A 4.6 says it all
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Here's the bottom line on what the NFL scouting combine has become:
The league's New York office is sending six -- SIX!! -- public relations people to it because what used to be a chance for general managers and coaches and personnel people to study draft-eligible players has now become little but a media event.
I love the draft and how it unfolds. I love to check back on drafts three years later and farther back to see how right and wrong teams were. I love to go back and look at which teams are consistently good and which are consistently bad. (The other way is to check the standings for the last decade or so, but that's too easy.)
But I loathe the combine because it overemphasizes little things at the expense of the most basic way to appraise an aspiring NFL player -- how well he plays. And we've reached the point where agents now run training camps to prepare their players for the combine, not the NFL. The combine. Because the better they do, the higher they're drafted and the higher they're drafted, the more money the agent makes.
Let me simplify it.
The basic problem with the combine is 4.6 seconds.
It's what Jerry Rice ran and it dropped him down to 16th in the first round in 1985, the third receiver taken. It's what Emmitt Smith ran and it dropped him to 19th in 1990. It took about 4.6 seconds for each them to get elected to the Hall of Fame this month (I know because I'm a voter and I was in the room.)
For the smarter teams, there's some value, most notably the psychological evaluations and the interviews. It allows teams to at least guess at the hardest part of scouting: how a player will behave after he is on a pro team. The smartest talent scouts I've known in 26 years of writing about the NFL always say the same thing: "If I could tell what's inside a guy, I'd be a genius.''
We all know of guys who were great at the combine, moved up, and bombed and we all know of guys who bombed at the combine and became stars, like Shonn Greene of the Jets, who ran the dreaded 4.6 (actually 4.64) last year and dropped from late in the first round to the third. The syndrome is named after Mike Mamula, a third-rounder going into the combine, the ninth overall pick going out after Philadelphia moved way up to get him. To be fair to Mike, he didn't bomb. He was hurt a lot and when he played, he played like a third-rounder, which is what he should have been.
There are some good things at the combine, but you won't see them.
They include interviews and, sometimes, physicals, although those can be trouble too -- Thurman Thomas was a second-round pick in 1988 because he flunked a bunch of teams' physicals. He ended up gaining more yards on his own than the six running backs taken ahead of him and never got hurt.
Hey, if you're a draftnik, enjoy it.
I'm kind of a draftnik.
I won't be watching.
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