What Is the Difference Between the NFL Combine and Pro Days?

How are pro days different from the NFL Combine? Both events are similar in the benefits they provide for evaluators, but the structure varies greatly.

Both the NFL Combine and pro days serve as crucial checkpoints for NFL teams in the information-gathering process, but what are the differences between the two events? Here’s a quick breakdown of what each event provides along the path to the 2023 NFL Draft.

What Is the Difference Between the Combine and Pro Days?

Before we get into the differences, let’s talk a little bit about how the NFL Combine and pro days are similar.

Structurally and logistically, the events are very different, but they do achieve a similar purpose for NFL evaluators. Both the Combine and pro days involve player testing, positional drills, and meetings between teams and prospects.

MORE: 2023 NFL Pro Day Schedule

Ultimately, at the roots, the NFL Combine and pro days are both information-gathering endeavors. Measurements, athletic testing metrics, and character evaluation components all factor into the equation for NFL teams.

The character, in particular, is one part of the prospect profile you can only properly quantify by spending time with prospects. It can be as minute and microscopic as gauging a prospect’s personality, focus, and disposition, or as broad-scaled as an all-encompassing cognition test. Either way, the NFL Combine and pro days open this window for evaluators.

NFL Combine and Pro Days Are Very Different Logistically

While the information gathered at these events, in a broad scope, is very similar, the way these events are put together is where they can truly be distinguished.

The most obvious structural difference is the number of events. There is only one NFL Combine, which is held each year in Indianapolis, at Lucas Oil Stadium. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of pro days across the nation from early March to early April.

Why are there so many pro days, as opposed to just one NFL Combine showcase each year? Pro days are, by definition, localized to each school — at the FBS, FCS, and even lower division levels.

The NFL Combine draws only the best perceived NFL draft prospects to one centralized location, where they conduct testing, perform interviews, and go through medical evaluations. In contrast, pro days are specialized to each individual school, allowing the entirety of a school’s prospect pool to test and speak with teams.

There are far fewer prospects at each individual pro day — sometimes numbering less than a dozen. That’s a minuscule number compared to the NFL Combine, which hosted 319 prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. But if you add up all the prospects at every pro day across the nation, it far surpasses the number of prospects at the Combine and serves to provide a more complete picture of the talent base as a whole.

To summate, the Combine gives NFL teams an in-depth look at most of the draftable prospects in each cycle. But each class expands far beyond that boundary. And for studying players who will field PFA consideration and fill out 90-man rosters across the league in the spring, pro days are absolutely essential, and irreplaceable with their proximity to each player.

MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board

There are other differences between the NFL Combine and pro days that bear noting as well. At the NFL Combine, 40-yard dash runs are officially laser-timed, which amounts to more accurate and objective results. At pro days, 40-yard dash runs are almost always hand-timed. Often, pro day times are slightly faster, and this can be attributed to human error.

Additionally, at pro days, prospect meetings aren’t quite as structured or as formal as the Combine. The Combine allows a more controlled environment for NFL teams to test prospects on their schematic knowledge and such. Yet, at pro days, teams can speak with both players and coaches in person, taking another avenue to proper character evaluation.

Ultimately, the NFL Combine and pro days are similar events in purpose, but very different in structure. Even so, they play into each other and supplement each other, and help NFL teams finalize their boards ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.

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