NFL Combine not representative of talent, skill

BY DYLAN GORDON ’14
Staff Writer

It is time for the 2013 NFL Combine, and I could not be more excited. These are some of my favorite days of the year, and you can most certainly find me glued to NFL.com watching the different workout and position drills. However, the Combine is much more than freakish athletes benching airplanes and blazing through the 40-yard dash; it is also about the interviews, the rumors, the players’ attitudes, etc. So before you overhype a player due to a great workout, I urge you to also look at the non-physical tests each player must perform.

Sure, every drill is worthwhile and meaningful, but I don’t simply buy into each and every result. Take the bench press as an example. People put way too much stock into how many repetitions a guy can put up at 225 pounds. Granted, it would be alarming to see a nose tackle only put up six repetitions, but the difference between 26 and 28 reps is small in the large scheme of things. If I were a scout or coach, I would be more concerned with how each player uses his strength than how many reps he can put up. If a guy puts on a show at the Combine but doesn’t use his strength effectively on the field, what do you really have?

In addition to the bench press, I think the 40-yard dash is blown way out of proportion. Let me clarify that statement: I value the 40 times for cornerbacks greatly, but that is all I really take away from it. The NFL is turning into a game of speed, and as receivers are getting faster and faster, cornerbacks need to be able to run down the field with them. Personally, a 40 time over 4.5 for a cornerback alarms me nowadays; this is a true testament to how fast these receivers are.

So you may be asking yourself the following: in a game defined by speed, why does this kid not appreciate the 40 times of a receiver? Well, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the 40 times of a receiver, but rather I believe there are other drills that are far more important and indicative of future success.

For example, let’s examine the three-cone drill and shuttle run. These drills test an athlete’s ability to pivot and change directions at high speeds. For a receiver, it is imperative to be able to come out of a break smoothly with a strong foot plant and pivot. The difference between good and great receivers is how swiftly they break off from a route, not how fast they can run vertically down a field.

Yet, I truly believe these two drills are important for every position. Offensive linemen who can demonstrate quick, fluid changes of direction are always in demand. Running backs who can make a quick first cut extend plays and tire defenses. And linebackers who showcase explosive movements can close in on plays and make crucial tackles.

But enough with the physical tests of the Combine; if you really want to predict a player’s future, watch his game tape. For me, the most intriguing part of the Combine is what happens behind the scenes.
Let’s begin with my favorite part of the Combine: the rumors. Think of the Combine as the center of negotiation. All football operations personnel from each team are there sniffing out potential trade partners and opportunities, talking about free agents, discussing the franchise tag, and gauging each other’s interests in certain players, both current and draft-eligible.

This is all great and interesting, but the best part is the negotiations between agents and front office executives regarding current restricted and unrestricted free agents. You see, it is very common for agents and front office executives to hold off on any contract negotiations (after the season) until the Combine. Thus, the Combine becomes the site to be seen for long-term deals and restructuring of contracts.

Alongside secretive negotiations comes the interview process and documentation of player’s attitudes. The interview process is crucial; here, players have the opportunity to demonstrate their football knowledge, explain any off-the-field incidents they may have had, prove leadership qualities and a willingness to learn, and most importantly, sell themselves to each organization. Last year, Russell Wilson knocked his interviews out of the ballpark. Who are going to be the studs and duds of this year’s interview process?

The documentation of players’ attitudes is equally important in my opinion. Front office executives and player personnel are constantly observing the demeanors and energy put forth by the athletes during drills. No one wants to draft someone who is putting forth minimal effort, hanging his head low after missing a catch, or joking around with some of the other guys instead of listening to instructions. The truth is, we have all seen the draft stock of certain players plummet due to poor attitudes and behavior.

So if this article has inspired you to watch the 2013 NFL Combine, here are my three headlines.

Firstly, I think West Virginia’s Tavon Austin is going to obliterate the three-cone drill. This guy is as explosive as anyone I have ever seen, and he is going to be a matchup nightmare for linebackers at the next level.

Next, pay close attention to how Manti Te’o and Alec Ogletree interview. I know you cannot listen to what they say, but it will be interesting to hear the reports about their interviews. From Te’o’s wild girlfriend hoax to Ogletree’s recent DUI, both men have a lot of explaining to do.

My last headline pertains more to the upcoming draft than the Combine, but how high can Alabama’s Chance Warmack go? I think he is the best player in the draft, but guards are not valued nearly as highly as offensive tackles, quarterbacks, defensive lineman, etc. Whoever drafts Warmack is going to get a heck of football player, and I am really curious as to when he will be selected.

Well if I keep writing, I’m going to miss the Combine, so here is where I call it quits. Just remember one thing: the Combine might be a meaningful indicator in some ways, but if you really want to assess talent, the tape never lies.

Questions? Email Dylan at dgordon@fandm.edu.

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