On the NFL Combine

By Brendan O’Connell

People often overestimate the importance of the NFL Combine. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

The sport of football requires players to possess a plethora of talents, varying in significance depending on position. Especially at the professional level, athleticism is immensely important, and measuring a player’s capabilities is both useful and necessary in order to project his future performance and worth.

However, the platform used to evaluate these criteria – the NFL Scouting Combine – is wildly overhyped, overanalyzed and overemphasized by the National Football League, its franchises, the media and fans.

The Combine, which took place in Indianapolis over the weekend, is the annual event in which prospects that have declared for that year’s upcoming draft are invited by NFL teams’ talent evaluators to showcase their skills. The players participate in a number of drills, namely, the 40-yard dash, vertical leap, broad jump, bench press, three-cone drill and shuttles. It is one of the final times for draft hopefuls to impress teams and convince them of their merit of a draft selection.

The results that come about from this event can be quite useful. It is essential for teams to know how a prospect stacks up against his peers in terms of speed, strength, stamina and more.

Nevertheless, focusing too much on these results, as so many fans and too many and analysts in the league and the media do, is misguided.

For one, teams have access to years’ worth of film from actual game competition at the college level that allows them to evaluate how a player performs against an opponent in a meaningful situation. Information can be gleaned to a significant degree from game tape alone, and is much more indicative of a player’s aptitude in relevant situations than, say, his 40-yard dash time.

Additionally, the insight from former coaches, trainers and teammates as to the player’s work ethic, coachability, attitude, personality, competitiveness and intellect is much more pertinent to how probable they are to succeed in the NFL than how many times they can lift a weight or how quickly they can swivel around a set of cones.

Some of the all-time greats have had mediocre or downright poor Combine performances and have gone on to achieve unprecedented success. Players like Tom Brady do not possess freakish athletic ability, but rather adequate talent and skill to perform at his position, which serves to complement his mental and intangible excellence in order to produce championships and a hall of fame career. The same organization that saw past Tom Brady’s poor Combine numbers fell in love with Aaron Hernandez’s Combine performance, and ignored much of what they were hearing outside the Combine about his likelihood of success in the NFL.

The Combine indicates talent, but it does not project success. In trying to do the latter through this event, NFL teams, the media and fans overplay its importance and fall into the trap of emphasizing the wrong things with regards to young, up-and-coming players.

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