The 2018 NFL Combine is in the books, and the most important part of the event was not televised.
I'm talking, of course, about the interviews.
Every night at the Combine, personnel from all 32 NFL teams descend upon a hotel conference hall to orchestrate hours of player interviews. They'll sometimes conduct the interviews in the privacy of their team hotel suite. The questions vary: They may ask a prospect to draw up their favorite play on a wipe board, or throw them an off-the-wall query just to see how they'll react. But one question comes up over and over again at these mysterious meetings. To paraphrase, it goes something like this—given the chance, which college teammate would the player pick to accompany them to their future NFL team?
Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated recently wrote a fascinating feature which largely revolves around that very question. While it might seem a tad strange for this seemingly innocuous inquiry to be so omnipresent, the NFL Combine is a chance for teams to mine as much data on the incoming players as possible. If a prospect's college teammate doesn't name them as a player they'd like to bring with them to their future team, that could be a serious red flag.
"Sometimes you know there's one guy on the team who's the best player, and you ask everybody that question," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told SI.com. "And if no one says that No. 1 guy, that means the guy is not liked. Then you consider what position he is, and you have to decide if you can live with that. We've definitely been turned off from a guy if a number of his teammates don't like him."
Steven Mitchell, a wide receiver out of USC, told SI.com that every team he met with at the Combine asked him some variation on the question (he'd met with 15 teams at the time he was quoted).
While it's an interesting insight into how NFL teams collect information at the Combine, it's also an import lesson for any young athlete. If someone were to ask a random teammate of yours a similar question, do you think you'd come to mind?
If so, that's one of the greatest honors an athlete can achieve. Not only does it mean you're a valuable player on the field, but it also means you're a great teammate who can help cultivate a winning culture inside a program.
If not, why?
Is it because you need to contribute more on the field? Or is it because you're failing to be a great teammate?
The former is acceptable and should not be viewed as a negative—knowing you can and will improve is a hallmark of a hungry, humble athlete. But the later is not acceptable, no matter how talented you might be.
If you're looking for what it sounds like when a player talks about a teammate they truly treasure, listen to Mike Hughes, one of the top cornerback prospects in this draft class, on former UCF teammate Shaquem Griffin. "Shaquem Griffin was a guy who came into work every day. Even if it was just to watch film, his energy (was) always positive. In practice, his energy is always positive. He always gives 110%, and that allows other guys to follow his lead. As a team, that made us closer," Hughes told STACK before the Combine. You can bet that if an NFL team posed the aforementioned question to Hughes, there's a good chance he mentioned Griffin.
A team filled with good players and good teammates is a winning formula at any level of sports, from Pop Warner to the NFL. While every athlete won't one day find themselves at the NFL Combine being grilled by evaluators, taking some time for introspection and self-assessment is always beneficial.
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