Editor's Note: This story is the second in AtlantaFalcons.com's "Road to the Draft" series.
The series will give behind-the-scenes looks at the Falcons evaluation and scouting process leading up to the NFL Draft on April 28-30.
INDIANAPOLIS – Kyle Smith woke up Thursday morning in a city that never sleeps. At least for a week in early March, anyway.
The NFL Scouting Combine keeps Indianapolis up all night during an offseason tentpole event where the NFL Draft takes center stage just two weeks before free agency begins, with business getting done in meeting rooms, on Lucas Oil Stadium turf and in its suites, in downtown restaurants and bars that close just before sun-up.
The city's still buzzing just after 10:30 p.m., but all is quiet in this deep recess of the Conrad Hotel when the Falcons VP of player personnel walks through the door. Smith enters looking both drained and wide awake, physically exhausted with a mind in hyperdrive, still processing all the information gathered over the previous 16 hours.
- Malik Willis, Chris Olave, top players linked to Falcons impress at 2022 NFL Combine
- Falcons interview Georgia running back Zamir White and James Cook at 2022 NFL Combine
- Matt Corral, Kenny Picket, Malik Willis meet with Falcons at NFL Combine
- Drake London, Treylon Burks talk Falcons, Calvin Ridley at NFL Combine
It has been a quite a day, one he won't extend by joining the nightlife scene. Smith is ready to turn in, a smart move considering he'll be involved in 13 straight prospect interviews and roughly seven hours of combine workouts the following day.
"I wish I could say I just go to the room and go to sleep but it doesn't work that way. Your mind is always going," he said. "That's a long combine day. The schedule has changed a bit, but that's pretty typical. Sometimes you'll go grab a beer or two [at night], but you'd rather sleep than do anything else sometimes."
After Smith let AtlantaFalcons.com in on his Thursday at the NFL Combine, that sentiment makes total sense. His schedule is jam-packed from before dawn to well past dusk, as we detail below, but he doesn't find it as overwhelming as it may seem to some.
"It's not stressful or hectic," Smith said. "It's fast-moving sometimes and there's a lot going on, but it's what we do. It's what you love doing. As long as you're organized, and you have a plan – and we do – you can be productive. We have a process we believe in and people we believe in, which makes it go smooth."
Let's dive into a minute-by-minute account of Smith's Thursday at the NFL Combine:
THURS. MARCH 3
6:20 a.m.: Smith's alarm goes off a full 55 minutes before the sun, letting him know it's time to start the fourth day of this NFL Combine. He's not a coffee guy and the Falcons know it, so they stock his room with Monster energy drinks and Welch's fruit snacks to get him going.
A pick-me-up is required after getting just four hours sleep the night before. Prospect interviews went past midnight and Smith's head didn't hit the pillow until roughly 2 a.m.
7:30 a.m.: Smith meets up with general manager Terry Fontenot in the Conrad hotel lobby for the commute to Lucas Oil Stadium. It's a walk-and-talk Aaron Sorkin would be proud of, with the Falcons general manager and his right-hand man recapping the previous day while previewing this one. They're talking pro-day schedules and which prospects they could invite for facility visits after the combine. All this happens while they're going from the hotel to the Indiana Convention Center, past security and through an underground tunnel into Lucas Oil Stadium. Then they take an elevator to the lower-level suites, where teams each have one to conduct interviews with NFL Draft prospects.
The Falcons are in Suite 33A, which has transformed a makeshift meeting area. There are snacks covering counter space, with a large table in the middle of the room. Television screens and a whiteboard are on the left as you enter, with enough space for a prospect and Falcons brass, including Smith, Fontenot, head coach Arthur Smith, national scouts, either an offensive or defensive coordinator and an area scout.
8:20 a.m.: The first of four 18-minute prospect interviews begins. Arthur Smith opens the session, ready with game tape to show the prospect, followed by a discussion of it so they can see what the player can learn and retain. In addition, there's often conversation about his career path to this point.
Kyle Smith has a chair with his nameplate next to it but admits "I'm here or there or walking around. I can't sit still." While 18 minutes is fast – Arthur Smith called it "speed dating" in a Tuesday press availability, and he's not far off – each opportunity to interact with a prospect is valuable.
"I've already got a picture of the player in my head and every bit of information is so critical," Kyle Smith said. "We always talk about 'paint the picture,' and when we say that, we're talking about the character of the player and the tape.
"When we come here for these interviews, I remember what scouts said about the player, and then he comes in and starts talking and you start to get a feel for his personality and his intelligence, which either confirms or flags the stuff that we learned during the school [visit]."
10:30 a.m.: The last of Thursday's prospect interviews wrap, and Arthur Smith, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, Fontenot and others exit the suite. This starts the longest (and only) break of the day.
Kyle Smith will head back through the convention center toward the Conrad, through a hive of activity full of prospects, media and agents. While combine focus is on the NFL draft, free agency is right around the corner and that side of roster construction is also a topic of conversation.
"That's part of the deal, part of the combine and the all-star games, events where there's going to be executives involved in acquiring players," Smith said. "There's always going to be that pull and some gauging that's going on, but here it's more about set-up meetings with agents we have going on, discussing our players we want back, to keep that communication going."
Smith won't sit in on those, with Falcons cap specialists (and occasionally Fontenot) involved in those talks with agents of Falcons free agents they want back. Texts come in regularly with updates on the free-agency side, but Kyle Smith remains focused on the evaluation portion of this event.
11:35 a.m.: Smith grabs a quick lunch with a scout from Washington, where he worked for 11 years before joining the Falcons.
12:30 p.m.: Smith uses rare down time to work out at the hotel.
1:30 p.m.: Smith spends two hours in his hotel room watching film on prospective draft picks before heading back to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first night of combine drills.
We take a look at the action in Indy at the 2022 NFL Combine.
Invited quarterbacks, tight ends and receivers performed an on-field workout with various drills in an event that was broadcast nationally on NFL Network. Fans and select media were in the stadium to watch a long workout highlighted by throwing sessions. The Falcons are now in Suite 17a, a viewing area across from where they interviewed prospects that the morning. The setup is similar, with Arthur Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone, position coaches and scouts in attendance. Some were on the field either timing 40-yard dashes or, in quarterback coach Charles London's case, helping conduct drills.
4:00 p.m.: The combine workouts begin. Tight ends are up first, followed by receivers and quarterbacks, with throwing sessions split in two. Conversation between coaches and scouts focuses on the workouts and the prospects they're watching, plus players they've recently interviewed.
While Kyle Smith is locked on the workouts and the comparative data coming in, these drills can be slow and drawn out over the course of several hours. He maximizes the down time by having Falcons video staff put game tape on a screen in the suite to refine an evaluation, but it's not of college prospects. He's putting final touches on reports for prospective veteran free agents the Falcons might sign in the coming weeks.
When focus is on the live action before him, Smith looks for specific things. He used receivers to describe what he's looking for in those moments.
"It's movement skills. It's the testing numbers and what's jumping out one way or the other," Smith said. "We'll dive more into the numbers and measurables when we get back home, in terms of comparative data to what guys have done in the past, how they measure up to starters in the league.
"For receivers, I'm looking at speed within routes, it's the hands and it's about how people react in a competitive and stressful environment. Are you going to bury someone if they have a bad day? No. It's another piece of a larger puzzle and what marries up to what you've seen throughout the evaluation process.
"Does he catch it clean? Does that match the tape? If not, then we compare that to the pro day and possibly follow that up with a private workout."
10:30 p.m.: Now we're back to where we started, in a private conference room at the Conrad that's typically used for Falcons meetings. We're reviewing final points of a long day, knowing full well Smith has one of his busiest coming up next. You'd think this would be an ideal time to relax, to let the mind wander toward other things.
That's not how Smith operates. While others joke that Smith never turns his football brain off, this certainly isn't the time for that. There's too much going on, too much information being absorbed with too little time before free agency to let a single opportunity to evaluate go by. That's why, especially during combine week, Smith is always on.
"There's a lot that has been done and there's a lot left to do," Smith said. "The way I am, and Terry's the same, you leave here and it's late. We might stop and have a beer here and there, but you're so tired that you just want to unwind. Terry and I were talking this morning…We got back to the room at midnight, and it was 2 o'clock in the morning before I was out. You're trying to unwind, and the next thing you know, it's 6:30 again."
Interested in Falcons tickets?
Join us in 2022 for 9 Regular Season home games! Let us help you find the seats and benefits that interest you!