Avril and Delmas remember 'meat factory' environment of the combine

Posted Feb 20, 2012

It must be hard for NFL Draft Combine participants not to feel a little like cattle being led to the meat market.

Participants are given a number and grouped by position. They have to take a physical and they're poked and prodded and measured and put on display for hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts and front office personnel.

"It's like a meat factory," Lions defensive end Cliff Avril said of his combine experience in 2008. "You have a number on you and nobody really knows your name, they just know the number you are, and everyone is pretty much the same until they look up your number."

The Combine kicks off Thursday in Indianapolis and runs through Feb. 26. It gives teams like the Lions a up-close look at the candidates for not only it's 23rd pick in April's NFL Draft, but also some mid- and late-round prospects. 

Back in 2008, when Avril was going through the combine process, there was debate whether he was a linebacker or a defensive end coming out of Purdue.

The profile on leading up to the combine said Avril was, "Undersized to be any every down defensive end, but he has good upper-body muscle tone, ideal arm length, big hands, tapered thighs and calves, along with the feet, balance and change-of-direction agility to bring better value as a strong-side linebacker."

Avril was compared to Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips, who was Purdue's all-time sack leader, but struggled as a defensive end early in his career and later became a Pro Bowler when he moved to linebacker.

"I hated it," Avril said of the combine. "I don't necessarily know if it helped me move up in the draft or not. It's real business-like and it's stressful, actually.

"It's just a process you have to go through to get to the NFL. Meeting with coaches is pretty cool, but the whole test thing and all that stuff is kind of crazy."

Avril did enough to convince the Lions to select him in the third round (92nd overall) and keep him at defensive end. Four years later, Avril has developed into one of the best young defensive ends in the league and will be highly sought after in free agency if the Lions can't get a long-term contract done or place the franchise tag on him.

The combine was an important part of the evaluation process for the Lions that showed Avril was good enough to play defensive end in the NFL. It's those evaluations that are invaluable at the combine.

Lions safety Louis Delmas, who went through the combine a year after Avril in 2009, said he approached it as just another practice.

"I really didn't know much about the combine going in, so therefore, I didn't know what to expect," Delmas said. "Everything was a surprise to me and I think that's why I did so well because I just felt it was like another day at practice."

Delmas was impressive at the combine and some analysts at the time thought he did enough to move himself into the first round coming out of Western Michigan.

"Active safety, unafraid to come up and support the run," read the combine report on Delmas. "Physical defender who flashes some explosiveness as a hitter. Reliable form tackler, who attacks ball carriers at their knees and wraps up securely. Good instincts in coverage.

"Lacks the bulk most teams prefer. Likes to evade blockers, rather than taking them on and shedding blocks. Can be beaten with play-action."

Delmas was the first pick of the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Lions, and the first safety selected. Delmas was a Pro Bowl alternate this past season, despite missing five games with a knee injury.

"At the end of the day, going to the combine is about promoting yourself and if you do well, you're going to get drafted well," Delmas said. "It is what it is."