The NFL combine is often criticized as a frivolous myriad of drills and exercises that does not fairly access a prospects success in professional football. Is this a fair way of looking at one of the longest standing draft centric events the NFL has? How much emphasis should the New York Giants put on the combine in their draft prospect evaluations?
It is quite easy to point out when the combine fails. When Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bay ran the 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds and was subsequently drafted 7th overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2007, the combine had failed. A 40 yard dash enamored Al Davis so much that the Raiders disregarded the common consensus about Heyward-Bay. This resulted in the Raiders never getting much of him.
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There are many examples to throw at you that could make the argument that the combine is a pointless practice. It is all too easy to dismiss the combine knowing this.
We must remember that the combine is still a huge event leading up to the NFL draft. There is a reason that NFL executives and scouts flock to Indianapolis in February, and it is certainly not the weather.
Feb 25, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Defensive backs gather on the field for instruction during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The NFL Combine is first and foremost a place to access the legitimacy to red flags on a draft prospect. The physical provides important medical information. A great example of this was when Utah’s Star Lotueleli discovered he had a heart condition before the 2013 NFL Combine and was not able to perform.
It ended up not threatening Loteleli’s career and he was drafted 14th overall by the Carolina Panthers. It was important information for teams drafting him to know.
It is also a great chance for coaches and general managers to interview the prospects. The NFL Draft process is one big employment interview. If a player has character concerns affecting their draft process, the teams are going to grill them on it. They want to find out what kind of person the player is and how he will respond to tough questions. They can also ask him football questions and determine if the player has a high football IQ.
Most scouts would probably say the cliche line “90 percent of a draft prospects grade is based on game tape.” While this is certainly true, 10 percent of a prospects grade is not determined by what he accomplished on the football field. That 10 percent could be the difference between drafted in Round 1 or Round 4, or for that matter if the player is even drafted at all. It sounds trivial, but it is not.
The prospects have to show in the drills that their physical abilities matched what they did on the field. They have to show that they can do what their critics say they struggle with. It is one thing to see it on a screen, it is another thing to see it in person. If combine performance does not correlate with the game tape, the coaches and scouts have no choice but to reevaluate the prospect.
Is the combine the biggest factor in a draft prospect’s chances? Absolutely not. Is it important? Absolutely. The combine should be an important element in any teams draft research.