Let me preface this article by saying I wrote it just before the combine in 2010. I was going to re-write it, but I realized as I read this one, nothing has really changed. So rather than re-invent the wheel we'll just re-print it instead.
I feel it necessary to go ahead and get this out of the way. I know I've made some tweets that have gotten some of you up in arms, so I should probably explain myself.
No I don't hate the Combine and no I don't think they should do away with the Combine. I think that it has a place in the offseason just like All-Star games and Campus/One-on-one workouts. But what I do believe is that the way the Combine operates and what is emphasized is both comical and mis-information. Anyone who would hate on me for my sarcasm about the Combine takes themselves way too serious. But more on that later. Hear me out.
What the Combine does great: it gives NFL coaches, scouts, front office-types, and the media a chance to mingle, network, share information and throw back a few beers. This is important. These guy probably get to communicate very little once the season gets going, and they all know one another, so this is a great time for them.
In terms of the prospects, there are some really great things they can do for themselves. I have always felt like there are 4 things a player can do to really impress a franchise and they don't get nearly enough attention.
First - The medical checks. We've all seen it - great college player, lots of hype, climbing draft boards, and then the combine comes and goes and no changes. The draft hits, and they either fall to the end of the draft or don't get drafted at all. What you find out much later is that medical exams at the Combine showed a problem that wasn't made public. I suspect with HIPAA, this could happen more and more.
Second - The interviews/testing - I lump the two together because as someone who's working in psychological research in grad school, I understand that the Wonderlic gets way too much attention. The fact that some teams go above and beyond with much more effective tools simply means it's important to them, so it's important to the prospects to do well, but the interview is the more weighty task for the players and their prospective teams. This might be the first and only time the franchise will be able to really pick the brains of these young men. If they are done right, you can certainly glean the mindset of these guys, especially in a day and age when a player's image and how he represents his team is vital. It also reveals just how badly a player wants to be in the NFL. This is the most important job interview these guys will ever do, so if they don't show up for that, then why would you think they will show up on Sundays?
Third - Be prepared and showing work ethic. Most of these young men have had at least a month, and in many cases closer to 2 months with nothing to do but train and prepare for this week. Many of them go to specialized training centers and basically eat, sleep, and crap Combine. They have coaches to teach them how to maximize their vertical, their 40-time, even their bench press. They learn the best way to run the 3 cone and the short shuttle and no stone is left unturned. This alone makes some of the translation of Combine skills fuzzy since they spend so much time and effort sort of cramming for these tests. But I think there is one huge positive to be gained. You want to know a player is willing to put in the time and effort to get better and to show up on a that big stage. And for these guys, this is a really big stage. So, while I don't pay much attention to the specific numbers, I do pay attention to the guys who come in great shape and show tremendous effort.
Finally, it's about pub. Yeah, we all know who Jimmy Clausen and Ndamukong Suh are, and so do all 32 NFL teams as well. They aren't learning anything about these guys from the Combine, aside from in Clausen's case that he's taller than his critics thought. But if you are a player like Clay Harbor, this is your shot to really get yourself out there, even moreso than an All-Star game, especially a second tier All-Star game. Those games get aired on ESPN The Ocho, and teams send their backup administrative assistant to the assistant scout. At the Combine you have the attention of every NFL head coach, coordinator and player personnel stuffed shirt. Going along with that, I back up to the interviews. If you are a player who the media has portrayed as a bad guy, bad teammate, will steal your jello, whatever, you can right those wrongs in the interview and give yourself some positive pub. And trust me, it won't take long for a good or bad interview to leak it's way to the interwebs, and that is telling.
P.S. They should let John Lott host the entire event. He should run every drill, sit up on set with the NFL Network guys, and he should be allowed to smack down whoever he likes during the entire process and that means Mike Mayock as well.
Now onto what I can do without.
1. NFL Network Coverage - Not because it's bad, because it isn't. But the repetition is brutal. It's not enough I have to wade through the armada of Tweeters with pointless information (more on that in a minute), but the NFL Network has all these hours to explore the stuff that matters at the Combine, and instead chose to beat us over the head with the 40p-times of offensive linemen. And for all his knowledge, Mike Mayock is hard to watch. He has to look down at his notes constantly when he's talking. Mel Kiper doesn't do that, Mike. Watch your back.
2. Quarterbacks - Everyone wants to talk about which quarterback is throwing and which one isn't, but let's be honest here. Do we really learn anything by having Tony Pike walk up, make 3 throws and then walk to the back of the line? I'd make all the quarterback prospects play football jeopardy and see what they know. They could get Will Ferrell to host as Alex Trabek.
3. The obsession with triangle numbers - I've had to temporarily unfollow some of the guys I follow on Twitter, because of the overload. Seriously, have there been any real surprises? Does the size of Dez Bryant's hands warrant a half dozen tweets? It's just too much minutia. Hey everybody, guess what?Trindon Holliday is fast, and Terrence Cody isn't. You heard it here first. No one needs to tweet every individual 40-time. In fact, it's a little desperate. But knock yourself out. It's not like someone can't get those times anywhere else, right?
4. Fat guys in tight clothes - I'm not sure there's even an instance where big dudes in really tight clothes make for interesting television, but for me, that is especially true with the Combine. Nothing I see of Ed Wang running a 40-yard dash is going to influence my opinion of him. I will admit I have sat through hours and hours of it in the past but something about it this year just made me feel icky and I had to turn it off. Plus as a former big guy I feel bad that they make these big guys wear sausage casings (that's for you Mr. Tony), for gear. The center from Stanford was in the back of a group, waiting for a drill, and was just pulling and tugging at his shirt trying to get comfortable, but trust me, it was never going to happen.
5. People who take the Combine (and themselves) way too seriously - You know who you are. I don't think most NFL franchises take the combine as serious as some draftniks. Now, don't get me wrong, most of these guys took themselves way too seriously before the Combine, but it really shows itself this time of year. And to the draftnik on Twitter, who has his senior picture in his avatar (you know who you are)...Really? Was that a good decision? I fully expect to see tons of tweets about new positional rankings and new mock drafts that are all switched up because of all that happens in Indianapolis. What in the world for?
So, onto my review of the Combine. Some guys we knew would be fast ran fast. Some guys we knew would be slow ran slow. Some guys will run really fast and will surprise people and they will become obsessed with talking about it. There will be almost no coverage of the parts of the Combine that really matter and lots of coverage of the parts that don't. Mike Mayock will have to look down at his notes almost constantly during the Network coverage of the event, further promoting my theory that he doesn't watch college football at all. Pretty sure he works at Home Depot in the off-season. My Twitter account will become toxic with all the repeated tweets from cookie cutter Tweeters. And I will continue to have fun with it all. There will be entirely too much attention given to the guys who do the least at the Combine and at least one really good football player who most people have never heard of will impress a scout or GM enough to get himself drafted and fulfill his lifelong dream. And that alone makes all the rest of this nonsense worth dealing with.
P.P.S. If anyone is offended by this, or by my tweets where I take a sarcastic approach to all of this, I suggest you get over yourself. Trying to make this event into some sort of hardcore serious news event is funny. So, I'm going to have fun with it.