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INDIANAPOLIS -- It's tempting to get caught up in the numbers at the NFL scouting combine.

After all, Lucas Oil Stadium is the level playing field where the top 300 college prospects engage in competition that can provide some separation with their draft status.

They jump. They push up barbells. They shuttle around cones. They take the Wonderlic.

Then there are any number of 40-yard dash times to decipher.

With campus pro days around the corner, let's put on the brakes as the combine winds down. There will be personnel gurus with teams across the NFL doing just that as they tweak their draft boards while trying to rank the prospects.

For instance, it's supposed to be a great year for edge rushers. Did Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, who unofficially clocked at 4.53 seconds, separate from Florida's Dante Fowler (4.6) and Nebraska's Randy Gregory (4.64)?

Sometimes, the workout numbers will make a difference in weighing otherwise equal prospects. But in an age when prospects train several weeks for the drills and tests that await them, at what has been described as the "Underwear Olympics," sometimes the numbers can be a mirage.

That's why so many NFL general managers insist the best data can still be found on videotape of the prospects playing their games.

"There are a lot of workout wonders," Carolina Panthers GM Dave Gettleman said over the weekend. "Guys coming in here blowing up, and everybody's going, 'Oooh!' and 'Ahhh!' But the game's played on grass, in pads."

NFL executives grumble when players don't work out at the combine – quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota scored points for working out, after much intrigue last week – but then will tell you the workouts are not as critical as other elements of the combine, like the interviews and medical exams.

"Guys can still separate themselves with the workouts," Kansas City Chiefs GM John Dorsey said. "I truly believe they do. Football's a competitive game. There are always little things they are competing on, one way or another."

Last week, Winston was the face of character risk. Now there's a lot of talk about how the Florida State quarterback, projected as the No. 1 pick overall, wowed teams with his football IQ.

The reality, after his impress workout on Saturday, probably lies somewhere in the middle. His track record underscores risk, and he sure knows how to read defenses.

Dorsey, mindful that the college scouts have worked on the draft for nearly a year, maintains that the combine provides a certain order to bringing the organization up to speed for the draft.

"It's diving into it, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the class, looking at position specifics," he said.

Dorsey reminisced about the evolution of the combine as a major event, since he attended his first one in New Orleans in 1984. It's better organized now, he says, with the time-flow for players and teams better managed.

Gettleman remembers what it used to be like, too. Teams can now schedule up to 60 interviews with players during the combine, in 15-minute blocks. That wasn't always the case.

"You'd have scouts arguing with each other," Gettleman recalled of the competition to score interviews. "It was crazy. People would grab a guy and hide him for an hour and a half. Nuts."

Gettleman realizes interviews might be even more important now, given the emphasis on character that has escalated with the off-field cases the NFL experienced last year, which included defensive end Greg Hardy, who missed most of the Panthers' season on the commissioner's exempt list due to a domestic violence case that was eventually dismissed this month.

"I think every organization is careful about that," Gettleman said. "This game is too hard. There are 53 guys, and you've got all these coaches, all these personnel people, everybody's working. Who wants a ticking time bomb? ... So I don't think it's going to change. Every organization I've ever been with that has gone into the draft and you talk about the background stuff, they'll stay away from the guys that have character issues and the potential to continue those issues. This is too hard to worry about that."

But rather than use the 15-minute blocks to try to gain a read on a player's character Gettleman says the Panthers instead try to get a grasp of a player's football intelligence in that time.

It's a process. If they are interested in a player, there are several more weeks before the draft to probe deeper. Teams can invite a maximum of 30 prospects to team headquarters before the draft for further evaluation.

"When you draft a guy, one of the things you have to know is how quickly this guy's going to get on the field," Gettleman said. "Because if we can't get him on the field, what's the point?"

A fast 40-time is one thing. But there are so many variables to be hashed out in the coming weeks.

That's why the draft is such an inexact science.

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Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell

PHOTOS: Highlights from the NFL combine

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