INDIANAPOLIS - Every waking minute at the NFL Scouting Combine, Panthers personnel are seeking more information on the 300-plus draft prospects passing through town, continuing to work toward forming a complete picture of each player.
Much of that picture, however, came into focus well before the combine even kicked off.
"When it comes to the physical part, you really have to go back to how they played during the season," said Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, harkening back to the words of a legendary NFL GM he worked with in Washington and San Diego. "Bobby Beathard once said to me that we'd probably all draft better if the draft was in February because the workouts can sometimes confuse. It does give you an idea of athletic ability, but it goes back to how they play in the fall."
Make no mistake: The combine is a big deal. Everyone who is anyone in NFL circles calls Indianapolis home for a week every February, watching every move made by the draft prospects, a small fraction of which will help determine the fate of each franchise.
The NFL media is well represented, too, reporting what NFL personnel people have to say about the prospects, what the prospects have to say about themselves and what their workouts say about them.
But does a surprisingly strong 40 time or an unexpectedly weak vertical jump really mean as much as it seems to mean at the moment they're recorded?
"You can't play the game in shorts, obviously," Panthers director of college scouting Don Gregory said. "I think what's most important is what they do in the fall."
Gregory and Hurney certainly understand the allure of the measurables and don't intend to entirely dismiss them. Rather, as Hurney is fond of saying, it's just another piece of the puzzle.
"The part that probably gets the most attention is the 40s. If a guy comes out and runs a 4.3, all of a sudden the attention he gets is going to dramatically improve," Hurney said. "But you have to be careful because it's really about playing speed. Everything that happens here is important, but just like everything, you have to keep it all in perspective."
If a running back or wide receiver comes out of the woodwork and runs a 4.3, there's a good chance the Panthers will make sure to catch up with him before he leaves Indy.
Such a blazing time can change an NFL team's level of interest, but it doesn't change what the prospect showed in college or the kind of mental make-up he has for the next level.
"We've got to make sure we pick the right type of person - young men with high character and some fiber, some toughness about them," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "I want to find guys that share our passion, that share the vision of being a Super Bowl champion. I want to make we get guys that are mentally tough and physically tough."
Most if not all of the players the Panthers will draft come April are passing through Indianapolis, and the things they do at the combine will play a role in the Panthers' decision to pick them.
But even though for NFL fans it's become a combine nation, don't forget that the decision to draft is a made up of a combination of factors.