Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

22 Feb 2010

Combine An Idiotic Way To Find NFL Players

Says Mike Florio in a piece for The Sporting News.

Do we hit all the "Combine is for dummies" bulletpoints?

- Mention of guys in underwear? CHECK
- Jerry Rice having bad measurables? CHECK (although the actual measurables would have been nice)
- Mike Mamula? CHECK (check-minus for comparing Vernon Gholston to him, though; Mamula had 13.5 sacks through his first two years; Gholston doesn't even have 13 tackles)
- Mentions of heart and desire not being measured at Combine? CHECK

He gets bonus points for tying the article into the Winter Olympics somehow, but loses points for not mentioning "bubble" anywhere throughout the article. Overall, about a B as far as "Articles about the Combine from people who are representing that they have no idea what the Combine is for" go.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 22 Feb 2010

35 comments, Last at 23 Feb 2010, 10:49pm by Illmatic74


by ChicagoRaider :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 1:38pm

What should people look for?

Maybe how accurate their first-step reactions are? And how quickly that reaction is made?

There have to be maybe 100 more things.

by JasonG (not verified) :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 2:01pm

I appreciate the marginal info a combine can give. It's the over-the-top over-reaction that comes from some of these things that makes me want to strangle people (talking heads like Kiper and McShay as well as actual NFL decision-makers).

A guy plays four years, has a substantial body of work (good or bad), then after a few drills his "stock" could plummet or skyrocket, respectively. The minute sample size over-reaction is beyond ridiculous. A scrub could have a 2 TD game, but no one would project him to average 2 TDs a game in the NFL based on that one miraculous performance. But if that scrub somehow has the best 4.35 seconds of his life, all of a sudden he's jumped four rounds. It's moronic. It doesn't matter how fast he is without pads in a straight line. Whatever his track stats, he's proven over a large sample against college competition that he can't perform at a decent level. Why would you completely change your opinion of his ability to perform at the NFL level because of this info? It's marginal info, not the bulk of his qualifications.

This is why I hate 40 times and shuttle runs and all the other drills. The proof is in the game play, not structured practice, yet people lend these drills way too much weight and it leads to some remarkably moronic decisions.

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 2:22pm

Now if a WR ran a 4.00 40, who had a total of 35 catches in college for 1500 yards and 12 TDs, that might make an interesting situational player. I think that is the combine's strength, identifiyng players who may have been underutilized in college who may have one certain skill that they excel at but who aren't all around players. Therefore a first or second round pick's "stock" shouldn't be affected by the combine much if at all.

"Just look at that pumpkin."
-John Madden, looking at the moon.

by The Blow Leprechaun (not verified) :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 4:52pm

This completely overlooks the variety of competitiveness in NCAA football. A guy who's a scrub at Florida might look like a superstar at Appalachian State. The combine gives you at least some attempt at a basis for comparison.

by John Doe (not verified) :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 6:49pm

I think the combine has more value in determining who should fall in the rankings than who should rise. If NCAAs best (statistically) wide receiver is 5'6" and runs a 5 second 40 yard dash, it's pretty safe to say he's not worth a top ten pick. That may be an extreme example but if the guy runs a 4.6 and he was mostly used as a deep threat in college you can reliably say he's not going to be your deep threat and change your evaluation accordingly.

by Paul R :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 2:19pm

Ohhhh...Combine. I get it.

I thought this was a new contest. "Combine an idiotic way to find NFL players. Like: 1. Get drunk and 2. Throw darts at a map. ("We need a cornerback. Let's get one from *thwack*...Nova Scotia!")

by Sander :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 2:50pm

Me too, this newsbit disappoints me.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 3:13pm

So you've been in the Raiders draft room, then.

by Temo :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 3:58pm

That's uncalled for. Everyone knows the Raiders have a system. Use excel, sort the "40 time" column as ascending, get draft priority list.

by Joe T. :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 5:00pm

Pfft, I suspect the scouts telegraph the 40 times to Al Davis, who takes them down by hand and makes a ditto sheet for John Herrera, who then spends the better part of an afternoon sorting them out and ciphering on the slide rule.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 5:14pm

While very, very drunk, one would assume.

by SteveNC (not verified) :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 12:14am

More steps to combine:

1. Get drunk.
2. Throw darts at a map.
3. Go to the nearest large library.
4. Get the phone book of the nearest town to where the dart hit.
5. Turn to the page matching the last 3 digits of the current time.
6. Close your eyes and point.
7. Call the number you're pointing at--the first person to answer is your new NFL player.

Under no circumstances should the internet be used instead of steps 3 and 4, because then the method would not be idiotic enough.

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 2:19pm

Failed West Virginia lawyer not very good at analysing football.

Reader demands FO to shoot fish in less obvious barrel.

by Temo :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 3:57pm

Could have had a B+ if he'd mentioned Emmitt Smith or Brian Westbrook.

by tuluse :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 5:57pm

Didn't Smith end up with a good speed score?

Westbrook was hurt for the combine, he probably should have declined running the 40 yard dash.

by Temo :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 7:27pm

I don't believe he did.

by DaninPhilly (not verified) :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 4:28pm

Soon to come: articles mocking articles which mock articles about the NFL combine's usefulness.

You know what you don't have? Similar articles about the usefulness of whatever the NHL uses to rate their own draft. Why? No one cares. Any sportswriter can write any drivel about the NFL draft right about now and get many more hits than almost any other subject, including college and professional basketball, the olympics, and spring training baseball. The NFL rules, and this is the consequenses of being the king: oversaturation.

As a previous commentor said, find less obvious fish to shoot.

by Bill Barnwell :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 7:12pm

Please send links to interesting articles you find that would make for good XPs to bill@footballoutsiders.com. Thanks!

by DaninPhilly (not verified) :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 11:25am

Well, I would direct your attention to a pretty good website here: http://www.mockingthedraft.com/ discussing the draft. I like them, anyway.

by David L (not verified) :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 5:19pm

I agree that the combine by itself is a bad way to pick future NFL talent, but this is not what any NFL team uses it for. It is supplemental to the body of work the players have already developed in their college years. The biggest difference from college and nfl players is their physicality. You go from playing teenagers to grown men. While someone may dominate college competition, they might lack the speed, strength, agility, etc to do so at the next level. That is what the combine is there for, to answer questions and fill in any blanks scouts/coaches/organizations have about players. Nothing speaks more about a player than film, but the combine is a great way for players to show how much they improve physically over a few months time, which gives insight into work ethic and future potential development. Guys at the combine are 20-22 years old, and don't normally reach a physical peak until 25-30.

by GoVikes (not verified) :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 5:39pm

The thing about the combine, like any part of the NFL draft process, is that you can use a few outliers to justify your conclusion. Guys like Jerry Rice and Zach Thomas had bad measurables but were great pros, so the combine is a sham. On the other hand, career backups like Matt Cassel did well enough to get a roster spot and parlay that into a successful career, so the combine must work. I agree that rating a player a few rounds higher on the draft based solely on the combine is questionable, but it's needed to provide basis for who will be the best NFL player.

Ultimately though, the draft is a crapshoot. The classic "chicken or the egg" argument is whether or not succcesful organizations are good drafters, or simply have better systems in place for grooming young players and maximizing their strengths while keeping their weaknesses from being exposed too early. I don't think guys like Garcon or Collie would have grown nearly as much in Cleveland or Oakland, but a guy like Darren McFadden may have had a much easier time transitioning if he played for New England or Pittsburgh.

by DeltaWhiskey :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 5:01am

Nice analysis.

I find it hard to believe the NFL as a business would continue to spend money on the combine if they didn't believe it has some value.

by dmb :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 11:11am

First, the NFL's belief in something does not make it so. The league could think it has value, and be wrong.

Second, since we're talking about the NFL "as a business," the Combine's "value" might simply be as a way to generate news stories about the league (that don't involve legal infractions) during these supremely dull months.

That said, I don't think teams would spend quite as much time and effort there if they didn't think it was worth something, and although my first point remains (thinking doesn't make it so), I do think front-office personnel with years of experience in these matters are probably a better judge of such things than I am.

by Flounder :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 6:18pm

I sometimes wonder if bigs "moves" up or down draft-board's of the Kiper's of the world has more to do with them finding out more information at the combine about how teams have players ranked, and adjusting their own rankings accordingly, than reactions to the combine numbers themselves.

by Not Fearless Frog (not verified) :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 9:49pm

The Combine gets criticism because it somehow enables a mediocre OLB like Aaron Curry to get drafted in the top 5 because he can run 40 yards in a straight line really fast and looks good in spandex, or something like that.

by Illmatic74 :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 5:07am

You must have missed the whole Aaron Curry being a Freshman All American, two time All-ACC, being a First Team All American and everyone calling him the safest pick in the Draft(even before the combine).

by Theo :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 7:28am

Combine; a great analysis tool for fans who don't watch college football!

by DeltaWhiskey :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 7:51am

Ahhhh....so that's why the NFL continues to hold it year to year

by johnmartinolive... :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 10:45pm

I think I read a Maycock article in which he said the combine was a way for a guy to show you something so you could go back and compare it to the tape. The physical part alone makes it a very useful tool also.

by Rick B. (not verified) :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 11:47pm

The Combine is useful to draw your attention to certain prospects who stand out for one reason or another, and then force you to go back and watch their game film more closely.

I saw some interview somewhere in which they talked about Jeff Fisher watching Chris Johnson set the Combine record in the 40 yard dash, which prompted him to research CJ as a prospect more closely, after having mostly ignored him prior to the Combine.

In that situation, doing something outstanding such as running a sub 4.3 40 will do wonders, and rightfully so, for the draft status of a running back from a more obscure school who wasn't rated so highly before the Combine.

by Illmatic74 :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 5:10am

The combine is useful because it is nice to have all the top prospects in the draft in the same venue. The NBA has a combine, the NHL has a combine and even the MLS has a combine. But, no one complains about those combines because none of those sports are as big as Pro or College Football.

by bubqr :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 5:51am

Every article talking about how overrated the Combine is list examples of Jerry Rice/Brian Westbrook, or busts like Williamson/TEN's Chris Henry/Tye Hill, but no one ever mentions in their articles the Johnny Knox, Dustin Keller, Steve Smith v2.0, Tyrell Johnson, that saw their stock rising after the combine, and ended up being good players/solid prospects.
Or players like Ali Highsmith, that flamed out after looking like solid prospects (only one that comes to mind, I though he could be a good WLB pick in the 3rd round for the Eagles before his workouts).

Plus Mamula is always listed as one of the biggest bust of all time, while he was a solid pass rusher that the Eagles thought would be an every down DE. Should have been picked 2 rounds later, but I'm pretty sure that I can find 20/30 bigger busts drafted since.

by Illmatic74 :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 10:49pm

I never understood the Mike Mumala being the poster boy of the "workout warrior". He was someone who was extremely productive in college(he had 11 sacks as a junior and 17 sacks as a senior) and who was a solid defensive end until injuries derailed his career in 2000

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 10:40am

I disagree with the scoring. Connecting anything to the Olympics must lose points.

by Francisco (not verified) :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 11:04am

No points for calling random players "turds" for violating his Byzantine honor code?