Putting the Combine in perspective

As the annual Scouting Combine opens in Indianapolis, I’m compelled to share my thoughts on the process of running and jumping and doing a lot of other things not in pads.

It’s not football.

For those of you who have discovered PFT in the past year, here’s the assessment a league insider provided to us years ago:  “A player runs 40 yards in a straight line during a football game only in two situations:  when something really good is happening, and when something really bad is happening.”

Besides, it’s players working out without helmets or pads — and without the reality of being hit.

But don’t take our word for it.  (As if you ever do.)  Asked by NFL Network’s Warren Sapp during Wednesday’s Total Access for his thoughts on the process, always-candid Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was frank (which is the same thing as candid but I didn’t want to use the word “candid” twice in the same sentence, so I’ve instead used the word “candid” three times in this parenthetical . . . at least I’m frank about it).

“You really wanna know the truth?” Dockett said.   “I feel like you really can’t judge a football player . . . until you get on the field.”

Dockett, a three-time Pro Bowler who tied a Super Bowl record with three sacks, said he was told based on his measurables that he was too small to play defensive tackle and too slow to play defensive end.

“It really don’t mean anything,” Dockett said of the shorts-and-T-shirts evaluations.

Perhaps the biggest value to teams comes from the interview process, which provides an opportunity in 15-minute increments to get to know the players.  In that regard, Dockett supplies sage advice.

“Be yourself,” Dockett said.  “When you get to a team, your reality is going to set in.  Who you are is going to set in.”

Every incoming player should take notice.  If you try to persuade teams that you’re someone you’re not, they’ll expecting that guy from the interview to show up when it’s time to get to work.  It’s far better to let a team see who you are and to want that guy.

And if they don’t want that guy, then that’s not the place where that guy should want to play.

10 responses to “Putting the Combine in perspective

  1. One way the NFL can save money is to eliminate this combine thing. They have several years of tape on players and then they go do a pro day at their school. It just seems to be a waste of time and money.

  2. No, measurables don’t tell you whether a kid will succeed in the NFL, but it is important to confirm what their measurables really are (as opposed to what their college’s said they were).

    Also important to see them workout together under the same conditions in order to get a comparative analysis. The interviews are important too, as teams get a feel for what kind of person they are investing in.

    All that said, the Draft remains largely a crapshoot.

  3. Without the Combine, we wouldn’t have that awesome video of Tom Brady doing an awkward 40 yard jog

  4. “Perhaps the biggest value to teams comes from the interview process, which provides an opportunity in 15-minute increments to get to know the players”

    I’m confused. I thought former GM/current ESPN Expert Matt Millen said these interviews were useless.

  5. I’ve been saying it for years. To me, the best thing would be to extend the interviewing process and eliminate the physical part. These guys are doing things that they wouldn’t on the field, especially QBs going to bad teams. If you want to really evaluate them, put them in real life situations but then again, that could put them at risk of injury. There are too many GMs or owners posing as GMs that are too lazy to do their homework and they use the Combine to make up for a year of not doing any real scouting and big surprise, they whiff at the draft with regularity and end up at the top year after year.

  6. Chris Johnson going to go in the second round or later based on his game tape. Then he put up the best forty time of the combine and got drafted in the first round.

    Then he rushed for over 2,000 yards.

    The combine isn’t everything, but it is something.

    Besides the numbers they put up, you get an idea of how motivated a player is. You have to put in a lot of hours to have a good performance at the combine. The same dedication often translates to success on the football field.

    Sure, there are always workout warriors like Vernon Gholston who play like Jane on the field, but I think the combine is a useful tool as PART of the evaluation of a player.

    Plus, it gives us draft nerds a reason to check out new mock drafts.

  7. wryly1 is absolutely correct. While football is not played in shorts, if you have a corner with solid film and he gets to the combine 2″ shorter and running a 4.58, he is not going to be as highly valued.

    The combine is not the end of the process, it is part of the process. You rank them off film, then you make adjustments to that ranking because of other things.

    If it were not important to NFL teams, they would not do it.

    A great example of good film, bad workouts, is Andre Smith of the Bengals. He has very good film. Yet, he was horrible in his post season workouts. Now he can barely stay on the field and is marginal at best when he is there. When he took his shirt off to run, he looked like 10 pounds of jello pudding stuffed into a ziplock bag. But, we are sure that NFL teams think Darnell Docket and PFT have a better grasp on player evaluation than they do.

    kct115, the interviews were worthless to Matt Millen. Did you ever look at his drafts? All he needed was a hat and some slips of paper with players names.

  8. You have to take all aspects of the evaluation process into account with the prospects. The Combine is not the end all be all but neither is game tape. The Combine gives you a better idea of what kind of athlete a prospect is. There is a big jump in talent level from college to the NFL, and the combine is just one way of measuring a player’s potential for success at the next level.

  9. The whole straight line 40-yard sprint in a football game talk is getting old. Really old.

    The usefulness of the 40 goes way beyond how fast a guy runs in a straight line, namely how quick and explosive a guy is and how fast he is compared to others. For defensive backs you can add the ability or lack of it to recover when a guy gets behind.

    As for the combine, sure, there are always exceptions as some guys have game speed (meaning they don’t slow down as much when pads and a helmet are added) which doesn’t always transalate to 40 speed or some guys are occassionally labeled too small, a tweener, or too tall, but for all the Darnell Dockett’s of the world there are way more players that failed and failed because those scouting reports were accurate.

    Now, what I really want to start seeing from the draft gurus is bust predictions. Put your ability on the line and start telling us who is going to flop because history says most of the guys will – 50% in the first, more in the second, even more in the third, and so on.

  10. Of course, you guys do realize that Chris Johnson would have run a 40 for his pro day and that would have had as much of an impact as it would have at the Combine. Look at the guys who went to the Combined and wowed their way into the first round with their workouts and then showed up as duds when the real competition began.

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