What does the NFL Combine really mean?

The NFL Combine is upon us, but is it really showing who the best players really?

We are in the throes of the NFL Scouting Combine and the proverbial “Hype Train” has left the station. Here is the Merriam-Webster definition of caveat emptor – “Without a warranty, the buyer must take the risk.” All 32 NFL teams are represented at the combine, but what are they looking for in a player?

Stating the obvious, scouts, GM’s and head coaches are looking for players whom they believe would be a good fit for their team.  Speed, agility, strength and athleticism are all attributes that are sought after in a player; however, in my opinion, the aforementioned attributes are not the most important attributes when it comes to finding “the” player.

Allow me to elaborate – A skill position player who runs a sub 4.50 40 yard dash is, by any measure, fast; however, the manner in which the player is asked to run said 40 (yard dash) is great if the combine was a track and field competition; it is not.

The combine is supposed to measure “football” speed. Would it surprise you to know that Jerry Rice, arguably the penultimate NFL receiver, ran a 4.71 40 yard dash?

At the 2010 combine, our own Antonio Brown ran a 4.57 40 yard dash, according to draftscout.com.  By combine standards, this is slow for a wide receiver; however, Antonio Brown possesses the ability to create separation, thus, he gets open.  Was this ability to create separation and to get open on display at the combine?  I would say, no.

At the combine, receivers run their routes unencumbered in gym attire, not in pads or not even in “shells”-helmets and shoulder pads.  I would purport that Antonio’s abilities were on display via his game tape.

Let’s move on to the Bench Press.  Being a former (and hopefully again active) competitive powerlifter, I can tell you that the number of reps a player puts up in the bench press is indicative of stamina and strength.  If you’re a scout and your team is looking for an offensive lineman, the number of reps is important, but the facets that are more important, in my opinion, are agility and awareness.

Is the player aware of his surroundings, e.g. does the tackle see the cornerback creeping up to the line, possibly getting ready to blitz?  Does the player possess the agility to recover if he gets initially beat off the snap?  These traits cannot be measured at the combine – they can, however, be reviewed by watching the game tape.

Stats are great, it’s fun to watch a player run a 4.20 40 yard dash. It’s exciting to see a player put up 45 or 50 reps on the bench press; it’s entertaining to watch the running backs and receivers run routes and catch the ball. But can that player do that in a game setting?  Only the body of work, a.k.a the game tape, will answer this question: “Is he ‘the’ guy for our team”?

So don’t get caught up in the “hype” of combine stats because there is no guarantee those stats will translate into success in the NFL or, as was stated earlier, “Without a warranty, the buyer must take the risk.”