NFL Draft 2012: Should Top Quarterbacks Throw at the NFL Combine?
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That’s it. That’s the answer, a simple "no." I thought I would get straight to the point for readers not inclined to having me beat around the bush. But as El Duderino himself might say, those of you who aren’t into the whole brevity thing can feel free to read on as I explain a way out of the hole I’ve just dug for myself.
Every year, we watch this same drama, like a re-enactment Civil War battles. We question the wisdom and bravery of top quarterbacks who choose not to throw at the combine. We laud the courage and competitive spirit of those who choose to throw.
Promises are proclaimed (mostly by those in no position to deliver) that throwing at the combine can only help a quarterback prospect. Ominous threats lay thinly veiled that a quarterback who chooses not to throw will be considered to be hiding something and may be questioned by the scouts.
Adherents of the school of self-interest naturally wonder if scouts never ding a prospect’s draft stock for throwing at the combine, why do they lobby annually for more and more quarterbacks to throw?
And if throwing the ball at the combine can only help a prospect, why have high-powered NFL agents, who have finely tuned their businesses into multi-million dollar machines, consistently withheld their clients’ participation every year?
Truth is, it’s not a scout’s job to look out for the best interests of a draft prospect. A scout’s only loyalty is to accurate evaluation. Accurate evaluation leads to good draft results, which benefits the team that employs the scout, and the scout’s prospects of promotion and financial gain.
Should top QBs throw at the Combine?
It follows naturally that the scouts would continue to lobby every year for more and more quarterbacks to participate in the drills because it makes their jobs easier.
Media scouts, writers and television personalities have their own self-interests to serve as well. It behooves the media to implore quarterback prospects to participate in throwing drills so that they can televise, analyze and proselytize.
When those quarterbacks choose not to throw, it serves the media even more to stir up drama as it relates to the decision, as drama creates public interest. Public interest leads to ratings and hits, which lead to advertising dollars.
The only actors in this drama that are truly geared towards the players’ best interests are the agents, and curiously every year the agents are responsible for holding their clients out of drills.
Shouldn’t that tell us something?
It isn’t altruism that motivates an agent to look out for his client, but the simple fact that, contractually and financially speaking, the client’s gain is the agent’s gain.
Historical studies are mixed at best and dangerously misleading at worst. In 2005, neither Aaron Rodgers nor Alex Smith threw at the combine. Yet Alex Smith rocketed up to the No. 1 overall pick while Aaron Rodgers plummeted down to the No. 24 overall pick.
JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn played the same scenario two years later, with neither participating in throwing drills, one rocketing up to No. 1 overall and the other falling to No. 22 overall.
Vince Young and Matt Leinart withheld their arms, yet Vince Young held a death grip on his top billing despite heavy criticism, while Leinart sank to No. 10 overall.
Matt Ryan’s decision not to participate could hardly be said to have hurt him as he was snapped up by the Atlanta Falcons at No. 3 overall.
Did anyone question Tim Tebow’s toughness as he sat at the NFL Network desk while he was supposed to be on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium throwing combine drills?
The only year in recent memory in which participation/non-participation in combine throwing drills suspiciously coincided with the leap-frogging of one quarterback prospect over the other was 2011. Cam Newton bravely chose to compete in throwing drills, while Blaine Gabbert chose to wait for his Pro Day.
You may be thinking, finally we have some redemption for the brave souls who choose to participate in the throwing drills, coupled with comeuppance for the yellow non-throwers. Problem is, Cam Newton took criticism in the public sphere for months after the combine for the manner in which he threw the ball.
Meanwhile, we have never had much evidence that Blaine Gabbert was ever considered by the scouts to be an elite quarterback prospect.
Even before that combine, Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net reported that at least six teams loved Newton and had him rated the No. 1 prospect in that draft.
Just going off the numbers from the 2005 to the 2011 NFL Drafts, I have four out of 10 non-participants who took what I (arbitrarily) deem to be a dive on Draft day, whereas only one of those (Tim Tebow) rose significantly above his talent level. On the other hand, only three out of 10 participators fell, while four out of 10 rose up the boards.
Ah-ha! Positive proof, you say, that non-participation is dangerous and participation helps more often than it hurts. The problem with this is sample bias. Quarterbacks who choose not to participate are typically considered top quarterbacks trying to protect their draft status against their own weaknesses.
Non-participation in combine drills is a tool used by these quarterbacks to help protect that draft status, but nobody ever said it was a foolproof method. These prospects generally have nowhere to go but down, if their draft stock even moves at all.
Meanwhile, quarterbacks who choose to throw are typically seen as guys with less to lose, who are aggressively trying to raise their draft stock. These guys can go up or down.
If one did a study testing people who regularly wear Kevlar vests against people who never or almost never put on Kevlar vests, the public would be alarmed to find out that Kevlar vests dramatically increase the chances of suffering gunshot wounds. Therefore, you should never wear a Kevlar vest under any circumstances, right?
This is another selection of sample bias.
Attempting to translate studies of this nature into statistical trends can be dangerous.
The muddy results and potential sample bias involved in studies of the recent history of quarterbacks who chose to throw versus those who chose not to throw at the NFL Scouting Combine present a case for statistical insignificance. I find the narratives to be lacking in evidence, as well.
Combine that with incentive-based logic pointing in the opposite direction of the annual siren song of scouts and media attempting to lure top quarterbacks into throwing at the combine. I can only conclude that top quarterbacks should not participate in throwing drills at the NFL Scouting Combine.
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