It never fails as the combine comes to a close. No this is something that can be counted on like the sun rising in the east, setting in the west. It is as reliable as death and taxes. "It" is the proverbial naysayer. More specifically the droves out countless tweeters, bloggers, columnists, sports radio hosts, college football fans and school specific fanatics that scream, almost in unison:
"THE COMBINE DOESN'T EVEN MATTER"
Sometimes it comes after their players don't do so hot on the track. Sometimes it comes after a player from a rival school elevates his stock. Sometimes it comes out of spite and disgust with all the hype surrounding the biggest job interview in America.
No matter where it comes from the fact is it comes. You'll hear it rained down from former players who weren't elite combine invites. Trumpeted by sports radio personalities who like to think they've got some clue as to what it takes to play in the league. Recited like a mantra by fans who are looking for a way to validate their All-American corner who just ran a 4.7-40 yard dash.
Its frustrating, annoying and more than anything ridiculous. The fact that twitter has exploded with people saying "it doesn't matter" is just another reason to add to the recklessly penned columns about how "the combine isn't important." Here's a fact folks:
LIKE IT OR NOT THE COMBINE IS A GREAT TOOL THAT COMPLETES THE HOLY TRINITY OF PLAYER EVALUATION
That holy trinity of course being film evaluation, personality assessment and finally combine production.
Read more for why the combine does matter and ITB's official stance on the NFL Draft Combine's importance...
While some folks, read that as Raiders, put too much emphasis on the combine the fact is this event isn't designed to slingshot people up the draftboard. It is a place for GMs, coaches and scouts to adjust their personal prospect ratings after viewing raw athleticism. In other words it is where running back 12 and running back 13 differentiate themselves.
And yes people, 40 times are part of that differentiation.
The 40, based upon position is one of the first lines of demarcation. Offensive and defensive linemen with a slow takeoff and 10 yard burst are behind the eight ball because that is what playing with your hand in the dirt is all about; firing off the ball. The top end 40 isn't nearly as important to scouts or, more importantly, offensive line coaches. They want to see leg drive, explosion off the ball and movement.
Other positions put a varying degree of importance on the 40 but folks, it is always taken into account. Yes, gametape is paramount in evaluating players but give some creedence to the 40 yard dash. If a player isn't fast enough, he's just not fast enough. Top end speed for wide receivers, running backs and defensive backs matter.
For the offensive players that speed is the difference between hitting for a seam for a 20 yard run and taking that extra step and turning a 20 yard burst into a 65 yard touchdown. On the flipside defensive backs top end speed is the difference between stopping backs and receivers for a 20 yard gain or letting the guy blow by you for that 65 yard score.
Quarterbacks, linebackers, tight ends and the like all get their explosion tested here at the combine. If you're not familiar with the idea of explosion I'll explain:
Explosion is what a quarterback uses as they drop back from undercenter, gaining ground to set up. Explosion is how quarterbacks throw a football. Explosion is how tight ends come off the line to block. Explosion is a tight ends release up the field into the seam. Explosion is a linebacker taking on guard or fullback. Explosion is what a linebacker needs when they run through a running backs chest.
The 40, vertical leap and broad jump are pure explosion exercises. When teams get into the position specifics, 3-cone drill and shuttles you start to see their athleticism as a whole. Not just the ability to explode but the ability to start and stop, what football is all about, exploding-redirecting-exploding-redirecting.
Stopping and starting is football and the way a player performs in the shuttles or 3-cone is a good indicator of their ability to accelerate into and out of breaks.
Position specific drills show a players flexibility, are they natural knee and hip bender or do they bend at the waist. Folks without flexibility can't play football very long, they lose leverage and stand up too high. Good technique, good stance all translates into being in a good position to make a football play.
Knowing these things my advice is to stop saying the combine is meaningless. What you're really saying is "I don't understand what I'm looking for" and you're doing yourself a disservice. The proper way to view the combine is as the ultimate measuring stick or the great divider.
Players are ranked before they ever step foot in Indianapolis and, barring a major injury or an absolute abyssmal interview or showing, what happens in Indy shouldn't be the end all, be all for a prospect. Rather Indy is for sliding guys up or down a few spots based upon performance.
In other words, the ITB policy on the combine:
When film and production are relatively equal use the combine numbers to separate players.
The only time that the combine should "create" a prospect is when a small school player puts up big numbers a la Chris Johnson. Even in that case the NFL went back to review his gamefilm closely to establish legitimacy.