COMMENTARY: Why Bother with the NFL Combine?
Charles E. Sutton | 2/26/2014, 6 p.m.
The NFL has become full-time, big business. But as much as I can appreciate the league and all that it represents, I have no appreciation at all for the scouting combine. In my estimation, it is a worthless exercise in which pro football prospects are put through a series of exercises that don't simulate what actually happens on the football field.
Keep in mind that in the 1970s, the Super Bowl marked the end of the NFL season. The end meant the end. Players would take off-season jobs, sometimes two, to supplement their incomes or just to make ends meet. And sure enough, many of them would arrive at training camp out of shape.
But each team played six preseason games, compared to today's four, and one of the main objectives of training camp was to get players into shape, as opposed to later years when the focus of camp shifted to establishing team identity and strengthening team weaknesses.
Fast forward to today. The NFL has become a year-round business. Between the Super Bowl and training camp, there is a litany of events, the biggest being the combine. Of all the events on the league calendar, only the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft are larger. The combine has become a really good segue from the Super Bowl to the draft.
It's also really, really ridiculous.
College players now train for success in the combine instead of training to be good football players. At this year's version at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, 330 prospects showed up, with about 80 percent of them fully trained for the combine — training that'll be of no use to them whatsoever once they hit the league.
Why, you ask?
First and foremost, football is played in full pads. (No pads at the combine.) The athletes are timed in the 40-yard dash, though rarely they will run 40 yards or more on an actual football play. Quarterbacks throw passes to wide receivers with no pass rush and no one defending the intended receivers. Players had their vertical jump measured. During a game, when will they have to jump while not wearing full pads?
In my opinion, there's two primary reasons why the NFL has a scouting combine. First, it gives the league an opportunity to remain an active part of the sports news cycle. Secondly, if a drafted player doesn't perform up to the level of expectation, the team can always justify their decision by indicating that the player performed well at the combine. It's all a part of the NFL's effort to stay current and relevant.
Interestingly, the combine is an unintended result of an event originally designed to address legitimate NFL needs in an efficient way. In the 1980s, scouts and coaches wanted to streamline the process and cost of medical exams for hundreds of pro prospects. Each NFL team was responsible for transporting prospects they were interested in, setting up exams and booking hotel rooms in their respective cities. The teams figured that since the players were in town for medical exams, why not put them through some football drills and a workout? Today, the league has assumed that responsibility, but not without bastardizing the process.
If it were up to me, at a minimum, I'd overhaul the combine. I'd keep the medical exams for obvious reasons. But let's put the prospects in full pads for the exercises. And let's junk the personal interviews and let a player's biographical sketch stand on its own merit. We don't need to play 20 questions.
In short, the combine in its current state is a waste of time, and I'm glad it's over. Let move on to the draft — something that really matters.