NFL Combine unforgettable, says Colts’ Nyheim Hines

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INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – DECEMBER 22: Nyheim Hines #21 of the Indianapolis Colts returns a punt for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – He was coming off an ultra-productive junior season at North Carolina State. It was time for Nyheim Hines to take that next step in his football career.

He was the multi-purpose talent with world-class speed who led the ACC by averaging 143.6 all-purpose yards per game, and was a three-way TD machine during his career – rushing, punt returns, kick returns – who decided to leave school early.

Hello, NFL Draft.

But before that, hello, NFL Scouting Combine.

The serious decision to turn pro required serious measures. This, after all, would represent the most consequential job interview of his young life.

“I decided to leave for the NFL Jan. 15 and I was in Florida Jan. 20 and I was training for the Combine,’’ Hines said, recalling his path to the 2018 Combine that eventually led him to the Indianapolis Colts as a fourth-round draft pick.

“It definitely was the biggest job interview of my life. It was a dream come true. I took it very personal and very serious.’’

Hines was among 300-plus draft-eligible players who converged on Indy – his first trip here, by the way – eager to impress the hundreds of NFL general managers, head coaches, position coaches and scouts. It was a unique experience, and one that remains fresh in his mind.

“I was just happy to be able to go there,’’ he said. “It seems like it’s been a long time ago, but it’s something I definitely will never forget. That was the first time in my career I had been around all those players in a cool environment.’’

He measured himself against the likes of Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.

“I was catching passes from Josh Allen,’’ Hines said. “It was like a big All-Star game. You enjoy the moment of being around all those great guys.

“It’s something I’m going to look forward to telling my kids about.’’

That eagerness and anxiety returns en masse beginning Sunday. The Combine, which has called Indy home since 1987, cranks up as the first wave of 337 players arrives for a week of medical and psychological testing, on-field drills and formal/inform interviews with teams.

 “It’s definitely tough,’’ Hines said, “and I would tell guys who go this year, ‘This isn’t going to be a breeze. It’s super hard.’’

Hines has been there, done that. He was quick to share his experience.

The Medicals

This might be the most important phase of the extensive evaluation process. Teams are poised to invest millions in potential, and want to make certain Player A isn’t dealing with something that might lessen the ultimate return.

Hines dealt with a pair of high-ankle sprains and an AC joint (shoulder) sprain at N.C. State. In two seasons with the Colts, he hasn’t missed a game.

“I was so healthy that people almost wouldn’t believe me,’’ he said. “I had the two high-ankle sprains and AC sprain, which is real common in football. A lot of teams didn’t believe me. They were like, ‘You played three years of college football and you had two high-ankle sprains and an AC joint?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’’’

Doctors insisted on taking X-rays of the ankle Hines most recently sprained, just because. The more time he spent at the hospital, the healthier he felt.

“There were four or five rooms and there would be four or five people in each of them,’’ he said. “They just rattle off a list of your injuries. I was hearing about some other players, how one guy had a knee reconstruction, had torn his ACL, and I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ It was kind of crazy. I felt like I had been blessed. I lot of guys went through a lot of stuff. I didn’t have much.’’

The Interviews

Arguably No. 2 on the list of consequential Combine events is the formal interview. Teams are allowed to set up 45 interviews, each of which lasts 18 minutes. Think of speed dating.

In 2018, Hines had formal meetings with seven teams, including the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles.

The Colts? Nope. Hines’ only interaction with the team that would select him with the 104th overall pick was a brief, informal chat with running backs coach Tom Rathman.

“He asked me to draw up some protections,’’ Hines said. “That was it.

“I don’t know how they didn’t talk to me and still drafted me. They played everything pretty close (to the vest).”

Each formal interview, he added, seemed to take on the personality of the individual – head coach, general manager, owner – running it.

“Tennessee was a little bit more intense,’’ Hines said. “As you can see on the sideline, coach (Mike) Vrabel is a very intense coach. The Rams were really, really relaxed. Coach (Sean) McVay is really relaxed and cool. He has that calm demeanor.

“The Cowboys were the Cowboys. Jerry Jones was really cool. He was in there.’’

Hines’ meeting with the Eagles included an introduction to coach Doug Pederson, which ironically gave him a glimpse at Frank Reich, who would be his first NFL head coach. Before being named Colts’ head coach in February 2018, Reich was Pederson’s offensive coordinator.

“In the coaching world, you learn stuff from everybody,’’ Hines said. “And (Pederson) was the last person coach Reich saw as a head coach so it seems like he takes after him somewhat. Just his demeanor, how he calls plays, things like that.

“I’m not sure what their relationship is, but I can see as an offensive coordinator and head coach (they’re) pretty (similar). They trust each other. I’m guessing they stay in touch. It’s very interesting to notice things like that when you’re in the NFL.’’

The Testing

Two standardized cognitive tests are administered to all players: the Wonderlic and NFL PAT (Player Assessment Test). Those are supplemented by various psychological tests, which are operated by a psych-testing company or by individual teams.

“I remember the Wonderlic and all of the other psychological tests and thinking, ‘If I take one more psych-eval test, I’m going to go crazy,’’’ Hines said with a laugh. “I don’t even remember the questions that were asked. It didn’t get asked anything real weird.’’

Well, that’s not entirely true. One test asked a question that’s been posed at least since Peyton Manning’s 1998 Combine.

“The only weird thing I was asked was, ‘Am I a dog or a cat?,’’’ Hines said. “I told them a dog. They asked why and I told them I’m very territorial and I’m very loyal.’’

The Workouts

Hines had trained for this. He had showcased his versatility and speed at N.C. State. He effortlessly bounced from running back to receiver to punt returner to kick returner. After his junior season, Hines was one of four finalists for the Paul Hornung Award, presented to the nation’s most versatile player. He also was a standout for N.C. State’s indoor and outdoor track teams, earning first-team All-America honors on the 4×100-meter relay team in 2016.

“I felt confident going in,’’ he said. “I wanted to go out there and put my best foot forward. Overall, I think I did.’’

Hines clicked off a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. That was tops among all running backs and 9th overall. His 35.5-inch effort in the vertical jump was 9th at his position.

“I wanted my 40 time to be faster,’’ he said. “To this day, I think I ran a slow 40 time. (4.38) was not good enough by my standards. That’s actually the slowest 40 I’ve ever ran.

“My shuttles and stuff, I didn’t do as well as I expected.’’

But scouts were witness to the total package. Hines went through running back drills, ran routes with receivers and fielded punts and kicks. He admitted he was tired after a long week in Indy, but, as he intended, “put my best foot forward.’’

“They really made me show every aspect of my game in about three hours,’’ he said. “I think they got the most out of me at the Combine.

“I think the Combine helped me solidify what I was capable of doing in the NFL.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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