If there's a singular person with an understanding of the total NFL Combine process, it's agent Marc Lillibridge. He's done everything possible in Indianapolis. As a player, he took part in the 1995 Combine. He's been a scout for the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. In 2003, he handled linebackers in Indianapolis, taking them to medical checks, evaluations and team meetings.
As an agent, he's had players like Lardarius Webb and Johnny Knox go through the Combine process. Among the players he's representing this year, East Central defensive end Armonty Bryant is participating in Indianapolis.
Heading into the Combine this week, we wanted to get Lillibridge's perspective, from both the agent and NFL angle.
SB Nation: When you're working with your guys, what are you telling them? Do you want them to be doing all the drills? What is your feeling on player participation in the Combine?
Marc Lillibridge: I think if you have a chance to compete, you go compete. Maybe if we had Geno Smith this year – I don't know if Matt Barkley is good, better or not – but if I was representing a top three to five guy, I'd say wait for your pro day. Then use their pro day as a meet and greet and position drills. If you've got a guy who is top five and is healthy, you go compete at the Combine. I think it's one of those things where you have everybody there. Even if you're LSU, Alabama or Arkansas, you're not going to have the same amount of GM's and won't have same amount of eyes on you.
If you have a chance to go compete, I tell guys to go out there and do their best unless they're dinged up or don't feel like they're ready. Maybe there's a certain drill where they can feel like they can wait or do something at their school, I have no problem with that.
SB Nation: Have you seen with any guys you had at the Combine that helped their draft stock, or they did bad and it hurt it? How much for a player is tied to what they do at the Combine?
Marc Lillibridge: I think the Combine is overrated, personally. But that said, I think it's an equalizer. I think what it means is that if you're drafting off the Combine, your team's not going to be very good, a la the Oakland Raiders were. I love speed and explosiveness, but there's a lot of football players who aren't great athletes. You want guys that are athletes and can play, but the fastest guy isn't always the best football player.
I think we're too quick to kill a guy if he doesn't do great there and we're too quick to praise a guy if he does do good. If you feel like this guy is in the first or second round and he runs faster than you thought, you should already be, you already like him or don't like him. It shouldn't change your grade. If you feel he fits your team, that shouldn't make or break where he's at.
SB Nation: With all that in mind, what did it do for Lardarius Webb when he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the Combine? Did it do anything?
Marc Lillibridge: I knew the Baltimore Ravens were interested. They sent Chuck Pagano down there twice to work him out. For the teams that knew, that had him high on their draft boards, before the Combine knew. It was the Browns. It was the Ravens. It was the Buccaneers. Those teams were already on him before that. I don't know if maybe people thought because he played safety at college and people wanted to see him play corner, maybe it raised a couple eyebrows. You could tell he's really been working. But I think that's really what you look it. For Webb, it meant something to him and he went out and took the coaching and he got better.
It helped a guy like Johnny Knox, no question about it. People will tell you they thought he's fast, but the thing that helped Johnny at the Combine was the gauntlet. He didn't have any drops and people were really impressed by how good his hands were. That is a testament to Johnny. I knew going into his training that his hands weren't great. So he worked every day on the Jugs machine and it worked out for him.
SB Nation: People say the Combine is an overrated exercise, but all the NFL teams are there and not just to interview players. How do teams view the Combine, the workout part at least?
Marc Lillibridge: When I look at it as a scout, it started with a medical and that's what you're really hoping to find out. When you're writing your report and you say you love a player, if you're a good scout, you know what range he's in. If you know he's a 4.5 guy and he does better than that, it should solidify it. If a guy is a 4.6, you can tell it on film. As a scout, you're there to reconfirm, but also it helps when you're in meetings with coaches. The coaches haven't seen those players because they're worried about keeping their job or getting a new job. Then the GM's, up until December, haven't watched a lot of film – unless you're Ted Thompson.
It's more to confirm the grade you have. Then there are teams like the Atlanta Falcons, for example, that have their board set before the Combine. They may make some tweaks here or there, but they believe in their scouts. The teams that draft well trust their scouts and believe in their judgment. The Combine is just there to solidify or kill a guy if you don't think he's good. For us, when I was scouting, it didn't change much. It confirmed things and gave us hard numbers. If it makes or breaks your draft as a scout, you're probably not going to be in the business for very long or with that team.
SB Nation: How has that philosophy changed? In the past, did teams put more weight in the Combine?
Marc Lillibridge: I think it's always kind of been like this. There are some teams that have never been to the Super Bowl because they don't have the right kind of philosophy in place. No matter how good of a scout you are, you're going to have some misses. You're going to have guys higher that just don't fit your system or are not as good as you thought they were going to be. It's not an exact science.
Media puts more hype on it because it's easier access. And the Internet has changed scouting tremendously just because everyone can do it now. Scouts will stick by what they do, but they have to keep (media analysis) on the peripheral. There's just so much more information out there. Even players are hyping themselves up. A lot more small-school guys have gotten their name out there in the last five years than they were 10 or 15 years ago because of the Internet and Twitter. Now for a scout, you have to go check on that school. You might have never gone to Lindenwood. Now you have to look under every rock because if you don't have a report on a guy, it could cost you your job.