Two years ago I considered the NFL Combine as one of my favorite weekends of the year. The drama, the anticipation, the story lines, all had me glued to the television screen. Now I'm not sure if I care anymore.
Sure, it's interesting to see how fast, quick and strong the future stars of the NFL may seem, but will a 4.3 40 mean you'll fly past every cornerback? Will a high rep count on the bench mean you'll block any defensive tackle? Absolutely not.
In 2012, Bomani Jones said in an interview that the Combine is simply the "SAT in sweats." I couldn't agree more. It's one of the smallest, most overly hyped sample sizes of future NFL players. Although I may come off as a Combine "hater," there are some good traits to this strange football weekend.
1) Standing out
Not every player is as captivating as Johnny Manziel or Jadeveon Clowney. Most players fall under the radar and are never even covered by the national media or the big (ridiculous) draft boards. Dontari Poe was one of those players.
In 2012, labeled as a potential second round pick, this Memphis defensive lineman pulled off arguably the most stunning Combine performance in the last decade. NFL Network's Jeff Darlington tweeted, "RG3's 4.41 40 is proportionate to a 346-lb. man running it in 6.84 secs. And Poe (at 346 lbs) just did it in 4.87 secs."
His performance grabbed the attention of coaches and general managers across the league and Poe ended up being drafted 11th by the Kansas City Chiefs.
2) Team Interview/Press
Composure is as important off the field as it is on the field. The way players handle themselves in team interviews and in front of the press is quintessential for the pre-draft process. Players want to come off as genuine, hard-working individuals and the Combine is where it happens.
The NFL Combine is one of the most nationally covered sporting events of the year. Thousands of reporters write, speak and tweet about the 3-day showcase, and players use this as an advantage.
For the past few weeks the number one "projected" pick has been a battle between Teddy Bridgewater (dade-made), Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney. Nobody else was really in the discussion until UCF quarterback Blake Bortles began making headlines.
Knowing that Bridgewater and Manziel were going to wait until their respected pro days to throw, Bortles took advantage of the spotlight and shined on the field.
Aside from his performance in Indianapolis, Bortles also made headlines by showing off his outstanding girlfriend. In football, image is key, and this QB is doing everything right. Everything. Right (Hit the link. You won't regret it)
1) We're talking about practice, not the game
When profiling draft candidates, countless articles mention how well or how badly someone performed at the Combine. What's worse is that readers buy into the Combine hoopla created by so-called "analysts," and base their entire opinions on one pad-less practice, instead of actually watching tape and making opinions of their own.
When Vontaze Burfict underperformed at the Combine in 2012, the media absolutely annihilated him:
-"I'm not sure any player here sparked a worse reaction than Vontaze Burfict. I wouldn't touch him"-Bruce Feldman CBS Sports
- "I'm not a fan at all"-Mike Mayock NFL Network
Unlike Mayock, I was a fan. Two years ago I published an article on The Phinsider about Burfict's curious case, mentioning how his conduct was a big issue. Fortunately for him, Marvin Lewis took it upon himself to help the ASU linebacker, and signed him as an undrafted free agent. As you all know, Vontaze led the league in tackles last year and went on to the pro bowl.
2) Grading Performances
"He was really stiff on that turn" "He was flat footed there" "He didn't bend over well" "He's had an average day apart from his 40."
These were some of the cliché phrases that described Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard's DB drills on Monday. My question is: Who cares?
Drew Brees, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Tom Brady and other star NFL players had bad grades at the Combine as well. But does anyone remember them "choking?" Highlight tapes and pro days are the true measurements of where a player deserves to land on draft day.
Dennard has all the intangibles to be a successful starter in the NFL. His height, strength and ball skills are exactly what teams look for in a cornerback.
3) Knee Jerk Reactions
Post-Combine mock drafts are absolutely insane. Why should a man's vertical jump move him up or down on a draft board? I'll stop while I'm ahead. These immediate reactions are my biggest pet peeve when it comes to the Combine.
To end my rant. The job of an NFL analyst is not easy. For Mike Mayock, having to critique 300+ players at a three-day practice seems frustrating. Not just anyone is suitable for that position, which is why I respect him and his opinions.
However, respecting is very different from agreeing. My message to you: Watch tapes, read stats, listen to interviews, make your own mock drafts and develop your own opinions. Your knowledge and appreciation for the game will become far more rewarding.