Why the NFL Combine is nothing special

This image is a screenshot of a collection of thumbnails from USA Today's image archive from the 2017 NFL Combine.
This image is a screenshot of a collection of thumbnails from USA Today's image archive from the 2017 NFL Combine. /

The NFL Combine is in full swing and incoming rookies are going to get poked and prodded by NFL executives and then perform for them on the field.

Each year hundreds of prospects descend on Indianapolis for the annual parade of NFL meat. It’s like a driving cattle to the market for a quick peek before they actually go on sale. While it’s a necessity of sorts, it’s also nothing special.

Teams have been evaluating collegiate talent for years. The scouts don’t start following a player as they enter their junior and senior years. They follow them from high-school all the way. Some drop off the radar and others come into view more clearly.

This week it’s all about 40 times and shuttle runs. Vertical jumps and pass catching drills. The players that are not on parade are as talked about as the players who opt of different “events”. So and so skipping the bench press or Joe Quarterback not throwing has little to do with where they get drafted come April. And here’s why.

Teams already know what they need to know. A record-breaking 40 yard dash isn’t going to change a teams mind about some 6th round wide-receiver prospect. Nor will any of the other flashy and unflattering “measurements” that are dutifully reported by the media. Good or bad, in most cases it doesn’t matter. It’s for show. It’s for those who follow college and drink the kool-aid. The real talent being observed at the NFL Combine isn’t the measurements and clocked times. It’s the attitude.

How a player responds to the rigors of the NFL Combine often goes further to a teams eye than a 40 time. More importantly how a player responds in their on one one’s with the teams has more to do with a player climbing or falling off a big board. Why? Because each of the teams and their scouting department have poured over enough game film to know what each players talent level is in real games. Not running down the field in a pair of shorts and no pads.

Behind the closed doors however, it’s a lot different.

Players are questioned about their pasts and their presents as teams try to get a good feel for the individual’s maturity level. They are put into fantasized game situations and asked how they would react. What their responsibilities are and what to do if player X goes this way and player Y goes that way. And then they are asked more.

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No one would have thought that Tom Brady’s weigh in would have amounted to Super Bowl victories and cat calls for GOAT consideration. If it had, he would have been a first round pick. For every Tom Brady that was a scrawny specimen at the Combine there is a lightning bolt sprinter who ends up working three years later for UPS.

To put this NFL Combine stuff into better focus, the measurements, the 40 yard times, the shuttle runs, and all that other stuff keep the media busy while the real work takes place behind doors closed off to the media. The real work is the wink-wink-nod-nod agreements being discussed between agents and executives. The other stuff is window dressing.

If the numbers were so important then why do these same kids go through Pro-Day’s? Because they can run a 10th of a second faster on more familiar turf? Or catch passes from their own college quarterback? No it’s all about teams having more time to “talk” and “meet” with players. To see them interact and observe the dedication they have or that they lack.

Some writers love posting numbers and measurables but don’t put a lot of stock into those numbers and reports. The real decisions are made by viewing tape. Game tape and interviews. So if you want to get an idea of what players say the Miami Dolphins are interested in don’t get roped into who ran the fastest. Wait until we see who visits with them instead.