Julian Edelman. James Harrison. Sam Shields. Antonio Gates. Bart Houston. Leo Musso. Rob Wheelwright.
These eight names all have one thing in common: they weren’t invited to the NFL Combine. The first four have made names for themselves in the NFL, while the remaining three names hope to follow in their footsteps.
If players aren’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, how do they end up in the NFL? This path to the league is the much harder and (obviously) the less traveled path to greatness. But it’s also necessary if you want to continue your career at the next level.
For these players to have the opportunity to play on Sundays, they must get scouts to notice them. They can do this a few different ways: a Regional Combine, their school’s Pro Day, game tape, and individual visits with a team.
The NFL hosts five Regional Combines for prospects who were overlooked in the National Combine selection. Players are selected to the National Combine by a selection committee made up of 25 people, all from NFL Teams. Typically, the Regional Combine is for players who attended a small school, but it’s still an opportunity for former Badger players – Bart Houston, Leo Musso, and Rob Wheelwright – to grab an NFL Scout’s attention. Players compete in the same drills that are done at the national combine (40 yard dash, bench press, three cone drill, broad jump, vertical jump, shuttle run, and other position specific drills). Regional Combines provide a great opportunity for players looking to make it in the NFL in a much smaller setting.
The next chance for Badger NFL hopefuls to get noticed is at the Wisconsin Pro Day. NFL Scouts travel from school to school to attend Pro Days. Prospects participate in the Bench Press, Vertical Jump, Broad Jump, Flexibility test, 40-Yard Dash, Pro-Agility Shuttle, L-Drill, 60-Yard Shuttle, Position Drills, and Interviews. Pro Days are essential to future NFL players because they give scouts a chance to see them perform and are able to give them more attention without as many other prospects there. T.J. Watt, Sojourn Shelton, Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale, Ryan Ramcyzk, Vince Biegel, Bart Houston, Leo Musso, and Rob Wheelwright are all eligible to participate in Wisconsin’s Pro Day on March 15th at 9 a.m.
Game tape is another excellent way to get noticed by scouts. Scouts get to see players perform in an actual game, rather than stimulated drills and tests. This also allows them to see prospects compete against other players hoping to get drafted. Wisconsin was lucky to play against schools such as Michigan and Ohio State this year, who had 14 and eight players, respectively, selected to the NFL Combine. Having played against these schools will certainly draw more attention to the hopeful Badgers.
Individual visits are the final step. Prospects will get invited to visit a team’s facility after the scouts decide they have a chance at being on the team. When player’s visit with the individual team, they participate in workouts and get one-on-one time with the scouts, providing even more attention than the Pro Day.
Houston, Wheelwright, and Musso can look to former and current NFL Players such as Kurt Warner, Wes Welker, and Chris Harris Jr. as inspiration to make it into the NFL. So while it’s much easier to make it in the NFL having participated in the National Combine, it certainly isn’t impossible.