About 20 people filled a suite at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last Thursday night as the organized chaos took place on the field below. This group – the leadership of the Kansas City Chiefs – included Head Coach Andy Reid, General Manager Brett Veach and a slew of their lieutenants.
There was Trey Koziol – the Assistant Director of College Scouting – closely watching every drill, clicking his stopwatch and recording a note in his binder. Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Chris Shea, Vice President of Football Operations, discussed the latest results from the 40-yard dash. Quarterbacks' Coach Matt Nagy, who re-joined the staff last week, reviewed film on his tablet. Assistant General Manager Mike Borgonzi and Senior Director of Player Personnel Mike Bradway examined the wealth of incoming information on their laptops.
The list goes on and on, from position coaches to various members of the front office. This suite – one of 32 at this year's NFL Scouting Combine – represented the brain trust responsible for the most-successful stretch of football in franchise history.
It's these individuals who dictate every aspect of the football operation, and many of them have been together for years. Six consecutive division titles and four straight trips to the AFC Championship Game don't happen by accident, demonstrating a certain cohesiveness between elements of the Chiefs' front office that's unique in the National Football League.
Each group within the football operation, despite varying duties, works alongside one another throughout the team-building process, and there's perhaps no better example of that synergy than the seven-day marathon that is the NFL Combine.
"Everybody always stresses communication, but I think it's really unique in our place," said Bradway, who joined the Chiefs in 2018 after seven years with Philadelphia. "It starts with Brett and goes all the way down. We get in a room, and it's just us talking football. It's really a collaborative effort of all the guys in the building, and that's how we get it done."
That collaboration was evident during a week that simply didn't quit. It began with measurements and medical evaluations early in the week, providing teams with a baseline of information from which to evaluate. The measurements included everything from the basics such as height and weight to some of the most obscure examinations imaginable, while the medical aspect ensured that the more than 300 prospects in attendance were healthy heading into the NFL Draft. In fact, the medicals – which are conducted by the Chiefs' athletic trainers and doctors – account for perhaps the Combine's greatest value.
There are also media obligations along the way, not to mention dozens of interviews with college prospects. Those sessions are divided into "formal" and "informal" interviews, providing team representatives with an opportunity to see what makes each prospect tick. Keep in mind, the Chiefs' scouting staff has watched much of this year's class for multiple seasons. Kansas City employs five area scouts who submit grades on potential prospects across the country in the fall. Those grades are then cross-checked, and often times, cross-checked again by a different set of eyes.
"It's a great responsibility, and one that we do as a team. We're all in this together. We're trying to find guys who can win us championships, and Brett gives everybody a voice," said Ryne Nutt, the Chiefs' Director of College Scouting. "It's awesome because we can see these guys grow, and there's definitely some pride there."
Nutt and his scouts are well-versed in what these players can do on the field, and in all likelihood, they could assemble a useable draft board in December based purely on the tape. It's the Chiefs' ability to identify the mental makeup of a potential draftee in the formal interview sessions, however, that helps separate them from the competition.
"Our primary focus is to see their football knowledge," Bradway said. "We let them go through their tape and explain their role in college to get a gauge on their mental capacity and aptitude. You're looking for presence, because we challenge them. You can get a feel for a guy really quickly."
The Chiefs' top decision makers challenged 45 prospects as part of the formal interview process, each of which lasted a maximum of 18 minutes and took place throughout the week.
At the same time, position coaches participated in dozens more "informal" interviews, which took place in a large area alongside the other 31 teams. Representatives from each organization jockeyed for position to talk to as many prospects as possible over the course of several days, seizing the lone opportunity in which all of these prospects will be in one place at the same time. The informal interviews were much quicker – perhaps 10 minutes – but, for many of these players, that time represented the first real, face-to-face interaction with the Chiefs' staff.
It's critically valuable time, and ironically enough, much of this occurred before the first on-field drill even took place. The Combine has become a media spectacle, and for the first time in its three-decade history, the event's various drills aired in prime time on NFL Network. That included big-ticket items such as the 40-yard dash, but in reality, the on-field drills – while important – are just another component in a long evaluation process that began immediately after last year's draft concluded.
"As a group, we watch so much film together. It comes down to watching enough tape, and as a team, we're constantly going through stacks of players with our scouts," said Borgonzi, who's been with the Chiefs for 14 seasons. "Really, it comes down to just putting the work in and watching the tape."
The challenge, of course, is determining if the college tape will translate to the National Football League. The professional game is a different animal, and as it turns out, the rigorous schedule of the Combine can provide teams with a look at how prospects handle intense environments. Every player was subjected to three consecutive days of interviews with teams, media obligations and medical exams. Then, following that mentally exhausting stretch of time, the prospects competed in each of their selected drills over the course of a single day. For players participating in a full workout, that meant doing the bench press, the 40-yard dash, the broad jump, the vertical jump, the three-cone drill and the shuttle run all in a matter of hours.
That's a brutally tough week, especially when considering how much could be on the line for these prospects, but the way each of them handled it could be potentially significant.
"This is a highly stressful environment, but so is the NFL," Nutt said. "Going through a week of practice and performing in a big game in the NFL is stressful, and we get to see how they handle a microcosm of that stress here."
The Chiefs' process of evaluating how the prospects handled that gauntlet is significant, too, because it includes every member of the front office and coaching staff. Many teams perform their evaluations in silos, meaning that the talent evaluators and coaches work independently from one another, and it's often a losing strategy. Kansas City's scouts and coaches, by contrast, work hand-in-hand – a characteristic that was evident in the Chiefs' suite at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Additionally, the front office itself works together in a way that keeps the big picture in mind. The Combine may not seem abundantly crucial for those on the pro personnel side of things – the folks responsible for evaluating players currently in the NFL – but the opposite couldn't be more true for Kansas City.
"I'm very thankful that Brett allows us as a pro staff to be included in the college meetings and the process of evaluating these guys," said Tim Terry, the Chiefs' Senior Director of Pro Personnel. "We'll draft a handful of guys and sign some college free agents, but there will be a lot of guys who end up on other teams. Well, those players may be available as a free agent or through a trade down the road, so it's important that we have an idea of who these guys are."
Terry specifically mentioned tailback Derrick Gore, who the Chiefs signed as a free agent prior to last season. That strategy has also proven useful over the years when Kansas City has acquired former first-round picks in an effort to provide an otherwise talented player with a change of scenery, such as cornerbacks Mike Hughes and DeAndre Baker.
"As an evaluator, you want to use all the tools at your disposal," Terry said. "What did our college scouts say about this player in their report? Has that report changed during his time in the NFL? You want to trust what you're seeing now while also going back to see what was originally said."
These are the kinds of conversations that were taking place in the Chiefs' suite on Thursday as on-field drills began, and they continued throughout the weekend. Whether it be Borgonzi, Bradway, Terry, Nutt or the numerous other professionals who put in the work every single day behind the scenes, it's events like the Combine that demonstrate the culture that Coach Reid and Veach have established in Kansas City.
There's a clear and common goal that the entire football operation cohesively pursues together, and the Combine was another step in the never-ending process that this staff has mastered.
"With every player that we talk to and meet, we want to feel good about what the next step is," Bradway said. "Maybe we feel like we don't need any more information, but maybe we want to bring them in to our building for an interview. There's a chance we want to see more from them, either physically or in the classroom, at their pro day. For us, we want to have as many answers as possible."