The NFL Combine is is a waste of time. It’s fun to watch, it’s probably a great convention and fun to attend, but as far as evaluating talent and ability goes, it’s a waste of time.
The NFL Combine is an exercise in complexification and the collection of mostly meaningless data. The vast majority of the drills and other tests the athletes perform are so far removed from what actually occurs on a football field that a lot of worthless information is collected.
Why do linemen need to sprint 40-yards? When do any football players sprint from a track athlete’s starting position and run with that technique? What strength does the bench press reveal? Why have athletes perform drills that aren’t spontaneous that they have rehearsed for months, if not years?
I could go on, but you get the idea.
If you don’t believe it, what is the explanation for how many abject disappointments have been picked in the First Round? Or any round for that matter? After watching 25+ game tapes and hearing from coaches and scouts, the NFL has created this circus, a great promotional opportunity, that serves to cloud the issue of talent assessment.
Over the years there has been research that looks at how performance at the combine relates to performance in the NFL. What the research says is that, except for the speed of skill position players, there isn’t much at the combine that has any predictive value.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is value to some of the traditional combine activities. Height, weight, wing span, body composition, hand size and other anthropomorphic measurements need to be taken in an objective setting. Certainly, NFL teams would be foolish to trust the height and weight numbers published on a roster as the basis for selecting a player in the draft. I can’t tell you how many 6′ 5″, 275 pound ‘Roster Guys’ I’ve seen turn out to be noticeably smaller as ‘Real Life Guys.’
The concept of the combine is a good one, as there is value in having athletes perform certain tasks under controlled circumstances. And it’s great that NFL head coaches can watch these players in person. The problem with the combine in its current form is that there is so little variety and spontaneity contained in the tests and drills that it diminishes the significance of the results.
But NOT what’s done with the results.
All across the country, a generation of kids have been performing the Three-Cone Drill and the Shuttle Run. A 21-year old college senior has probably been running these drills for 10-years. Combine Training is like SAT prep, as it takes college football players and trains them for the very specific, narrow, rehearsed drills encountered at the NFL Combine.
Granted the 40-yard dash is a compelling watch and does revel speed, but how about having players start in a traditional football stance or a neutral stance?
Saturday Florida and Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel ran 4.56 40-yard dash, but that shouldn’t make anyone forget that he couldn’t cut it in the Big Time at Florida. Sunday Ohio State stud Joey Bosa ran a 4.86 and I heard an ESPN NFL analyst describe it as ‘disappointing’ and said that Bosa ‘didn’t help himself.’ During his agility drill performance the commentators on the NFL Network said Bosa looked ‘robotic’ and like he was ‘trying too hard.’
In a nutshell these performances illustrate the problem with the information gathered at the NFL Combine. Nobody will say Driskel can be a player in the NFL simply because he ran the fastest 40 by quarterbacks. Yet Bosa’s performance has been characterized as disappointing.
Watching Bosa dominate in games against other players wearing football equipment over the past few years, there was never talk of him being ‘robotic.’ And if ‘trying hard’ in a game is a good thing and yet in drills, somehow, is a bad thing perhaps the drills are the problem.
Once you see an athlete’s 40 time and vertical jump, you can pretty much figure out how they will perform in other speed and quickness-based, running and jumping-based drills. If this kind of speed is specific to the position played this is a good thing. For linemen, who cares?
Rather than using an established list of drills, why not have players perform drills that they are likely unfamiliar with? Having players perform drills they haven’t been practicing for months – if not years – would be more revealing and interesting. Scouts, coaches and personnel types would learn much more if more spontaneity was a part of the NFL Combine.
The lesson of the NFL Combine is that a lot of data collection does not equate to quality of data and that if emphasis is going to be placed on the results of the combine, the quality of this data should be better.
And that is Sal Marinello, CSCS, CPT USA Weightlifting Certified Coach and President, Athletic Development Coaching’s, 2 Sense.