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Forget the 40 times. The most important part of the NFL Combine has nothing to do with workouts

What teams are really interested in from players is how they respond to four days that’s really just one big mental test. Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz explains.

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It feels like it’s been forever since the Eagles won the Super Bowl. The NFL news cycle moves so quickly. We celebrate the Eagles for a week, and then we’re onto the next thing. With the NFL Combine starting this week, it’s officially draft season.

The combine has grown from an annual quiet gathering of the top prospects to review medical records for NFL teams and run some drills, to a full-blown, week-long production, with fans even now able to attend the off-field activities.

The performance numbers we get from the combine are all well known. The 40, shuttle, vertical jumps, and so on. Those are what we see on TV and what we discuss, compare and debate. However, the combine is much more than on the field numbers for the players. It’s a week-long mental test.

Here is the general four-day schedule for an athlete at the combine.

Day 1: Arrival —> hospital pre-exam and X-rays —> overflow testing —> orientation —> team interviews

Day 2: Measurements —> medical examinations —> overflow testing —> team interviews

Day 3: Psychological testing —> NFLPA meeting —> workout —> media session —> bench press —> team interviews

Day 4 : On-field workouts (timing, stations, skill drills)

The schedule is set up so the physical part of the combine, the on-field drills and testing, happens on the final day, when you’re mentally exhausted and looking forward to going home. It’s all a mental test to see how you handle the pressure and the stress of a four-day interview process.

The mental part of the combine starts the second you step foot into the hotel. From then until you leave, you’re being watched by every single front office in the NFL. You’re given a shirt and sweatshirt with your name and number on it. Mine said “Schwartz 41.” You’re easily identifiable, and everyone is paying attention to all of your movements.

There are primarily two opportunities where you meet with team personnel. They herd the players every night in a large holding area, where each team has a table staffed by coaches and scouts. These questions are more general. Name, height, weight, position, where are you from, family, etc.

Some football questions they might ask revolve around your play. What do you do best? What’s your weakness? What are your best and worst games?

And then comes the Holy Grail of questions — the many variants “Do you love football?”

Front offices and coaching staffs are grinders by nature. They spend countless hours tucked away in the facility watching film, game planning, and drawing up cards. They LOVE the game and they want their players to love the game. Believe it or not, not all players love the game. They play because they are good at it, and it’s easy to see when guys don’t love it.

When I say “love”, it’s not just the actual game. It’s the preparation you need to love because everyone loves Sundays. So the guys who just play because they are good, they can still make it in the league, but the guys who LOVE the game and the process of getting ready to play it tend to last longer in the NFL. That’s what the coaches and scouts are looking for answers when they ask about your love and passion for the game. We are all coached on the proper answers for this question by agents before the combine.

Every single player will be interviewed by members of each staff in that holding pen. However, not everyone will have nightly private team interviews. These interviews are 15 minutes in length, and you’re allowed up to 15 of them for the event. The more of these interviews you have (I had one), the more likely you’re getting drafted high. My brother for example, had 12 of them.

These are the interviews we hear about with the odd questions. The team has 15 minutes to ask whatever they want. Some teams keep it casual. Get up on the board, draw some plays. Watch some film and have a general chat about your play.

Other teams try breaking you. I had a coach who once told me his job was to make players cry in those meetings. That staff wanted to see how said player handles the pressure. So these meetings can vary wildly, but they’re an important part of the combine. It’s all another way to mentally test you.

Then there’s the Wonderlic. The Wonderlic is a 12-minute, 50-question test. That’s 14.4 seconds per question, close to the amount of time you have to process a play call, get up to the line of scrimmage, survey the field, and snap the ball. That’s the purpose of the Wonderlic. It’s not measuring overall intelligence. The questions aren’t terribly complicated. It’s a test of mental processing. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to succeed in the NFL. You have to process information quickly and efficiently. This is the goal of all the mental testing

Circling back to the original purpose of the combine, you’ve got medical evaluations. This makes for a LONG day. There are six rooms packed with team doctors. You must get reviewed by doctors in each room. They have your medical file from college, and they KNOW everything.

I injured my knee in college but didn’t miss a single practice. They examined my knee and asked “why is this ligament loose. Did you injure it before?”

They poke, prod, twist, and torque your entire body. They ask about childhood injuries and other off-field medical issues. They review body parts that have trauma from college and write up a report.

If they find anything that’s off, they sign off on X-rays and MRIs. The goal is making it through all six rooms without having any extra tests. I was so so close to not having an MRI, even with a junior-year back injury that required surgery. I made it all the way to the last room when a MRI was ordered for me. More waiting time.

The day is already long, almost six hours of medical evaluations, and now I had to wait for a MRI tube to open up.

As you see in the schedule above, there’s a time listed for measurements. Wearing nearly nothing in front of 300 men, they’re just writing down every measurement — hand size, arm length, height and weight, and more. For guys who need to lose weight, like myself, I’d been starving myself for three days waiting for this chance. For some guys, it’s about gaining weight and they must drink so much water they are about to burst.

I used to think it was worse to cut the weight, but I’ve seen a teammate of mine have to eat and drink about eight pounds at breakfast for weigh in, and that’s far worse. It’s disgusting. But you have to do what’s needed to please the coaching staff.

The combine is 90 percent mental and medical. Only about 10 percent of your time is spent on the field working through drills. Remember that as you watch guys working out and while you listen to and read the various comments about the results.