The Dallas Cowboys were innovators in the universe of professional football.
They scouted the small black colleges and picked plums such as Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Everson Walls, Nate Newton, Harvey Martin, Bullet Bob Hayes and Rayfield Wright. This franchise was the first to place wind socks on goal posts in order to tell which direction the wind was blowing and to some degree, how hard it was blowing. They were the first to use computers to input information on players.
The first Player Personnel Director position was with the Cowboys. They were the first to have their offensive linemen wear protective knee braces and the first team to hire team dietitians.
And, they invented the scouting combine.
Cowboys’ President and GM Tex Schramm had been with CBS prior to the Dallas job and knew the importance of television in regards to the sport. At the time, star college athletes had their own tryout auditions for pro scouts on their college campus. As time went on, more and more star players began doing this. It came to a point that NFL scouts were crossing the country and going to hundreds of these college sessions looking at various players plus attending the Senior Bowl.
Schramm represented the Cowboys in just about everything instead of the owners including voting on league matters. He had a reputation of being the NFL’s most powerful general manager. At one time he headed the NFL competition committee.
There were numerous innovations that Schramm suggested that became part of the fabric of the NFL such as moving the goalposts from the goal line to the end zone back line, displaying the game time on the scoreboard instead of with the referee, and the protection of quarterbacks. These type of situations benefited the entire league and not just the Cowboys.
Besides their own pro scouting departments, at the time there were several services which provided college player stats for the use of NFL clubs such as Quadras Scouting, National Football Scouting, CEPO, United Scouting and the most widely used was BLESTO. “City scouts” were assigned to each NFL team that used BLESTO’s services, which was by paid subscription. These scouts saw actual games and filed detailed scouting reports every two weeks, which were then mailed to each respective NFL scouting department that used its services. These reports would concentrate solely on each player’s skills - or diminution of - capped off with injury notes.
While on the competition committee, Schramm brainstormed that the league should house a central location to which these draft-eligible college players could showcase their skills and perform routine drills instead of flying across the country in an attempt to see them perform individually.
In 1982, the first event was held in Tampa, Florida. It was called the “National Invitational Camp” (NIC).
Most folks don’t know that the NIC is not actually ran by the NFL but by a contractor National Football Scouting. After Tampa, the NIC was held in New Orleans, Arizona and then again in New Orleans. Players that attended were by invitation only.
Because the NIC was held in the winter month of late February (and now early March), in 1987 it was permanently relocated to the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana (today called Lucas Oil Stadium) and renamed the event the “NFL Scouting Combine.” This allowed coaches, GM’s and scouts to be able to watch in climate-controlled indoor confines.
The goal of the Combine is for these athletes to participate in the exact same drills which can be used to portray their skills with true comparisons. Measurable qualities such as speed, strength, body size, leaping capabilities, intelligence tests and agility are all now accurately tabulated in one location.
This year’s NFL Scouting Combine will kick off Tuesday and conclude March 7. Each year 330 invitations are sent out which have been evaluated by a selection committee.
The first time the Combine was televised was in February 2004 on NFL Network. They showed an hour of various workouts in daily recaps six times a day. This year, expect to see 50 hours of live coverage. In 2019, ESPN began coverage with daily updates as well as sister network ABC.
A complete schedule of events and NFL Network coverage is listed here:
Medical attention to all players involved has always been a top priority. These athletes also engage in drug screens, psychological evaluations and intelligence testing such as the Wonderlic. Then there are the numerous interviews scheduled with GM’s and coaches.
As the game of professional has evolved, as well as the science of evaluating players, the NFL Scouting Combine has also developed and adapted but remains the hallmark of accurately scouting prospects for the next NFL draft.