History of the NFL Combine: Location, events, and more

What is the history of the NFL Combine, which locations have hosted the combine, and what events are held during the week?

The history of the NFL Combine stretches back to the 1980s, developing into one of the premier events on the NFL calendar in the build-up to the NFL Draft. What is the history of the NFL Combine, the location, and what events take place during the event?

History of the NFL Combine

The history of the NFL Combine officially traces back to 1982 when National Football Scouting Inc. held the first National Invitational Camp (NIC). This was in response to a proposal from Dallas Cowboys President and General Manager Tex Schramm. Schramm wanted the league to hold a centralized player evaluation process rather than teams working out players individually.

The NIC was attended by 163 players in 1982 and was only for members of teams of the National Football Scouting service. The organizations representing the remaining teams held two other independent scouting camps. This would continue in ’83 and ’84.

In 1985, the 28 NFL teams agreed to host a centralized NFL Combine. This was proposed to reduce the costs involved in running three separate camps. Typically, 330 invites are sent to the NFL Combine. Of those, 250 are sent prior to that year’s bowl games. Following the underclassmen declaration deadline, further invites are sent to players who receive super-majority support from the selection committee.

Media coverage of the NFL Combine

During a large part of its history, the NFL Combine did not allow cameras to cover the event. This changed in 2004, following the launch of the NFL Network in 2003. The 2004 NFL Combine was the first to be televised in the event’s history, with NFL Network showing six daily installments of one hour in which the day’s events were recapped.

This increased over the following years, with NFL Network airing over 30 hours of live NFL Combine coverage in 2010. In 2019, ESPN also aired parts of the NFL Combine, becoming the first television coverage of the event not shown on NFL Network.

Regional and veteran combines

In 2011, the NFL began hosting regional combines for prospects not invited to the main event. There were 11 regional combines, held in eight different cities around the country. The top-performing prospects were then invited to the super regional combine at Ford Field in Detroit. In 2016, the NFL changed the format to five regional combines — these five are held in Houston, Arizona, Baltimore, Minnesota, and New Orleans.

The NFL also introduced a veteran combine in 2015. This was for players that had previously been eligible for an NFL Draft. While over 2,000 applications were made, only a few players were selected, and only two players from the event were on an NFL roster by Week 1 of the 2015 season (Brandon Copeland and Ifeanyi Momah). The veteran combine was canceled in 2016 and the format was adjusted in 2016, with the focus shifting back to younger players.

Where does the NFL Combine take place?

Since 1987, the location of the NFL Combine has been Indianapolis, Indiana. The event is held in Lucas Oil Stadium, having previously been held in the RCA Dome, formerly known as the Hoosier Dome. When Indianapolis built Lucas Oil Stadium, they did so with the NFL Combine in mind. Included in the stadium are elements such as extra meeting space and a direct fiber-optic connection to IU Health to allow real-time medical evaluation on MRIs and X-rays.

The NFL Combine has only had four official locations in its history. The first two NFL Combines were held in Tampa, Florida; New Orleans hosted the event in 1984 and 1986. In 1985, Arizona hosted the first “comprehensive” NFL Combine.

On June 23, it was reported by Mickey Shuey of the Indianapolis Business Journal that the NFL is opening the location of the NFL Combine up to a bidding process, starting with the 2023 event. Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo and Chief Draft Analyst Tony Pauline theorized about the future of the NFL Combine (and pro days) back in April — and we’re starting to see some of it play out.

NFL Combine events

The NFL Combine is made up of several events across different categories, including physical testing, skill testing, psychology, medical, and interviews.

Physical testing

  • Physical measurements | Height, weight, arm & hand length, body fat percentage
  • 40-yard dash | Splits are also recorded at 10 and 20 yards to measure acceleration
  • Bench Press | 225-pound repetitions (QBs and WRs are exempt)
  • Vertical jump
  • Broad jump
  • 20-yard shuttle
  • Three-cone drill
  • 60-yard shuttle

Skill testing

The position-specific drills are important for teams to see a player’s technique. However, these are often overlooked by the media and fans due to the subjective nature of the testing and that they take place with a player not wearing pads and largely not competing against another player.

Psychology

The Wonderlic test is one of the most controversial events in the history of the NFL Combine. This intelligence-type test has been used since the 1970s but was revamped in 2013 to add an additional 60-minute assessment that is designed to offer a more comprehensive assessment of a player. The test covers a wide range of elements, including decision-making, core intellect, and motivation. The results of the original Wonderlic and the additional test are kept confidential, although some results are leaked.

Medical

There are a number of medical assessments that take place during the NFL Combine. These are considered to be some of the most, if not the most important elements of the entire week.

  • Injury evaluation | Including X-rays and physicals
  • Functional movement screening | Added in 2015 and adapted in 2018
  • Cybex test | Tests flexibility and joint movement
  • Drug screening | Urine test

Interviews

One of the more secretive elements of the NFL Combine, the history of the draft has likely been shaped by player interviews. Each team has the opportunity to sit down with up to 60 players for 15 minutes at a time. These interviews give the teams a chance to get to know the player better and get the answer to any pressing questions they may have. Over the course of the history of the NFL Combine, many strange questions have been reported during these interviews.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN