INDIANAPOLIS – Throughout the weekend, hardcore fans will scan the 40 times and vertical jump marks recorded by the prospects participating in the NFL Scouting Combine, seeing how their favorites stack up.
The Panthers' personnel department will do much the same – after they weigh some more telling information that's not available for public consumption.
"The two biggest components of it for us would be the physicals and the interviews," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "What takes place during the day is important - the 40 times, the benches, the drills - but that's the third component of it."
Carolina's entire medical and training staff is in town, conducting physical examinations of the prospects behind closed doors during the day. At night, they open the door to the prospects, conducting 15-minute interviews with 60 prospects over the course of five nights.
"They start each interview session with a horn to mark when you can start, and with two minutes left, you hear another horn, then another one at the end. Then the next guy comes in," Hurney said. "In 15 minutes, you can't get all the answers, but it's a good time to get a good initial feel for them. It's for the coaches more than anything because our coaches haven't been able to spend time with them."
Hurney isn't discounting the value of the workout portion of the combine, admitting that a dazzling 40-yard dash "can put guys on the radar," but the fact is that the radar is already mostly populated in the eyes of decision-makers throughout the NFL.
It is important to see how participants measure up against each other, but they are NFL prospects in the first place because of how they measured up on the field of play in college.
"The measurables, the so-called ‘gymnastics' part of it, is a piece of the puzzle that goes into it, but you want to go off your evaluations of what he's done on the football field," Hurney said. "It is a gauge of their athletic ability, but what you're looking for is how they translate their athletic ability onto the football field. That's the most important part of the evaluation process."
Above all, Hurney emphasizes that it is a process, one that started long ago on college football Saturdays and one that still won't end for quite a while. Pro days on college campuses are still to come, then the Panthers will have the option of inviting up to 30 prospects to Charlotte.
But for the next few days, the combine will offer the Panthers' coaches their most significant contact with prospects to date and everyone associated with the team the most access to date with underclassmen – a group expected to dominate the early stages of the April draft.
"It's a part of putting the puzzle together," Hurney said. "It can give you information on where to go next."