Value of Combine is questionable

BY Alex Marvez • March 2, 2010

Billy Devaney gets it.

The St. Louis Rams general manager isn’t parroting the annual hysteria spewed by head coaches and personnel executives when players don’t work out at the NFL Scouting Combine. Injuries – or at least claims of ongoing recuperation – sidelined three of the top quarterbacks (Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen and Texas’ Colt McCoy) in this year’s draft class. Florida’s Tim Tebow also eschewed throwing drills because he prefers to wait for his on-campus pro day on March 17.

Even though his team desperately needs quarterback help, Devaney knows these absences aren’t a big deal in the big picture.

“It’s not worth getting frustrated over,” Devaney said during a Saturday news conference. “Some of these guys, it's legit. Physically, they can’t work out so you’ve just got to roll with it.

“You’d love to see them work out. But for a quarterback here, it’s not the greatest environment for them to show what they’ve got. There’s no sense freaking out about it. It is what it is. We’ll get to see them throw eventually.”

Exactly.

Anyone who says a top prospect’s draft stock is hurt by not participating at the Combine is lying or fooling themselves. If Tebow shines when unveiling his new throwing motion at Florida’s pro day, will any NFL executive say, ‘Yeah, but I have to question Tebow’s competitiveness because of the Combine.”

You know the answer.

I understand why teams push for players to partake in what is jokingly referenced in league circles as the NFL’s “Underwear Olympics” -- a term picked up in recent weeks by ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio. The more information you can gather, the more thorough the scouting process becomes. Some head coaches also don’t want to schlep to a March pro day to scrutinize a college kid, especially those from smaller schools or mid- to late-round prospects.

Undoubtedly, players can bolster their draft stock with a blazing 40-yard dash or high vertical leap. Just as impressive as Chris Johnson’s 4.24-second 40 in 2008 was the fact he did it on a second attempt that wasn’t planned. Johnson was motivated to race again after hearing of fellow running back prospect Darren McFadden’s 4.27-second 40-time by a friend. Johnson’s speed and attitude further intrigued the Tennessee Titans, who took him in the first round when he was projected to get drafted later. It was a smart move. Johnson emerged as the NFL’s leading rusher last season with 2,006 yards.

But more often than not, teams get fooled by those who look like Tarzan in shorts but play like Jane. The New York Jets got suckered two years ago by outside linebacker Vernon Gholston, a Combine phenom who was selected at No. 6. Gholston has yet to register a sack and now faces a “make-or-break” season, according to Jets coach Rex Ryan.

Maryland tackle Bruce Campbell created the most Combine buzz last weekend with his workout. At 6-foot-6 and a chiseled 314 pounds, Campbell breezed through the 40-yard dash at 4.85 seconds and registered 34 bench presses of 225 pounds. He looks every bit the part of a future Hall of Fame lineman – until you watch the game film. An early-entry junior, Campbell started only 17 college games and didn’t receive a single all-Atlantic Coast Conference vote in 2009. Campbell’s athleticism may never translate to the football field.

Even so, players like Campbell are good for the NFL Network’s coverage of Combine workouts. They add to the offseason buzz that surrounds the draft, especially among diehard fans anxiously awaiting which names will land where in late April.

But television doesn’t capture the two most important reasons for the Combine: Medical testing and private player interviews with teams. Smart franchises get far more out of those two aspects than anything that transpires on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf.



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