Four Things to Consider from the NFL Combine:
For all the articles, blogs, and analysis of what the several hundred athletes accomplished (or failed to do) in Indianapolis – enthusiasm and disappointment must be tempered. There were multiple things that occurred over the few days but the level of importance varied greatly among the activities. Fans can get excited about a really tall guy, a speedster on the field, or an athletic freak – but teams (more importantly, the Cleveland Browns) utilize the Scouting Combine for a few specific reasons and do not fluctuate their draft board, afterwards, as greatly as outsiders perceive.
Breaking ties: This refers to the impending NFL Draft; in May, there will be many difficult decisions for Ray Farmer and his scouting staff. Not only will they have to choose between two guys (or sometimes more), there could be points when the franchise opts out of taking an athlete and trades away the pick – be it for an earlier or later selection. The combine could be a determining factor for Farmer, and based on a few elements the tough choices may become slightly easier when bringing in personnel.
Getting a feel of one’s personality: To paraphrase the Browns’ general manager – physical attributes will get an athlete drafted in the NFL, but the character and attitude of the guy will determine how long he stays in the league. I understand a fifteen minute conversation cannot encompass a player’s entire disposition but perhaps there are certain points that stand out in that time frame – whether that is positive or negative. There have been several stories written (mainly about the recently fired Jeff Ireland) surrounding inappropriate or confusing inquiries to athletes; even the Browns asked about the uses of a brick at the Senior Bowl. Regardless of the questions, I anticipate that the general manager got a better understanding of several athletes in Indianapolis.
Sizing up athletes: Another factor in the NFL is, undoubtedly, how big and tall the guys are. Clearly, there are exceptions to the rule (i.e. Drew Brees and Russell Wilson) that you need to be a certain height or weight to excel in the league. Farmer admitted that the bigger player (relative to position) would get the nod when electing between similar projects; regardless of the spot they play. In college programs, players are usually given the benefit of the doubt when listing their height and weight – for many; the combine is the first time an accurate assessment is recorded. I envision binders full of notes (about players) with sections dedicated to physical attributes, however there’s obviously more to the story.
Speed/agility and strength drills taken with a grain of salt: For the average general manager, it’s not extremely important if player X runs the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds instead of 4.40 as was expected. Likewise, bench-pressing 225 pounds twenty-five times is impressive but means little when that guy cannot shed blockers on a football field. Thus, the drills in the combine must be analyzed but not over-valued. Athletes have had weeks to train for these events and there are many other aspects that constitute a great football player. Two of these are heart and desire, intangible qualities that will not show up in scouting combine articles. Making things even more difficult for NFL general managers, these elements could be game changers when it comes to utilizing draft selections.
Conclusion: While all encompassing, the NFL Scouting Combine is just a snapshot of many draft prospects and their potential futures in the NFL. Ray Farmer must be smart but also diligent in his assessments of athletes – securing what he needs is the most important thing for this franchise.