The League

Gene Wang
Fantasy Guru

Gene Wang

A sports staff writer at The Washington Post

Can't Measure Desire


The NFL Combine is a great vehicle to spur interest, debate and gossip in pro football's offseason. It's efficacy in determining which players are going to be exceptional is far less convincing.

But before we delve into that topic, I've been hankering to ask one burning question about the Combine. Why aren't players timed in full uniform, or at the very least in pads? I'd love to get a general manager's take on this one.

Seems a 40-yard dash time would reveal much more if players were simulating game conditions as closely as possible. Terrell Davis and Curtis Martin, for example, were two of the most productive running backs of their generation, but they didn't have outstanding measurables in a t-shirt, shorts and track shoes. Put them in a helmet, pads and cleats, however, and they run away from most defenders.

Davis and Martin are two glaring examples -- and not the only ones by a long shot -- as to why the combine is at least somewhat flawed. Each one of the those players should have been a top 10 selection, but instead Davis went in the sixth round and Martin in the third.

Most football fans are familiar with Tom Brady's combine showing as well. He didn't exactly have the body of an Adonis, nor did he dazzle with his arm strength. Measurables indicated Brady was essentially a late-round throwaway, and the Patriots chose him with the 199th pick. More amazing is the story of Kurt Warner. Was this guy even invited to the combine after a sizzling senior year at Northern Iowa?

The unexpected success of Davis, Martin, Brady and Warner tells us the Combine can be more about style than substance. A blazing 40 time, for instance, may catch the eye of scouts and be the talk of Internet message boards, but it hardly portends NFL distinction.

That's not to say the combine is useless. Take the legendary combine exploits of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has not disappointed since Detroit made him the second overall pick in 2007.

But for every Calvin Johnson, there's a Ryan Leaf or Maurice Clarett. The NFL combine fails to assess adequately perhaps the most important factor in the development of an elite professional football player: desire.

In college, the best athletes can get away with poor work habits and still be great because they are bigger, faster and stronger. That formula doesn't work in the NFL, where every player has the physical tools. Just ask Leaf or Clarett about that.

By Gene Wang  |  February 19, 2009; 6:23 PM ET  | Category:  Draft , Gene Wang Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Is the NFL Scouting Combine Overrated? | Next: Combine for Success

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