A huge part of the annual NFL Combine in Indianapolis this week is the medical evaluations of the 336 former college players invited to attend the event. “The NFL Combine Medical Examinations may be the most important aspect of the Combine and the Draft process,” says James Collins, President of Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) and Director of Football/Medical Services for the Los Angeles Chargers.
The NFL Combine is the only time of the year when all 32 NFL teams’ medical staffs and NFL medical committee members are located in the same city. Besides the medical examinations, the NFL athletic trainers, physical therapists, and physicians participate in daily professional meetings discussing crucially important topics such as concussions, injury management, emergency procedures, rehabilitation protocols, surgical techniques, and football injury trends.
NFL Combine Medical Exam
The physical exam for each player is extensive. Hundreds of doctors, athletic trainers and physical therapists representing all 32 NFL teams evaluate all the players’ major joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They also have a comprehensive medical history for each player for the opportunity to perform a more in-depth evaluation of previously injured body parts. Typically over 1000 X-Rays and 500 MRI’s are performed during the four days of medical exams.
The medical examinations include orthopedic (bones, muscles & joints), internal medical (brain, blood, and organs), cardiac (heart), eye and hearing testing.
Typical Medical Questions Asked at the Combine
Is his ACL reconstructed knee still stable?
How many concussions did he have in college?
Does his swollen knee from the bowl game have a torn cartilage and/or arthritis?
The scouts tell me his shoulder hasn’t looked right since he hurt it in week X. Does he have a shoulder labral tear or a small rotator cuff tear?
Does his ankle, which he sprained 3 times last season, have loose ligaments and instability?
It All Comes Down to One Grade
All the Combine joint jiggling, scar poking, ligament imaging, bone X-raying, medical question asking, blood work analyzing and crystal ball gazing culminates into one thing: One medical grade per player.
That one medical grade will greatly impact when, and if, that player is selected in April’s NFL Draft.
I’m often asked: “With every team evaluating the very same players, how does each team medically grade the players so differently?”
It’s a great question with a complicated answer. Some teams grade the players based on their RISK of injury. Some team grade based on the likelihood of DOWNTIME. Meanwhile, other teams will base their medical grades on projected LENGTH OF CAREER.
The bottom line is medical grading for elite athletes is far from an exact science. With that being said, no two injuries will respond in the same manner when exposed to the demanding rigors of professional football.
How it Helps and Hurts
The medical grades coming out of the Combine in Indy are crucially important for each team’s success, both short-term and long-term. A team’s ability to Draft healthy players on their roster with the ability to stay healthy is a common trait of successful teams in the NFL.
A second NFL Combine takes place in April, approximately 2 weeks prior to the NFL Draft. Unlike this February Combine, the 2nd Combine is for medical examinations only. No coaches, scouts or workouts are included in the 1 day Combine.
In closing, the medical exams at the NFL Combine are a valuable part of ever-changing NFL rosters. The results of the medical exams can give teams peace of mind knowing a player is healthy…..or send teams running away from a badly injured player.