Check out photos of head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead at the 2018 NFL Combine.
INDIANAPOLIS — The public-facing portions of the NFL Combine are important. The 32 teams all notice how the incoming rookies address the media, and the on-field testing can make a difference.
But what happens behind the scenes can sometimes leave the most significant impression.
That's especially for the top 60 interviews. Each team may select up to 60 of the 300-plus players in Indianapolis for a chance to get to know them in a more intimate setting — a hotel room at the Crown Plaza, Indianapolis. All 32 franchises have a room for these meetings. It's not the biggest room, so the individual player will meet with select team officials. And these meetings occur at night, often going from around six to 11 p.m.
However, these interviews last only 15 minutes.
"Fifteen minutes — who's an expert in 15 minutes?" Rams general manager Les Snead joked in an interview with therams.com on Sunday morning. "We always laugh about that."
Still, Snead, head coach Sean McVay, and the rest of Los Angeles' staff assembled in Indianapolis do their best to get the most out of that time.
"What we try to do is — hey, let's talk football," Snead said. "If we've got any hard questions to ask, we'll do that at another time, in another setting, another environment. But let's talk football. And a lot of times it's geared toward sitting down and doing what we do — put on their college film."
"I think the first thing is, it's all about football. And I think you want to be able to assess their ability to communicate what's going on," McVay said. "So we'll have tape involved in those meetings — might be some good plays, might be some bad plays. And you want to see how they're able to echo and articulate what their role, what their responsibility is within the framework of that individual play. And then see if they can take some accountability if there is a play where maybe they could've done better."
According to McVay, the accountability aspect of the conversations can be particularly important in an evaluation because L.A. is trying to assemble a team of players with strong football character.
"I think that ownership is something that some guys naturally possess, and others might not do that," McVay said. "But we're looking for guys who do take that accountably, that ownership, and aren't afraid to be coached, because we're just trying to help guys reach their highest potential. But if you can't be receptive to what you might be able to do better, then that's a concerning thing. And, fortunately, that hasn't really been the case with the guys we've talked to. It's been a pleasant experience with all the guys we've brought in so far."
Going back to last year, wide receiver Cooper Kupp was one player whose interview stood out to McVay. The head coach has said a number of times since L.A. drafted the former Eastern Washington standout how well he came across in those 15 minutes.
"It was pretty quick that you realize this guy's different," McVay said. "When you meet him, you look at the way he was able to play in the Senior Bowl, and then obviously the consistent production he had throughout the course of his career. So it was kind of a combination of all those things. But specifically in the meeting, just his command and his overall presence and ability to communicate the game and what was going on on his tape. You could see that he was a special person and that he has a special understanding of the game."
With the Combine being such an important part of the pre-draft process, many of the incoming rookies have done a lot of preparation for these interviews. Sometimes, that can make the prospect come across a bit rehearsed. Both McVay and Snead have found that the best way to cut through that exterior and really get to know the player — as best as one can in 15 minutes — is through watching film.
"Everybody's going to come here intentional and prepared — as they should be, it's an important interview. But you try to take that guard down. Not necessarily for them to make a mistake, but just to get the real personality," Snead said. "I think once you get about three or four plays in, if you've got a scripted answer, you've run out. And then you get to get those guys more comfortable."
"Just like when we're coaching players, our philosophy isn't to try to create an uncomfortable atmosphere," McVay said. "Certainly you like to stress guys, but not in a manner where you like to be negative. But it's just about seeing how they handle their ability to look at the game of football. And then it kind of demonstrates how willing they are to be coached as well."
And with players going through so many different interviews in such a short amount of time, the Rams do have an appreciation for the toll the process likely takes on each individual.
"I give them credit," Snead said. "You think about it, depending on your background, where you're from, your personality introverted or extroverted — you might have 15, 16 interviews, or maybe even more. And you go back to back, and then all of a sudden you're sitting in a chair and there's [Patriots head coach Bill] Belichick staring at you. Or in another room there's [Hall of Fame quarterback and Broncos EVP of football operations] John Elway staring at you.
"And you just feel for the kids, you're like, 'You know what, this is pretty impressive that each one of those guys can come here and get through this,'" Snead added, "because I know that's got to be tough."