Top NFL draft prospects just completed some sprints, jumping, and lifting tests. The NFL combine is over, but did we learn anything and is there really even a point to it? Dan Salem and Todd Salem tackle this debate in part one of this week’s TD Sports Debate. Two brothers from New York yell, scream and debate the NFL and sports.
Another year, another NFL combine. There were “winners and losers;” there were surprises and disappointments. Of course, tons of players saw their draft stock rise or fall based on their performances at the combine. I wonder though, isn’t that almost idiotic?
Everyone loves the combine, sure. That’s a given. I even tuned in to the NFL Network a few times over the days and watched people run in a straight line and lift weights. I admit it. However, the media has distorted the impact of the combine, partly due to things like the NFL Network televising the entire thing.
It seems as though outsiders value the combine and results very highly. If someone comes out looking like a freak athlete, everyone kicks their stock way up. If others perform poorly, they are disparaged, no matter how they looked in their last actual football game.
The saying goes, the 40-yard dash is not news if a fast guy runs fast or if a slow gun runs slow. It’s only news if a fast guy runs slow or a slow guy runs fast. Case in point, Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas ran a 4.50 40. That was seen as pretty damn slow for him, a player who was supposed to approach sub-4.3 range, especially considering his size and track pedigree.
So everyone is down on him, seemingly in place of how they thought of him as a football player. Now he didn’t have the best season on the field in 2013 either, but that is besides the point. I struggle with why combine results matter so much. If you see a player every Saturday who runs BY people, what’s the difference what his 40 time clocked out at?
In this vein, I always, secretly felt that NFL execs probably did NOT overrate combine results. They don’t particularly care what mock drafts and media people float out there. I’m sure certain GM’s are actually happy if experts start to slip a player down draft boards, especially if it is someone who said GM may be targeting.
But then every year, we see someone who actually was a combine stud get drafted much higher than they should have. So NFL franchises aren’t actually immune to the lure…or is something else going on there? There’s no way pro football general managers can be as short-sighted and stupid as common fans, is there?
You set me up for the classic “Let’s bash NFL fans, coaches, general managers, the media and the NFL combine” argument, but I’m on the other side of that weakly staked fence. I get it, you don’t want intangibles to be as important as they are. You want a player’s performance on the field to be the only barometer for measuring his pro-level abilities and you want this simply because it’s what you saw with your eyes and what you can mark down as a fact. The college football player was either dominant or not. He got touchdowns or he didn’t. Those are things everyone can rely on, be it fans, media, or coaches. And the NFL combine is basically the opposite of this. It goes against all fact based deductive reasoning of a player’s abilities. It can be infuriating for this very reason, but that only makes it so much more important. I’m here to tell you that the NFL combine is awesome, critical, and the best thing for finalizing a player’s evaluation. It allows you to measure a player’s intangibles based upon very simple tangible tests.
Let me first be clear; a player’s on the field performance must be the first and last thing you judge his NFL level abilities by. But it is by no means the only thing. Intangibles can’t be measured, are hugely important at the highest levels of competition, and it’s what the NFL combine attempts to measure. Now before you get all crazy eyed and defensive, I’ll lay it out for you on the straight and narrow.
Playing in the NFL is nothing like playing college football. Most people know this, but can’t actually comprehend the enormity of the statement. It’s not simply that all the players in the NFL are great, or that the game is being televised to millions of people, but you as a player are now playing a game as your career for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. A single injury can end everything, but you can’t think like that or risk sucking and getting cut from the team. The stakes are high, the pressure is higher, and no one gives a crap that you’re probably scared. How can you possibly measure a college player’s ability to deal with all of this? How can you measure his ability to train, be prepared for anything, and step up when it matters most? That’s where I see the NFL combine fitting in.
I see three areas that the NFL combine helps finish off a player’s evaluation. I will agree that most reaction is over reaction at this point in the game, but the facts will always speak for themselves.
The NFL combine first shows how a player will deal with direct, in your face, unforgiving attention. Its something many players have never experienced and may never experience again. Unless you’re the superstar of your college or NFL team, the media is probably not hounding you. Yet at the NFL combine every player has their moment on the spot, with all eyes on them and nothing to distract us from what they do. This measures a ton of different intangibles, mainly because the player knew this day was coming, could prepare for it, and should be ready. Deciding to skip the combine to avoid this also speaks volumes. It’s both smart and risky.
I see the combine also measuring a player’s ability to mentally and physically train for the pitfalls of a long NFL season, a season much longer than any college season. Your college season probably ended in November or December. Maybe you had a game in January, but every player has had at least two months off. If you are a projected top NFL Draft pick and literally took that time off then you are not ready to play in the NFL. These are the guys who under perform at the combine, falling short of expectations. If you’re expected to run a 4.3 in the 40 yard dash but only clock in at a 4.5 then something happened. What did you do, or not do, to lose two steps? It brings into question for me that player’s off the field discipline. It’s just another note on his resume, but not in the plus column.
Finally I think the NFL combine lets coaches and scouts see a player up close and personal, often for the first and last time. I realize this analogy is crude, but would you go buy a car sight unseen, without first test driving it? I sure hope not. You can watch all the tape you want of that car driving on the road, passing other vehicles, stopping and swerving to avoid accidents, but you still better go down and see it in person. Our eyes are the final judge and this should not be overlooked when talking about the NFL combine.
Go ahead, tell me I just rehashed a bunch of crap you already knew. Why then is the NFL combine idiotic?