Mar 2, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; A view of the NFL Scouting Combine logo on the backdrop as players speak with media during the NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

When NFL Network launched in November 2003, one of the main concerns had to be creating fresh, original offseason content. How do you fill the airwaves with stuff people want to watch when there are no games? You can only replay classic rivalries so many times. Enter the NFL scouting combine.

In February 2004, NFL Network made a bold decision that changed everything. At a time when the league wasn’t quite as popular as it is today, the NFL broadcast its scouting combine for the first time with six, one-hour daily shows on NFL Network.

What? The combine on TV? Who would want to watch that? As it turned out, quite a few people. NFL Network was ahead of its time.

The combine returns this week, having grown in ways no one could have predicted. Beginning on Tuesday and finishing on Saturday, NFL Network will televise over 50 hours of live programming. There will be an armada of commentators and reporters, including Daniel Jeremiah, Rich Eisen, Charles Davis, Peter Schrager, Chris Rose, Ian Rapoport, Stacey Dales, and Jamie Erdahl.

It’s available to stream on NFL+. It’s even sponsored, officially called The NFL Scouting Combine, presented by NOBULL.

Today, every wannabe draftnik can watch over 300 college kids running the 40-yard dash, doing the bench press, or leaping for the vertical jump. It’s no longer viewing for the privileged few. The explosion of the NFL’s appeal and our seemingly insatiable hunger for football has made the combine something people care about more than ever before.

The combine has evolved into a reality TV show rather than a talent showcase. It’s more of a convention, designed to promote the league during one of the slower times of the year on the sports calendar. Several coaches and general managers will be in Indianapolis. Most will be available to the media, hyping the combine and the draft.

But some will not be there.

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay hasn’t attended the combine since 2020. He recently said: “The tape is the best guide. I do think that those other things are good metrics, but we’re asking guys to play football not run track and field. It is something that’s a measurable, but it’s not as important as some of the other things for us.”

McVay knows the combine has morphed into just another TV product meant to sell the league and would rather spend his time elsewhere. As the grandson of former NFL coach and executive John McVay, he is keenly aware of how combine has changed.

The combine was simply another part of the evaluation process before the draft. Players were examined, measured, and interviewed. Teams collected data hoping to have more certainty for a notoriously unscientific process. Some information was kept in-house or released later.

Those things still happen, but now more is available for public consumption. NFL Network paved the way for people to understand the inner workings of America’s most popular sport. Additional knowledge generally is a good thing. Now, how much do these drills and exercises help predict future performance? That’s a good question.

Some athletes ace these tests and still become mediocre football players. That doesn’t seem to matter to NFL Network viewers. Fans crave access or the illusion of access. They want to know as much as possible, and the league is eager to give the people what they want.

The amount of content offered at the combine is only going to increase. The one off-limits area has been teams interviewing prospects. But will some franchises dare to do that? Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has never met a camera he didn’t like. Maybe he will in the future, and others will follow.

Everything is potentially content. Everything is potentially entertainment. It just took NFL Network to show the league how it’s done.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Grant, Amy Grant or Hugh Grant.