The formal interviews are where the Bills have 15 minutes to get a true, up close feel for a prospect with the primary purpose of ascertaining whether he is a fit for their club and culture. That may not sound like nearly enough time to formulate an educated assessment of a player's makeup, but sometimes it doesn't even take that long.
"Sometimes it takes one minute," said head coach Sean McDermott. "A guy can walk in and he'll struggle early, and it'll back up some of the mental questions we have on the individual. Or maybe he'll come across a certain way and I'll know he's not going to fit into the culture in Buffalo, so he's not a fit for us. In the end it's about guys that we feel fit us."
Buffalo's scouting department provides McDermott and GM Brandon Beane with an almost limitless amount of background information on all 60 prospects the Bills schedule for formal interviews at the NFL combine.
So, Buffalo's brass goes into the interview sessions already somewhat familiar with what the player is about from a performance, family and character standpoint. Once the prospect enters the room, it's on him to validate or invalidate what's contained in those reports.
"Sometimes this is the last step we needed to eliminate a guy," said Beane of the interviews. "We've heard some things about him. There are some things we like on film and we know the guy can make plays, but we've heard enough about him where it's the learning ability, the personality that we might need to confirm.
"So, we'll ask him in five minutes to go through all the things you've been in trouble for at the school. When they get done, you're sometimes thinking, 'Man I just cannot bring this in the locker room.'
"A lot of this though is confirmation in a positive way, where we have to check a box in confirming who he is and if he's truly who we think he is and what we've heard from the school and other people around him. If not, we could be done with that guy and take him off the board."
There are also instances where a player the Bills choose to interview leaves them still needing more after the 15 minutes are up.
"When you wrap up some of those sessions you hope to say, 'I know who he is,'" said McDermott. "I'm taking notes on my computer and Brandon and his staff are doing the same thing. Then there are others where you're left saying, 'We need more time.'"
"More times than not, these 15 minutes tells us whether we need to bring him to our facility," Beane said. "Do we need to go work him out? Do we need to go to his city and his school and get with a coach at that school and start asking some more questions about him? Sometimes guys can't answer questions on the board. They've never been taught what cover-three or cover-four is. They've only been taught to look at the sideline and get my route, run my route and don't worry about the coverage."
That then puts the onus on the Bills personnel and coaching staffs to find out how effectively those prospects can learn and retain the information they're going to need to know for weekly game plans.
"We'll dig deeper. We'll ask what he was taught," said Beane. "Was he ever taught coverages? Who signaled to him? Did they only signal to you, the receivers, the skill position players? Get a feel for the operation and then in meetings and practice what were you asked to do? We have to find out was the school doing that because this player can't learn, or is that just their philosophy for the whole team? So we have to spend more time with them to teach them some concepts and have them spit them back to us and see how well they retain it."
Beane says understanding a prospect's football IQ often covers two-thirds of the meeting time they have with a player. And when they have a cerebral player confirm his football acuity, they know.
"Some guys can go in there and it sounds like they coached the defense. We were running this. They might've been playing middle linebacker, but they can tell you what the DBs are doing. They can tell you what the stunts are doing," said Beane. "So you're saying, 'This guy is already smart and has room to grow.' So, you check the mental box, especially if the film adds up. Then if the athletic testing and ability matches up you know what you've got."
Entering year three of the build with Sean McDermott and year two-and-a-half with Beane, there have already been improvements in weeding out players that wouldn't fit the Bills mold before it even gets to the interview process, as the personnel staff is wholly familiar with what Buffalo's brass wants in a player.
Our scouting staff and the quality of the young men that we’re interviewing gets better and better every year. That’s a credit to the colleges they come from, but also our vetting process and making sure we’re spending the time with the right guys. Bills head coach Sean McDermott
"Our scouting staff and the quality of the young men that we're interviewing gets better and better every year," said McDermott. "That's a credit to the colleges they come from, but also our vetting process and making sure we're spending the time with the right guys. There were some last night where I wanted more. I felt good about them, but I wanted to be around them more from a competitive standpoint. I could tell this one young man last night was on the edge of his seat and I'm thinking, 'I want this guy to be on our team right now.'"