Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Indy combine worthless

Now that this year’s National Football League Scouting Combine is finished, let’s get one thing out of the way.

The combine is relatively useless. It’s a waste of time.

It is just another weapon the NFL uses to keep The Shield front and center with the public. We are less than a month removed from the last Super Bowl and the NFL is back in the news.

In the end, when teams make their selections in the annual crapshoot in late April otherwise known as the college draft, the combine means very little. But it seems to be working from a public relations standpoint.

Every year, the get-together in Indianapolis for college athletes who dream about playing for money draws more and more attention from the media. The league’s P.R.  machine never seems to stop.

The NFL Network for the last several years has chronicled just about every move the athletes make in this annual event.  About the only place we don’t see these well-conditioned young men is the rest room. And who knows what the future holds there?

Other than that, we see them running as fast as they can for 40 yards, jumping either straight up or leaping straight ahead in a single bound, lifting weights, showing off their agility by contorting various parts of their body while in motion and performing specific drills at their respective positions.

The athletes perform in shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Nothing resembles a football uniform other than the shoes. That is their uniform of the day.

For years, I have wondered exactly what scouts who attend the combine look for? Agility? Speed? Strength? Brains? All of the above? None of the above? How does what these kids do for one day in Indianapolis genuinely factor into what teams do on draft day? How important are these workouts?

What can anyone glean from someone running a 40-yard dash? And why 40 yards? Why not 45 or 50 yards? Why 40?

For the simplest of reasons. Because the average net distance of a punt is generally 40 yards and players who run the fastest can get downfield and arrive the same time as the ball. That’s it.

Supposedly, the legendary Paul Brown instituted the 40-yard dash as a benchmark when he coached the Browns about 60 or so years ago. The innovative Brown always looked for ways to gain an advantage over the opposition.

It is impossible for scouts or fans or coaches or anyone who watches football games to say speed at the combine is the end-all and be-all at determining the worth of a player. And yet, a good time in the 40 will elevate a player whose worth in other areas might be somewhat suspect.

A bad 40 time works exactly the opposite, dropping a player whose skills in other areas might otherwise warrant closer attention.  It’s a trap into which many scouts fall.

There is only one speed that counts in football and that’s game speed. How fast is this guy or that guy with a full uniform on? Makes no difference how fast he runs in his underwear in Indianapolis in February.

The talented running back might not set a land speed record at Indy in the 40, but put a football in his hand, give him some good blocking and see if he can outrun the opposition.

When someone is chasing them, most good backs find another gear. At Indy, no one chases them. They race against a clock. And that’s when those in the know turn to the one tool that helps separate these athletes. In other words, let’s go to the videotape.

What scouts and general managers and coaches see on tape determines the worth of a solid football player far better than the combine. Game tape is where the men and boys part ways. Most decisions made on draft day are predicated on game tape.

By now, one would think those in charge of the draft know that most workout warriors, those who excel in Indy with the numbers, are just that. Every once in a while, though, someone pops up at the combine, blows away some scouts with an unexpected performance and is drafted higher than he should.

Give me a football player whose numbers aren’t as good as a workout warrior’s. Give me a football player who makes plays but might be a tad slower than the workout warrior. Football players and athletes are clearly different.

About the only worthy thing the combine provides is the opportunity for teams to talk one-on-one with these kids. Try in a short period of time to find out what makes them tick. Often times, these little interviews can be the determining factor in a team’s choice.

Other than that, there are no redeeming qualities of the combine.

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