Regional, Super Regional Combines Offer Alternative Path for NFL Hopefuls
By: The Football Girl | Posted: February 20, 2013
Remember “4th and Long,” the Michael Irvin-hosted reality show where players with varying journeys faced off for the chance to make the Dallas Cowboys roster? At its core, the Regional Combine is pretty much the “4th and Long” of the draft process.
Back in 1988, Elite Combines, a company founded by Stephen Austin, held its first combine for the former USFL (United States Football League). As other “minor leagues” followed suit over the years – the Arena League, the CFL, the old NFL Europe, for example – more NFL scouts took notice. And despite a significant drop-off in talent from the more known Combine held yearly in Indianapolis, a lot of gems who went on to robust NFL careers were discovered here. Former Saints WR Joe Horn and current kicker Adam Vinatieri are just two examples.
As they tend to do with successful businesses, the NFL partnered with Elite, and last season the league launched its first Regional Combine/Super Regional Combine program to, as they say, “help ensure that no worthy player is overlooked.” This system provides a yellow brick road for talented players of all ilks, including those who went to schools too small to warrant an invitation to Indy. In its current, NFL-sanctioned form, there are a series of open tryouts, categorized by position players or specialists (the latter referring to kickers.) For a small fee, these NFL hopefuls partake in the same drills you see in Indy, and emerge with real film, a flavor of the competition at the next level, and, in not a terrible consolation prize, some free official Under Armor Combine gear. For most, their NFL dreams will end (or at least be redirected), ironically, at an NFL facility, which is where many of the regionals occur. Kevin Elliott, a wide receiver from Florida A&M who was one of the few to emerge from last year’s Tampa regional, says most of the participants at his regional were talented to some degree. Yet with any open tryout there are bound to be players who don’t exactly fit in.
“Surprisingly, there were a lot of guys out there who looked like they hadn’t played in a while,” Elliott recalls.
Recent Regional Combine held at the Cleveland Browns facility in Berea, Ohio
Elliott was invited to attend the Super Regional Combine, which if you watch “American Idol,” is the equivalent to making it to Hollywood. The Super Regional Combine is the real deal. You know this not just because scouts from all 32 NFL teams attend (only a smattering, if that, attend the Regionals), but because participants are given the infamous Wonderlic test, indicating that teams care enough about them to discover whether they can name the ninth month of the year.
Last year, 14 players from the Regional Combine/Super Combine system were on NFL opening weekend rosters, the most successful probably being Rams K, Greg “the Leg” Zuerlein.
Many players talented enough to make it the Super Regional Combine go on to have Pro Days, which can be a huge factor in the draft process. But for Elliott, he knows his Combine experience was a crucial first step.
“It definitely helped me competition-wise and taught me how to work with eyes watching you under evaluation,” says Elliott, now on the Buffalo Bills roster. “It also gave me so much more confidence heading into my Pro Day and then into camp.”
This year’s class of Regional/Super Regional successes is still very much in progress. There are twelve more regionals ahead of April 7th’s Super Regional Combine at Cowboys Stadium.
One thing we do know is this year's regionals are historic. Today it was revealed that Lauren Silberman, an MIT graduate who participates in a soccer club, is the first woman to sign up for a regional. She will audition at the March 2nd-3rd New York/New Jersey Regional as a punter.