Most eyes will focus on the passing drills, 40-yard dash times and bench press reps at the NFL Combine next week but teams also will be interested in the less visible work performed by their medical and training staffs.
Bud Carpenter, the recently retired Buffalo Bills director of training, and Dr. John Marzo, the team’s former medical director, provided a window into that work, which will go on from Monday through March 5. The combine will include more than 300 college athletes eligible for the NFL Draft in late April.
A comprehensive medical evaluation includes “everything you can imagine,” Marzo said, including CT scans, MRIs and cardiograms.
“We’re not privy to who our people may like from a player standpoint,” Carpenter said. “That’s really an advantage to us medically. We can be completely unbiased doing the same evaluation on all 335 players. You divide up the number of players and you see every player individually. We’re in a group of five teams but we still do an orthopedic physical on every one of those players. Our physicians then do a dictation on it and assess a grade as far as, ‘Are you willing to take this player or are there reservations?’”
Knowledge can still be limited when medical staff meets with the young players. “You’re at the mercy of them telling the truth, which over the years has kind of changed as agents kind of coach the players about what to say,” Carpenter said. “Sometimes you have some knowledge from our scouting department.”
He also recalls staff pointing out scars on potential draftees who claimed not to remember a knee injury.
It takes about a week to pull together the information gathered and compile a “grade booklet” on each player. That goes to scouting, the general manager and coach after the team medical director signs off on it. Several days before the draft, members of the medical and training staffs sit down with team leaders and focus on the players the Bills are considering as draft picks, Carpenter said. They want more in-depth answers to a key question: Is this a player we can think about drafting and is he likely to hold up for the length of a contract – and more?
On draft weekend April 26-28, the training and medical directors will be among about a dozen team officials in the draft room on the New Era Stadium property. They may be asked to review medical reports again as the coach and general manager choose between two or three potential players for a draft pick. “Sometime it could end up being a tie-breaker,” Carpenter said.
The advice can count. The Bills would have used a similar process in 1988 to take Oklahoma State University running back Thurman Thomas, who slipped into the second round because of a knee injury before his junior year. Thomas went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Bills.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon