive end or linebacker. And if such a guard wants to "test" the rookie, the impact can be terrible -- a substantial reason on its own for any rookie to keep training.
College players should train to both survive and thrive in professional football, not just perform well in sprints, jumps, drills and bench presses at the Combine. It's a point I've stressed repeatedly to players, and yet some of what I thought were very persuasive conversations were to no avail. The players stopped training and would not continue with their track coaches (for speed), strength coaches or position coaches.
Those who continue to prepare will likely carry this work ethic throughout their careers. And, for the players who simply stop after the Combine, how many underperform, underachieve or don't make the team?